Think Of Fear As Your Friend

By Papa Cado • June 10, 2015

Life was so good, so simple, when I was a child.

Mom was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and Dad was from Los Angeles. They met when he was in the Coast Guard, stationed in Mobile. Dad loved Mom and the South like crazy. So after they married, we lived in Mobile. When I was five, we moved into a small house right off Mobile Bay. I think the name of the street was Dearborn.

We lived across the bay from the shrimp boats. Some Saturdays, when Dad got off duty, and we had a little extra money in the family jar, we would drive over to the boats and buy some of the day's catch. Then Mom would come home and make one of Dad's favorite dishes in the whole world, shrimp gumbo.

Our house had a white front porch and a small back yard, which was quite a change from our little apartment. Smack dab in the middle of the back yard was the largest pecan tree in the world! My world, that was. By late summer and early fall, the tree was full of pecans. By late fall, the leaves and pecans started to tumble down in significant numbers. Mom used to say, "Gallo, make sure you clean those leaves; don't want the children to slip and fall." Dad would take the rake, make a big pile, pecans and all, and burn the stuff until there was nothing but embers.

One day, James said to me, "Something sure smells good in that pile."

He figured it was the pecans. James went into the nearby woods and came back with a long branch with a fork-shaped end. He went over to the smoldering embers and carefully pulled a few pecans from the pile. "I'm guessin' the dark ones are cooked," he said.

I reached over to pick up one. My scorched finger told me the shells were hot as hell!  We waited a few minutes, until they were hand-friendly. James bounced one on the cement walk to crack the shell. I did likewise. Moments later, we were eating the yummiest, sweetest pecans ever.

Dad walked over with a scowl on his face. "You boys messing up my work?"

The cat got James' tongue.

I handed Dad a toasted pecan. He smelled it, and started to eat it. Then he did something out of the ordinary. He smiled, and said something I've never forgotten.

"Keep toasting those pecans. You boys are makin' something tasty out of nothing. Always good for the stomach and the heart."

At the time, I didn't know exactly what he meant, and he certainly didn't have any idea I was going to visit the Cath lab 50 or so times for what I now call my "regular heart tune up." In fact, every time I'm lying on one of those gurney's being wheeled into the heart lab, I imagine the smell of toasted pecans, and, just know everything will be all right.

These days, when people hear about my medical adventures, they seem real surprised that I have laughed my way through God's little tests. They say stuff like, "Arthur, how can you deal with the pain, again and again."

That's when I tell them my little secret, "Savor some toasted pecans before surgery." Then I tell them about Dad. They either don't believe me, or think I'm a little crazy, or both.

Regrets? Me. None. Just wish sometimes that I didn't have to toast so many pecans.

Arthur Mercado, nicknamed Papa Cado by his four granddaughters, is a humble decent man who is quite simply, a medical marvel. He has survived 51 different heart procedures, a bout with Cancer, and mid-stage Parkinson’s with wit, dignity and determination. His friend and Author, M.G. Crisci, has written two witty, inspirational books (Papa Cado and Papa Cado’s Book of Wisdom) about Arthur’s approach to life (, and has started the Papa Cado Fund ( to leave a small legacy to his grandchildren. This story is an excerpt from those books.


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