One Twinkle at a Time (What Memoir, the Mafia, and Haiti have in Common)

It’s been more than a year since I began writing about my father and his mafia affiliation, but several months since my most recent effort.

Not good!

I need to return to my memoir.  I set the project aside for the summer so I could pursue other creative interests.

However, now that fall is here and football’s survived a strike that would have horrified my father, it’s time to write more about him.

Some of you may know a bit about what’s side tracked me in recent weeks.  However, none of these distractions should matter in the end.  I need to work.  I need to write.  I need to tell my story.

Easier said than done, however–especially since I’m out of practice.

I’ve been writing for several days.  I have ideas and drafts but nothing ready for the light of day.

It’s good that I’ve been writing, bad not to be finished by my posting deadline.  So en lieu of draft completion, I thought I’d share again another time when my practice with mafia bad proved better and brighter in the end.

And if a place ever seemed awful on the surface, it was Haiti–especially the Port-au-Prince airport in the months following the 2010 earthquake that leveled much of the city.

Just before my first trip to Haiti during the last week of March 2010, Toussant Louverture International Airport had only recently begun operating in any remotely routine way since the January 12th earthquake.

Before March the only real way to get to Port-au-Prince from outside the country, if you weren’t a plane carrying emergency relief supplies, was to fly into the Dominican Republic and  endure an 8 hour drive across the island of Hispaniola to the Haitian capital—a route Sara took a few too many times.

So—in March when my plane landed in Port-au-Prince, things were, shall we say—chaotic.  Though a band played Caribbean steel drums for the passengers deplaning, what I discovered inside the warehouse-like building that was then, and is still, being used for immigration and baggage claim was more akin to an episode of Survivor than anything remotely resembling an airport in any nation’s capital in the entire Western Hemisphere.

The passing glance immigration “officials” gave my passport and travel documents, moving me on with a stamp and a wave, though disconcerting, was nothing compared to the pandemonium I discovered beyond immigration—utter and complete pandemonium in a cavernous space mountained with luggage we were meant to ultimately “claim,” without any apparent procedure, without any remotely organized way for passengers to examine and sort out which suitcases belonged to them.

This masqueraded as “Baggage Claim.”

However—there was what initially seemed one saving grace—namely an assortment of limp-along luggage carts—costing a mere arm or leg—though they may have settled for a finger or toe had we gotten down to the anatomical nitty-gritty.  Initially this seemed a hopeful development—hopeful until I realized there was no way—literally no way in hell—one could wheel a luggage cart anywhere in that room so strewn with bags it looked like the contents of a small Samsonite store-room had been turned upside down and emptied on the spot.

Then it hit me—the only conceivable escape—meant asking for help.  I considered tears but decided in the interest of minimizing the look of vulnerability that is the American way in the face of Haiti’s seeming systemlessness—a more proactive assault of an airport employee was in order.  I didn’t care what it cost, I was willing to pay any and all “special fees” in the ultimate interest of baggage possession.

And thanks to one heroic airport employee, I ended up not having to assault after all—I got my bags.  For apparently, underneath the mountains of seeming disorder, there existed a system, invisible to me, but some protocol for baggage retrieval that worked for my new Haitian friend.  Because, I promise, in not more than 5 Port-au-Prince minutes he returned with my VERY over-weight bags— 88 and 89 pounds respectively.  The suitcases were full of household items, including an entire set of butcher knives—since Sara, when purchasing her first kitchen tool in Port-au-Prince (a manual can opener that would have cost less than 2 dollars in the US) had paid a grand total of 22 dollars and 66 cents!   Inevitably fearing that the most basic of kitchen utensils were going to cost at least a month’s salary, if not a small life-savings, I hauled nearly half the inventory of William Sonoma in with me.

Ultimately, I exited the airport that day into a desperate crowd of newly-homeless Haitians, needing nearly everything, from dinner to a warm bed and a roof over their heads. But I found Sara—I survived!

Survived, only to return to the scene of the crime a week later—the first of anyone remotely associated with Sara’s NGO to leave the country through the newly-opened airport.

Since no one knew what to expect, I arrived an optimistic 2 ½ hours before departure—seemingly plenty of time.  Until 2 ½ hours later, I still hadn’t made it into the terminal itself, crowds of needy people were thronging the facility so intensely.

I called Sara a number of times from outside the airport that morning, convinced I would miss my flight.  She assumed I was over-reacting—until— I called after finally making it inside—terrified.

“Listen, this is not a workable way to leave the country—someone needs to come get me—I’ll get out of the country some other day, some other way—any other way.  I swear, Baby, this is not an option.”

“But what line are you in?”

“Line!”  I screeched.  “You assume there’s anything remotely resembling a ‘LINE!’  This is more swarm than line, more stampede than queue!”

