from Sandy Needham

Thursday, August 1, 2013

6-Week Dispatch: New Jersey

To go from Florianopolis to New Jersey, I connected through Brasilia and São Paulo. In Brasilia, a terrific new system on their flight status monitors indicates only for flights in the next 45 minutes! The agent knew my flight was on schedule, so far, but did not yet know which gate. An employee at security knew my flight was at Gate 10, but on the way I passed Gate 8, which posted my flight and had a line for boarding. There was still no representation on the monitors. Just sayin’. At Guarulhos Airport in São Paulo, I had a six-hour layover. I only needed to send an email to Newton in China, shop, and eat. It was two hours before I could check in for the flight to New Jersey, so I settled in and attempted to access the internet. NO GO. I was advised at the information desk to go to the END of the OTHER terminal to the Vimo phone store where I could purchase a card for access. Vimo explained I could buy a 2-hour card or a 12-hour card; I asked for the 2-hour because I had learned there was access in the departure gate area, once I could check in. "We only have the 12-hour card." I laid down my US$17.50 and returned to my terminal, buying en route seven pairs of the iconic Brazilian Havaiana flip-flops for gifts in the USA. Again, I attempted to communicate with Newton. But the card would not work. I had eaten a protein bar already, so decided to go back to the other terminal to correct the situation before returning again to eat at the wonderful Vienna buffet, with the flourless chocolate cake. Vimo could not get the card to work either, so refunded my money.

Now back to my terminal. I gave up on the meal and the flourless chocolate to check in and achieve, after immigration and security, internet access. I bought some cheese and a chocolate bar and, after 30 minutes of entering every extant statistic about myself, I was finally connected to the internet. I emailed Newton and caught up briefly with mail and Facebook until boarding was announced. Good luck, World, traveling through Brazil next year for the World Cup Soccer tournament. Hope you're not counting on flight status info, easy internet access, or a meal!

CynthiaNewark Airport was going to be interesting the next morning. I was meeting up with my cousin, Cynthia Needham, whom I hadn't seen in ten years. I wasn't sure I would recognize her. She was the only passenger who checked a bag on her small plane from Burlington, Vermont, so the silvery, lion-haired, petite, smiling woman - the only person there - was Cindy. We were catching the train to Lawrenceville for a reunion with my sister Donna, who hadn't seen Cynthia for 25 years. We decided it had been 47 years since the three of us had been together...all in high school, and in the rather bleak town of Alva, Oklahoma, where Cindy's family had moved from the more urbane Lawton. We remember cruising the main drag of town with Cindy's boyfriend and two thick-necked football players and learning the then-locally-cool, indelible slang expression: "stud crunch."

The summer highlight over the years growing up for Donna and me was Cindy’s weeklong visit. We were smitten by her extraordinary intelligence and acerbic humor, delivered in her professorial vocabulary. She was the daughter of Daddy's brother, my sweet Uncle Billy, who always called the toilet 'the commode,' and Aunt Lou, who was very funny and endearingly dramatic. We used to throw adolescent parties in the early '60's dressed as beatniks in our Dads' white shirts, with tights and loads of blue eye shadow.

After Donna met our train, the three of us arrived at the near-magic 'Donna's Kitchen,' where top-drawer hospitality meets the unpretentious, fun-loving Donna herself. Time both melted away and stretched over decades of experience and accomplishment.

Our cousin Cindy is a prestigious microbiologist Ph.D. who moved beyond research, teaching at Tufts and Boston University and publishing books to actively founding initiatives to promote public knowledge and understanding of science. This included a four-part documentary on PBS (public television), Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth. I am particularly proud of her work with PBS via the Fred Friendly Seminars. Fred Friendly was Edward R. Murrow's producer on CBS (played by George Clooney in the film, "Good Night and Good Luck"). He left CBS in 1966, questioning the network’s ethics, and bequeathed a rich legacy of ethics in journalism and society by way of his Columbia University professorship, his founding of Public Broadcasting, and his numerous Seminars produced over 25 years to foster critical thinking by the public regarding the dilemmas of progress: Working with him and his equally charismatic wife, Ruth, Cynthia and her husband, Ken McPherson, produced a three-part series: NANOTECHNOLOGY: The Power of Small, which “encouraged the nation to consider the implications of scientific advances emerging from the laboratory.” Cynthia decided to expand beyond the northeast intellectual establishment (Watching Me Watching You) for two segments, engaging seminar panelists from the South (Forever Young) and the West (Clean, Green and Unseen).

