Friday, September 11, 2015

Roger Samuel: My Airplane Musings

The following was written on the flight to Los Angeles, on my way to celebrate the amazing life of Roger Samuel.

The last time I sat in an airplane was five months ago on a return from a truncated Chicago Spring Break trip. We needed to reach my mother’s side before she passed away. Tonight I’m flying to Los Angeles to attend the funeral services of Roger Samuel.  The two experiences share the same surreal melancholy and realization that I’m of an age now where my mentor generation is leaving me. And I am frightened that I’m not grown up enough to guide this starship on my own. But perhaps these are the kinds of losses that one must experience to ultimately gain the wisdom to be dubbed “the next generation.”  Our responsibility is to live the legacy of those mentors who can only live in my heart now.

"Walrus Face" circa 1985
It was strange when I was asking for the day off at work. We have a new computerized system so your “reason for absence” is a kind of drop down. Sick day or Personal. In our employee handbook there are additional kinds of days you can request based on NJ and Federal Employment Law. When my mother died, I was able to claim “bereavement of an immediate family member.” For that, one can get a week’s paid leave. Another designation “bereavement of an extended family member” allows one day. However, that designation stipulates “relative, uncle, aunt, cousin.” And I found this a very limiting term. For the depth of the emotions I have felt when my previous “California Moms”, Peggy and Norma, died was much, much more poignant than when my paternal uncle, or even paternal grandmother passed away.  What does “extended family” really even mean? In the case of Roger Samuel, I would argue that could probably mean anyone he ever met.

My first encounter with Roger was as the tag-along out-of-stater his daughter, Gail, decided to bring home from USC one early Fall Weekend. That drive out to Claremont would become a bi-monthly ritual for several years and by Thanksgiving of our sophomore year, I recall a veritable army of Trojans at the Samuel table. I don’t pride myself on having a very good long-term memory. I cannot recall too many specific moments of my college years. I blame it on having very little RAM space because I think too much.  So I tend to push non-desktop memories to the far recesses of my mind and emotion. Even only a few years after USC graduation I would laugh because my friend, Kendra, would tell me about events I participated in and I would be legitimately flummoxed about having been there. (I did catch her in a severe untruth one time when she insisted I had been at an outing to see When Harry Met Sally, because I do remember the films I’ve seen and that was decidedly not one I had seen.) But generally, as she would recall moments to me little edges of light would shine on the most shadowy of visions and I would recall certain USC experiences. I believe I can also chalk my version of memory erasing up to the fact that I’m very geographically-centered. I have more memories and feelings from the days before and after USC than those actual four years because I have “place memory”. Well truthfully, three years, because I was abroad for one year in England and many of those recollections have sharper edges, so it’s not about having been there often since I was only in England one year and only visited maybe four times since then. But I can even remember certain walks I took that year abroad. I think it is perhaps because L.A. and the USC Campus just never got into my soul the way other locations of my life have. I didn’t have a sense of rootedness or comfort so many of the events that happened there lost their clarity for me because I am the type of person who remembers space and comfort first, then event. However, there is one place where I did feel grounded and whole and myself. I was fully at home in Claremont, at the Samuel’s house.

Memories abound for me of that ranch home at the foothills of the San Bernadino mountains. I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye the kumquat tree at the edge of the driveway, the stone garden at the entry way, the funky pottery scattered through the sunken living room, the piano. I can hear Gail’s bird squawking in the kitchen, her brother Brent diligently practicing cello for hours in his room down the hall and feel the warmth of the fireplace in the den, surrounded by good friends who became my family when I was on the beginning journeys of my self-hood. I have vivid, palpable memories of spending a portion of my Senior Year Spring Break at Roger and Janet’s home when Gail wasn’t even there. I spent long hours in the narrow backyard, shadowed by Mt. Baldy, learning to juggle, but cognizant of the two people I really felt as close to as parents laughing at me from the sliding door. As I bent down innumerable times to retrieve the “Little Pinky” balls, I remember feeling utterly “at home.”

