Sunday, December 25, 1994

Christmas with the Cappucinos

Maxville, Dec 26 -  A 26 pound turkey slides out of an oven in a country kitchen in Eastern Ontario. "Most of us are ethical vegetarians" says the mother, as she stirs a frying pan the size of a manhole cover full of tofu. Even so, less than thirty minutes after the bird hits the table, nothing is left of it but a drumstick being gnawed on by a two year old grandchild that everyone has nick-named "G'Day".
    It may be the largest family Christmas dinner in Canada. "We've got fifteen or so of our own kids  here so far, and their families - I could be wrong - more are coming in." says the father, Fred Cappuccino, 67, as a throng of about thirty children and adults of all races mill around the two rooms in the log cabin. It could be a cook-out at the UN. Hands of every colour pass plates rapidly to and fro, carrying Indian hot curries and Korean pickled eggplant along with the stuffing and cranberry sauce. A young woman from Hong Kong asks her brother from southern India to put on more coffee. Vera, a Viennese-born friend of the Cappuccinos hands out latkes, potato pancakes, and cuts up a heart-shaped cake as the kettle comes to a boil on one of the three stoves, two of them wood-burning, in the house. "We cut our own wood - we've got a 50 acre wood-lot" says Shan Cappuccino, 25, who drove in from Ottawa. Only two children still live at home. Bonnie Cappuccino, 57, stir fries vegetables on the stove. Born in Illinois, she is wearing a Sari, large brass bangles on each arm that clang like gongs as she stir fries the vegetables, and 20 or so Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and African amulets and medals. The left side of her mouth is supported by a brace. "I had a brain tumor - it just left this side paralyzed - it was on the facial nerve - it wasn't  cancer." she says in a tone that says it was no big deal to her. It was removed a little over a year ago. Did it slow her down? "It took a while to recuperate. After about six months I was resuming my trips over to India."
    The Cappuccinos have set up three homes for children in India and one in Nepal. "She felt unfulfilled as a mother after raising 21 kids." jokes her husband Fred, who, along with all of their kids, share an oddball sense of humor.    Fred and Bonnie's unorthodox family started after the birth of their first son, which they named Robin Hood. Both of them were inspired by the ideas of Gandhi. "We believed in zero population growth," says Fred, who still works part-time as a Unitarian minister in Beaconsfield, Quebec and in Ottawa. "I wrote to Japan, where I worked after the war as a missionary to asked for a mixed-race orphan - I felt that a lot of the children that were fathered by American GIs, particularly when they were black, would have a hard time integrating into Japanese society." By the time the Cappuccinos had left Chicago to become pastor at a church in Pointe-Claire, a suburb of Montreal, in 1967, they had given birth to another child and adopted five more from across the world.
    Did Robin mind sharing a home with all these children? "I think it was much more fun - it was much more people to be with." he says.    The Cappuccinos inspired other people. "Sandra Simpson lived around the corner from us in Pointe-Claire - when she heard that we were adopting more kids she wanted to get in on it." The Simpsons went on to become known to millions as 'the largest family in Canada' from their TV commercials for a pain reliever and operate a restaurant near Toronto. Another neighbour who wanted to get in on the act was Naomi Bronstein, who now runs relief missions in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Guatemala. She recently brought two babies that were found abandoned in a trash can in Pnohm Penh back to Canada for medical treatment. All of the families now run their own separate charitable organizations. The Cappuccinos call theirs 'Child Haven International' and run it from an office in their Maxville home. The office was built thanks to a donation from one of Fred's missionary friend's in Japan, who sent him a donation. "He said 'the money was for you, not for Child Haven'," says Fred, "So we used the money to get the office out of Bonnie's kitchen."
    The homes in India and Nepal have about 200 children. Bonnie was in India this year to introduce new technology to make a form of milk from soya beans. The small-scale projects are directed at women to help them start their own businesses.  "It's a more palatable form of soy milk." Bonnie says they run the homes because "We enjoy it, I guess. We enjoy the countries, the people, and its a nice feeling to know you're doing a little good." The purpose of the homes for children is "Basically to raise them from whenever they come in, till they're self-sufficient."
    Bonnie is Buddhist, and Fred describes himself as "about 38.54 percent" Buddhist. Bonnie says " I believe that people are sacred, rather than believing in an external force, and I think people can help other people,"