Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Dining Room on Duncan Street

The dining room of our house had a swinging door to the kitchen, blue wallpaper, mahogany veneered furniture, and two windows. By the left hand window hung Doc, my small blue parakeet, in a cage on a stand. A couple of years later the right hand window would hold a precious new air conditioner aimed at my father’s end of the table. It blew chilled air across his chair, the only one of the six with arms. The two windows overlooked the driveway where the cars were parked between our house and the neighbor’s.
I must have been about eight when we got that bird, my third choice because Mamma did not want either a dog or a cat in the house. I knew I would love him, so I named him Doc, after Daddy. My parents laughed when I told them that, because my daddy’s name was Ed. But he was a physician, a pathologist at the VA hospital. Every week day he would come home for dinner in the middle of the day. Every morning we had breakfast there and in the evening, supper. At all three meals, we drank from silver goblets because my mother had been poor growing up and she'd lost her mother at thirteen. It comforted her to have the mahogany and the silver. Ice water from those goblets was sweet and so very cold.
Meal time was frequently interrupted by the telephone when Daddy was on call, and he would have to abruptly leave to go perform an autopsy. I don’t suppose too many children grow up listening to descriptions of autopsies at the dinner table, but my siblings and I did. Mamma was a registered nurse, so Daddy was able to talk shop with her. We ate and we listened. But it was not a cadaver he referred to one Sunday when describing a lady in our church choir as having “bushel basket” breasts. He was right. She did. Mamma shushed him and we laughed.
In that dining room one year, we had a large refrigerator box house with a window cut in it. It was through this window one night my five year old brother, Ed, Jr., thrust his pointing finger and poked me in the eye so bad that I had to be carried to the doctor. I wore a patch for a week.
That same little brother, five years younger than I, was playing in the dirt when he got his leg run over by a car. I can still see Daddy on a ladder in the dining room hanging wallpaper and Mamma with her arm raised to hand him another strip, as I dashed in the front door hollering, “Ed’s been run over by a car!”  Daddy scrambled down the ladder, and they ran with me as I led them on a race through the backyards. They climbed behind me through a hole in the fence to where Ed sobbed there in the dirt with tire tracks across his leg. The distraught woman who had backed over him knelt in the dust beside my little brother. He was a lucky fellow. Not even a bone was broken.
That hot summer when we got the air conditioner was heaven. My father was quick to adopt a new convenience, later buying me contact lenses at thirteen. With a stack of Nancy Drews to last me from the first of June until school started again in September, I settled back, undisturbed, in cool comfort in the arms of Daddy’s chair and did little else but read that summer.
In the sixties, the stereo found a place of honor there against the wall.  I played the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations and Chubby Checker albums and twisted right out of the dining room and into the living room. There, I could watch myself in the mirror as I gyrated and sang into an imaginary microphone.
By the time I was a senior in high school, the window ac had been replaced by an outside unit that cooled the whole house. One spring night while finishing up supper, I suddenly and urgently told Mamma I needed to borrow her car and quick. I didn't tell her, it had something to do with a boy who had just driven a Vespa by the house and beeped his horn.  In a mad dash of frenzied teen impulsiveness, I ran out with keys in hand and jumped into the driver’s seat of Mamma’s car. Through one dining room window, I could see her still at her place at the table as I threw her Buick into reverse and slammed it into the front end of my father’s station wagon that was parked behind it. The evening was cool, the ac off, the window up, and the crunch was loud.  From where I sat in shock at my own stupidity, I could see Daddy, frozen in space and time, framed by the window, fork halfway to his mouth, looking straight ahead at Mamma. 
Decades have passed. The house long ago sold. The veneer on the table has pealed, but today I sit with my laptop upon it and my elbows resting on the arms of Daddy's chair.