I was so happy to have my kids hugged by this man.
There was even the time when I flew to Los Angeles from Japan for less than 24 hours so I could attend my friend Eleanor’s wedding. I had just gotten married myself two months prior, but due to visas and work schedules and such, my new husband and I had to part company only one week after our wedding. So we were seeing each other again for the first time in two months at Eleanor’s wedding and while I don’t remember who orchestrated the Claremont rendezvous, I do know that Roger and Janet let Steve and I have a little “reunion time” in their home. And, I remember feeling the same kind of silly embarrassment one would feel when having sex in one’s childhood home for the first time. Their castle, truly was my castle. But I also know anyone ever invited into that home felt that way. And the primary conductor in that comfort and soulfulness of homespace was Roger, with his warm smile, his goofy giggles and his welcoming arms. I know there are many, many people who in the eyes of Federal Employment law could not claim “bereavement” right now, but who feel a profound and soul shattering loss because that stalwart father-figure is not going to be there to greet us in our second home in Claremont. We will gather at their contemporary mission style Catholic church where I first learned that it was ok to crack up in the middle of Mass, because, you know, sometimes things are just too funny. Or you know, because Roger was making wry remarks about something the priest said or the lady in the front row was wearing. The church where I learned about “Sanctuary” and Latin American “Liberation Theology”. The church where we celebrated Gail’s marriage over a decade ago on an occasion of joy and wonderment.

My California Family 1993
Roger and Janet Samuel January 2, 1993
As I write of weddings, I am prompted to recall my own as Roger and Janet Samuel were instrumental in it. As a liturgy planner all my life, I wanted the Offertory at my wedding to have extra special meaning, so I chose three married couples in different stages of their married lives to bring the gifts. My friend, Connie, had married only a year prior, she and her husband represented Green and “the bread of new life”. In the winter of their 50+ year marriage, my Uncle Con and Aunt Kitty represented Blue and the “water that sustains us”. Roger and Janet participated as my couple in the Purple “wine” years of marriage, the middle of a life of love and passion. It meant so much to me to have them integral in my ceremony, because truly, they were my family. And truly, they were a couple, more than my own parents I am not afraid to admit, who represented to me what genuine “union” meant. They worked in concert in all matters and I thought Gail so lucky that she had that example of collaborative love as
a model her whole life.

Roger and Janet at Gail's Wedding November 2002
My heart goes out to Janet more than anyone right now. Her love affair with Roger started when she was only 16 and the loss and unmooring she must feel right now must be so disorienting like she woke up and a limb was missing. Roger’s presence was so solid, so steady. He brought both warmth and humor to every situation and I can only imagine that someone like Janet, who experienced that at the age of 16 and knew well enough to keep Roger as part of her everlasting life, can only be experiencing a kind of epic colossal, almost mythic grief right now. But the one thing I know Janet has, and I’m sure she recognizes this, too, is a network of people who span the globe that experienced the warmth and power of her and Roger’s union, such that her “extended family” (the real kind, not the Federally mandated one) will surround her not only now, but continuously.

I still have times when I am in denial about my mother’s death. Because I don’t live near my childhood home, because she never even stepped foot in my house I live in now, I sometimes think I can compartmentalize my worlds into the one where my mother existed and the one where she didn’t, but that never works. I called my mother all the time on the phone, when something awesome happened at work, when the kids were driving me crazy, when I just wanted to hear the voice of someone I knew would really listen to me. I still have my parents’ number listed as “Mom and Dad” and I cannot bring myself to have it just say “Dad”. I wish I could talk to her right now, so she could help me through my grief at Roger’s passing.  But I think the depth of my grief now is so strong because I know deeply and profoundly what it is to lose a parent. I recently read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and she speaks of the loss of a parent as an “unmooring” and I think this is the perfect word.  We are floating, lost at sea, nothing anchoring us anymore. It’s disorienting, at times frightening, particularly the more the steadiness and comfort of that parent rooted us to this world. I will always grieve the loss of my mother, I am quite sure. I grieve the loss of Peggy Secor, Norma Wallace, and now Roger Samuel, too, with that same “hole in my heart that will never fully heal” emptiness. Roger was a model of patience and kindness, gentleness and understanding, but he also was someone who taught me to pull kumquats right off the tree and pop them in your mouth. He and Janet introduced me to artful pottery, ethnic foods, and going to the symphony. Roger was the one no matter if years went by before I saw him again, would smile and open his arms for a belly hug (the Samuel Family are all MUCH taller than me) and make me feel like all was right with the world because he was still caring for the world’s children. Roger’s the one who told me “if you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm, you just have to let yourself hear what’s going on in your heart.”

