Bill Smales

January 1, 1997

Post #557 – 19970101

Dear Mr. Pinkwater: I have been listening to NPR for many, many years, and have always enjoyed your commentaries as well as your other contributions — the Christmas story that starred the voices of NPR notables, your ratatouille (excuse spelling!) diet amongst a few — and now have even dared to venture out to purchase one or two of your hard-copy texts. I have to agree with the other persons here who express disappointment at the fact that your radio commentaries are rare in print. I suppose what I really enjoy is such an unabashed honesty and comfort with language and the true art of communication which comes forth in your books as well as your commentaries. It is a gift which I sort of envy, admire, and delight in when I have the privilege to hear it. I would have liked to become a successful author myself, but was discouraged early in a college career by senior graduate students in English who found much to criticize in my early attempts at constructing a good essay; so I have had to settle for something less, which is the pedantic practice of medicine in an out-patient setting, where I listen to folks with sinus troubles, backaches & headaches and try to presecribe a treatment within 15 minutes. On the drives to and from work I have the comfort of radio essays such as yours to take me on those higher planes of experience before delving into the world of malodorous body fluids and sociopathic personalities, the most successful of whom we know collectively in the practice of law. But that is another story… What I really feel compelled to share with you — because you are an author of chldrens’ books and a man of obvious humanity with access via the new medium of webistes — is my newfound and recent experience involved with one of my wife’s mini-projects; she has become active in the resettling in our little area here in southwest Virginia a number of Bosnian and Kurdish refugees. As part of this, we have become friends and supporters of one man and his three children, who are among the most endearing of little people I have ever met. Their story is a sad one: despised as Muslim, they were driven from their home; they lost their mother; they hid listening to the sounds of neighbors and friends getting their throats cut; they were in a UN refugee camp before going to Germany where the children about starved. For all of the socialist trappings kept on by the new German state, these refugees were scorned, a “social problem”. Eventuallly they came here to our sleepy little corner of the world, far, far away from the screams, deprivation and insults borne mostly by their father, but with a new set of problems: language, the fact that fresh fruit and vegetables are sold in remote mall-type stores at very high prices, accessible only by motor vehicle, and with nothing, absolutely nothing, except a few prized photographs made when their mother was alive. I have three children of my own, good kids, but like most Americans, overindulged and as unable to comprehend as I the enormity of pathos and suffering imprinted upon these attractive, bright, but sad little faces. I use the word “sad” with special care, because I do not know of a way to convey adequately the imprint I see scored in their hearts, particularly that of their father, who at 43 is to me a young and strong man, with a passion for life and surviving that I hope will carry him well beyond those awful moments that have brought he and his little family to our experience. I met him because he had the further misfortune of suffering a myocardial infarction; fortunate, however, in that the damage was limited, and an opportunity for me to meet and know him. We have since become friends, and so we see more of the children. They are overwhelmed by all the neat stuff my kids have; I feel a trifle ashamed that we have so much, they have so little, so carefully, slyly, in a manner that does not offend the pride of their father, have been in the happy business of getting them things. They are opening up, slowly, and today, on a sultry and bright hot southeastern summer day, probably not too different from the oppressive heat creeping up your Hudson valley, I have had the inimitable pleasure and joy of listening, from a distance, to their laughing. Nothing so prized to me now equals that sound, and part of it you should know has come from the reading of one of your stories. They are quickly, rapidly absorbing the language and even some of its southern nuances. Even with my bad imitation of the ease and natural friendliness of your voice, they smile, sometimes laugh, always listen with intimidating attentiveness. And I have come to appreciate ever more the precision and beauty of your craft. I hope you can accept these simple words with as much grace as I tried to accept the gift of a hastily plucked flower from the littlest of these kids, a bright and efferescent little girl, who may get one of your books for an upcoming birthday.

Bill Smales, Roanoke, Virgina August 1 1997

Daniel replies:

Seems you are a nice man, and like people. This is unusual in a doctor, enough so that your community should feel blessed. If I'm ever down your way, I'd like to shake your hand, and have you take my pulse.