This morning I’m the breakfast guest of my brother Kei, a garrulous 27-year-old with Down syndrome, at Heartbeet Lifesharing, the community for developmentally disabled adults where he lives. At Kaspar House, one of five spacious living quarters, Hannah Schwartz, Heartbeet’s founder, is making buttermilk batter for what she calls crazy day crêpes along with a bacon, spinach, and cheese frittata. Beside her is Annie Jackson, a petite 32-year-old who also has Down syndrome. Annie gives Kei and me a warm hug when we arrive, then returns to stirring maple syrup into a bowl of fromage blanc for the crêpe filling. Thomas Cusik, a tall, elegant young man, is grating cheese. Once he’s done with his task, he kisses Hannah on the forehead and makes a pincher motion with one hand. “What’s that mean?” asks Annie. “He wants food!” Hannah interprets with a smile. At half past nine, the rest of the household converges on the dining room. Hannah rolls the crêpes. Sweet stewed peaches, blueberries, and strawberries, just-whipped cream and a glug of amber-colored Vermont maple syrup go over the top. We hold hands, say grace, and then dig in. Each forkful of the frittata is loaded with smoky bacon, and the crêpes are a decadent treat. But what really fills me now is the look of pleasure and pride on my brother’s face as he shares this ritual with me.
A Place at the Table