Sunday, May 10, 2015



Harriet Alda Hillebrand circa 1950
I will remember her hands most of all

When I was young I thought she took pointers from Madge
In the Palmolive commercial
Because my mother's hands were soft and smooth
Her nails always shaped so nicely
By her own hands, working meticulously with an emory board
I used to go through her vanity looking at the different tools
and polishes that made her hands so pretty

She could play the piano, but didn't.
At least never in front of us.
I used to imagine her sitting at the Yamaha
Her thin nimble fingers gliding over the keys
Before we came in from school when they would
halt, and continue their business of mothering

Cool hands on hot foreheads.
Tender hands on disappointed brows.
Dexterous hands hemming trousers or sewing costumes.

I will remember her hands most of all.

When she had heart surgery, that first time,
A new valve to keep her blood flowing properly
through those slender hands
I visited her up in her bedroom
And rubbed lotion on her hands
massaging between the fingers to release the tension
and fear
I filed her nails back to their perfect rounded edges
I massaged her feet, too.
Thinking then, I loved her feet, as well.
circa 1976

When I was little she used pumice bars and special lotions
to smooth the heels which were calloused from guiding our
backyard antics on the concrete patio around the pool

She let me touch the hardened edges then feel the difference
after the lotions and scrubs
I was fascinated

That afternoon when my father called
and I walked the streets of Chicago in a growing haze
I asked "But she's still alive, right? I can still hold her hand."
It was important to me to touch that link again
To my selfhood

I held her hand that night.
And rubbed her feet which were miraculously smooth and soft
So distant from those crazy calloused days running around the patio
Making sure that children didn't stub too many toes,
Or fall in the pool.

I rubbed her smooth warm feet under the crisp hospital sheet
Family all around
Circa 1986
Taking turns holding her hand
Which still gripped, acknowledging our presence
Acknowledging the human link of touch

I was holding her hand that night
When her silvery spirit rose above us
in peace
Incredulous at first
I knew then, when the warmth also
rose up with that shimmery soul
I could no longer hold that hand

This morning after the distant sound of a train
awoke me at dawn
I lay in that half-dream state
pulling my arms out from the covers
laying them on my side, palms up
in supplication
relaxed, but imperceptibly reaching
for the hands I cannot touch
but know I will always feel.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Eulogy For My Mom

On Easter Sunday April 5, 2015 my mother Harriet Alda Burns left this earth to be with her Maker. The story of the days leading up to that moment, and that moment itself are yet to be written down, what follows, however, is the eulogy that I wrote and delivered at Saint Charles Borromeo Church the day of her funeral. It was a packed church. And mom's spirit of faith and joy was present in all of us. 

Eulogy for Harriet Alda Burns, March 3, 1935 - April 5, 2015 
Mass of Resurrection, April 11, 2015
(written and delivered by Leslie Burns Patient) 

I’ll let you all in on a secret. I volunteered to do this. My mom and I used to talk a lot when I was in grammar school about how I wanted to be a priest because I just really wanted to give homilies, from this very pulpit, actually. I’m not sure I’m going to get through this without choking back some sobs, but I knew that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity mom handed me to get up here at the lectern in my childhood parish and offer some words of wisdom. 

My mom was unhealthy for quite a while now, so it’s not exactly as if we could say this was sudden, shocking or unexpected, but she had been in and out of hospitals for the last few years, the operative word, however was “out.” Mom always made it through and she’d be back home and we got more time. We didn’t take it for granted, we all cherished every extra moment we had with her, as I’m sure many of you did as well. But it’s not unreasonable to have wanted even more time. 

As soon as I thought about that idea of “time” it made me realize, that if I were to speak of the Lessons my mother taught me, one of the first things about Bunnie Burns that I know she taught all of us here was that

Time Doesn't Matter When You're with family and friends.

I learned this lesson very early on when Tracie and I were young,  Mom would say she was going to get some milk and eggs at the store, and would ask us to watch John. We learned quite quickly that though the store was only a five-minute drive, that getting milk and eggs should only take about another ten minutes, Mom would inevitably see someone or some many people she knew at the store making each aisle at least a half hour conversation. Oh, you laugh, but I am looking out here and some of you are the very culprits that kept us from our mom. Yep—Mom going to the store “for just a few things” meant that we had a good three hour babysitting window to work with.  Later in our lives, my husband learned this lesson in “Bunnie Time” when we’d stay over night and then he’d ask what time we were leaving in the morning and I’d say, “Oh, around 10.” Steve learned pretty quickly that in “Bunnie Time” that meant we were most likely going to still be there for lunch. But that’s leads into the next important lesson I learned from my mom:

Always have a large kitchen table.

