Tuesday, March 9, 2004


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.

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