This story is especially for my sister, Birdie, on her 83rd birthday.
In 1967, my mom’s 60th birthday present was a visit to us in Jeremie, Haiti. Delphine and I went to Port-au-Prince to meet her plane.
Does he understand you?
We were collecting her bags at the airport. By now I felt comfortable in the language, so to show off — “Look, Ma! No translator!” — I made sure Mom could hear me negotiating price with a taxi driver and telling him where we wanted to go. The strange sounds gave her pause, but not for long.
“Davy, does he understand you!?”
For the trip back to Jeremie we took the largest boat we could find. It was called La Franchi. Yet even on this big boat Phiny got sea sick. Green, grey-faced and puking most of the 16-hour trip. When we got to Jeremie, the La Franchi drew such a deep draft that it could not get up beside the dock like smaller boats. So lighters came out from the shore to take off the cargo and passengers.
Delphine — sick as she was — climbed down the rope ladder into the lighter with me, but Mom seemed stuck 12 feet above us, up on the deck of La Franchi. Mom couldn’t figure out how to turn around backwards, poke her foot down over the edge of the boat, and feel for the rungs of the ladder.
So I’m down in the lighter encouraging her and telling the crew up on the deck to help her. And beside me in the little boat Delphine is green with seasickness.
She leans over the side to splash water onto her face and leaves her hand on the gunwale. A wave smashes our lighter into the La Franchi with Phiny’s hand in between. Mom takes one look at all the blood and gets courage to come to the rescue. A crewman down in the lighter with us jumps up and positions himself 12 feet under mom at the foot of the ladder.
He’s yelling, “I’ve got her! I’ve got her!”
So the guys up top let go of Mom, and she falls on the crewman. As she flattens him down into the V bottom of our little boat, we all see just how well he’s “got her,” and everybody topside is laughing and yelling his courageous “I’ve got her!” back at him.
Mom struggles up and crawls over to Phiny, so she can comfort her smashed fingers.
At the dock, somehow we made it out of the lighter. Our landlord, Mr. Rouzier, kept a dry goods store near the dock — and a car. He drove Mom the quarter mile out to our house at the edge of town.
The next day we got our land legs back and ventured with a neighbor girl down to the coast about 100 yards below our house, where I snapped the picture.