Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The Secret Jesus

The following is a talk presented to Grace Connection on June 2, 2004, by Heather Isaacs-Royce, a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary.

“Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’ Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mk. 8:27-36

Secrets are everywhere. Good and bad secrets, personal secrets, family secrets, national secrets. I hate secrets. Keeping secrets used to be hard for me because it felt like I wasn’t being truthful. I wanted everything out on the table, nothing held back, right now. I felt that if I could have and supply access to all the relevant information needed when people are just getting to know each other that I could single-handedly prevent almost all the misunderstandings that cause broken relationships. Learning to live with secrets has been a process of accepting that some secrets are necessary to the health of our relationships, some secrets protect us, and some secrets are, paradoxically, the truth. Accepting secrets has been a process of giving up control–not only of information but of people. There is no amount of information I can have that can eliminate the risk of being in relationship with people. Period. So in learning which secrets are healthy, I have become even more averse to those secrets that threaten our well-being and seek to control our lives.

Someone close to me is recently emerging from one of those deadly secrets–an abusive marriage. Now, this person entered that relationship believing herself to be an independent thinker, a feminist who was smart, self-aware, confident. But within the first months of her marriage, she found that in her attempt to change him, she had been the one who had been changed. No longer able to defend herself or walk away, she told no one the truth about her marriage. For months she put on a good face to those who asked. In a short period of time, she was involved in what she would later recognize as a “textbook case” of domestic abuse. One of the essential components in the perpetuation of abuse? The power of secrets. Her husband isolated and controlled the family by making everything a secret–even the most mundane aspects of everyday life were kept a secret from those outside the family. In this way, private secrets became public lies. The trauma and danger at home were hidden behind tightly controlled public facades that learned what to say to placate the polite inquiries people made on a day to day basis.

From the title of my sermon, “The Secret Jesus, ” you may be thinking that I’m painting myself into a corner with this line of talk. And to be truthful, I can’t promise you that I’m not placing myself in a tight spot. I’ve been struggling to understand the function of secrets in the Gospel of Mark for a couple of weeks now and I’m not sure I’m even close to figuring it out. What do I mean juxtaposing a story of an abusive marriage to a discussion of the person of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark? What do I mean referring to the “secret Jesus” at all? Is this going to be a “Da Vinci Code” sermon, replete with its own lurid conspiracy theory? Well, in honoring the “secretness” of this discussion, I’m not going to reach for a way out of this just yet. Rather, I’m hoping to let the questions find their own way to an open clearing.

Besides, if there is a time to wrestle with mystery and secrets, we are immersed in it. The Lenten season, the forty days before Easter when many Christians spiritually journey to the cross, is a temporal embodiment of a Christian enigma. In this somber but hopeful time, we are asked to enter into deep reflection and repentance. This repentance is not simply keeping a list of the sins we have known to have committed and then reciting them in prayer to God. This repentance goes to the very hidden heart of our beliefs about who we are and how we are in the world. Alan Jones, in his book on Lent and Easter, Passion for Pilgrimage, writes about the discipline of repentance. There are three simple commitments, he says. “The first is to rigorous honesty–that is, to hope for nothing less than the truth. The second is to honor our passion for connection by celebrating the solidarity of all human beings. The third is to search for a common language, so that we can talk to each other,” (6) Commitment to rigorous honesty as the foundation of true repentance. The commitment itself may be simple to make and yet the practice of holding to that commitment is what makes honesty the hardest aspect of repentance. How can we be honest with God when we have such a hard time being honest with ourselves?

Learning true repentance, learning to be honest with ourselves, others, and God may be a lifelong endeavor. But reading the Gospel of Mark is a good place to return to on any point of that journey. Mark begins with a call for repentance. And a grown man named Jesus walks into the story out of nowhere–without a personal history, without a birth narrative–and accepts the call, being baptized for the forgiveness of sins by John the Baptist. From his baptism, Jesus is then sent by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be physically and spiritually tested.

Without imposing other gospel traditions onto our understanding of Jesus’ birth and ministry, we are better able to appreciate how strange and enigmatic Mark is. At times, Jesus appears frustratingly elusive. Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Levi all answer Jesus’ call without knowing a thing about him. They leave behind their jobs, their families, their social status to follow a man they don’t know. (1:16-20) Then, when Jesus does have the opportunity to explain himself or what he is doing, he often keeps his identity secret commanding demons to be silent or telling those he has healed to not disclose the source of their healing. He teaches in parables which are not always or easily understood by those closest to him. The disciples stay close to Jesus throughout his brief ministry but their persistent disbelief is a constant factor in Jesus’ interactions with them.

Sometimes frustrated, sometimes shocked, Jesus frequently chastises his disciples for not seeing the spiritual truth behind his healings, miracles, and teachings. But reading Mark, we as readers have similar moments of frustration and shock in trying to grasp the nature and purpose of Jesus. In contrast, the other Gospel writers used considerable ink in fleshing out who Jesus was–from constructing Davidic genealogies to emphasizing Jesus’ pre-existent divine role. And that kind of storytelling, to be honest, is much more appealing to most of us–we feel like we have more pieces of the Jesus puzzle. But Mark is much more ambiguous about the nature of Jesus’ divinity and ministry and seems resistant to helping the reader work on the puzzle at all. Perhaps this is why Mark hasn’t shared the same level of popularity as the other gospels throughout church history. Mark’s presentation paints a very different picture of Jesus than the one we often claim to know in worship and he keenly probes the depths of our own struggles to know who Jesus is and what the cross means for us.

Much of today’s talk was generated by a question a professor of mine asked: What would Christian theology have been like if Mark had been the only book in the New Testament? I’ve struggled with this question because the idea itself was a new one. In general we tend to read the Gospels as one coherent, harmonized whole rather than listen to what individual Gospel writers may have been trying to say to their particular communities and how God may still be communicating different aspects of the Gospel through their distinct theologies. For example, the writer of Mark is known for his sparse inclusion of details and uncomfortable dialogues. Nick Cave, the punk-rock singer, describes Mark in these terms: “Mark’s Gospel is a clatter of bones, so raw, nervy, and lean on information that the narrative aches with the melancholy of absence,” (Taylor, 91). If you look at Matthew and Luke and compare them to Mark, it seems fairly possible that Matthew and Luke were written after Mark with the intention to “clean up” or “smooth over” some of Mark’s “raw, nervy, and lean” edges as each writer saw fit. An example is found in comparing today’s text with its parallel in Matthew. In Mark, Jesus doesn’t respond to Peter’s proclamation that he is the Christ. Instead, he lets Peter’s answer just hang there before he gives the command to tell no one about him.

Perhaps the reader can infer that Jesus is silently admitting that he is the Christ. But why not just say it then? Why the big secret? Matthew opted for a strikingly different response–in chapter 16, verses 17 and following, Jesus practically coronates Peter with the leadership of the church. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!” he says, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it...” and he continues. But even then, after this rather lengthy, congratulatory monologue, Matthew’s Jesus still demands silence on the issue.

Whether or not Jesus affirmed Peter’s answer that he was the Christ, it is obvious that Peter, along with the other disciples, did not know what that meant. In the verses immediately following this conversation about his identity, Jesus begins teaching the disciples about the suffering the Son of Man must endure. In a moment of “speaking plainly,” Jesus predicts both his own execution and his resurrection. However, Peter seems to get caught up on the suffering part and not hear anything else Jesus says. At this point, Peter takes hold of Jesus and rebukes him. Though we can only imagine what Peter’s protests were, it most likely had to do with Peter’s inability to imagine a suffering messiah when he, along with the other disciples, had been expecting some kind of apocalyptic warrior who would lead Israel to freedom. What kind of savior suffers? Peter may have asked Jesus. If you really are the Christ, can’t you just blink away the Romans who occupy our land and oppress our people? If God is on your side, OUR side, how can we lose the battle against Rome? Let’s fight–don’t roll over and play dead, Jesus–not now, not when we need you most.

Jesus’ response cannot be categorized as particularly loving–at least, not in the warm, feel-good Jesus love that we like to bask in. Rather, Jesus turns on Peter and rebukes him, saying “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” What must that feel like–to have Jesus turn on you? To bluntly expose and reject your true motivations for following him. How much of our discipleship is open to that kind of examination? How many of us could still be disciples after that kind of rebuke? Peter is often caricatured in sermons–after all, he’s the theological equivalent to a bull in a china shop. He’s preached as the comic relief of the Gospels. He’s described as brash and clumsy, full of good intentions but little faith.

Preachers love to use Peter, who was eventually martyred for the faith he once denied, to illustrate how God can use even the most unlikely, stubborn people in God’s service. Personally, I don’t think Peter’s story is that cute or clean. I think in this passage and others, Peter is on the brink of losing it all. The only other Markan narrative that can surpass the intensity of this one is Peter’s denial of Jesus at his trial when he does lose it all and, as Mark writes, “he broke down and wept,” (14:72). Peter is not simply acting out of an immature faith life or a badly formed character–Jesus has confronted and exposed the very world view that gave Peter’s discipleship shape and meaning.

As Herman Waetjen writes in A Reordering of Power, “This is not the discipleship to which Peter has been called. The Messiah Christology that he confesses and that simultaneously informs his self-understanding cannot be correlated with God’s will. It is of human origin, and Jesus considers it to be equivalent to a temptation of Satan. As long as Peter insists on this definition of the Christ, he is representing the evil lord; and there is no place in Jesus’ following for him, (146).” Peter is caught between a reversal of kingdoms–the visible, earthly, imperial realm that rules by the sword and the secret, spiritual realm that is inbreaking through the self-giving ministry of Jesus. If he stays where he’s at, Jesus will not only rebuke him but Peter will be forced to go look for a new Messiah as he secretly hopes for a militant uprising against imperial Rome. He can still hold onto the world as he’s always known it. He can try to defeat the “powers that be” at their own game. Which is no victory at all–just a perpetuation of the “powers that be.” But if Peter follows where Jesus leads, it will most surely invite suffering not only on Jesus but on himself. And yet, even in Peter’s attachment to his old way of being in the world, he is compelled to stay close to this man who dares expose the hollowness of his most valued beliefs and show him a new way of being in the world.