You know, because real “Bunnie Time” is about sitting at the kitchen table and talking, and laughing, and talking some more. And if your table is big enough then there can be lots of people there. And there always was. The welcoming spirit of my mom was so pervasive, we had high school friends come over, college friends, grad school friends, every one ended up sitting at that kitchen table talking to my mom. Just yesterday I got a text from a friend of mine from Japan who now lives in Ohio who mentioned how she remembered sitting at the kitchen table talking to my mom. Even this past November, I was running the Philadelphia Marathon and invited a friend from Denver to come stay with us so we’d be near the city for our pre-dawn starting time. The night before we sat around that kitchen table laughing with mom and carb loading. So it’s not hard to see how when you’re working on Bunnie Time around the large kitchen table how the next lesson I learned from mom came into play:  

Anyone who stays overnight is family.

This could perhaps have been mom’s rule because she wasn’t ever a very early riser. So she didn’t necessarily want the pressure of having to cater to “Guests” in the morning—if you made everyone family, by the morning they could get their own coffee.  More often than not, the people staying at our home were already family anyway, at least our adopted families, our California Moms, our surrogate older brothers. This sense of keeping people in your life was very important to Mom. She taught us to gather friends from every era of our lives. Childhood friends, classmates in college, neighbors from Air Force Bases, friends from her “first set of kids” at St. Charles and Holy Cross, friends from her second set of kids at Cinnaminson Middle  and High School.  Friends from costume crew, choir, Women’s circle. Mom taught us that you

Keep at least one good friend for every era of your life
and if you’re lucky you’ll have even more.

You may think that with this revolving door policy, that Bunnie was from a large family but she wasn’t. She was an only child who never knew her father and had a mother who sent her to boarding school when she was only ten years old. I say this not to add gravitas or drama to her narrative, but to give you some perspective on how Bunnie purposefully built this world of friendship and family in her home, not because it was something she came from, but it was something that she desired to always have in her life.
If anything I learned from mom it is that

Perseverance over adversity is a virtue and
Humor is necessary when the tears get too tough.

She purposefully crafted a family. The family she never had. She even defined herself as a mother well before she had children. I know this because when I was having my “night before my wedding” mother/daughter talk I asked my mom “how did you know that dad was the one” and she answered, “Because I knew he would be good father.” At that time, I was a little let down. I wanted to hear about some kind of fireworks and about his sparkling blue eyes, but she said “because I knew he would be a good father.” And she was right, especially in her goal to have this strong family and to define herself as Mother. I remember kind of fighting against this as a college student and my mom, God love her as we know God does, humored me this one day as we sat at a diner while I was on Break and I was spouting all my women’s studies dialectic and “why do you let dad do this and say that, and why don’t you strike out on your own, blah, blah, blah”-- all that twenty-something “somehow I have the wisdom of the world when really I don’t know anything” attitude. And mom smiled and said, “That’s very nice, Leslie, I’m glad you’re learning so much in college.  But I’m very happy. I really am.” And considering she had a five year old and thirteen year old still at home, I’m glad she was. Happy. She showed me

There is great virtue, great glory and grace in defining oneself as a mother.

By the same token, though, she also taught all of us another really important lesson in compromise, when she was moving to Caribou, Maine from sunny Los Angeles, when she was moving back to Arkansas with an infant or back to New Jersey where she never really wanted to live again, when she was canoeing through a marsh in the middle of a summer storm with three kids under eight, when she was hanging on to hot air balloon tether lines, or dressed as a rabbit under a box in Canterbury England, Mom taught us the ultimate lesson of compromise and that is

Sometimes it’s a whole lot easier just to do the crazy thing
that John E. Burns says than to fight it.

Lest we think that Bunnie Burns let John make all the decisions for her, they acted more as a cohesive unit than I think I ever noticed until I got married. My mom called a lot of shots and one of lessons that grew from her deep and lasting love for her family was this:

When your kid is on stage you have to at least be there,
but you should probably also make the costumes.

