Monday, September 29, 2003

Bantam-sized uncle was truly a character and an inspiration

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Paul David Goodman was a little man who made a big impression. I considered him a hero.

My uncle was a teenager when he served with the Navy during the Vietnam War. He plied the Mekong River on a boat that eventually was blown out of the water. Paul David received the Purple Heart.

Later, working with an explosive ordnance disposal unit, he donned scuba gear to inspect the hulls of U.S. ships, ensuring other sailors were safe from enemy mines.

He also volunteered for a stint as a tunnel rat, working in support of SEAL teams. The Viet Cong dug numerous tunnels to elude American troops and to cache weapons and supplies. Someone had to flush them out. It was a dirty, dreadful job. Barely 5-foot-3 and 115 pounds, Paul David figured he was suited for it.

Tunnel rats usually carried a pistol. But a gun fired in such narrow confines could be deafening. So a tunnel rat sometimes relied on his strong hands or a knife to accomplish his mission. Although he was equipped with a flashlight, it might betray his presence to the enemy. So sometimes he would feel his way along in darkness - alone except for the snakes, scorpions, booby traps and, of course, the people who wanted to kill him.

After two hitches in Vietnam, my uncle came to live with me, my mom and my dad - Paul David's older brother - at our house in Colerain Township. I was a young girl, and my uncle never talked to me about combat. I heard the details later, from my father. But I knew the war had been terrifying. My uncle had nightmares, and sometimes screams rang out from the darkness of his room.

But during the day, a smile seldom left his face. He was kind and gentle. He liked to tell jokes. He learned how to pilot a hot-air balloon, and he nailed blocks of wood to the heels of his boots so that his little legs could reach the ground while astride the motorcycle he bought.

I admired his service to his country - and his extraordinary appreciation for life.

So it didn't seem fair, three years ago, when my Uncle Paul David was diagnosed with lung cancer. His would be a slow and painful death.

Fortunately, he was comforted - and his family was supported - by an organization called Hospice. The nonprofit sent people to teach my uncle's family how to administer morphine. Hospice nurses visited three times a week and were on call 24 hours a day. Hospice even helped with funeral arrangements and the paperwork associated with dying. It was because of Hospice that my uncle was able to die at home - as was his wish.

Earlier this month I attended a fund-raiser for Hospice of Cincinnati. An annual event called A Gourmet Sensation, it cost $175 a person. But most of the proceeds came from corporate sponsors.

About 900 people sampled culinary delights prepared by 21 celebrity chefs. These included Maisonette executive chef Bertrand Bouquin and pastry chef Teri Quatkemeyer, whose chilled pea soup and macadamia lime tart were the best things I tasted. Other chefs gave of their time to flew in from throughout the nation - and chef Michel Rostang even traveled from Paris.

Mark Maher of Cutting Edge Selections in Fairfax paired 38 superb wines with the food. Both were savored by Greater Cincinnati socialites - including sophisticated women in designer gowns and dashing men in tailored suits.

The only time I ever saw my uncle in a suit was when he married my Aunt Kay. And Paul David's beverage of choice was beer.

But for 14 years, what some might consider a hoity-toity affair has made it possible for people like my uncle to die with dignity.

Thanks to each chef and every other volunteer, this year's event raised $195,000 for Hospice.

My uncle, Paul David Goodman, is gone. But I still have heroes.


Rebecca Goodman is a news reporter and wine columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer. E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com

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