The Gospel of Mark is full of these kinds of encounters with Jesus–where people go to Jesus expecting one thing and leaving with another, where disciples go to reveal and pin down the mystery of Jesus but leave having let Jesus reveal their true selves to them. A commitment to rigorous honesty as the foundation of true repentance. We can never fully know Jesus Christ but that is not the point. In encountering Jesus, we know ourselves and are better able to live honestly and with repentance. Andrew Greeley, a Catholic priest, writes: “Jesus was elusive. He still is. When we finally think we understand him, when we have at last arrived at an adequate explanation of him, when we have eventually defined him precisely, when we have, after great effort, identified him with our cause, then we discover that he’s not there anymore. We can take it as axiomatic: when we have captured Jesus for our own side, then... whoever we have won to our cause and persuaded to bash our enemies, it isn’t Jesus.

The early Christians piled up titles as they tried to articulate what the man was like that they had encountered. None of the titles quite did it. He was “like” Adam, “like” Moses, “like” David, “like” the Son of Man in Daniel the Prophet, “like” a messiah. But in each case he was also something more, something different, something more mysterious, something more disconcerting. A Jesus who does not disconcert is not Jesus. A Jesus who disconcerts our adversaries but not us is most certainly not Jesus,” I can’t spend too much time on the other stories of Mark that demonstrate this phenomenon but lest I fall into the same trap of singling out Peter, I want to briefly uplift two more examples of confrontations with the “secret Jesus” that continue to expose and challenge our unwillingness to embrace the kingdom Jesus lived, preached, and died for.

James and John, along with Peter, had accompanied Jesus up the mountain and witnessed his transfiguration among Moses and Elijah. Such an experience obviously convinced James and John that they were disciples of the one, true Christ who would soon reign in victory in heaven. Hoping to get in on that, they approach Jesus in chapter 10, verse 35 and childishly ask, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask..” Like Peter, James and John sought to control Jesus. One could argue that unlike Peter, who acted out of a place of cognitive dissonance, James and John were completely self-interested parties who were hoping to ride Jesus’ tailcoats to glory. Rather than rebuke them outright, Jesus humors them, leading them along into a valuable teaching moment. When he asks what they want from him, they reply to sit on his left and right hand side when he rules in the new kingdom. Again, the disciples demonstrate they have no understanding of the true nature of the Kingdom of God that Jesus represents. They think he’s going to rule on a literal throne and that all the same social and political hierarchies that have defined their world view will still apply.

When the other ten disciples hear about what James and John have asked, they become indignant and begin bickering among themselves. Not out of a sense of wanting to set straight James and John’s picture of the Kingdom of God but because they got left out! What about them? Where would they sit? Once again, Jesus must attempt to penetrate this enemy world view among his own disciples. Already having challenged James and John’s request by linking it to the baptism of death that he will undergo, he relinquishes control over the matter all together. It’s not for him to decide. Rather, he overturns their expectations all together and proclaims that true discipleship exists in serving others at all cost–not in sitting high above everyone else with smug self-satisfaction, not in lording one’s self over another, not in controlling those around us. Mark doesn’t record the disciples’ response to Jesus here–but there’s no suggestion any of them had an “A-ha” moment. James and John’s spiritual blindness is immediately contrasted against the physical blindness of Bartimaeus in the same chapter. Except unlike the disciples, Bartimaeus KNOWS he’s blind and knows that he wants to see and that Jesus is the one that can and will heal him.

Recognizing our need for spiritual healing is the first step of living out the rigorous honesty that brings repentance. But we are not all in need of the same kind of healing. This point is clearly made in chapter 5, verses 25 and following. Having lived with her chronic ailment for over a decade, the woman with an issue of blood had spent all the money she had on medical treatments but she only continued to get worse. Having bled for twelve years, she had lived as a perpetually “unclean” person, a designation applied to menstruating women in the purity code of the Torah, and thus, most likely, she was treated as a social pariah within the Jewish community. Economically and socially destitute, she makes her way through the crowd that has gathered around Jesus. Mark writes that “she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’” She reaches out and touches his robe and instantly she is healed. Mystically, Jesus feels his power go out from him. He looks around for who touched him and his disciples respond–Jesus, everybody’s touching you! You’re in a crowd! And yet, Jesus keeps looking until the woman identifies herself. Jesus does not let her go away in secret. He turns toward her, inviting her to claim in her what he already sees. Her physical healing was only part of the encounter with Jesus. He will not let her go until she has seen herself in his eyes as a free and beloved human.

In the same way, Jesus does not let us go away in secret. Whether we approach Jesus as petty, self-serving, impatient disciples or desperate souls who are invisible to the world, Jesus will not let us hide from ourselves or from God. When we confront the secret of Jesus, our deepest secrets are exposed. Like James and John, our true motives for faith and discipleship are revealed. Like Peter, our hidden expectations of what Jesus should and will do are laid bare. Like the woman who bled for 12 years, we reach out, hoping to be healed in secret–to just touch the robe of Jesus and go away unnoticed. Instead of being anonymously and simply healed, we are seen by the one who has healed us. And in being seen and valued and loved by the human face of God, we are freed from a life of invisibility and shame.

But in our new freedom, we also carry a new burden. Living out repentance, this radical honesty that invites God’s ongoing confrontation, leads us to radical discipleship. It turns out that being a disciple of Jesus is not contingent on knowledge or certainty or doctrine. Being a disciple of Jesus means following him into the difficult and frightening places of ourselves and the world. The second commitment of repentance, Alan Jones writes, “is to honor our passion for connection by celebrating the solidarity of all human beings.” In Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, he reveals the true nature of discipleship in the name of Christ as not only a celebration of our solidarity to all human beings but a fierce defense of that solidarity. He says, “if anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

At the time Mark was written, at the height of the Roman reign of terror, hundreds, even thousands of people were being crucified on a day to day basis. When Mark’s Jesus sees the cross in his future, he does so knowing that his execution will be but one among the many. Thus, picking up his cross becomes an act of solidarity with the brutalized, tortured, and abused among us. Encountering the secret Jesus always reorders our vision of who we are in relation to God and the world. Encountering Jesus on the cross shocks, angers, frightens, consoles–but more than anything, it exposes the secret and deadly truths that make such suffering possible–then as well as now. Living out repentant faith, we are called to a discipleship of solidarity, of picking up our cross and following after Jesus. Encountering Jesus on the cross all of our expectations and hopes and beliefs are exposed. We suddenly see how connected we have always been to the well-being of this world and its inhabitants. We suddenly see our worth as no greater and no less than anyone else’s. We can no longer stomach being silent in the face of the political, social, and interpersonal forces that crucify people physically and spiritually. We can no longer keep the deadly secrets.

Recently, I heard a story that I feel models, in a very accessible way, what I believe “taking up our cross” and following Jesus means. Last week, an irate father walked onto campus to pick up his sixth grade son. As the two left, the principal heard the father begin yelling at and insulting his son. Moments later, she and the school counselor witnessed the father physically push the son once they got onto the road. At that point both women got into the principal’s car and began to follow the father and son as they walked away from the school. Before they reached them, they witnessed the man push the boy twice. This 53-year-old grandma of six pulled her car in front of the father, blocking their access to the road. She got out of the car and attempted to persuade the father to let her help, to let her take his son back to the school. She placed her physical presence between the abuser and the abused–not knowing what the man might do to her in retaliation. Effectively, she picked up her cross and became Jesus to that child AND to the abusive father. She let that child know that someone was willing to stand up for him and to become a barrier between him and his abuser–even at the risk of her personal safety. Driving her car, following them to their home, watching them closely, calling CPS and the police, she let that father know that someone saw–that someone knew–that someone cared–and that someone would not keep his deadly secret.

Mark’s picture of Jesus rejects any claim of Christian faith and discipleship that does not model an ongoing commitment to true repentance and solidarity with all humanity. As such, I believe Mark offers a much needed corrective in popular Christian theology that claims a piety based on the one true or real Jesus without speaking truthfully about the abuses inflicted in our own communities or confessing complicity in the systems of suffering whose victims Jesus died in solidarity with. Mark teaches us that wherever we meet the mystery of Jesus–in the Word, by the Spirit, through other people–our secret selves will emerge and be transformed in the encounter.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Faith Adventures to Russia

The red and black plaid suitcase stood majestically on the Super Shuttle. It’s bulging sides seemed ready to walk away. If only this seventy pound bag could talk, its’ story would furnish the fascinating details of the next few days. But no, it could not talk. Nor could the other thirteen suitcases say a word, even if they wanted to.

Their sides had been marked with waterproof black markers to RUSSIA, along with the names of the city and mayor. Large stickers were well secured on all sides, proclaiming this to be the property of “Sisters City International.” The many yards of wide filament tape placed each side in many vice grips. All this was to disappear in the luggage hold of an International Flight, which would leave California for Moscow. The airlines had shown consideration several times to help the Sister City share its’ wealth of food, medicines, clothing, educational materials, and surprises; such as, packs of vegetable seeds, coloring books and crayons.

“Sisters City International” was organized in 1956 while Eisenhower was president. The office headquarters takes requests from a city and matches that city with a city of another country with similar population and occupation, such as farming, etc. The purpose of the organization is to extend cultural and educational friendship. It would be linking the California and Russian cities, which shared aviation history.

