Tuesday, March 9, 2004

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!”

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