Quickly gathering her wits, recognizing a psychotic break was imminent, Sara, disaster response specialist that she is, yelled at me over the cacophony and clamor, “Listen!  Remember!  You always do best when things are really, really bad.  You do bad really well!”

“Yeah.  Okay.  You’re right.  I’ll call you when I get to the gate.” Click.

And though it may have been foolish to assume I would EVER get to ANYTHING remotely resembling a “gate”—I knew—I knew in that moment that I would be fine—that I would survive.

I knew in that moment that I could do Haiti.

And I suppose I can do a memoir, as well–bad as that writing seems in this current light.

Yeah—I DO do bad really well!

And though it’s still the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere,  during that first year after the earthquake, Haiti  survived  a hurricane, cholera, and a fraudulent presidential election.

Through it all, the Haitian people carried on.

They’re resilient.

They shine—

Tiny lights twinkling from the darkest corner of the Caribbean!

So, I remind myself today—

A  twinkle is a little light.  It shines from far away and back in time–not unlike the memoir I’m trying to write.

There’s darkness between my mafia past and my Kentucky now, but the light of memory travels long. It travels far.

It only takes a twinkle to prove a long-gone and distant light once shone.

Likewise, it may seem like long ago that Daddy died, but if I can catch his light in the sky tonight, maybe, just maybe, I’ll remember more–one word, one twinkle, at a time.

Daddy and I (February 1965)

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.

My 19th and last birthday with Daddy (March 1981)

This post is an entry in this week’s Daily Post writing challenge.

63 thoughts on “One Twinkle at a Time (What Memoir, the Mafia, and Haiti have in Common)

  1. I don’t know why you’re beating yourself up over this. This is one of the best posts you’ve ever written, in my opinion. Very heart-touching.

    You’re back.


  2. Ohhhh the glitz and glamour of Haiti’s airport and, most specifically, it’s baggage claim. I’m going back to PAP, Haiti next week (October 10 – 19) for my second mission trip (through UMVIM / UMCOR) to the impoverished country. Last year, I realized that I had never seen, heard, or experienced *CHAOS* until my team and I ascended upon the airport’s baggage claim area. I’ve since determined that it is an experience every first-world human should experience at least once in their lifetime …. something I also say about the Kentucky Derby (though I think the Derby should be done twice: once from the infield and at least once from the Grandstands). Fortunately, last year, we had planned accordingly and had “decorated” our 20 pieces of checked luggage (all containing medical supplies, school supplies, sports balls and athletic equipment, VBS materials, etc.) with colorful ribbons and streamers. We could have easily been mistaken as circus rejects!!!!! After jumping over the conveyor belt to retrieve bag #20 that had slipped past all 10 team members, I tried to save the day only to be reprimanded by a very tall, very obtrusive man dressed in a Haitian police uniform. My heart sank and I was quite certain I was about to meet Jesus. He grumbled something I did not comprehend, I apologized profusely (in English of course!), and then hopped back over said-conveyor and ran towards the safety of my team …. with bag #20 in tow!!!!!

    Next week is sure to be an “adventure” as I return to Haiti’s airport. Now that I know what to expect, I don’t think it’ll be as terrifying. Blessings to you as you continue writing, keep going and keep your head high. =)

    Nicole @ Three 31
    a Kentucky girl telling tales about life in Texas (and mission trips to Haiti)


    • What a great, great comment! I want to hear about your trip. And how funny that you know that “baggage claim!” ANd, I swear, 2 months after the earthquake–just after the airport re-opened–it was SOOOOOO much worse. I know that sounds hard to believe. But it was NUTS! Nuts on speed, perhaps. I also need to check out your blog, as your writing here was so fun! Hope you’ll come back! Hugs to you, too!!!! I’m so happy to “meet” you!


  3. I love anything you’ve written! Just think of the art breaks as “intermission”. 🙂 Great post today. As always. Looking forward to more of the story. I love the pictures of you and your dad. I don’t know what his role was in the mafia, but his role in your life is pretty evident. 🙂


    • My dad was a bookie. Dick Thornburg called book-making the mafia’s “cash register,” so he was INTENT on bringing folks like my father down. He made his name and reputation by doing just that. I know I shouldn’t, but I HATE Dick Thornburg. I have a post under my memoir heading above called “The Mafia verses the Big Bad Wolf” and another called “Would the Real Criminal Please Stand up?” that explain my feelings–wrong as they may be. I suspect you would appreciate them–one of these days when you have time. You know how much of that you have! LOL


  4. Fabulous post—you need to really give yourself credit for all that you have been doing!!! Even if the memoir got put on the back burner for awhile it is obvious that you have not lost an iota of skill in crafting your story—-kudos!!!