During the spring of 1993, two Russian travelers spent a month in California, thanks to the generosity of kind friends. There was wonderment in every moment! How does a credit card enable a stranded car to receive help? …and so quickly at that! Choices of shoes that fit. Lovely winter coats donated by friends…even a photo album with pictures labeled and ready to show “back home.” By now it seemed difficult to part with items we throw away, such as a “slurpy” cup. And, who would ever think of paper diapers for babies?

At last the final speeches had been made, some in Russian and some in English. Warm tears of friendship washed the cheeks. This could only happen once in a lifetime.

It was during the suitcase packing that the “Faith Adventures” one-year felt set was chosen to become an educational aide. This bright felt set had been cut and packaged by Irene Martinson and her friends. Before the trip of the Russian ladies, this set was used for display to community friends and organizations. A felt board, 32” x 48”, made of heavy cardboard that could be folded in half, was covered, and the scene from the book as shown on the diagram on page 131, was pinned in place.

Now the journey in the plaid suitcase would begin. First the flannel board was carefully folded into accordion size. The scene was still attached. Into a huge plastic bag went the flannel board, then the many numbered pieces of bright felt used to tell 156 stories (or even more as imagination required), along with the extra felt, the background pieces and the book, with a bookmark inserted to show the picture which had been set up. Next came many, many rolls of scotch tape, filament tape, and cloth tape, along with boxes of various sizes of straight pins and scissors. The whole set in the huge plastic bag was taped closed.

Now it was time to add the extra pounds, which would fill every corner of the suitcase and bring the weight up to seventy pounds. There were bags of dried fruits and nuts, bars of soap, pens and pencils, writing paper and envelopes. No space would go empty. Baby bottles would be filled with rice. At the last there would be a shower of rubber bands. All medicines, band-aids, and even a collection of tools, would be found with great delight!

It was a difficult decision to mark the suitcases with indelible letters, but this did provide the assurance that they would arrive at their destination. All suitcases go one way and stay. Another gift to the people in the Sister City.

Now came the weeks of waiting. Yes, the visitors with their multitude of suitcases had returned safely. But it takes time to unpack and deliver all the materials. Extra Ziploc bags and plastic bags with handholds, packed in each suitcase, would help. Each suitcase also had the names of new California friends.

It was July of 1993, when the first letter came from the city officials who were responsible for dispersing the goods. By now, thanks to the major airline and willing friends, there had been many thousand of pounds for the city, which had been visited by Californians. It is no secret that our Russian friends face starvation.

There had been questions as to the red and black canvas suitcase. Had it ended up on the black market?

In September of 1993, a beautifully written letter in English was carried from Russia. It read: Dear Horace and Jane, I am very glad to know that you are the very people who sent the Bible, and the pictures to my children at school. Lydua Levchenko gave them to me. Thank you very much. I appreciate your present greatly. I wish you Health and Happiness and Success. I enclose you the pins and the calendar devoted to the Air show and some coins just for viewing. With the best regards, Lida Sheffer

Who would have thought that the Faith Adventures felt would be used in the only English speaking school? It was the only set of felt in that city. The teacher who was using it was formerly with the KGB.

This miracle would not have happened if it had not been for the many hands and the generous hearts of friends.

Thieves, Bandits and Shiftas

“A thief has been here and stolen from me.”
Dad was sitting on the couch in his office, slightly bent forward with his hands clasped together in his lap. He sounded very tired when he told me this. He said he knew who it was. The trusted neighbor boy who had attended to the yard while my mother was alive had continued his weekly job. He was the one who knew my Dad’s habit of a daily nap in his office. He even knew where my Dad kept the money in his desk. That fifty dollars hurt Dad because he felt betrayed. While we sat side by side, our hands intertwined as he related the following.

“I am eighty-six years old and have traveled and lived all over the world. No one has ever stolen from me before.”
Then he related some of his experiences with bandits and “shiftas.”
“In the early days, trekking in Ethiopia, I was at the home of Eric Palm in Northern Ethiopia. The first night there were loud cries from the servants, “Shiftas! Shiftas!” Eric Palm dressed quickly and made the much-regretted decision to run outside. The “Shiftas” were very visible in the bright moonlight. They had decided to steal the tires from the Model T that was such a novelty in Ethiopia. They changed directions from the car to run after Eric Palm. He made it inside the house, where his wife was hiding. The shiftas made it as far as the bedroom where Dad had been sleeping. The men were pushing against the flimsy door and Dad had braced his shoulders against the door and his feet on the bed. With every shove he prayed for help. The help came, not from the servants, but from the barking dogs. The bandits knew the alarm would arouse the neighbors.

“I remember another time when bandits could have robbed and killed me,” continued my Dad. “When I returned by ship to Ethiopia after the war, we had to transfer our trunks to an Egyptian Dow. There were two of us who were passengers, a Catholic nun and myself. We were fascinated by the navigation required to keep this open craft with large sails on course toward Aden. Boards placed out over the ocean were scaled for restroom privileges and required great dexterity, especially by the woman who used a towel for a private screen.” “You know,” my Dad continued, “those Arabs could have thrown both of us overboard and stolen our luggage. We sailed in perfect confidence.”

“Once in Jamaica a thief came into our house,” remembered Dad. “He came during the night, climbing the stairs to the back porch and into the kitchen. He seemed to be satisfied with a meal that he fixed for himself. No one heard him enter or leave. He did not go in the dining room or try our bedroom door.”

When Dad had finished his trail of memories, I reminded him that his confidence and trust in God had always given me a feeling of peace. We had always known that God and his angels were our safety. A smile broke across Dad’s face when I pressed the fifty dollars into his hand. That replaced the money stolen from the middle desk drawer. “Jane, you shouldn’t do this,” he said as he took the money. “It will be our secret,” I told him.

The Waiting Scanner

The books are stacked together neatly. They are piling higher and higher. On top is the book Ocean of Grass, a documentary on the Florida Everglades. It is half open to the place where I put it aside coming back on the airplane from Florida. The enemy had taken over. The small battle was lost. But the war for reading becomes intensified.

Who can say when the love of books began, because it has always been there. Seeking refuge from annoyance of any kind, there was the kindly old tree limb, which spread out over the wall of Kabana. Having found it, I climbed up to the curve where the limb joined the trunk and, hidden from view, this was one of my favorite places of refuge. From here came alive the entire world: The crusaders on their way to Jerusalem, Pollyanna in efforts to bring love, beautiful rich stories from the Bible, even Aesop’s fables. My father, who knew of my books, approved of them. This surprised me when it came to fables. But in his wisdom, he knew that our history and culture has such fables and myths to be discerned as such. So, hidden up high in the tree in Africa, I spent many happy hours, never discovered.

It was Verena’s mother who taught me to read the original Heidi in German. This was slow going at the time, for an eight year old.

In 1935, we had been in Egypt and Palestine for six months. It was here in our rented home in Materia that my mother discovered another reading hideaway. This was tucked under the mosquito netting, with light from the dim street lamp outside the window. The book was removed, and such nonsense to be stopped. The book was T.H. Lawrence’s House of Seven Pillars. To this day I remember the determination I had to finish this. It was very difficult to understand, and I had to go over and over the pages. It was a large book, with many pages, and not that easy to hold, especially covered with the mosquito netting. Any books were welcome, and with new friends came new books. All of the families from the embassies and missions shared their books, which were read at night by the kerosene lamp, or in the daytime swinging in the net hammock, which Herbert and Della Hanson had hung on their porch in Addis Alem.

On the trip back to America in 1939, books proved to be a great anesthetic. The one and only boil of my life became painfully evident while we were in Rome. The hospital doctor lanced the boil, instructing me not to sit on it. My father found a book for me to read while the family took off for the catacombs. I knew all about the catacombs from reading, so felt no pain.

Back in America we were submerged with relatives on every side. They were determined to fatten their two scrawny refugee looking girls with homemade ice cream, bread fresh from Grandma’s oven, and best of all, cherries could be picked while sitting in the cherry tree. The fresh straw in the barns was made for tumbling and playing hide and seek with cousins. And then, of course, were the shelves of books, since the whole family loved education. Grandma and Grandpa were dedicated to education, even sharing their home with the local schoolteachers. They both came from Denmark, spoke Danish and English, but Grandma had not learned to write in English, while Grandpa had his own method with no capitalization or punctuation. Yet, he served for his whole life on all the local and state committees. Here it was in the little used parlor that I found my refuge for reading. There was Grandpa’s big black leather overstuffed chair where I could read in peace; nature stories, stories of the immigrants coming to America, and then on Sunday’s there was a good-humored dash for the comic section of the newspaper, especially by my uncles. They laughed uproariously, thus convincing me that comics were not on the forbidden list.

The years we lived in Jamaica there came the library in Mandeville, which had volumes of The Saint. Riding my blue bicycle with a girlfriend, we spent happy hours reading exploits of danger. What really proved dangerous was Gone With the Wind, which my friend loaned to me and which mother immediately confiscated. It was the size of a thick catalogue.

Once a year we rented a cottage near the ocean. We could swim in the ocean with Daddy or gather shells while Mother wrote letters under the protection of her umbrella. The cottage was actually a two-story house rented out while the owner was gone, so there we were, with books and all. The pungent mildew aroma of the tropics was thick on every page, and it took hours to look at them.

During an earthquake on the island, as they were frequent, one of the corners of this house had split open, and hidden in the crack was a snuff box with Napoleon’s initials on it. That story has to be left to imagination, as such evidences of French history had been found in many places of the world.

Then Mother brought Shirley and me to Nebraska and Dad left for three years to regain school and hospital properties, which had been confiscated by the Italians. The college had a lovely library. Mother had been librarian at the West Indies College, so we understood the mysteries of checking out books. Also, there was a public library not far away. The tiny librarian tiptoes when looking for my requested books. She constantly held her finger to her lips, but who would disgrace a library with loud noise?

