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An Evening with the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs

…continued from “the News ≠ Life


There are two circumstances under which it is impossible to remain depressed:



  1. Listening to an expert fiddler play “the Arkansas Traveler
  2. Spending an evening (or afternoon, or ten minutes) with the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs
Even though I’m a kid, Mr. and Ms. Cavendish-Stolarskyj have mercifully asked me to call them by their first names, which are, respectively, Andy and Belinda, and their teen-age children are Alexander, who is called “Rusty,” and Priscilla, who is called “Priscilla.”
Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

I think that “Priscilla” is a beautiful name, but Priscilla went through a phase when she wanted to be called “Paris,” and her parents told her that if she wanted to be named after a capital of Europe she could have her choice of Ljubljana, Bratislava, or Zagreb. I told her not to expect much sympathy from me, having been named after Fanny Mendelssohn.

Recently the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs invited Sister Alma Rose and me to have dinner with them and with Belinda’s father, who is called “Bob.” Andy was going to pick us up at 5:30 at Sister Alma Rose’s house.



On the appointed evening, I moped across the street and up the hill to Sister Alma Rose’s porch, and she was watching the stars come out in the eastern sky. The sun had just set, and, as the sky darkened in the east, the pinprick lights shone one at a time, and then there was nothing but huge clumps of stars in the darkness, and I squinted, trying to see if any of them were actually asteroids hurtling toward Cincinnati or St. Louis.

I was tired and in a funk, and I hadn’t quite finished my homework, and I was trying to think of a way to tell Sister Alma Rose to go without me, when a set of headlights turned off the road and into the long driveway, with a car behind them, being driven by Andy, and it was too late. Scowling a little, I climbed into the back seat and snapped my seat belt closed, and Sister Alma Rose did the same (not the scowling part, though; Sister Alma Rose almost never scowls) in the front passenger seat, and Andy made some ridiculous pun about Sister Alma Rose having brought her Fanny, and we all laughed hysterically, and suddenly I felt lighter than I had in weeks.

An indoor compost bin

An indoor compost bin

The Cavendish-Stolarskyjs are very Good Citizens. Both of their cars are Hybrids, which means they can run on gasoline or electricity and so they get about a skillion miles per gallon and don’t throw much crud into the atmosphere. And they (the Caventish-Stolarskys) Compost and Recycle everything. I’ll bet the only thing the garbage truck picks up at their house on Tuesday mornings is a couple of butter wrappers and a used tissue. One of these days, I expect I’ll go to their house and see a forest of wind turbines in their back yard.

Let me tell you about their house. The first thing you notice when you enter is that it is a cheerful house inhabited by cheerful people who like each other and laugh a lot. The second thing you notice is that it is very lovely — not professional-interior-decorator lovely but warm-and-comfortable lovely.

Actually, before you get to the lovely part, you must walk through a room in which there is something that looks like an ancient table set for eight, with at least a third of the dishes broken. I immediately thought of Pompeii and looked around for well-preserved frescoes. “This,” said Andy, “is where Rusty’s band practices.”

Bratislava Castle and Old Town (photo by Ramon L. Garcia)

Bratislava Castle and Old Town (photo by Ramon L. Garcia)

I knew that Rusty played the guitar. “What do the other band members play?” I asked.

“The table,” said Andy, and he shepherded me back to the computer room, or it might have been NASA headquarters, with monitors and keyboards every few feet. Andy found a video of Rusty and his band performing, and, sure enough, Rusty was playing the guitar and about six other guys were banging with silverware on plates and glasses of water, in a trained-percussionist manner, not like a hungry baby with a spoon and a Peter Rabbit bowl. I had expected the band to sound like a large restaurant kitchen during the dinner hour, but it (the band) was really quite good.

Neither Andy nor Rusty can open his mouth without saying something clever and witty. Rusty, like his dad, like all the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs, in fact, is a genius — so much so that I think he (Rusty) has cloned himself, because nobody could do all the things he does, and do them so well, unless he were at least two people. Get this! Rusty designed and sewed all the costumes for his school’s production of Romeo and Juliet last year, plus, for the prom, he made his date’s dress and his own tuxedo. Plus he plays the piano. Plus he is president of his senior class. Plus, like the rest of the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs, he is kind, friendly, and fun to look at.



While Andy and I were viewing videos of Rusty and his various bands — Rusty and the Dishbreakers, Rusty and the Telephone-Cable-Wire Quartet, and so forth — Priscilla started practicing the piano in the next room. I thought I was listening to a CD, her playing was so smooth and expressive, until she stopped to work on a series of measures over again, several times, such as is seldom heard on a CD, unless it is a CD of someone practicing the piano.

A friend of mine who goes to Priscilla’s high school told me that everyone considers Priscilla to be a “hottie,” not meaning that she is a “woman of easy virtue” but rather that she is very beautiful and popular.

You know how creative people are always being told to “think outside the box”? I believe that it would be more of a challenge to the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs to think inside the box. Not that they are eccentric; they are simply unafraid to use their gifts. They make me think of what Nelson Mandela (the first democratically elected State President of South Africa) said at his inauguration speech in 1994:

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

I have not said much about Belinda because I don’t know where to begin. She is my hero. I told Sister Alma Rose I wanted to grow up to be just like Belinda, and Sister Alma Rose said, “Better y’all should grow up to be just like Fanny. Belinda is one of a kind.” Or, as Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Belinda fixed us the most delicious meal I have ever eaten. It was vegetarian enchilada casserole, broccoli and carrots perfectly cooked al dente, and pumpkin flan for dessert. She pronounced it FLAN, rhyming with BRAN, and I said, “Oh, I love flan,” rhyming it with DON, and Belinda said, “Oh, is it pronounced FLAHN? Then I guess we are having POOMPKIN FLAHN,” and I thought that was the most hilarious thing I had ever heard, and I still giggle when I think about it.

The other person at dinner was Belinda’s dad, Bob, who operates a nonprofit organization that engages prison inmates in the construction of low-price, high-quality houses, such that they, themselves, can afford to buy the houses and live in them once they are released from prison. Get this! Bob went to law school and graduated after he retired!

The Cavendish-Stolarskyjs' flower garden

The Cavendish-Stolarskyjs' flower garden

Sister Alma Rose and Bob struck up a lively conversation after dinner. “He don’t seem old enough to be Belinda’s father,” Sister Alma Rose told me later, “but he reminds me of my own Daddy Pete. Everything he says is interesting and well-thought-out… no idle chatter….”

Here is what I think about the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs: They “make manifest the glory of God” that is within them, not by going around conspiculously do-gooding but rather by remaining alert to ways of being “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous” that bless the world. And if they can be so full of life — which one CAN’T be if one is forever scanning the skies for nuclear missiles — then I certainly can too.

P.S. I forgot to mention that they gave me a scratching post for my kitties, which Andy, who is an architect, made himself, so I am sure that I have the only architect-designed-and-constructed cat scratching apparatus in Hilltop. Plus they gave me a “cat shelf” that now sits on top of my computer monitor, which is warm so Tim and Henry like it, AND some of the leftover casserole, AND a grapefruit for good measure.

In my mopey days, which are now a thing of the past, if someone had TOLD me about a family like the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs, either I wouldn’t have believed that person or I would have hated the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs on general principles. But it is impossible not to love the Cavendish-Stolarskyjs. If you are so unfortunate as to not live in Hilltop, look around your own community. There are Good People everywhere.


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