Friday, February 24, 2012

Life in Botswana: Safari, December 1991

Another excerpt from my parent's memoirs, Life in Botswana.

Over Christmas Week we drove to a small airport near Johannesburg and flew on a charter plane to Benguerra Island off the coast of Mozambique, closer to Beira than Maputo. We landed briefly at Maputo to clear immigration and refuel. Benguela Lodge is a beautiful sun-soaked resort with ten thatched cabins on stilts, the only tourist accommodations on the four-mile square tropical island. It is South African owned and managed.

We were there seven days and ate fish and seafood every lunch and dinner. The food was the best we've had since we've been in Africa. At Benguela there is a Hobie cat available and a 32 ft catamaran for island hopping and moonlight cruises. 

Beach combing for fancy shells is a big sport. Game fishing is available: one boat with four men came back with 30 bonito and kingfish, each about 5 lbs. Another time a young man caught his first marlin which weighed in at 200 kg, 440 lbs. He was so excited that night that twice he bought drinks for the house. The tail section of the marlin was smoked for canapes. The rest of the fish was cut up and given to the villagers, about 400 of whom live on the island. They farm, catch small fish by netting, staff the lodge, and sell sea shells.

Twice we were driven to the far side of the island to a beautiful sand beach on the open Indian ocean, protected from large surf by a coral reef 200 ft from shore. We were the only people on that side of the island. Sand dunes and pine trees edged the wide beach. One mile out from the island is another coral reef. Snorkeling is done inside the reef and scuba diving outside. 

Early one morning we were driven to two fresh-water lakes where we saw many birds and one large crocodile. Near the lodge is a crocodile farm with about one thousand small and medium crocs. On our last evening we were taken on a dhow to a spit at one corner of the island where we got very close to 1,000 flamingo. They were feeding on crabs, hundreds of which were scuttling at the shore edge. 

Only one more entry left to post in the Life in Botswana series! I'm sorry it will soon come to an end.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nancy Louise Ericke Ambrose

Though I've written a lot about my mother on this blog, I haven't really shared with you her "story."

Nancy Ericke was born on February 17, 1931. Named after her grandmother, Nannie Hays, Nancy was the first of two children born to Carl and Sally Ericke. My mother was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but spent most of her young life in Detroit, Michigan. Born during the Great Depression, my mother was always conscious of spending and saving money, even when it came to buying plants for her many gardens. She was a thrifty Yankee even before she moved to New England.

When my mother was a very small child, she lived in a shared home with her cousin Jack and his parents, her Uncle John and Aunt Helen. Being very close in age, Nancy and Jack became the best of friends. I love this photo of the two of them, which I found in the Ericke scrapbook. Jack died in the Korean war and if I had ever known that, I had forgotten it. Mom didn't talk much about the past – at least the past where sad memories lived.

My mother was a good student and very popular in school. She was active in so many clubs and groups in high school and college, I couldn't begin to list them all. Her yearbooks were covered in signatures from beginning to end. She had a high school boyfriend, Rich, that I remember hearing about, one that she thought about over the years and whose address I found in her contacts after her death. She told me once about how she and her friends went to a boy's house (possibly his house) and sang songs beneath his window. It's funny to think about your mother engaging in the silly antics that high school girls are apt to do – even funnier when she's laughing along with you while remembering the stories.

This ad for the Detroit Free Press appeared on all the Detroit buses in 1948. It featured my mother's high school graduation photo and college plans: Hats Off!... To Nancy Ericke, 17, who was graduated from Redford High School this year cum laude. She was the secretary of the Redford Chapter of the National Honor Society; editor of the school paper, "The Outpost;" and co-editor of the school yearbook. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Carl O. Ericke, of 16779 Shaftsbury, Nancy will enter University of Michigan in September.

Nancy became a Pi Beta Phi sorority sister at Michigan, as was her mother at Goucher College. She met some of the most important relationships in her life during those four years, remaining close with her "sisters" until her death. Since my dad also went to Michigan they attended many reunions and football games until my dad couldn't travel anymore. They were True Blue fans!

After my parent's married, they moved to Nanuet, NY. My mother taught third grade for one year, telling me years later that she was a terrible teacher and that "the students walked all over me." It was a short-lived career since my dad relocated to Pontiac, Michigan, and they soon started a family. Within six years, she had three children to care for and Nancy began her new role of mother.

