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Kevin Cullen

Haitian, with a new accent

Cathy Mayo and her son Delmace at Doyle's Cafe in Jamaica Plain. Cathy Mayo and her son Delmace at Doyle's Cafe in Jamaica Plain. (Globe Staff Photo / Kevin Cullen)
By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / January 30, 2011

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He arrived in Boston a year ago, rescued from the rubble that is his country, Haiti.

His name is Delmace, and over the course of 365 days he has become a Red Sox lovin’, back-seat drivin’, r-droppin’ Bostonian.

He lives in a three-decker in Jamaica Plain with his adoptive mother, Cathy Mayo, and he has already gone JP on us: He loves to cruise Centre Street, and he’s a regular at Doyle’s.

“He loves Doyle’s,’’ his mom says. “One of the cooks is Haitian and he always comes out to say hello to Delmace.’’

And so we’re sitting in Jerry Burke’s gift to the city, on the bar side, and Delmace is eating chicken and french fries, turning to catch glimpses of the hockey game on the TV over the bar and explaining that he loves Big Papi but he also likes Buster Posey, the catcher for the San Francisco Giants. He thinks Wes Welker is swell.

Before we left his house for Doyle’s, he had his Patriots helmet on, and we had to persuade him to take the helmet off because it is difficult to eat chicken and fries while wearing a football helmet.

Delmace is 4 years old, and last year he went to five Red Sox games.

Most kids that age get antsy after a few innings.

“He stayed all nine innings,’’ Mayo said. “He wouldn’t leave until the last out.’’

He went to his first Sox game on Patriots Day. He went to a Yankees game and went native by osmosis.

“Boo Yankees,’’ Delmace says.

His mother’s boss is a Yankees fan and Delmace, charitably, calls him “Yankee Dave.’’

Delmace started out at the Cotting School in Lexington, where Mayo teaches, and where most of the kids have disabilities as serious as his.

Delmace’s legs don’t work. They are lifeless and bent, and he curls them under him and scoots around on the floor, using his arms to propel himself, or he uses a wheelchair.

But last fall he started going to the West Zone Early Learning Center at the Hennigan School in JP. He is the only one in his class with a physical disability.

“He’s much more aware now,’’ his mother says. “He says he wants to be able to run around like everybody else in his class.’’

For Christmas, Delmace asked for four gifts: a Patriots football helmet, a guitar, a garbage truck, and straight legs.

“I had to explain to him that Santa Claus doesn’t bring things like straight legs,’’ Mayo said.

Delmace shrugged it off, like he shrugs a lot of things off. He is the embodiment of the Haitian people: irrepressibly resilient.

After the earthquake, he had nightmares. Sleeping in his own bed in JP, he doesn’t have nightmares anymore. He seems remarkably adjusted to a new home, a new culture.

And yet he knows that Haiti is still broken, like the cracked walls in the orphanage where he used to live.

Last June, Mayo went back to his orphanage, Wings of Hope, in the hills above Port-au-Prince, but Delmace doesn’t have a passport so she didn’t take him.

“He was mad he couldn’t go,’’ she said.

She may take him back later this year. He worries about those he left behind. But he seems to have worked out the extraordinary arc of his short, remarkable life.

“I’m from Haiti,’’ Delmace says, “but I live in Boston now.’’

He knew a few English words when he arrived, but now he speaks English with a Boston accent. He uses Creole on occasion, like when he talks with his buddy, the security guard at the CVS on Centre Street, or his pal, the cook at Doyle’s.

He is a back-seat driver. He tells his mother she drives too fast. He wags his finger at drivers who cut them off. He knows the rules of the road better than most Boston drivers.

“Red means stop,’’ Delmace says. “Yellow means slow down. Green means go.’’

He knows the way to Children’s Hospital by heart, and his pediatrician is Haitian.

With so many Haitians living in and around Boston, Delmace often sees and hears home in his new home.

Haiti remains a disaster zone. Reconstruction has been slow. Compassion fatigue has set in around the world.

Mayo worries about the rest of the world forgetting about Haiti.

And despite all the challenges, she looks at her little boy and says at least one positive change will emerge from the rubble.

“There was a tendency among too many people to view people with disabilities as somehow cursed or touched by evil,’’ she said. “There are now so many people in Haiti with disabilities who were not born with those disabilities that it’s likely that stigma will begin to fade away.’’

You look at Delmace and you see a life transformed, in just a year, and it seems unreal.

You look at Haiti, a year later, and see the need, and it seems unreal.

We are sitting on a couch in a living room in a three-decker in JP, and Delmace looks at some pictures and he says, “Haiti is broken. We need to fix Haiti.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.