                                                             by fran cardwell

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lap Swimming

Today I shared a lane at the pool next to the blind woman who is a regular at the city gym. She swims straighter than I do. Like the faithful regulars I see in the water aerobics class, she is an inspiration to me. Some of them have had strokes or have crippled limbs. Some are just old, very old. The thought of these stalwart strivers gets me up and out of my bed in the morning.
Usually, while I swim my laps, I ponder. I marvel at the blue of the sky outside the windows or the miracle of how bone, tendon, muscle and skin come together to glide me like a fish through the water. In the nineteen-fifties, I learned to swim in a “whites only” city pool. I swim now and ponder the question of how we could ever have thought it was right to segregate the races.
The city gym is on the edge of the projects, but downtown, a short five minutes from my house if I catch the lights right. It is frequented by folks from the hood, college students, professors and other people who live or work downtown- people of many races and cultures.
Recently, I shared a brief conversation with an elderly gentleman who has cerebral palsy. He always insists on opening the door to the building for me if he’s nearby, although it causes him to get stuck in a paroxysm of tremors. He laughs it off and tells me that before he did water aerobics, he spent years hardly able to get around and, “Now look at me,” he says.
Upstairs, working out in the weight room, there is an elegant lady, perfectly coiffed and manicured and colorful in her spandex.  She could be Michelle Obama’s older sister, and she has Michelle’s arms. We chat briefly. Then, I watch as she feels for her white cane and gropes her way from one weight station to another. I realize that like the woman in the pool, she can’t see at all. I wonder if I could be as brave without all my working parts, and fear one day I’ll find out.
Last week, I finished a twenty-four lap set and paused to talk with an older married couple taking a break in the adjacent lane. As we treaded water, I learned she’d had cancer surgery, and the previous day she’d had her last radiation treatment. Their only son, a physician, died in his sleep last year at forty-three, the age of my son. Despite their losses, they exuded a youthful spirit, guarded optimism and an obvious affection for one another.
When I’m tempted to rant and rage or slide into a downward spiral of negativity, it’s often the thought of these heroes that puts me back on a positive track. To live in community is a gift.
                                                                       By Fran Cardwell

                                                       Ticelyn and Her Haiti Friends

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cuban Holiday with Daddy

As I write this in December of 2012 I'm visiting Haiti doing mission work with Haiti Under God (HUG) where, among other duties, I help to operate an orphanage of seventeen girls. 
   At exactly this time of year when I was in third grade, my father took me on a cruise to Nassau. I had the very first Barbie doll hot off the store shelf, and my mother had made a complete wardrobe for her to match mine. Then Daddy, Barbie, and I set sail, just the three of us. 
   We never made it to Nassau because of a late season tropical storm that forced us to land in Havana in the middle of the Cuban revolution. Most of the vacationers decided to stay on the ship. However, my adventurous father and I chose to do otherwise, and wandered under the watchful eyes of men in uniform who were on the street & atop the Citadel with their machine guns.
   Daddy, Barbie and I went to a wine tasting at a winery, and at nine years old, I tried the many wines in the little glasses. We hopped city buses & rode to the end of the line until very late at night. I knew, we both knew, it was dangerous, but we only went back to the ship to sleep. I remember seeing so many people of all colors stretched out on the park grass together in groups and in kissing pairs. 
   That whole experience in my young life was both frightening, because I sensed my father was frightened, and exhilarating because we enjoyed it so. I can thank Daddy for my lust for third world adventure and my love of third world peoples.

The Cupcake

   Today, Julie & I were walking down a Delmas 75 road on our way back to the house from visiting the girls' home. I held a cupcake hidden within my pocket. It was cradled carefully in the palm of my hand out of sight of the many desperately poor Haitians we would pass during our walk through the neighborhood. The cupcake was to be my dessert later that evening back at the guesthouse that Julie and her husband manage for us.  
    Unexpectedly, a woman who is a seller of the occasional turnip, egg, or radish rushed out from beneath the rag that covers her tiny stand exclaiming in childlike exuberance, "Mwen bon fet! Mwen karant fet!" (It's my fortieth birthday!) We were startled, but paused to congratulate and embrace her although we don't even know her name. But she's a regular on that spot, and the tent she lives in with her children is just on the other side of the wall. It says a lot about Julie that her warmth and humor have attracted even this humble tent dwelling vendor who knew Julie would be just as happy as she was herself over the good news of her fortieth birthday.                                                                  
   What were the odds that I would happen to have - at that very place, at that very moment in time - one perfectly formed, fresh from the oven, chocolate on chocolate, with colored sprinkles cupcake that I could pull out of my pocket and place in her hand? I will never forget the look on the face of this sweet woman who has seen so much deprivation. Baked goods are a rarity in Haiti, and few people have ovens, so this must have seemed a miracle to her. Do these Americans all travel with beautiful cakes concealed in their pockets? What a God we have who orchestrates such amazing, hilarious moments like this.
   Earlier in the day, after much instruction and a few trials and errors, Stephanie and Dawine, two of the older of our seventeen girls, made their first ever four dozen cupcakes. Hopefully, this may be just the beginning of a future HUG a Child Girls' Home Boulangerie (bakery). I wish they had been on the road with us this afternoon to see just how very special a cupcake can be.