The Texas Episcopalian - Wisdom People
June 1997

This summer Christ Church Cathedral will feature Cindy Pickard's intimate photographs of her elderly neighbors in Vanderpool, Texas.

The collection is part of the ongoing work of "Rites of Passage," a nonprofit agency which provides a variety of services for terminally ill people and their families. These include hospice home care services, seminars on death and dying, AIDS and aging presented throughout the community and the country. "Over the years," says. Pickard, "I've found the use of art, video and photography the most effective and powerful way to communicate a message to the public. Our work evolved naturally from providing home care to providing education as we began to teach what we learned from our patients. Interviews with the subjects included in the show offer more than a millennium of accumulated wisdom from the lives of these teachers, cooks, doctors, farmers.

Ninety-two-year-old Dr. James E. Pittmann still rides his tractor around the farm. He is a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, former head of the Department of Surgery and Chief of Staff of Hermann Hospital in Houston, and former president of the Harris County Medical Society. Describing his work as a physician, he says, "You do all you know to do, and that leaves plenty more for that Good Man up above."

Ninety-nine-year-old Mary Canady is the remaining child of a family of 17. Her grandmother was a slave, and she still finds helping others the secret to happiness. "I couldn't go to sleep (the other night) until I went over to see one of the sick people on another hall," she says. "I haven't ever just sat down for myself. Go on and do something for somebody besides yourself. It's bad to live just for yourself."

Elizabeth Fleetwood, 94, still loves to sing. "I sing, and I just sing up a storm. Memories nourish the heart, and if I think about something I can't do, then I think about, oh, how I used to lead those children singing and the fun we had singing. And I read. I have so much to read I never get caught up." Of the hardships of old age, Fleetwood says, "Oh, you have to wear glasses and sometimes you can't even find them, and you can't eat 'cause you've got dentures, and now I'm getting so I can't even hear real good, and your skin deteriorates. It's so old and ugly."

The daughter of a country newspaper editor, Margaret Mier remembers her father writing, "Life is like an onion. You peel it off a layer at a time, and sometimes you weep." Facing the loss of a two-year-old great-grandson and a 30 year old grandson to AIDS, she says, "It's all right to cry. Just remember you are never alone."

The show opens July 1 and runs through July 31. Gallery hours are 11-2, Monday-Friday and 8-noon on Sunday. Call 713/222-2593 for more. details.

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