Migration — Robben Island

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yesterday the mail brought a postcard from a friend. Through the open door of a tiny prison cell one can see a stand on which rests a metal cup and plate. A covered tin sits next to it. High on the opposite wall is a small cabinet. Light enters through a small barred window opposite the door. The caption reads “Nelson Mandela’s Cell, Robben Island, South Africa.” The description on the opposite side says “South Africa’s first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela spent 19 of his 27 years of imprisonment in cell number 5 on Robben Island.”

The card came from Mark Wilson, whom I met when my mother was teaching at the University of Hawaii. He was a professor in the English department, and he and Mother remained friends throughout her life. He stayed with my parents in Connecticut and invited her to speak when he was a visiting professor at Hampshire College.

Like many of my mom’s friends, Mark is an amazing person. He helped Leon Edel compile the two-volume Henry James Literary Criticism — Essays on Literature, American Writers, English Writers. After he retired from the university, Mark became a volunteer at the Honolulu Zoo. When I visited on my memorial tour after Mother died, we fixed breakfast for the chimpanzees, which was great fun until we had to bury Craisins in the logs around their compound. Kind of put me off the stuff. There’s a great picture on the web site of Mark’s special favorite, Kibale, who was a cute little guy when I saw him. Now handsome and not so little!

Mark also helped a woman who ran a convalescent home for 400 cats, many seriously ill. They were inside, outside, in cages and out. The woman paid a veterinarian to make regular house calls. Mark also takes periodic trips to help out at an animal refuge in Utah. And lest you think all his efforts are directed at the animal kingdom, he also volunteers as a hospice worker.

The trip to South Africa was a study tour, and Mark reported that the group visited some of the black townships and Mandela’s cell. He promised to call and tell me about it when he returns.

The odd thing about this whole episode was that I had tried to call him over the weekend because I hadn’t heard from him in a long time and wanted to make sure he was still at the same address so I could send him a copy of the new edition of Mom’s novel The Narrows, which is being issued today. So of course his card arrived just as I was trying to reach him…

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2 Responses to “Migration — Robben Island”

  1. NYTBR Needs a Better Makeover « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] in two days, I had to call him. We’ve re-established email contact, and I sent him the link to “Robben Island.” I made a mistake. Mark was teaching at U Mass Amherst when Mother went to speak at Hampshire. […]

  2. Migration — ’Coincidences’ « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] his answering, and a postcard arrived from him the next day, sent from South Africa. (See “Robben Island,”). Didn’t think anything about it until … I was in New York telling Farah Griffin […]

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