For My Dad

Father’s Day was only officially made a national holiday in the U.S. in 1972, when President Richard Nixon declared it to be the third Sunday of June. But the holiday actually traces its origins to early 20th-century Washington State.

Inspired by a Mother’s Day sermon she heard at church in 1909, Spokane resident Sonora Smart-Dodd—one of six children being raised by a single dad—also wanted to honor her father. She encouraged local churches to institute the first Father’s Day observance the following year, and the idea caught on. (Learn more about the beginnings of Father’s Day.)

When I was a kid and as a young adult in Zambia, we didn’t celebrate Father’s Day, Mother’s Day neither. Was it because the celebration had yet to reach our wild and distant shores in those days of yore? Or was it ignored as a soppy idea created by Americans? Whatever the reason, I never officially wished my dad a happy father’s day. I never shopped for greetings cards that if he hadn’t died in 1976, would’ve become increasingly soppy with each passing year with all those miles between us. Especially after I completed my memoir last year.

So now, I’ve poured myself a beer, not a Castle or a Lion lager like he used to drink at the sundowners at Nkana Mine Club–it’s a Newcastle–and I’m raising my glass to my dearest old dad, whose term of endearment for me, Pearl of Great Price, caused many an embarrassing moment in my life. Especially at those aforementioned sundowners.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Cheers!

Quiz Night

Three nights after I arrived in the U.K. I still hadn’t caught up on my sleep, so I was quite loopy, causing Joan to remark to Donna in her best imitation of a Cumbrian brogue that I wasn’t “the full shillin’” every time I did something goofy (like mistaking the giant squirrel topiary in St. Lawrence’s churchyard at the entrance to Morland for a rabbit). By now we were all having fun with the Cumbrian accent: summat for “something,” init for “isn’t it”—the latter is now a standard of mine. And then there’s Joan’s name which had become Jooawn, drawn out with a long awww in the middle. This became uproarious on our night out at the pub (pronounced poob) that Joan and her ex used to own in Great Strickland, a small village a few miles away.

Squirrel topiaryIt all started when the three of us walked into the small eighteenth century establishment to find a couple of young guys at the bar who recognized Joan from when she’d managed the place: beers all around and it was Jooawn this and Jooawn that. They got a kick out of three Zambian women imitating their accents; it was foony. Come to find out it was “Quiz Night,” which had already begun. A young guy in a checked shirt and glasses strolled up and down the narrow aisles between booths and tables posing questions from a list he carried. The four or so couples scattered around the small room quietly wrote down their answers. That is until I started playing, with the guys at the bar feeding me the answers through Joan, until I finally got one on my own—Ricky Gervais, don’t remember what the question was—and gave a whoop. And then I got another—the American TV show “Friends.” Another whoop. Couldn’t help it. Everyone knew what was happening and were grinning. I didn’t bother tallying up my score at the end, but the winner insisted we share in the prize, a jug of cider which was passed around. At some point one of the guys remarked that this was the most foon quiz night they’d ever had.


I’ve been feeling wiped out for the past week, with this pathetic little cough, have to constantly pour something down my throat it feels so dry. Beer works quite well, all that fizz. So yesterday, I take Fergie and Jake in for their usual immunizations and mention that Jake’s been hacking, had to be that stick he shredded. Would the vet please take a look down his throat, ‘cause I couldn’t see anything myself. He does. Nothing. He listens to Jake’s chest.

Kennel cough, the vet tells me. It’s an upper respiratory infection. Oh no, my baby, I say and stifle a cough. The Poods (short for poodles, my cute alternate name for my Staffies) get their shots, Jake gets a little wagon full of medicines and off we go. It was only hours later that I got to thinking. Yup. I have kennel cough. I looked it up online.  But I’ve managed to survive for a week; if I get any worse, maybe I’ll take a couple of Jake’s pills.

Lion’s Roar

Okay, another writing prompt, this one from a fellow African, “The Gypsy Mama.”  Write for five minutes on the word “Roar.”

I’m lying on a narrow bunk–in that tight “V” in the front of the boat my just-married son’s South African in-laws commissioned for the entire family for the honeymoon–alongside is my husband on another bunk.  Separated by the walkway, our feet almost touch at the tip of the “V”.  I can’t sleep.  It’s only the third day of our week-long trip on Lake Kariba, Zambia, where I’d spent many a holiday back when the country was still called Northern Rhodesia, when I lived in Nkana as a kid and then when I was married to my sons’ father.

Now, I’m an American citizen, living in the States with another husband, an American, who’s freaking out.  Mr. Amiable is not admitting this.  Instead, he seems to have shut down, barely functioning, shunning me.  This is the first time I’ve seen this side of him. At least to this extent.

He spent the entire day on the top deck, sitting uncovered in a chair under a punishing African sun nursing a single beer, despite my pleadings, my two sons’ at first jokey jabs– that’s how he’s always communicated with them; they know him as Mr. Sardonic Wit, with a disarming self-effacing side–and then hey, Mom, what’s up with him?

I will realize years later when he starts disappearing for weeks at a time without explanation after twenty-five years of marriage, before bailing altogether, that this along with a lot of other things weren’t my fault, that his attacks (oh so witty, yet oh so punishing) were defense mechanisms, a way to distance people, until he couldn’t keep up the facade anymore.  But I hadn’t caught on yet.  I was still throwing pieces of myself out of the basket beneath the hot air balloon that was our marriage to keep it afloat.

I toss and turn on the hard bunk, wanting to reach out to him, to comfort him.  Off in the distance, a lion roars, a sound unlike that you’ll find up close on a safari or in a zoo; this sound is deeper, like it’s coming from the soul of the animal, mournful and true in the night air.

I lie there succumbing to the sound and remembering those days when me, my mom and dad and little brother lived on Kantanta Street, when it didn’t go all the way down to the pump station and the Kafue river, when I could hear lions roaring  in the bush at night as I lay on my bed wishing I was someone else.  And then all those trips with my parents up to East Africa along dust ruts that passed for roads hearing the lions’s soft grunts as they padded around our rondavels at night.

I relax, comforted by the sound of the lion’s roar, feeling a deep kinship that brings tears to my eyes, that makes my heart soar and I am comforted.