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The Challenger Tribute
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cindy Snowden never wrote a book, published a fanzine, or organized a club or a convention. She was simply the best neighbor I ever had.

When they were kids her brothers and sisters called her “Pepper.” But from shortly after she became my neighbor, to me she was always “Boo.” She was a severe diabetic, with a learning disability, who wanted nothing more than to be a friend and have friends. I was her friend, for 17 years.

It was a job. Cindy couldn’t drive, so I took her on errands, drove her to movies, moved her stuff, and generally kept an eye on her. Missing meals or any excessive excitement could push her over the line. I lost count of the times I dialed 9-1-1 because of her hypoglycemic fits and diabetic comas. Being Cindy’s friend also meant you had to take special care with your words. One time, in a thoughtless fugue, I remembered Judgment at Nuremberg and asked her to make a sentence out of “hare,” “hunter” and “field.” She couldn’t. “You’re not makin’ fun of me, are you?” she asked, reducing me to an inch in height.

But there were happy moments, too. Despite the limitations on her life, Boo did her best to enjoy herself. She loved movies – Lord of the Rings was a big hit, and after a member of her church gave her a child’s book on the Titanic, she sat me down and read me the whole thing. One time I took her to the Orleans courthouse and showed her the stars of JFK, which was being filmed there. She hugged Sissy Spacek and sneakily checked out Kevin Costner’s rear. (Boo denied that – with a laugh: “I don’t care nothin’ about his booty!”) When Geri Sullivan came to town to work on the N4 program book, Cindy asked her for her address so she could send her a Christmas card. Kindly, Geri said sure. That was typical; whenever Cindy met anyone, she was that person’s friend.

She liked to help me collate Challenger, and for my birthday bought me the heavy-duty stapler with which many issues have been bound. “Put that in your fanzine,” she’d tell me when something struck her as cool – like the time she read a verse in church, or the day a fellow attorney took us sailing, and Cindy joyfully took the tiller and “drove the boat,” or the night she roused me from death’s door – I had the flu – to drive her across town to see her father for the first time in 25 years. Hearing her say, “Daddy? I’m Cynthia!” was a moment I’ll keep forever.

And there was the night – without a thought for herself – she chased off a thief trying to steal my car. Later, she testified at his trial. The judge praised her as “a good friend, a good neighbor, and a good citizen.” That was just like her. Boo repaid friendship with friendship. She stood up for her friends.

Twice, to flee oncoming hurricanes, I threw Cindy into my car and fled to high ground. This time, 340 miles distant, and with only a day’s notice, I couldn’t save her from Katrina. But she didn’t want to be saved. As a girl in the Ninth Ward, one of the poorest areas of New Orleans, she’d survived the monster hurricanes Betsy and Camille in her grandfather’s flimsy house. Now she lived in Raphael Manor, a solid brick three-story facility for the disabled, where she felt safe. More to the point, she had friends among the old folks there, friends she trusted – friends she felt needed her. She would never have left them. She told me, “We’ll see this through together!”

After Katrina, Rosy and I were quickly able to locate most of our people. John Guidry, Dennis Dolbear and Joey Grillot were all safe in Atlanta. JoAnn Montalbano prospered across Pontchartrain in Fulton. Justin and Annie Winston even spent a weekend with us in Shreveport, visiting Jeff and Jenny Potter with us and sharing their store of MREs.

But it took us quite some time to find out about Boo. I’d spoken to her right after the hurricane, before the levee gave way. She sounded chipper, and said that the National Guard had told the residents at Raphael to sit tight, as they still had running water. The levee broke later that day. Calls to her number brought only busy signals, then beeps, then endless unanswered rings.

Days passed with no word. If Cindy had been evacuated, why hadn’t she called? Twice Rosy and I made plans to go to New Orleans and wade through the “Toxic Gumbo” of floodwaters to Raphael Manor. Twice we were talked out of it. We called FEMA, we called the police, we e-mailed politicians and newspapers, I sent flyers to every evacuee shelter for which I could find an address. The sheriff of Ascension Parish sent deputies to investigate Raphael Manor. They entered the flooded first floor, called, heard no response. There was a sign which said that the building had been evacuated. I felt relieved. But where was old Boo?

That very evening, we knew.

A lady named Carol called Cynthia’s stepmother, Jackie, who then called me. Carol claimed she had lived in Raphael Manor. She was vague and disoriented; since leaving Raphael she’d been on a boat, a helicopter, a plane and a bus, and didn’t even know what city she was in. But her recollections were too detailed to be discounted.

Miss Carol told Jackie that Cindy came up to the building’s second floor after the flood hit. She gave her hot dogs for dinner, but Cindy kept eating candy – not the best diet for a severe diabetic. Finally, Cindy put down blankets and a pillow near the elevator, laid down and went to sleep. Her coma was probably already upon her. During the night, in her sleep, she stopped breathing. When the policemen finally came to Raphael Manor, Miss Carol told them about Cindy, but they said, “We haven’t time for that now.” It was two weeks before they came back.

I cannot know what Boo thought as she laid down that night. I’m sure she knew that she was among friends – friends whom she cared for, friends who would stand by her – not just the residents of Raphael Manor but me and Rosy and all the rest who loved her and cared for her. The last thing I’d told her was that the beautiful Czech academic Martina Klicperova Baker, whom she practically worshiped, had asked about her from California. Cindy had been surprised and moved. Perhaps she thought of that as she closed her eyes to Katrina and the world.

It would be a blessing if she dreamed, then, and not of the hurricane and its miseries. It would be a blessing if she dreamed of the friends she’d made over the years, of the daughter she’d put up for adoption and whose life she’d followed through letters from the adoptive mom, or of that Christmas Rosy and I spent with her, when she cried because she never thought she’d have friends who wanted to be with her on such a day. If I were so constituted, I’d pray that she dreamed of her Aunt Betty, the gentle widow who cared for her for many years, and of her grandfather, who gave her patience and hope and love in a world which has so little patience and hope and love for a special person.

If there is a God, and He regrets the obscenities like Katrina He visits upon this world, then He has mercy, and at the end of her dreams Cindy’s grandfather and Aunt Betty came to her, touched her and woke her and carried her away into peace and happiness and beauty and light. Where we will see her again, when we rest with Christ in Paradise.
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