The great excitement of books comes rushing back with the experience of seeing our children read, learning with them the mysteries of birds, and taking them to the library to check out their own books. Who can blame a child who is reading under the covers by the light from a flashlight, this being preferable to using an extension cord with light bulb and burning the covers. I understand books piled by every bed, or between box springs and mattress.

Why grieve over the enemy of darkness when all the books are still in evidence? They stand in neatly lined shelves, according to their categories. They are multiplying by the week, thanks to the additions from estate sales and thrift shops. The enemy has been conquered by the bright friendly voices, which emanate from the talking books. These voices are often professional persons, reading in the accents of the author. With volume increased, these voices can follow me while I do housework.

Never to be discounted are the voices of friends. One long book on Russia was read to me at six o’clock every morning over the phone. The essence of the book was there, even if the pronunciation was not. Later I introduced my friend to the author, and he seemed quite pleased.

Now again comes the vision of the scanner. What a lovely birthday gift this would make! The magic of reading whatever and whenever, or proofreading my own typing, seems like a great promise. The first book chosen is Out of My Life and Times, the autobiography of Albert Schweitzer.

The Wallet

In the summer of 1950 I left for Collegedale, Tennessee, after graduating from Loma Linda School of Nursing. My parents would be in Tennessee for nine months where my father was finishing his Master’s Thesis while teaching at Southern College. He would return to the British West Indies College as President. While living in Collegedale I worked in the Barroness Erlanger Hospital in surgery. During this time several Registered Nurses drove together, enjoying the lovely fall colors and later struggling sometimes through dazzlingly white banks of deep snow. The following story is true. Told long ago by a dark-haired, brown-eyed, nurse in the spring of 1951. This nurse we will name Neosa, she had come from Brazil with her husband and two small boys. She worked so her husband could finish his college degree. We will call him Thomas. Although over forty years have gone by, the story has remained, although the names have not.

The Tennessee springtime had burst forth with lush greenery. Dogwood blooms were emerging from their trees of emerald green. The road from Collegedale seemed shorter on this particular Monday because of the story Neosa was telling us.

Neosa had cashed her check from the hospital on Friday, and the money was safe in her husband’s wallet. They had budgeted every penny and decided that there were a few dollars for them to take the children and enjoy a boat ride in the lake near Collegedale. Neosa’s picnic sandwiches and fruit disappeared as the boys watched other small boats rowing across the lake. At last it was their turn. Thomas rowed, while mother and boys kept up a steady description of all the excitement in this new water world.

All too soon, the time came to return the boat. The boat was ready to tie up at the dock and Thomas reached into his pocket for his wallet to pay the dock man. The oars remained across his lap and he seemed worried as he kept up his search in his one pocket. He placed the oars in the boat, stood up, and carefully felt in all his pockets. “Neosa,” he finally said, “My wallet is not here!” Neosa and the boys all searched every inch of the boat, being careful not to capsize it. At last they all sat down and looked at Thomas, the husband and father who always knew what to do in times of emergencies.

Thomas spoke slowly, “I know the wallet was in my pocket when we got on the row boat.” He began. “Now, the wallet is gone. All the money for our food and expenses for this month are in the wallet. God knows all about our problem. We will ask God to help us.”

The parents and children sat quietly with hands folded and heads bowed. Each, in turn, asked God to help them. The father was the last to pray. “We know, God, that nothing is impossible for You. We are looking to You, knowing You alone can help us.”

Before the prayer was ended, the sound of a passing speedboat could be heard. The waves were coming toward the boat at the dock. The silent family looked over at the passing speedboat and then at the waves circling toward them. To their wonderment, a wave silently approached their little boat. On it’s crest was a familiar object. Thomas reached into the wave and picked up his wallet. The wallet and contents were all dry.

God was answering the prayers of this faithful family, even before they had finished their prayers!

"It is Better to Give Than Go"

We were at the Kingston Airport in Jamaica. This was a tearful goodbye for our family. Daddy had, under much pressure, decided to leave for New York, then by convoy to Africa. It was evident that his experiences in Ethiopian affairs were more important than his replacement as president of the college in Mandeville.

There were other logistics to consider. Mother, Shirley and I would have to pack and leave for America. Once in America we would have to locate near a college and, as it turned out, not have our father with us for three years. The solution to the packing and moving was made easier by the knowledge that one of Mother’s sisters would come to help. Mother’s sister, Dollie, was chosen. Of all the efficient Danish sisters, she was the most efficient. Unmarried at the time, she had lived on both east and west coasts and had volunteered her services. By the time she arrived in Miami she had followed all of Mother’s suggestions. “You will have to come on standby,” Mother had written. “It is wartime, so you will not be allowed to bring any American money. We will be in Mandeville, so let us know when you get to Kingston.”

Aunt Dollie arrived in Kingston. She did not know anyone. She followed her sister’s instructions and arrived with only the money to get her to the Myrtle Bank Hotel. She was sitting in the lobby, wiping perspiration from her face, and wondering what to do, when Douglas and Patsy Pond happened to walk by. “Doug, that looks like Maggie’s sister,” exclaimed Patsy. They walked up to her and she explained her predicament. The Ponds called the college and let Mother know that her sister would be arriving “sometime” depending on the advance of money from Tim Walters and the train ride from Kingston to Mandeville.

Aunt Dollie was the one person in the Hanson family who was equal to any challenge. She was the one who could give advice on child rearing, having no children of her own. There was nothing she couldn’t do. But she was about to live through the most frightening experience of her life. She told us about it for days afterward, and we found her most entertaining, for we considered our existence to be that on an island paradise with all possible conveniences. Aunt Dollie followed us everywhere, clutching on our arms to emphasize her story.

“First of all,” she told us, “I didn’t know if I could trust this Tim Walters who loaned me the money and took me to the train. He is very tall and very black. Next was the train. I have never seen anything like it. Everyone sits on wooden benches. The windows are open and the smoke from the engines comes right in. Don’t tell me that the people on the train speak English.” This, we knew, because the dialect, “patois,” is not easy to understand. The women on the train have these big baskets with mangoes, guavas, breadfruit, and on top of everything are squawking chickens. Mother had sent a driver and car to wait at the Mandeville station. “How many times I thought I would not make it to your house,” said Aunt Dollie. The hours of travel were followed by days of packing. Each day brought a new experience. “Why don’t you have screens on the windows?” she asked. “No wonder there are insects in the flour and sugar. And what do you think of that black lizard running across the table? It blows up a red balloon on its neck.”

Each day Aunt Dollie would answer the streams of people who came to the back door to beg. Many would produce a “begging note” probably written by a friend and would conceal the illiteracy of the beggar. Aunt Dollie would especially train her eyes on the unmarried women who were standing there with protruding bellies. She proceeded to give each one a lecture on the evils of their life style. We were all quite composed to Aunt Dollies remarks. If only she could have visited us in Ethiopia!

With traditional efficiency, Mother and Aunt Dollie had us packed and we were on our way to Lincoln, Nebraska. We were fortunate, indeed, to have so many loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In Lincoln, we would stay with Aunt Hazel and her two small sons. Uncle Grover was a medical officer in the war in the Pacific.

Mother had to get us ready for school. I would be in college, and Shirley in the academy. Shopping for school clothes was first on the list and it took weeks to find a warm winter coat for Shirley. She had her own idea of a belted, fitted coat when “boxy” coats were in style. Mother patiently tried every store in Lincoln. She was not as exasperated with Shirley because she herself had always liked to be in style.

It was in Lincoln that Mother traded her full-length leopard coat with full fox collar for a smart black coat. The leopard had been sent from Ethiopia to Sammy Manquewitz in New York. It was beautifully lined and had her initials sewn into the lining.

An important decision was to have Shirley and me live in the girls’ dorm for a few months. We did not room together. One of Shirley’s first questions was, “Who will wash the floor?” and “Who is going to polish my shoes?”

Best of all was Aunt Dollie’s version of the trip and of nerve shattering daily life in Jamaica. Her conclusion, when she told the story to her local church was, “Believe me, it’s better to give than to go.”

Pajama Story

“That cat” was majestically occupying a favorite position at the head of the bed. Loud purring with an occasional swishing of the tail and stretching legs indicated a decision to stay. This was what Shirley had also decided. After all, “that cat” also was known to be helpful in pouncing on the lizards, which came through the unscreened windows. There were no screens on the windows of our home in Jamaica, which did not disturb us. In spite of all the good qualities possessed by “that cat” and Shirley’s insistence that the cat deserved our loving care, it was not the cat but the hundreds of fleas that swarmed into our sleeping bodies that I found objectionable. “If that cat stays, I go,” I announced to Mother. That was the decision, and I moved to the sun porch at one end of the house. Mother had made cafĂ© curtains to pull closed on the three sides. My Jamaican friends jokingly advised me to keep the curtains pulled closed at all times, especially during the bright new moon of the tropics. The golden beams would cause hideous disfigurement, “and don’t forget the duppies ghosts,” was the advice. Besides, the soft lacy Poinciana leaves outside the window did not completely obscure the view from the sidewalk outside which led to the porch of the boy’s dorm. The sun porch was a great solution. The disappearance of “that cat” was a mystery.

We now adopted a new sister, Marilyn Pond, who would live with us and attend College. On weekends and holidays she would live with her parents in Kingston. Marilyn was an exemplary sister and shared the room with Shirley. She practiced the piano, studied, ironed her clothes and proved to be all the good things we could hope to emulate. Also, she would occasionally invite us to spend time with her in Kingston. She was the only child of Patsy and Douglas Pond and we admired the views from the Hope Gardens and Port Royal. We could shiver at the stories of pirates and “obeahs,” and envision the great earthquake when Port Royal sank beneath the waves, all as a justice shown because of the wickedness in that city.