While raising her family, Nancy became a career volunteer. First helping out at our various schools, Nancy soon volunteered for local charities, libraries, town and state committees. Politically, both my parents were very liberal and you could often find my mother campaigning for a local Democrat.

My mother went back to work on a regular basis when my father left his job in New York and began his consulting job at home. Coincidence? She was the deputy registrar of voters in Darien and she really loved that job and the people with whom she worked. She reluctantly resigned this position when she moved to Botswana to be with my dad for his assignment with AED.

After an adventurous four years in Botswana, and many side trips to exotic places, Nancy and Ed settled on Martha's Vineyard. They found a new life there, with a beautiful home, plenty of activities and friends, and almost an acre of land – an empty palette where my mother could use her masterful gardening and artistic skills to create another masterpiece, which she did. I'll share her garden photos with you on a future post.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rebel With a Cause

If you had met my mother, you would have thought she was a sweet, friendly, and funny woman. After getting to know her, you would see the spitfire she really was. Nancy Ambrose was strong and fearless, had a great sense of humor, an ingrained self-determination that was both enviable and irritating. Some of these traits were genetic, and some were learned. She also had the ability to laugh at almost any situation... and at herself. I hope that I have inherited that from her, as I think it's sometimes the only way to get past the hard stuff.

My mother's birthday is this week, so I'll write up a little bio on her later and post it. I wanted to share with you a story one of her close friends wrote me about a year ago. It sums my mother up perfectly. I've really enjoyed the letters and notes her friends have sent to me after her death, sharing stories that I had never heard before. My mother was always defending the downtrodden, the unfortunate, and the left behind. Right before her death, we were gathering documents for her taxes and we had a good laugh at how much she'd donated to the handicapped veterans. She was a rebel with many causes.

This is one of those stories.

My mother's friend Judith was also the wife of an ex-pat in Gaborone. She was my mother's best friend in Gaborone until Judith and her husband moved back to Canada. My mother and Judith would go for daily walks, something my mother used to do with her friends in Darien for many years. I went on a few of those walks (in Darien) and was amazed how quickly they would walk – but mostly how fast they could walk and talk at the same time. They were faster than a NY commuter!

The morning walk in Gaborone took Nancy and Judith through the local golf course, behind the Sun Hotel, a South African hotel chain. Apparently there were very few golfers playing during the time of their walk, but if there were, according to Judith, it was easy to keep out of their way or line of fire. The golf course had always provided a short cut through the course for workers (i.e. maids or guards) who had long distances to walk to their place of work.

Judith is such a good writer that I think I'll quote from her letter to tell you the rest of the story.

One morning to our anger we found that a wire fence had been put up along with no trespassing signs. I can't believe how Nancy and I worked ourselves up into a froth. One of us found wire cutters and the next morning we cut a small hole in the fence and continued our normal walk.

The following day the hole had been enlarged and a stream of workers followed our example. A week or so later we were horrified to find a group of men installing razor wire in large rolls the length of several blocks. It was horrible – a South African apartheid-style solution. The men who were installing it were angry too. There was no cutting into this!

Nancy and I took photos and I took one to the local newspaper and complained about the horrible symbolism of keeping "black" workers out of an essentially "white" golf club right in the city, in a country that was proud of it's lack of white colonial dominance. Our criticisms were printed, along with the counter arguments (safety, right of golfers) of the Sun Hotel. But the razor wire remained.

Seeing as both their husbands worked for the Botswana government, perhaps Judith and Nancy's antics were frowned upon on the home front, but I admire the women, and like to think I would have done the same.

Thanks Judith, for such wonderful memories and photos.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

1922 Presents ‘ The Dragon ’

© Alan Rabz, RABZ Illustration,

2012 is the Year of the Dragon so I thought I would post an excerpt and review of Goucher College's 1920 production of Lady Gregory's "The Dragon," wherein my grandmother played the role of the Queen, albeit unsuccessfully. Below is a rather critical review by then assistant professor, J. M. Beatty, Jr., who became an accomplished author and critic of American literature in his lifetime.