In the meantime, Cynthia was a sailor in Boston; a skiing instructor and yoga instructor in Stowe, Vermont – her current home; a founding member of the local women’s shelter; a hiker who completed the 272 miles of Vermont’s famous Long Trail; and most recently, a Master Swimmer. This entails training and swimming for long distances competitively, even though she is currently content to remain near the rear guard on her six-hour and six-mile swims. She also crews for a more advanced friend by manning a kayak or larger boat to provide nourishment and orientation. This has included the 9 hours her friend persisted to cross the English Channel (before succumbing to hypothermia and disorientation). Cynthia will crew for her again this summer to circumnavigate Manhattan, and to swim the 22 miles from Los Angeles to Catalina Island.

cindy monoIn the meantime meantime, Cynthia grew tired of constantly raising funds to support her documentary production company, ICAN productions, Ltd., and embarked on her current non-profit company, Stowe Adaptive Sports. This improves physical well-being and independence among people with disabilities by enabling them to ski with specially trained coaches and specialized equipment. Cynthia is the only coach currently qualified to teach all of the categories: Wounded Warriors (amputees); spinal cord injuries; blind persons (this is coached verbally); cerebral palsy and other degenerative diseases; and children with Autism. The slight-but-mighty Cynthia is coaching here in the red jacket and white helmet:

mono ski Tethering

My sister and I were amazed, as we always have been, by our cousin. Her brilliance, her contributions to civilization and the indefatigable physical challenging of herself are significant additions to her fantastically fun personality!

Our reunion included lunch at a very special place: “Rats” Restaurant at the Grounds for Sculpture park in Hamilton, NJ. This project of Seward Johnson’s also houses his sculpture studio. If you are not familiar with the name of this octogenarian, you are most likely familiar with his family, of Johnson and Johnson, and his ubiquitous and startling sculptures: “… uncannily realistic, meticulously worked bronze figures of postmen, matrons, policemen, doctors and businesswomen [that] dot parks and plazas from Rockefeller Center to Hong Kong Harbor…at once pedestrian and aristocratic, artistic and technical, popular and eccentric -- much like Mr. Johnson himself.” [NY Times.] Here are some examples of his public work:


He created the natural setting beyond Rats restaurant’s patio as a replica of Monet’s Garden at Giverny. It is astounding to sit there, as if in the foreground of the painting!

Garden at GivernyRats Restaurant

Giverney sculptureAs one walks along the paths, sculptures by Seward and other sculptors appear.

Seward replicated entire Impressionist paintings in detailed three-dimension. One could believe that he just stuck a book and a wine bottle on this table from Renoir’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party, but every item and every texture is sculpted from bronze. What fun! The work on the right is of the sculptor himself with acquaintances.

Cindy in the sculptureCindy and Sandy in the sculpture

I am excited to revisit the park on my next trip to Donna’s because a heavy rain prevented us from seeing the big attraction: an entire field of sculpture by many artists. We only managed the trails surrounding the restaurant, and got wet enough.

Cindy & DonnaWe had some lovely meals out in the Lawrenceville area, but nothing quite compares to the food and drink from Donna and my brother-in-law Larry’s kitchen. There was a complete martini/cosmopolitan festival one evening. After my requiring Larry’s particular genius for the ideal proportions of gin and vermouth (with a blue cheese-stuffed olive, I must mention), Cousin Cynthia scientifically demonstrated her infallible technique for the perfect vodka martini: take vodka from freezer; pour.

Sandy, Cindy & Donna

Clearly, the best part of our reunion was the last evening when the three of us rolled around the den laughing, comparing notes on our parents’ methods of imparting the ‘facts of life’ to us. I don’t know how we survived their cryptic messages, but at least two of the three of us bore children! In Cynthia’s case, the world has been enriched by the offspring of her fertile brain. Perhaps her parents were too vague?

We never figured where Cindy got her features and rather olive complexion, but as of now, she resembles our Grandmother Needham! So mysterious, the way Grandmother’s face was hiding in there over the years.


As Cynthia departed, Donna’s daughters, Sara and Amy, and dogs and granddaughters arrived for Memorial Day weekend. Seven-year-old Allison, who has been studying Brazil in first grade, stated to me upon greeting that “the World Cup of Soccer is going to be in Brazil next year in 2014. Have you ever been to CarnaVAL?” Too much! I loved having someone begging me to teach them the samba – so Allison, 4-1/2-year-old Paige, their cousin Bella and I had a wild time with Sergio Mendez and the gonzá rhythm instrument I brought them from Brazil.

Our cousin Norma’s son, Ron Neal, from the McCracken side of the family, came from nearby Summit, NJ, for Sunday brunch with his spouse, John Raymondo, and their 4-year-old son, Dylan. Allison, Paige and Dylan had a good time playing. Once we found out that John’s background was Philippino-American, each and every one of us mentioned to him a documentary we had watched just two days prior about a talented singer from the Philippines, Arnel Pineda, who had been spotted via YouTube to replace Journey’s former singer, Steve Perry. He soared to overnight fame. Poor John; it was the only thing we knew about the Philippines since the Bataan Death March and Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection. John is a distinguished business man who studied at Oxford, besides being handsome and genteel. Ron is a successful oil futures trader who is starting a new company with a friend. Good luck to all of this beautiful family!

Here are Dylan, Ron and my niece Sara with her dogs, Grady and Skillet: Here is John:

Ron, Dylan, Sara, Skillet and GradyJohn Raymondo

It was time for me to embark on the next phase of my journey, so off to Manhattan I went. Thank you, Donna and Larry, for your perfection; thank you, Cindy, for your inspiration; thank you, Allison, for your erudition!




  1. Oh My! What a stunning array of family! And what a good time for all! So glad you had such a great time.

  2. I love the samba lessons with the girls...wish I had been there to see that! :)


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