One weekend when I was visiting Marilyn, we decided to play a trick on her Dad. Marilyn brought his pajamas into our room, and we proceeded to sew them in tight stitches. When this was completed we tied the arms and legs into many knots, giggling nervously. They were hung back in the closet and we waited for bedtime. We had all retired when we heard mumbled exclamations, “Look what those girls have done!”

Steps were heard going down the hall past our door. We were trying not to laugh over our enjoyment but wondered what vengeance was planned for us. Quick as a flash we decided to prepare by assuming the role of innocence. We knelt together on the side of the bed as though we were saying our prayers. Right then the door opened, a voice pronounced, “This is one time your prayers will not help you,” and we were in perfect position for the skillet, which descended in the appropriate places.

We always enjoyed this joke, and especially that we shared families which were able to accept jokes and reciprocate in their own time.

In later years, Douglas Pond was to officiate at our wedding and Marilyn and Don (her husband) would drive us from the church.

The Tanks are Coming!

A hush fell over the classroom. Miss Moyer, teacher for the thirty students in grades four to six, had the two new students stand. “This is Shirley Sorenson in fourth grade and Jane Sorenson in sixth grade,” she announced.

After a short silence, there was a ripple of exclamation. For the first time in my life I can remember the overwhelming feeling of being in a classroom with such a multitude. Oh for the days when my teachers had been my mother and father and later the private teacher, Mae Matthews, who had come from Kansas to teach the American children and head the Ethiopian Girls’ School in Kabana. That year will never be forgotten, nor the next year in Redfield, South Dakota, when I was in seventh grade with not more than ten students. My father, during this time, was attending the University and writing his Masters Thesis on Ethiopia. Shirley, Mother, and I followed him as he was also employed as a college professor. We acclimated from the 9,000-foot elevation of Africa, with its lush beauty, to the plains of Nebraska. Having many aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents made it bearable, and soon we had our own circle of friends.

One day we approached our mother with a request. “Mother, we are the only two in school with no bicycles.” We all knew that this was a sight exaggeration. Mother gave this some thought. We knew she was busy, but happy to have us all safe in America – land of opportunity.

My parents had invited my mother’s brother, Russell, to live with us so that he could take pre-med in college. His teasing was a constant aggravation, but was to be expected in any of my mother’s family.

“Here is a letter from Omaha,” she announced to us two months later. “You have won the Chew Chew Candy contest!” it announced.

Mother was magical and she loved answering contests. Her letter to the contest, along with the candy wrapper, had done it! We could hardly wait for the trip to Omaha to pick up our new bicycle. It was a beautiful blue. It went into our bedroom with us at night and we took turns riding it.

“Guess what?” my mother said three weeks later when we got home from school. She was waving another letter for us to read. She had submitted another letter with a Chew Chew Candy wrapper in the name of her brother and I remember this letter because I thought it was so clever. She had written, “I wish I was a giraffe with a long neck so I could taste Chew Chew Candy all the way down.”

So, this time Uncle Russ went along with us to Omaha to claim the bike, asking for a girl’s bike. We were hoping he would because he had threatened us that this was his letter, after all.

The man in the Omaha bike shop was exclaiming how unusual this was, to have two blue bikes go to one address, but he loved seeing our happy faces. Now two blue bikes were in our home, this time in the basement next to the washing machine. Of course, the bikes went with us to South Dakota.

Seeing the campus for the first time, Shirley and I would not get out of the car. The first glimpse of the campus, and we both broke into tears. Why had our parents brought us to this God-forsaken country of sand and tumbleweeds? They were everywhere.

Once settled, we could ride our bikes again. I can remember the sound of the meadowlarks, while riding with a bread-and-butter pickle sandwich clasped in my hand.

Then came the big move to the tropical beauty of Jamaica where I took eighth grade and finished high school.

My mother and father were much loved from the first. My father was President of the College, which was accredited a Senior College while he was there the first time. Mother was Librarian, and took charge of the constant stream of company, which seemed to always be in our home. The two girls who did the housework had a room downstairs and knew the intricacies of taking care of us. We even had an indoor bathroom again!

As usual, our bicycles were with us. This time we had moved to an elevation of 3,200 feet. It was a challenge for us to ride the road from Mandeville to the “College on the Hill,” as it was called. Especially now, since the British had possession of the island and drove on the “wrong” side of the road.

An American bicycle, so beautiful, with large tires, was definitely more difficult to ride up the hill from Mandeville. Such excitement when we rode down the hill though. The people on their way to market, with baskets of fruit or chickens on their heads, would run from one side of the road to the other to better see this invasion from America. The lightweight British bicycles went whizzing by unnoticed. The cry went up, “The tanks are coming! The tanks are coming!”

Our First Frightening Experience

Shirley and I had clutched imploringly to Obashi’s hands. This nice Ethiopian, in his white Ethiopian shama was our savior.

The train had stopped at the station in Exira and below us on the platform were the joyous faces of all the relatives and friends who had not seen their sister and her husband for eight years. Had not even seen us.

Smiles and waves, arms reaching for us, brought only terror to our hearts! We had never seen so many white faces in our lives.

First Memory of Sadness

We were way up high in a New York Hotel. My parents had waited eight years for this furlough to go back to America to see family and friends. But why such deep sadness? Why the tears on my mother’s face and her grief?

Daddy was comforting her while Shirley and I sat on the bed bewildered. Why was this piece of paper in my mother’s hands causing her to cry so bitterly?

It was a telegram sent to the hotel. We had spent many long weeks on the ocean and taken a train trip down the steep mountains of Ethiopia to Djibouti. But nothing stayed in my three-year-old memory except for the deep sadness we felt as we tried to comfort my mother.
My mother’s sister, Elsie, had died. It was an anesthesia death during a routine appendectomy. Elsie had come from her teaching position in Hawaii. It wasn’t until many years later, while reading family letters, that I realized how much her eleven Hanson brothers and sisters loved their sister. She was only twenty-five. She was graceful and lovely with soft auburn hair. She was kindness and optimism personified. There had been letters between Hawaii and Ethiopia filled with the excitement of a coming reunion. Maybe Elsie would even come back to teach in Africa. It was not to be.

Where are the Girls?

Our train was on board the ferryboat bound for Denmark. It was 1939 and our long journey from Addis Abeba had led us up the boot of Italy, across Switzerland and Germany. In Hamburg we visited the zoo, which was supposed to be the best in the world at this time. The parrots had been taught to say “Hail Hitler” and the monkeys to do the Hitler salute. Mother had shopped for clothes for all of us. Shirley and I had bright red blieghly knit dresses, light brown belted coats, and brimmed hats with flowers tucked into the ribbons. Mother always checked the fashions worn by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose…just to be sure we would be in style.

Once secure on the ferryboat, our first smorgasbord array was like eating from a picture book. For myself, it was with remorse, because I was now seasick, I fed all of mine to the fish. This was done after climbing on the boat’s railing and leaning precariously over. One of the women passengers grabbed my skirt and with an alarmed voice, informed my mother that this was not safe.

Soon my mother returned to our compartment in the train after giving instructions to our father to keep a close watch on us. As usual, he did not interfere with our pursuits. He was so much fun to be with because he had no fear. In fact, we convinced him that he could return to the train below and we would be perfectly safe on the deck alone. After walking around the deck, watching the sea birds circling, we decided that we would also go to the train.

Holding tightly onto the rails, we climbed down the iron stairs and entered the train. We walked the full length of the train. Something was wrong. Our parents were not to be found. We walked the full length of the train again, this time in real fright. I had to be brave because Shirley’s lip was quivering and I was eighteen months older and responsible to figure out this predicament. Outside the train again, I said, “I’m going to look under the train.” Lying flat on the deck I saw another train on the far side. “Shirley, we have to get to the train on the other side,” I announced as I stood up. “We must have gone down the wrong stairs. We’ll go above and find the other stairs.” This should be done immediately. Land was now appearing and we could hear the clanking of chains being removed from the train and deck.

All of this was too much for Shirley. She stood rooted to the spot and refused to budge. Tears were appearing in her eyes. Someone had to come to the rescue. Two girls standing crying would not help. So up the stairs I went and across the deck. Sure enough! There was another stair, which led down to another train. The right train.

By now loud screams could be heard everywhere on the ferryboat. Daddy was the first to the rescue and there was Mother in her leather slippers. She had just asked. “Where are the girls?” and had been assured that all was well.
Such hugs and happiness as we all entered the compartment! It was almost worth all the terror to have such loving reassurance that our parents would never leave us. We straightened our new hats and prepared for our adventure in Copenhagen, the home of our favorite, Hans Christian Anderson, and also the homes of both of our grandparents.

War in the Mountains and Peace in the Desert

We knew that we were going on a long trip. Large trunks were open, with piles of belongings placed in stacks to be sorted and packed. Daddy was making travel arrangements, Mother-checking lists of what we would need. We knew the time had come when we saw copies of travel documents and money being sewed into mother’s corset.

There had been tension in the country for some months, as the Italians had sent their army to invade Ethiopia from the north. Mussolini, wearing his black shirt, had been
screaming that Ethiopia needed to be colonized and civilized. Many of the army officers and pilots joined in this expedition, sensing a release from boredom, and new adventure. They were determined not to allow the humiliation of 1896 to be repeated. At that defeat, the Italians were sent home humiliated by barefooted-Ethiopian soldiers who had relentlessly practiced guerilla warfare. They would swoop down from the high mountains, reigning terror with their swords and ancient muskets. This defeat had rankled in the hearts of the Italians.

Now the war was on different terms. The Italians had tanks and airplanes. It was 1935. The Ethiopians were fighting to retain their freedom. Foreigners joined the ranks of the Red Cross. Many sent wives and children out of the country.