Here's a small excerpt from the play:

Queen: She is seventeen years. There is no day to be lost. I will go write the letter.
Nurse: Oh, you wouldn't send away the poor child!
Dall Glic: It would be a great hardship to send her so far. Our poor little Princess Nu!
Queen: (Sharply.) What are saying?
(Dall Glic is silent.)
King: I would not wish her to be sent out of this.
Queen: There is no other way to set her mind to sense and learning. It will be for her own good.
Nurse: Where's the use troubling her with lessons and with books that maybe she will never be in need of at all. Speak up for her, King.
King: Let her stop for this year as she is.
Queen: You are all too soft and too easy. She will turn on you and will blame you for it, and another year or two years slipped by.
Nurse: That she may!
Dall Glic: Who knows what might take place within the twelve month that is coming?
King: Ah, don't be talking about it. Maybe it never might come to pass.
Dall Glic: It will come to pass, if there is truth in the clouds of sky.
King: It will not be for a year, anyway. There'll be many an ebbing and flowing of the tide within a year.
Queen: What at all are you talking about?
King: Ah, where's the use of talking too much.
Queen: Making riddles you are, and striving to keep the meaning from your comrade, that is myself.
King: It's best not be thinking about the thing you would not wish, and maybe it might never come around at all. To strive to forget a threat yourself, it might maybe be forgotten by the universe.
Queen: Is it true something was threatened?
King: How would I know is anything true, and the world so full of lies as it is?
Nurse: That is so. He might have been wrong in his foretelling. What is he in the finish but an old prophecy?
Dall Glic: Is it of Fintan you are saying that?
Queen: And who, will you tell me, is Fintan?
Dall Glic: Anyone that never heard tell of Fintan never heard anything at all.
Queen: His name was not up on the tablets of big men at the King of Alban's Court, or of Britain.
Nurse: Ah, sure in those countries they are without religion or belief.
Queen: Is it that there was a prophecy?
King: Don't mind it. What are prophecies? Don't we hear them every day of the week? And if one comes true there may be seven blind and come to nothing.
Queen: (To Dall Glic). I must get to the root of this, and the handle. Who, now, is Fintan?
Dall Glic: He is an astrologer, and understanding the nature of the stars.

Goucher College Class of 1922

Class of 1922 Presents "The Dragon"
Freshmen Guests of Honor at Junior Play

The Junior Class presented as its annual play in honor of the Freshmen, Lady Gregory's "The Dragon," a Wonder Play in Three Acts, on Friday evening, November 19, in Catherine Hooper Auditorium.

The play is one in which there is an unreal atmosphere of folklore and ancient legend, a land of fancy where a beautiful princess is wooed by brave and by craven knights, where a kingly suitor comes in the guise of a cook, and a tailor in the stolen clothes of a king; and where, as in the tales of old romance, the hero meets the dragon that threatens his lady and subdues him. True, the scene is laid in Ireland, but it is not the Ireland that historians know; it is the Ireland whispered about at the peasant hearth, the land of fairy, where the wee people still come to the aid of mortals, and kinds and queens move in a pseudo-regal world imagined by churlish brains.

Into this strange world a dragon comes from the North to kill the Princess Nuala. Although he does not reach Ireland until Act III,  his reputation has long preceded him. His shadow clouds the kingly house from the very beginning of the play, although the new queen affects to disdain the prophecy that Fintan, the astrologer, has made about him. Yet thanks to Manus, King of Sorcha, disguised as a cook, the dragon does not turn the comedy into tragedy; the young hero meets the dragon, and instead of slaying him, merely removes his ferocious heart and substitutes for it the heart of a squirrel. Thereupon the dragon becomes very delightful company.

The play as a whole was enjoyable; the harmony of colors was unusually pleasing; but it is only just to say that there were some serious faults in the performance that could have been avoided. To be sure, the unexpected substitutions embarrassed the cast during the last days of rehearsal, but the substitutes did excellent work in the final performance. The defects in the production cannot be laid at the door of the substitutes. They can be laid to the forces of circumstance, to the necessarily limited time spent in rehearsals, to a failure to adapt make-ups to the lines and descriptions in the play, and in one or two cases, a perhaps unavoidable placing of the girls in roles that they are by nature fundamentally unfitted to take.

The tableaux, at the end of both Act I and Act III, were poorly worked out and sustained. The characters began to move from their positions even before the curtains were drawn. The King was represented as a man of forty, in full possession of his powers; yet the Princess refers to him as old and feeble, and his lines are those of a man well along in years. The Nurse is three times referred to as a hag. In the performance last Friday, she was represented as quite a comely woman with a nun-like countenance. But most ridiculous of all, the two aunts of the Prince of the Marshes, specifically described in the play as old ladies and kindred of a king, appeared on the stage of Catherine Hooper Hall as two young mincing milliners of Cranford in the year 1820. Both in costume and in make-up, they were utterly out of keeping with the atmosphere of the play.