Mom was involved for decades in our lives at five different schools, four different colleges, four grad schools and a law school and she was adamant to my father that they had to support us in everything we did, every graduation, show, recital, even to the point where she made costumes for my students even after I was already teaching for six years. Mom was adamant about showing support to her children and her grandkids going to more recitals and school musicals than you can imagine. Only two weeks ago today, while she was in the hospital she demanded that my father go to an elementary string orchestra concert, because she wanted to make sure that she at least gave her surrogate support to my youngest daughter, Kiri.
The one thing I can tell you is that when Mom meant business, she meant business and I never saw this more clearly than when it came to her Catholic faith. I remember being in seventh grade and we were starting the forms and information about our Confirmation and mom sat me down and said, “You know that this is serious, right, Leslie. This is a commitment and you’re the one who is making it. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it just because others are doing it. If you chose to do this, you need to mean it.”  My mom’s faith was a foundation for her whole life and that sense of commitment to family and faith not only bolstered her, but I know for me my mom’s commitment to faith has helped me through many, many hard times. My mother taught me that

                                               Prayer is real.

Even as a woman of scientific medical knowledge, my mom put a great deal of credence into the power of prayer. I can remember being in the middle of a crisis of faith in college, as many college students find themselves, and I thought that maybe I would just stop going to church and my mom very gently told me not to do that, she told me that Fr. Paul, a priest friend from her younger years and someone I knew too (because as a parenthetical aside, one thing Mom taught us was that

                            priests and nuns make awesome family friends)---

so she said that Fr. Paul said to her when she was having a teenage crisis of faith, he said, “Keep going to church and the faith will come again.” A kind of 1950s “fake it till you make it” advice, I tell you, though, this was a pivotal conversation with my mother. The faith she instilled in me is what is helping me right now, because the faith she gave me tells me that she is here right now, and she will be here the way that Jesus is here in the Eucharist as we celebrate her life together.
I leave you now with some final Bunnie-isms before I close. Mom loved liturgical music, she was in choir for over forty years, she always said singing is a higher form of prayer—so it was important to her that we always sing out during Mass—at least that’s what she told us, although somewhere along the line I figured out the added benefit she sought was for us to sing louder than our dad. But that is something I ask of all of you as we celebrate this Mass,

                            Pray your song and Sing Your Prayer
(and go ahead and do it louder than Johnny.)

Finally, I leave you with the lesson my mom taught me on Easter Sunday this year. Even though she was unable to speak, she could not see us, but she showed us clearly that she knew we were there. My mom was kind of a big “should” person. I should clean out that laundry room. I should hem those pants. I should get those cobwebs. But that evening last week what mom taught us loud and clear was

The only "should" that really matters is to love one another.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cradle of Humankind


CRADLE OF HUMANKIND by Leslie B. Patient

            In 1938 Dr. Robert Broom, because of the cave digging escapades of a seven-year-old schoolboy, began excavating the fossils that would solidify theories of human evolution and delineate the Guateng Valley of South Africa as the “Cradle of Humankind”. Broom would pay the boy a shilling each for the ancient human-like teeth, but the discovery would cost the boy so much more.

Gert Terblanche was picking a particularly crusty snot out of the edge of his right nostril when he heard Mister Van Rooyen’s booming voice shout from the front of the room.
“Terblanche! If you please.”
Gert dropped his incriminating hand, the booger still lingering on his pinkie. Gert stood up and his wooden chair toppled behind him. The crash sent the other Grade Three boys into convulsive guffaws giving Gert an excuse to bend over, pick up the chair and deposit his nose contents under the seat with its many predecessors.
Mister Van Rooyen looked at a yellow memo from the main office as Gert shuffled to his desk. “Terblanche, did you send a letter to Dr. Broom of the Transvaal Museum?” The schoolteacher belied no hint of the laudations or reprimand that would follow an answer.
Gert blinked. They wrote the letter nearly six months ago, before Kimi had gone. It was her idea, and she was ten and knew all the big words. They used her mother’s typewriter. Kimi said Gert should sign the letter alone. Her name was Hausa and she was a girl. Museum people, she reasoned, would be more likely to reply to an Afrikaans little boy. Remembering his promise to his mother, Gert accepted sole authorship. “Yes, Mister Van Rooyen, sir. I did.”
“Well, whatever you wrote has intrigued the doctor. He’s paying a visit to the school at week’s end.”
Gert was still unsure as to whether this visit was a cause celebre or grounds for a month of detentions.
“Sir? Dr. Broom is coming to Kromdraai?”