When we tearfully kissed our Daddy goodbye, he would be heading to Dessie to help with the hospital and Red Cross. Although he was not trained as a medical doctor, he would help Dr. George Bergman and Dr. Tesla Nicola. Mrs. Nicola, with sons, Bruce, Darryl, and baby Ben, would leave for America. Mrs. Bergman, with Clyde and Phyllis would travel with my Mother, Shirley and me to Egypt. Before we left Addis, Mother had seen me on the front porch of our Kabana home. “Why do you keep looking up in the shy?” she asked. “See those big birds flying overhead,” I answered, not taking my eyes from the shy. “I am looking to see which one Clyde is on. He told me that he fly’s over our house to check up on me.” Nothing my Mother could say could convince me otherwise. Clyde was five years older than I, and Phyllis was a year younger than Shirley.

Aunt Gertrude, as we called Mrs. Bergman, was one of the most congenial travel companions. All disasters brought laughter from her lips. She was the kind of Auntie that we loved to hug.

Our train pulled out of the Addis station and we would stop three times before arriving in Djibouti. The stops were Dierdawa, Harrar, and Hawash. Some nights there were unscheduled stops due to fear of “Shiftas.” The bandits who would take out portions of the rails to cause a train wreck. Or, if the locusts had settled on the tracks, they would make the rails slippery and unsafe. At each stop we would be tucked into cots with netting draped over us. In lower altitudes there was the fear of the malaria mosquito. We were accustomed to all manner of other insects, having to hop into our beds and say our prayers from this safe distance. We knew that Mother had her usual bottles of Iodine and Lysol and we would be well protected.

Once in Djibouti, we found the only hotel. We had been there only a day when the man whose room was directly below ours, came with a complaint to Aunt Gertrude and Mother. It seems that Shirley and Phyllis had found a knothole in the floor and could, with proper aim, drop tangerine peelings upon his head as he sat below. This proved to be very embarrassing to the mothers. We tried not to look at him when we went into the dining room for meals. Here there were large sheets attached to horizontal poles. At one end was a rope, which a boy would pull back and forth. This gave some coolness and kept the flies from settling on us.

Arrangements had been made for us to travel to Egypt, where we would live in a house in the suburb of Cairo. For many years to come, this location was to be an orphanage. We knew it as the location, according to tradition, where the baby Jesus and his parents had stayed when they fled to Egypt. The flat roof of the house was ideal for play and for spreading clothes to dry. There was an open gazebo with seats and an area where we could play in the sand and not be subject to the scorching sun. Our mothers took turns marketing and preparing meals.

Aunt Gertrude was especially pleased on one shopping expedition when she came back with a quart size container of exotic perfume. It was a delicate green and she had bartered with great skill. The one big problem turned out to be that the contents were odorless. We should have known, because the persons who came to barter seemed to practice slight of hand most of the time. My mother decided to negotiate with a carpet maker in the local bazaar. Week after week, we would walk to his shop to approve of his beautiful skill. The result was an entrance rug and a large rug, both done in soft shades of brown, with woven designs of the Egyptian lotus blossom and the God Horace, with wings outspread as he knelt on either end of the carpet. Mother hoped to place this rug in our Addis Abeda home, along with the bright Turkish rugs she had already used. She proved that there is more than one way to cover a dirt floor.

While we were living in Egypt, Phyllis came to her mother with a complaint. “Why is it,” she asked, “that my name is not in the Bible?” Her mother said she did not understand. “Well,” Phyllis said, “Shirley has her name in the Bible.” It turned out that Phyllis had been memorizing the Psalm, which reads, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” Young children are very literal. Years later, Lester Ortner told me that when he was a child he would sing the chorus of “I Come to the Garden” and in the chorus the words gave him concern as to who Andy was…Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me. The actual words are “and He walks with me, etc.”

During our stay in Egypt, Mother and Aunt Gertrude taught Shirley, Phyllis and me. Clyde was destined for bigger and better things. He was enrolled in the American school in Cairo. He disdained to have us follow him, so we kept a safe distance. He was very posh in his uniform; short pants, navy jacket and cap, knee high socks, black shoes, and tucked under his arm a magnificent brief case.

Playmates who came to join us in Materia were the nine children of the Farag family. They seemed to be all ages and very well mannered. Mr. Farag was an employee of the Egyptian railroad. He was always wearing a business suit and red fez, which made him look even taller than he was. He had the distinction of joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church as one of the first in Egypt. Desiring to exchange his day off from work from Friday to Saturday, he approached his employer. There was nothing that could be done except to appear before the local judge. He made his request. His request was denied. The judge promptly fell over dead. The next week Mr. Farag had to appear before a different Judge. He made his request. His request was denied. This Judge also fell over dead. It took a few weeks to go before the third Judge. This time the request was granted.

We used to go to church where the Farags and ourselves were the only ones present. The service was held in a home and we learned to sing in Arabic, “I will make you fishers of men.” One day we had left the house and were descending the steps, all except Salem Farag. He was walking carefully on the rail. He was, until Shirley gave him a playful shove. His mother was very embarrassed to report this to my mother. To this day, Salem has this scar on his forehead.

We had lovely excursions into Cairo and into the bazaars. The Cairo museum was open, and even in our observation we found it a disaster. Nothing was in order, but thrown together helter skelter. We could walk by chariots, touching the gilded wheels, which had become loosened. What a way to display mummies of kings and queens…. All thrown together in a pile.

There were the trips out to the Pyramids. Our mothers would take the four of us on the train right to the end of the track. There we negotiated for a horse and buggy. The driver would flick his whip over the backs of the horses and they were off in a spray of sand. Usually, we could view the British soldiers on parade when we were nearing the station. The Scottish bagpipers would strut forth in their wool kilts, bagpipes blaring loudly into the Egyptian sky.

Once at the Pyramids, we were allowed to play for hours in the sand. Once mother and Aunt Gertrude climbed the largest Pyramid with a guide to help them hoist themselves up each large granite block. Another guide was left to care for us as we picked up pieces of alabaster.

It seems like a hundred years ago that we had this serene time by the Pyramids. There was not another soul in sight. From the Pyramids we walked over to the Sphinx who seemed to be guarding the desert. We admired the profile, remembering that it was Napoleon’s soldiers who shot away a portion of this nose.

It was in walking between the Pyramid and the Sphinx that Shirley declared a sit-down strike. With true Danish stubbornness, she sat in the sand and refused to move.

During our stay in Materia, we met Mr. Stanley Bull. Because of the war, his wife was in England and since he was now in a country, which did not have a good connotation of his last name, we always referred to him as “Mr. Stanley.” Many years later, when my father was President of the West Indies College in Jamaica, Mr. Bull and his family came to join the faculty. One occasion, Mrs. Bull and another friend had joined in neighborhood “Harvest Ingathering.” They had not thought of the impact of their names until they introduced themselves at the first door. “I am Mrs. Bull and this is Mrs. Hoag.” (Pronounced hog).

We were still paying weekly visits to our carpet maker in Mataria. The workmanship was progressing slowly but exquisitely beautiful. Each time we went to the shop, we stopped to admire a very tall slender oblisque. It was dark blue, very shiny to the base, which disappeared into a small pool of water. Why this oblisque was placed here, we did not know, but loved to lean over the rail to admire our reflections.

During one of our trips to the Great Pyramids, our guides had taken us to a burial site nearby, which was for commoners. We went underground, passing between shelves, much like bunks on a ship. We could have handled the bones piled on the shelves, but the thought gave me shivers. Entering the burial sites in the Pyramids was very eerie. The long narrow passageways would end in the burial chamber that contained only the stone outer casket, much like a large bathtub. In later years, an Israeli flutist was allowed to record in the empty Pyramid. When he tapped his flute on the open Sarcoguphus, he would tune his flute to a perfect note of D Major. At the time I was there, my only thought was how to escape as quickly as possible from this prison, which was hot and lit only by a single light bulb. There were no other visitors, or hoards of camels, to tempt tourists to ride around the huge edifices. There was a solitary camel, which Shirley and I climbed on, clutching tightly when the beast was commanded to stand. We really preferred our Ethiopian mules.

Aunt Gertrude and my mother took a train to visit the Royal Tombs. The only one that was near Cairo was large and artistically decorated on the walls, Egyptian style. The colors were in earth tones and depicted the slaves and family possessions, which were to accompany the dead to a place in the future.

During the fifth month in Egypt, a trip to Palestine was planned. Our mothers were courageously packing and excitement was high. The morning before departure, we were having oatmeal for breakfast. Mother directed me to ladle the cereal into our bowls. Shirley refused her oatmeal and spread her hands across the bowl. I insisted that Mother had directed me, and when she still refused, the hot oatmeal landed on her hands. None of us were prepared for the redness, swelling, and pitiful screams. We took turns plunging her hands into cold water. I was aching for my sister, realizing that obedience to the letter of the law was not always a good idea. Since our travel arrangements had been made, we had to go on with Shirley’s hands bandaged. The long train ride through the shimmering sand, and black smoke billowing through the open windows, the hard wood benches, all made me more conscious of my contribution to my dear sister’s pain. When we look at photos of our trip, I am reminded of my crime. Walking on the Via Delarosa, pointing to the plains of Bethlehem, wherever we went, are the reminders, as Shirley’s hands are very visible. Somehow mother had enough salve and bandages to keep the burns from becoming infected.

There was not much cleanliness in accommodations, very few hotels or hostels. The night we were to spend by the Sea of Galilee there was only one small room to rent for all of us. After Aunt Gertrude pulled back the covers and exclaimed over the dirty sheets, the covers were pulled up, and we slept on top with our clothes on. Mother and Aunt Gertrude took turns guarding the door that night.