One of the most serious criticisms that can be made of the play, however, should be directed against the enunciation and expression of the actors. The actors did not, except in a few instances, address each other or show more than a forced recognition of what other people were saying on the stage. If jokes were made, they passed unnoticed by the actors who were supposed to hear them; if tears were shed the onlookers were unmoved by grief. The scene where the frightened girl and her family were watching the fight with the dragon lacked suspense because the actors were thinking more about their lines than about the situation.

In spite of these general criticisms, however, the work of many of the actors was very creditable. Miss Kirk, Miss Loventhal, Miss Kohn, Miss Dunnock, Miss Nelson and Miss Koehnline were easily the stars.

The Dall Glic, or blind wise man, was of that race of mortals who have seen into the other world and who ever after have retained some trace of their fairy experiences. Miss Kirk represented this gnome-like figure with rare insight into his warped soul and mystic relationships. Her stage-voice shared the honors with Miss Dunnock's.

Miss Loventhal, in spite of the fact that she was new to the role, was very entertaining as the rotund and gormandizing father of the princess. She was at her best in Act III, almost overcome by drowsiness after the magical dinner that Manus provided. Her voice was, perhaps, a trifle too boyish for the aged king.

The Princess was very beautiful, as every good princess should be. Miss Kohn played the part with energy and decision. She was, by far, the most regal of the royal household. If she had been more natural in her gestures, however, she would have been even more effective.

Of all the men in the play, Manus seemed most at ease in male costume. Miss Dunnock succeeded well in suppressing those feminine characteristics that sometimes mar the acting of men's parts by women. She was boyish, yet serious; regal, not haughty; and brave, not boastful.

Like Manus, Taig was triumphant over feminine traits. Miss Koehnline caught most successfully the rude boorishness of a king not born to the purple.

Miss Nelson, as the Prince of the Marshes, was well adapted to the part. She is more naturally suited to play the part of a girl; the only type of man that she could imitate successfully is such a one as this Sir Perceval, in whom feminine traits predominate.

Miss Voegtly and Miss Erwood were not perfectly suited to their parts. Miss Voegtly looked the part of a queen, but did not quite succeed in bringing out more than the superficial characteristics of her part. Miss Erwood was neither a motherly old creature nor a hag. She could not throw herself into the emotion demanded of her.

I would say that the choice of the play was excellent, and that although in some respects the performance was not up to our usually standard, nevertheless, with the talent displayed in this play and with other latent talent in the class, 1922 should, next year, produce a Senior Play of the first rank.

Joseph M. Beatty, Jr.
Instructor in English, 1917-20, assistant professor, 1920-23, associate
professor, 1923-30, professor, 1930-.

The King...Dorothy Loventhal
The Queen...Sarah Louise Voegtly
The Princess Nuala...Eleanor Kohn
The Dall Glic (The Blind Wise Man)...Hanna Kirk
The Nurse...Florene Erwood
The Prince of the Marshes...Hope Nelson
Manus, King of Sorcha...Mildred Dunnock
Fintan, The Astrologer...Stella Biddison
Taig...Mildred Koehnline
Sibby...Elizabeth Barker
Gatekeeper...Constance Steuer
Aunts of the Princes of the Marshes...Helen Mears, Miriam Chalmers
Servant Girls...Sophronia Mayberry, Maybelle Galbreath
Gnomes...Gertrude Russell, Janet Kelly
The Dragon.


Chairman...Bessie Lineback
Scenery...Asenath Johnson
Costumes...Mary Louise Bird
Properties...Mary Beaton Gibbs
Lighting...Helen Heard, Elizabeth Abbott
Programs...Margaret McKee
Dance...Elizabeth Barksdale

Reprinted with permission from Goucher College, Goucher College Weekly, Volume VI, No. 6, 1920.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Frida's Report Card

I showed these scans to my friend Sarah a few months ago, and remember saying, "I have no idea what this is but isn't this pretty? Can you believe my grandmother saved it?" Sarah said, "That's a report card!" Sure enough, it is. It's my grandmother Frida's 1922 report card from Stavanger, Norway.