Clear-eyed, elegant, and purposeful, Dehavenon wades into this human chaos. Three young mothers eye her warily as she begins her questions: "Is this the first time that you have applied for emergency shelter from the city during the past six months? If no, how many times has the EIU (eligibility investigation unit) found your family ineligible during this period?" Any distrust evaporates, however, when Dehavenon gently and briefly puts her hand on the shoulder of one mother and asks, "What reason did the EIU give for finding you ineligible?" It is a gesture, tender and respectful, that sticks in my head the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, mothers try to control restless children, a TV blares, and people shout over the noise into pay phones. The only time I hear a respite in the ambient pandemonium is when the loudspeakers call out names. I realize Dehavenon's impartial survey has personal as well as methodological advantages. The questionnaires are critical to making sense of the onrushing waves of misery and confusion. The questions keep the conversations structured; otherwise, the tide of lamentations would overwhelm us.

Through the cacophony, the homeless people I see here are very different from the single mentally ill people I see asleep on the subway. These families shock me with their normalcy: generally friendly and articulate, they shake hands, say please and thank you, and smile when you pay attention to their children. A mother scolds her little boy for climbing on top of the baseboard heater so he can peer through heavy window grating at the train tracks below. "Do you like trains?" Dehavenon asks him with a smile.

Scholarship and advocacy

Children have always been a focus for Dehavenon, in both her personal and professional life. After two years at Reed, Dehavenon went to Chicago to study the piano. There she met William Kapell, who was then an emerging world-class concert pianist, and whom she married a year later, in 1948. They spent the next five years shuttling between continents on the international piano circuit, and Dehavenon thrived, devoting herself to her two children and her husband's career.

Then, in 1953, her husband died in a plane crash outside San Francisco. Dehavenon's devastation was complete: "If I hadn't had the children I'm not sure I would have survived," she recalls. She had lost not only her husband but her guiding principle, the frame for all activity.

Friends of Kapell's in New York whom Dehavenon had met but not known intimately "came forward and took me and my children in as if we were members of their families." They saw to it that Dehavenon had an apartment and her children had scholarships at a private school. "If it weren't for these friends," Dehavenon speculates, "we might have been homeless."

By the mid 1950s, Dehavenon had remarried-to an old friend named Gaston Dehavenon-and later had two more children. (She and Gaston were later divorced.) But as the children grew up, she became increasingly aware that her life lacked an essential intellectual component. "I told myself, here I am, a woman who supposedly has everything: a comfortable home, wonderful children, a difficult but interesting husband, but still I was bored."

So at the age of 40 she started taking classes at Columbia University's school of general studies, where she excelled. One of her professors encouraged her to take an honors course for Columbia College seniors with Marvin Harris, the distinguished founder of the cultural materialist school of anthropology.






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