“Indeed, Master Terblanche. Well done.” The young boy began to see the glint of a smile in Mister Van Rooyen’s eyes. “Dr. Broom will be the most interesting person to arrive in the Gauteng Valley since Prime Minister Smuts crossed through seven years ago on his way to Port Elizabeth for the election of ‘31. But you wouldn’t remember that.” The school teacher tussled the boy’s white gold hair. Gert looked up at his teacher with wide green eyes. “Well done, Terblanche. You’re going to put this valley on the map, you are.” The schoolteacher went in for a proper and hearty handshake with the small boy who prayed there were no remnants of his earlier nasal indiscretion on his hand. “You’re supposed to bring the teeth you found, Terblanche. The doctor wants to see the teeth.”

Gert and Kimi met the first day of break last June.  Most of his Grade 2 memories had begun to fade making room for the History of the Boer Wars, writing in script, and pages of long division. Gert’s memories of Kimi, however, burgeoned forth unpredictably like bubbles in a pot of boiling mealie-meal. On the rare occasion that he still explored the caves he imagined her flitting in her loose green and yellow cotton dress among the limestone stalactites, her lantern flicker making her golden brown skin gleam like treasure. Gert seared Kimi’s image and all his moments with her into his mind with more vigor and determination the moment his mother had him swear to never mention the girl again.

Supper was lively that night after the announcement. Gert’s father congratulated him on his scientific fervor, his mother praised him for his initiative but questioned Dr. Broom’s Darwinian tendencies. No one mentioned Kimi, of course. Gert was the first and last one to have ever said her name in the Terblanche house. A regret, he thought often, that would follow him well past Grade Three.
Gert prepared for bed early and closed the door to his room firmly behind. He pulled a small wooden box out from under his bed. He sat cross-legged on the mattress his woolen blankets scratching at his short trousered knees.
Unwrapping the cloth, Gert touched the soft, worn, fraying edges of the square of green and yellow gingham. The teeth, five large brown-grey pebbles, lay firmly in the palm of his hand. Gert and Kimi had read about fossils in an article by Dr. Broom from a decades old Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.
“What does ‘Permian Reptiles’ mean?"
Kimi was always patient with the younger boy. “I don’t know. I think it’s something about the dinosaurs.” She read old pamphlets and magazines all the time. Her mother told her they were better than school.
“Here he says ‘. . . the change in the jaw frame is the evolutionary sign that distinguishes the primate from the hominid. When we find a creature with more strength in the rear jaw, we will know they were using tools’.” Kimi had grabbed Gert’s hand excitedly, “We have to write to Dr. Broom and tell him about our skeleton!” She got mock serious and looked directly into Gert’s eyes holding the teeth to his face. “What if these are the missing link?” The two laughed their heads off as they always did.
Gert had no words for the feelings he was having at the moment as he looked at those teeth in the green and yellow cloth. It certainly was an honor. Dr. Broom was coming to his school, to meet him, to collect the teeth. Yet, Gert could not explain the lump in his throat.

Gert was supposed to go to the caves that first day of summer break with his mates, Deiter and Markus. But the two other boys abandoned the idea in favor of swimming at the Koringspruit Bend with Deiter’s older brother and other Senior Phase schoolmates. Gert went along to the river with them once that week, but the older boys’ vulgar and boisterous antics made the small boy relish the quiet climbing and digging in the caves.
He had never been in the caves alone before but he felt emboldened that first day of summer. He’d soon be entering the last year of Foundation Phase at Kromdaai and, in his seven-year-old mind, that meant he was practically an adult.
He heard her scuttling first then saw her lantern from a small crevice the first fifteen minutes of his solo exploration.“Who’s there?” Gert’s heartbeat throbbed in his ears. Every shadow of her lantern became another spear-wielding Zulu ghost.

