Monthly Archives: July 2012
Ivan Sanderson was my father’s best friend when I was a kid. He was a famous naturalist, author, and UFO aficionado. A native Scot, he was tall, elegant, and handsome, with slicked-back ebony hair and a neatly trimmed moustache. He was married to a beautiful Ethiopian woman named Alma, who often had a miniature monkey — a marmoset — sitting on her shoulder, attached to a chain pinned to her blouse.
Ivan had written more than twenty books, one of them a novel called “Mystery Schooner,” and what was even more fantastic, a book about UFOs called “Uninvited Visitors.” Nobody wrote, or even talked about UFOs in those days, as far as we knew, but our Pop’s best friend had written a book about them! This sparked a life-long interest in the phenomenon for me and Bertie.
Another of Ivan’s curious interests was finding people who had the same name as his. He spent a good deal of time on this hobby and claimed to have found and corresponded with at least 17 of them, none of them related to him. He also told us that he should have been born a twin because he had some multiple organs, including three kidneys and a double brain. Now that I think of it, he did have quite a big head.
Ivan and Alma had an apartment in Manhattan and a large animal farm in New Jersey where they kept a motley assortment of animals that included leopards, donkeys, goats, elephants and wild birds that Ivan not only studied but drew sketches of to use in some of the books he wrote. Bertie and I loved to visit Ivan and Alma’s New York apartment. It was dark and cozy and filled with strange, exotic, wondrous things. There were African drums and tropical fish and odd, stripey animals in cages. And there were always several of Alma’s little marmosets jumping around.
From time to time when he and Alma were traveling, Ivan would have us “animal sit” for him at our house. One time he left a small, leopard-like animal called a genet with us in a small cage, and another time a coral snake in a jar. Bertie and I were the envy of our schoolmates, and if we’d had such a thing as “show and tell” in those days, I’m sure we would have nagged Ma to death to let us take those critters to school with us.
In 1955, there was a fire at the Sanderson’s wild animal farm and all the animals were destroyed. My father believed that Ivan and Alma never really recovered from the shock. They both suffered from various serious illnesses over the years until they both finally died of cancer, Alma in 1972 and Ivan the following year. I will never forget them. They were a beacon of light in the sometimes dark world of my childhood.
Here’s a little story from my book, where I tell about how I was driving down through Mexico toward the Guatemalan border with my daughter Madeleine, who was five years old at the time. One day we drove all day and by nightfall we still hadn’t found a place to stop for the night:
By 10 o’clock I had been driving for fourteen hours and was worn out. Mad was already asleep in the back of the van, and I felt very alone.
I was starting to get downright scared, imagining us stranded on the highway for the night and being attacked by banditos, when suddenly a tiny green sign popped up out of the darkness, off to the left of the highway. It said: San Juan del Rio. Since there was nothing but infinite blackness in front of me, I took a deep breath and turned off onto the secondary road leading to God only knew where.
The narrow road was unpaved and kept getting narrower, until we passed over something that looked like a bridge, although it was so dark it was hard to tell. Soon after, we saw the lights of San Juan del Rio. I eased the van into a clearing where there were a few small stucco houses. People had already heard the sound of the engine, and had come running out onto the street to see who had come to their village at this late hour. When they saw two gringas — a young woman and a little girl — they started jabbering away in Spanish and pointing at us. Some of the bigger children ran up and started banging on the side of the van, while the smaller ones stuck close to their mothers, thumbs in mouths, clinging to their skirts.
A stocky middle-aged man with a heavy dose of Indian blood walked over to the van and said, “Buenas noches.” I was grateful that I’d been brushing up my Spanish with Mad, and I explained to him that we’d been on the road all day, were tired and hungry and needed a place to sleep. He smiled broadly, revealing broken teeth and a couple of gold fillings, and pointed to a squat little building across the clearing that turned out to be San Juan del Rio’s only hotel. A hotel! Hot damn!
But before our host escorted us there, he suggested I leave the van at his house, because he had a yard where we could lock it inside. “Los niños,” he explained, shrugging his shoulders and pointing to some frisky adolescents who looked like they might not be able to contain their curiosity while we were asleep at the hotel. I felt a little uneasy about leaving our van with a man we’d just met, but when I saw how nice his house was, how cordial his wife was, and how safe and secure his yard was, I happily handed him the keys. I offered to pay him, but he refused. This really surprised me, since most of the poorer Mexicans I’d met always had their hand out ready for whatever the rich gringos would give them. Ah, if they only knew!
But I would soon find out that the people of San Juan del Rio were different. It was obvious that they had seen very few North Americans, since it seemed hardly anyone ever took that particular left off the highway, in the middle of nowhere. Our host escorted us to a tiny restaurant where we had delicious chiles rellenos, and then walked us over to the hotel. All the time, we were followed by hordes of kids of all sizes, and they were particularly fascinated by Madeleine, who was now wide awake and obliged them by chattering away in Spanish with them and answering all their questions.
The little hotel was charming. There was no running water, but they provided a pitcher and a basin, and the bed was comfortable and clean. We finally settled down for a long, much-needed sleep.
The next morning, the sun was shining brightly and San Juan de Rio showed us its colorful daytime face. There were flowers everywhere, bougainvillea cascading down the whitewashed walls and pastel stucco houses facing the zócalo, the town square across from our hotel. We were greeted by several of the townspeople, including our host from the previous night. Again he took us to his house, where he unlocked the gate to his yard, and there was our van, ready to go. We packed our things and after warm hugs and smiles all around, were on our way.
Now, I just want to say that something startling and almost “miraculous” happened on our way out of San Juan del Rio. But I don’t want to spoil the story, so I guess you’ll just have to wait until the book comes out! 😀
My friend Mary posted this on my Facebook wall this morning and I just had to share it with my blog readers:
My editor is on vacation and will be back toward the end of this month. In the meantime, I’ve been reading through some parts of the book and adding a few things here and there. I think I’ve already taken out most of what I wanted to take out.
Yesterday I started reading from page one again, so I can decide what photos I want to put in the book. It’s really hard to decide, because they need to be good enough quality so they won’t just look like blotches, and they need to be there for a reason — in other words, they should have something fairly specific to do with the story. I’m glad I scanned every single photo I had of my family (and threw away the hard copies) before I came back home to Rio in 2008 after living in the USA for a year. I was forced to because I was traveling with just one suitcase and a carry-on and I needed to get rid of most of my belongings. That’s another whole story — talk about sizing down!
Anyway, after my editor does a final read-though, I’ll do one more, and then send it off to Book Baby. After they format it, I’ll have a chance to check it one more time, and then it’s on its way out to the world!
Yesterday was Friday the 13th. I’m not sure where, when or how the idea got started that this was an unlucky day, and I’m too lazy to Google it, but a Facebook friend commented yesterday that although she’s not superstitious, yesterday seemed to be an unusually bad day.
Well, that didn’t surprise me too much, to tell you the truth. It’s been my experience that when whole bunches of people around us believe that something is true, that’s how it will play out for them. And if we’re not alert to what’s going on, that’s how it’ll play out for us, too.
I guess you could call it “mass mesmerism” or “crowd mentality.” We’ve all seen what happens when an influential figure manages to convince large numbers of people that something is true. Dare I mention Hitler? People end up turning into robots, as if they were hypnotized, and no one can change their minds.
Nevertheless, it’s my conviction that we can all think for ourselves and resist the influence of Friday the 13th or any other superstition or untruth. What do you think?