    • Oh, Beth Ann, I’m so, so happy you appreciate this post. It’s not easy getting back in gear and shifting from the visual to the verbal. I don’t know why. Thanks, my friend—-and hugs to you, my dear!


  5. It’s true as everyone has said that this is a good post! I also do bad really well, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 🙂 As long as you keep plugging away and keep your delightful sense of humor those twinkles will still shine. Looking forward to more on the memoir. Whatever happened with the TV? Glad you’re writing again.


    • Oh, well, that other project is still up in the air! Very much up in the air. I haven’t heard yet. Believe me, I will share once I can. I’m impatient about it, to be honest.

      At any rate, glad you agree that this is a good post! Thanks, my friend. How interesting that you, too, do good well!


  6. Kathy – I absolutely agree with Lisaspiral and bikebrown:

    – “As long as you keep plugging away and keep your delightful sense of humor, those twinkles will still shine.”

    – “Crisis seems to bring out your inner strength.”

    Wonderful post. You go, girl!


  7. 5 Port-au-Prince minutes …brilliant! I too am struggling with my book…I can’t find the characters’ voices. Good story just flat dialogue. I spend the days just quietly asking them to speak to me, tell me who they are from their POV. Consequently months have gone by with no progress. My time is not wasted though as long as I use the time to read you!


  8. Your writing today gave me a gift, Kathy, which I need. It’s rough right now.

    Thank you for “twinkle.” It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel, but with no chance of the light being a train.


    • Oh, Laurel, thank you, sweetie. Sorry things are tough right now. Hadn’t even thought about the contrast of twinkle to train, but you have said it well. Big difference, isn’t there? A twinkle is a comforting light.


  9. I have enjoyed the interlude of your art making this summer, but I can’t lie when I say I was incredibly happy to see a post about the memoir. Your passion and connection with the events shows through in all your writings, today being no different. Thanks for including us on this journey. Keep up the amazing work.


    • I’m delighted you’ve enjoyed the creative interlude–the visual art interlude. I’ll be honest–I feel comforted returning to this project, as well. Feels like coming home–which I guess makes sense, right? Thanks so much!!!!!


  10. This is a very entertaining tale about how you survived a very stressful situation in one of the closest places to hell on earth. Consider this a warm-up post as you ease your way back into writing your memoir.


  11. “Likewise, it may seem like long ago that Daddy died, but if I can catch his light in the sky tonight, maybe, just maybe, I’ll remember more–one word, one twinkle, at a time.”—-Oh, Kathy. Tears sting my eyes after reading this. I agree with the first comment: You are definitely back, Sista!…….And now for the portion of my comment (as usual) that has nothing to do with your post (that’s how you know it’s truly me commenting and not a spammer)……Your middle name is May? As in Sara’s birth month? “Kathy” has five letters in it……..Cosmic coincidence? NOT! As if you needed more evidence that the two of you were meant for one another! Love to you both!


  12. Your travels and experiences sound facinating, Kathryn. You are abundant with interesting and incredible stories. Reflecting back to your father…….that touches my heart. Star light, star bright . . . xoxo


  13. That is definitely an airport story from hell, Kathy! I would have ended curled up in a little ball next to my seriously overweight luggage muttering something incoherent. But you… DO do bad really well! (Love that!) 🙂
    Have a fabulous weekend!


  14. Great analogy. Writing your memoir vs panic at the airport. I have often felt like that when writing. Thank heavens for Sara and her reality check. Anyway, you can do it. You’ll persevere and I look forward to seeing the results.


    • Thank you so much. I’m delighted that this worked for you–and delighted that you found it through the DP challenge. I had a space in my tag between “DP” and “Challenge” so it didn’t show up until I fixed it today. Glad you got to read it. Hope you’ll stop by again soon. I will check out your blog!


  15. Brilliantly told, Kathy! I loved the rhythm of the whole Haiti story, especially the ending – the description of the overwhelming chaos creates extended mounting tension, your words to Sara in that final panicked phone call are so funny, they relieve the tension for a moment with humor, then Sara’s remark to you and your acceptance is such an abrupt powerful resolution. Then the seamless link to your current struggle. Just lovely.


  16. Oh yeah, and kudos on your remarkable bravery. You described my nightmare scenario, public chaos with crowds of people, noise, long periods of waiting and a near-impossible objective. I would have fled early on.


  17. I think this may be one of the first stories I read about your adventures in Haiti, and I was so impressed with your storytelling and your courage. I really enjoyed reading it again in a different context, connected with your father and writing your memoir.


  18. While reading this, my mind jumped to at least a dozen people who are so self-absorbed and spoiled that there is no way they could handle something like Haiti’s airport. I know that isn’t the point of your post, but I’m just so glad that I’m able to read your experiences to remind myself just how fucking easy we have it over here.


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