“It is I. OKimma Buhari of the West! And who are you so rudely disturbing my royal lair?” Gert shone his flashlight on a skinny brown leg emerging from where the still echoing bold voice had originated. The rest of the cave crawler emerged from a slit in the limestone that looked too thin to accommodate an arithmetic book. She stood on the ledge above Gert, feet bare, arms akimbo, a green and yellow gingham frock hanging on her thin frame like priestly robes. Gert stared in awe. He had never seen a coloured girl. He had seen some blacks once when he and his father rode to Queenstown to get feed during the winter drought. But this regal vision surrounded by the glow of limestone, was mystical. Her hair, kinky and brown, had a thin gilded layer. Her skin, too, seemed the color of the autumn hills at sunset in Guateng. Her brownish eyes reflected Gert’s flashlight with a piercing emerald glint. Suddenly she shone her lantern into Gert’s face. “I found some bones. You want to see them?”

When only two days were left of summer break, Gert asked his mother if Kimi could have lunch at their home. He had spent many afternoons with Kimi and her mother in their little corrugated shack eating mealie-meal cakes and the occasional small roast bird if Kimi could knock one out of the enormous shade tree on the edge of the cave with her slingshot. Gert loved to listen to Kimi and her mother argue in Hausa. The quick rhythms had a light and tripping feel. Gert felt that when people were angry in Hausa it was never the same as angry in Afrikaans which was heavy and slow and bore down on you like the air before the summer storms. Gert’s mother’s voice had that weightiness now.
“Kimi? Buhari?”
“Yes, mama. We’ve played in the caves all summer. We found bones and teeth and she can shoot a slingshot and she speaks three languages and reads giant science books that her mother gets from the Quaker missionaries. Her mother has a typewriter. It looks just like the one papa used to have. We wrote a letter to one of the professors in this dinosaur article who said he likes fossils, that’s what we found in the cave. Fossils.”
“That’s who you’ve been playing with?” Gert could see his mother’s hand shaking as she called out the window to his father who was filling the cattle trough with fresh water. “Johannes, come in here. Now!” Gert had never seen his mother’s face so red, her lips so tightly stretched across her teeth, her eyes so full of hate.
The next day when Gert went to see Kimi to say his mother wasn’t feeling well so they’d have to eat lunch at her house again, Kimi and her mother had disappeared. Their little tin house was completely empty inside save for a small green and yellow gingham piece of cloth, the pocket of her dress, wrapped around five ancient fossilized teeth.

Komdraai Primary was in a state of frenzy during the few short days leading up to Dr. Broom’s arrival. Tiles were scrubbed, blackboards were wiped, yards were swept and flattened. The Gauteng Gazetteer were scheduled to send a photographer and a reporter. Every student was inspected and spit washed before the black Rolls Royce came rumbling down the dusty road to their humble farm school.
Dr. Broom’s vigor was supernatural. The creases in his face said he was an old man, but his crisp dark suit and his arrow straight posture told a story of perpetual determination and infinite curiosity. He stood at the podium of the small assembly hall looking out at the steely but eager faces of the rural schoolchildren.
“I am a paleontologist, lads and lasses. I used to be a medical doctor. I helped deliver babies, in fact, in Scotland where I grew up. That skill allowed me to travel the world. When I came to South Africa many, many years ago I was fascinated with bones and fossils and the origination of man. I’m quite sure that origin is right here in this valley, my wee ones. And one of your classmates has helped me a great deal. Gert Terblanche, laddie, I think you have something to show me.”
This was all staged, of course. Dr. Broom had met privately with Gert and his family earlier that morning to see the teeth. Gert asked his mother if she had a handkerchief he could wrap the teeth in. “You know something a little nicer than this old rag.” Gert suprised himself with how real his feigned disdain sounded. But he didn’t want his mother to know he planned to keep that ripped pocket as a keepsake.
Dr. Broom made a show in front of the crowd, exchanging Gert one shilling for every tooth. And then with an entourage of university students equipped with shovels, pick axes, and sifting tools he said with a flourish, “Well, my laddie, how about you bring us to that cave where you found these glorious teeth?”

The War halted funding for the excavations for more than eight years. The skull, jawbones and teeth of Paranthropus Robustus were finally ready for display at the Transvaal Museum’s “Cradle of Humankind” exhibit one Sunday in 1948. A tow-headed teenaged boy stood next to the erect and robust elderly museum director who pulled the golden rope unveiling the bones of almost man. The lanky seventeen-year old fiddled with a scrap of green and yellow checked cloth in his pocket. The museum patrons, some of whom would vote the next day to codify the hate the boy once saw in his mother’s eyes, pressed their faces against the sparkling new exhibit glass.