Next morning we took a small rowboat ride on the lake. Our mothers were determined for us to visit the places that we had read about in our Bible stories. In a visit to the Dead Sea we put on bathing suits to swim in the buoyant salt water. We visited the Cave of Machpelah and the Oaks of Mamre, where Abraham and Sarah had been buried, the tomb of Lazarus, the city of Jericho and the River Jordan. One of the moments that was very overwhelming to me was walking in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a very sacred feeling to walk under the ancient olive trees. The traditional burial tombs in the city of Jerusalem were more commercialized, including one by the Ethiopians. We had visited the Coptic Church in Egypt when we were traveling to Palestine. These tall Coptic monks, dressed in black with high, black, brimless, stovepipe hats, were impressed with two mothers and four children who could speak the Amheric language with them.

Walking through the narrow cobbled streets of Jerusalem, there is a flow of traffic with bazaars on each side of the street with wonderful aromas of spices and perfumes.

Masada had not been excavated in 1935, and it was not until 1978 that we took our two youngest children to Israel and were lifted by tram to the top of Masada. It would be a dream to spend a night there, under the bright stars, overlooking the sheer drop to the Dead Sea.

History comes alive when remembering our six months in Egypt. There was a carefully typed letter from Daddy when we returned to Cairo. “All is coming along well,” we read, “you can make plans to come back to Addis Abeba. It doesn’t look like the Italians will win the war.” Included with the letter was a photo showing Dr. Bergman, Dr. Nicola, and Dad. They had all grown mustaches and were standing by the American Red Cross ambulance.

When we arrived in Addis we did not have time to unpack our trunks. We were introduced to the bomb shelter dug into the hillside at the bottom of the campus. There we found supplies and were handed our gas masks.

Mother, Shirley, and I listened for hours to the stories of the Italian invasion. Daddy gave us a full account, always full of optimism and faith. When he had reached the hospital in Dessie, traveling with Dr. Nicola and Dr. Bergman, they found large Red Cross insignias painted on the roofs. Dr. Bergman had built the hospital years before. At that time, the news media had sent reporters to cover the war, but they had all been detained in Addis. They were forced to send imaginary reports, using photos of natives painted with shoe polish and bandaged on all limbs. There was no communication from the front. October 3, 1935, Italians, under General Bodolio, crossed into Ethiopia. By November, the news reporters had come to Dessie and were camped in tents on the hospital grounds.

Emperor Heile Salassie was also in Dessie in his palace. The Italians were anxious to kill the Emperor, and decided that if they bombed the hospital, he might be seeking shelter there. They dropped forty-one bombs on the hospital, even with the Red Cross visible. Surgery was busy helping the injured. One nurse, Sister Maria, sustained a broken leg and was the only casualty from the hospital.

On December 8, 1935, the Emperor came to the hospital grounds where he and my father conducted a thanksgiving prayer service.

The Italians had air power much superior to the ten Ethiopian planes, eight of which could fly. There were stories of the enemy planes making deliberate strikes at Red Cross ambulances, some from Sweden, Switzerland, and England. Two doctors in one ambulance were killed. The retreat to Addis had begun.

One of the first Italian planes to land in Dessie landed while the reporters, including a young George Putnam, were still in Dessie. The Italians had lists of names, and Dr. Rohrbaugh, a Presbyterian missionary friend of my fathers, tells of the pilot’s eagerness to meet a reporter by the name of Knickerbacker. They shoved Knickerbacker into the pilots’ seat of the plane, demanding that he fly their plane. They had mistaken him for the world famous Eddie Rickenbacker. Years later, Mr. Rohrbaugh received $250.00 from the Reader’s Digest for this story, with verification from my father.

The tragedy of war was spread like a mist from the air. Natives, unfamiliar with airplanes, would look into the sky and receive deadly mustard gas. Death from this poison was extremely painful, with hair turned yellow, and tongues bloated. The nightmare continued.

On May 3, 1936, the Emperor and his entourage had left Addis Abeba by train for Djibouti, then by way of Palestine, for asylum in England. Had communications been more advanced, the Italians could have bombed the train on its way down the mountains. A short time before, the Emperor’s cousin, Legasu, mysteriously died. There would be no one to rule while Heile Salassie was in exile. June of 1936 would find the Emperor standing before the League of Nations, assembled in Switzerland, pleading for help. Not one nation volunteered their help. In quiet dignity the Emperor turned and pronounced, “Today it is my country. Someday, it will be your country.”

On June 12th the Pope blessed the occupation of Ethiopia.

The city of Addis Abeba was without government. Skies were blazing night and day, from fires started by the native looters. With “Teg” and “Talla” to heighten their drunken stupor, the shooting began. The palace was looted. Stray bullets flew everywhere. The Italian airplanes that flew over were showering leaflets in Amheric to quall the city. Two planes tried to land on the airfield after unsuccessful effort to strafe the two Ethiopian planes on the ground. To destroy the Ethiopian planes, they had to land, place straw against the planes, then set the straw on fire. Dr. Lambie from the Presbyterian Hospital, who also helped coordinate the Red Cross ambulances, found it amusing that the Italians were not accurate at bombing their target.

By now it was impossible to coordinate help to other stations. We rushed to our bomb shelter when the first plane came over. I can remember running down the mountain slope, holding my mother’s hand. I found it expedient to tell her that it was I who had broken her comb, as this seemed like a good time for confession. We were not in the bomb shelter too long, but were rescued by the British legation, which was nearby. The very tall Sikj solders from India protected the legation and came for us in an open truck. They also rescued the Americans from the Filwoha Hospital. We were on the Embassy grounds in tents with the Bergmans.

At this precise time, the American Embassy, located five miles across town, was in trouble. The drunken rioters were trying to tear down the protective wall. It was thanks to a Morse code operator that no one was killed. This brave man sent the message to the Philippines, the Philippines to Hawaii, Hawaii to San Francisco, San Francisco to New York, New York to London, and finally London to the British Embassy in Addis. “COME AND RESCUE US,” the message read. After what seemed long hours, the British arrived to transport the Americans to safety.

It seemed like days that the Italian tanks rumbled by, on their way to occupy the city. They had not wished to destroy Addis Abeba, but the occupants had done most of it themselves. When it was safe to return to Kabana, Shirley and I spent hours picking up the spent shells. They were everywhere. Thatch roofs did not provide much protection.

One of the first nights back in Kabana, there were dozens of neighbors who fled their huts and were seeking refuge on one of the lawns at Kabana. It was a bright moonlit night, but when the Italian soldiers came, they did not see the refugees. Our God, who had protected us for so many days, was holding His hand over His people. The hospital at Filwoha had many hundred seeking refuge. When the Italian soldiers came, these natives were not so fortunate. They were marched outside of the compound walls and many were killed. Phyllis told us that the next day she was running and tripped into the bloated body of a dead man.

The Italians were not at all happy to have Americans in Addis. They called us the “White Ethiopians.” It was not too many days later that two soldiers appeared at the Kabana gate. They proceeded to question Shirley and me as to whom we preferred, the Italians or the Ethiopians. Only out of good manners we replied that we liked them both. Since they were not successful in getting information from us, they tried another approach. “We want to see your cook, Gumtesa,” they announced. Shirley, in her young innocence, ran to the cookhouse and called him. They took him off and shot him.

Now the looters were presenting some of their trophies. We had a few dishes, which looters had taken from the palace. Other foreigners had many of these dishes. The Emperors china had a wide gold band. The Queen’s china a smaller gold band. In the days after the Emperor returned from exile, he declined the return of these pieces of china. He had already ordered china from France.

Our family spent three more years in Addis. Travel was restricted, but after a time, we continued our exchange of schools, part-time riding to the Filwoha campus, and then having class on our campus. Mae Mathews was still our teacher. She had earlier told Aunt Gertrude that her son, Clyde, was a hopeless student and would never amount to anything. In 1954, it was with pleasure that Aunt Gertrude sent Mae Mathews Clyde’s graduation announcement from LLU School of Medicine. Aunt Gertrude had never forgotten Miss Mathew’s remark.

It was a sad day when we packed to return to America. The hope was that Mr. Cupertino from Italy would have more freedom with his countrymen. This was wrong, and he was even more restricted.

Della and Herbert Hanson stayed on, as did Mae Mathews and Balle Nielsen. Romance bloomed for Balle and Mae and they were married. It was fortunate for the Emperor that, upon his return from exile, there were some trusted friends to help him. Della Hanson assumed the job of reorganizing the Palace, with staff and supplies. She was very capable, and has told me of walking with her tools to fix leaky faucets and take care of other repairs. Uncle Herbert stayed on at the Akika Boys School, where Aunt Della taught music and began her work on translating the hymnal into Amheric. She had her apartment in the Palace and served for more than twenty-five years with the Palace functions. She had met President Tito, Queen Juliana, the Queen of Denmark, the Shah of Iran, and many other heads of state. Before an auxiliary luncheon at the Ambassor Hotel, I helped her arrange the beautiful invitations in a leather scrapbook, and place the luxurious lace tablecloth, a gift from Tito, sterling silver vases from the Queen of Denmark, and other gifts. In her talk at the luncheon, she gave all praise and glory to God.

After Uncle Herbert’s death and burial in Addis, Aunt Della stayed on and was there the day the Emperor was taken from his palace.

Our family traveled through Europe, then by ship to New York. This was my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. This occasion reminded me of the feeling I had in walking through the Garden of Gethsemane.

On board ship were our few belongings from Ethiopia. There were gifts from the Palace, which we had treasured from earlier years, framed pictures of the pressed flowers Mother had helped us identify when we were in Palestine, our Turkish and Egyptian rugs, and many, many memories.

We were thankful for God’s protection. We had known His presence during the terror at night and the arrow by day.


We sat spellbound whenever my Father told a story. He had an endless repertoire from his reading and life experiences. Best of all, he enjoyed telling stories about himself that ended up with him looking foolish.

He told us of the time he had accepted an invitation to have dinner at the Mission Inn with his two friends from Ethiopia, Dr. Nicola and Dr. Bergman. By then he was also a Doctor, having graduated with a Ph.D. in History. The three good friends enjoyed the meal in grand style. When the waiter appeared with the bill my Father asked him to present the bill to the person who looked the most successful. The bill was placed on the table next to him.

My Father was a College President in Jamaica for twenty years. It was there that he was exposed to ”interesting” cultural expressions. To understand why these Jamaican stories were funny, we had to learn the dialect, “Patois”, in which nicknames were invented to fit the person. Kitty Parchment, my Father’s treasurer, was called “Fish Mouth” because she held her mouth in a pursed expression. Then, there was a Norain, a student from Trinidad. His name immediately became “Drought.” The farm manager was very good-natured and constantly appeared with a big smile on his face. His nickname was “Serious.” My Father did not know that he had been given a nickname until one day he was showing a new student through the bindery. Another new student approached them, calling out to my Father, “Good morning, Mr. Lacky.” The new student, who had spoken up, became terribly embarrassed when the others broke into laughter. Many of them had been in a class on religious history where my father liked to recount stories about Lacunze, a missionary priest in South America.

In the early days in Ethiopia, Abyssinia in those days, a young couple in Addis Abeda had planned the return trip to Scandinavia. The father would be traveling alone, while the wife and eight-year-old daughter stayed in Addis. Marie listened while her parents planned the trip from Addis, down the mountains to the seaport, then by ship through the Red Sea. When the day for departure came, the family knelt in prayer and the parents listened while their daughter ended her prayer by saying, Dear Jesus, please make the Red Sea blue for Daddy.”

My Father had taken me for a walk into the forest, and now I was lying stretched out on my stomach, propped on elbows and entranced by one small plant. “That is a Jack-in-the-box,” my Father explained kneeling beside me. It was ten inches tall, a celery shade of green. Upon the slender stem was the form of a pulpit with a magical person inside. Hardly daring to breathe and not even touching this gem of the forest, we both shared this special moment.

My Father was not a trained botanist, but he appreciated the unusual beauties of the Ethiopian countryside. True to his Midwest upbringing, we spent leisure time planting gardens, some which had to be fenced with thorn hedges. His first planting had been one thousand eucalyptus trees from the familiar fat triangular seeds. The garden in Addis Alem was planted before I was born. The thorn hedges kept the less lively deer from nibbling, but porcupine burrowed, the monkeys leapt, and numerous birds flew in. The answer, of course, was to employ a gardener to maintain vigilance. An ancient firearm added prestige and served mostly as a headrest when it was time to curl up for a good night’s sleep. The howling hyenas never seemed to alarm him.

During the months we did not see Daddy, we missed him terribly. We could not understand “trekking,” or why he could not take us along. He would start off with mules laden with tents, camping equipment, and some food. Before another doctor joined him with his crew, they rushed to my father and inquired where my father kept his guns? When they were informed that there was no guns, they exclaimed, “Well, this time we will take your God, but next time, you’d better bring guns.” Of course, someone had to have a gun to frighten off the shiftas (bandits), and to shoot into the rivers that had to be forded by mules and campers. No crocodiles ever attacked.

My Father loved to play with us. My sister and I had “horsie rides” just before bedtime; he climbing trees with us and pitching tents inside our walled compound for us to play in. We had lots of adventures, free from our Mother’s concerns about sweaters and wearing helmets.

When I was six years old and visiting Addis Alem, my birthplace, I assured my Father that the river below the school and next to the Jim Jam Forrest would be very good for fishing. He took me at my word, sending two servants to keep watch. My baited hook tied to heavy thread, tied to a branch was not going anywhere when tossed from the bank, so I talked the servants into allowing me to climb out on a low branch that overhung the riverbank. It took only a few moments to get into position, standing, of course, and less time to fall headfirst into the river. Fortunately, that spot had many feet of mud so it was not a choice of drowning in water but mud. The servants did a thorough rinsing job, including helmet, before turning my sister and me over to our nurse, Abinish. This experience seemed to lessen our enthusiasm for fishing.

My sister and I always knew, however, that if we really wanted to do something, it was better to ask Daddy.


My mother had just survived one of the great frights of her early-married life. She and Dad were living in Addis Alem and received many neighborhood guests; many came to satisfy their curiosity, some brought gifts. This was how my mother received a large ape that looked like a baboon.

The ape seemed content to stay in the high trees with long low limbs. My mother was checking on the progress in the cook’s house one day, when nearing the cook, she felt a great weight descend on her shoulders, straddling her. The ape seemed to enjoy her screams and climbed back into his tree. Another morning he was observing a mother hen and her downy chicks walking under his tree. What could be more fun than to take each little chick to walk on his branches? Their peeping alerted everyone as to where they had been safely placed. What happened to the ape is a mystery, but as far as I know, he returned to his friends in the Jim Jam Forest.

Then there was the happy day when mother accompanied the cook to the market in Addis. She walked through the big gate with a pet for her daughters, Shirley now six, and Jane now seven. “This is your new lamb,” she explained. The other adults who were visiting, and our teacher, Mae Matthews, assured my mother that this lamb would never become a sheep. They were amazed that a person who had grown up on a farm in Iowa could even think that this goat was a sheep. “But," said my mother defending herself, "they told me at the market that this is what all Ethiopian lambs looked like.” The goat could leap any rosebush, make havoc of the large garden, and eat every blossom in sight. It would rush at us with lowered head to give us a playful nudge. It was retired to the property at Addis Alem where we could later visit her and her family of small kids.

The chimpanzee belonged to Shirley. There was no doubt that! She played with it as though it were a baby. Once she dressed it in doll clothes. At that point, the chimp had had enough. It climbed out of the doll buggy and scampered out of reach into the nearest tree. The doll dress, bonnet, shoes and diaper dropped to the ground. Enough was enough!

Then there was our pony, a gift from Mr. Cramp at the American Embassy. (Maybe it was a peace offering. I had earlier made some unflattering remarks about Mr. Cramp’s large nose.) My sister and I awaited its delivery on the stonewall. It seemed like hours before the pony came down the dirt road and into our compound. Without hesitation, Shirley called the pony “Beauty.” Her reason, she said, because he was so ugly. She chose to ride Beauty whenever possible, but Beauty would not tolerate even a small blond rider. He would rush over to one of the many rose hedges and dash his rider into the roses. Beauty, it turned out, also migrated to greener pastures in Addis Alem.

By now the war had been over for a year, and we had another family, the Ossent’s, living in the guesthouse. Wonder of wonders, they had two girls, Verena and Erika. They had been outside Addis when the city had been burned and their father’s Agriculture Station was destroyed. For some reason we called Verena “Butzilie.”
Susie, a precious little deer, was another story. Where she came from is a mystery, but she was very small, could drink from a baby bottle, and followed us everywhere and bleated for attention. All four of us loved Susie. Shirley and Butzilie were especially attentive. One day they decided that Susie needed a long overdue bath. Susie submitted to the generous sudsing, but just when the bath water appeared, she was slippery enough to make a mad dash for freedom. She found the nearest mud puddle and rolled to her heart’s content. Of course, as Susie grew, so did her love for our garden, and her ability to jump over the fence. As a consequence, a new pet made the trip to Addis Alem.

Keep Looking Up

Verena was such fun. The year she lived next door in Kabana, she and Shirley and I had high rubber boots so we could slosh up and down the hill between the front gate and our house. There were two seasons—one called “The Little Rainy Season”, and another called “The Big Rainy Season” when the skies opened and poured down for weeks. Magnificent lightning flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, and we imagined that furniture must have been moving overhead. Best of all was the constant heavy downpour of rain.

Our roof had been partially covered with corrugated sheets with thatch all around. Under this was a layer of “abojeta,” much like cheesecloth. This served to keep the thatch from falling on our heads, but would bulge and swell as the rain poured in. This called for as many pots and pans as we could find to catch the rain. Sometimes, it was possible to puncture an overhanging bulge, which was about to burst. Piercing the bulge with the sharp end of an umbrella prevented catastrophe. All this was made more challenging at night because we did not have electric lights. The rain flooded and paddled and made the mud road up the hill the perfect place to practice running in our knee high boots.

Sleeping with Shirley was painful for both of us and we decided a barbwire fence would help keep our sleeping “territories” safe.

One thing we all knew about my sister was that she would always wait until the split second before she had to go to the bathroom. The “two-holer” was some distance from the house. While we were in house there was the chamber pot, kept in the narrow room next to the bedroom where our family slept in two double beds. During one of our rainy seasons we were playing with Verena, whom we always called “Butzilie.” A large wardrobe had been built and placed in the one corner of the bedroom. There was a space above the wardrobe, and with the help of a stool placed on a chair, and Butzilie and myself holding all in place, we hoisted Shirley on top of the wardrobe. What fun! She could almost touch the “abojeta.” Suddenly Shirley started to dance. There was no way could she make it down in time; so Butzilie, always inventive, handed the chamber pot up. When my mother came into the bedroom, all she could see was Butzilie lying flat on her back. We were both laughing hysterically. When my Mother asked what was going on, Butzilie pointed upward and the whole situation was made even more hilarious when Shirley turning her back to us.

Shirley was destined for other high places. One day we were with Phyllis at the house next door that had a ten-inch wide cement shelf, such as might be placed over a fireplace. On this occasion, we decided that Shirley would be the perfect “Queen of Sheba.” She looked very elegant in her paper crown and a veil that was improvised from the curtain over the window; there she sat, a queen sit on the cement “throne”! Alas, the reign was short lived. The queen became tangled in her elegant “gown” and came tumbling down. It was lucky that, Phyllis’s father, Dr. Bergman, was available to stitch the Queen’s forehead. Once more, Shirley survived.