Excerpt from my book

Owning a carved elephant tusk doesn’t make me an elephant killer.

I love elephants. Not just because baby elephants are one of the cutest baby animals ever. No, No this is not debatable. I love elephants because they have an incredible sense of family. They do everything together and yet are un-plagued by enmeshment or internal squabbles we humans suffer from in our own families. Elephants play, care for each other, protect their young and weak, work together to forage food, birth their young together and mourn their dead. There is an incredible story about a herd of elephants that made a two day journey to visit the home of a man who had spent 20 years studying their behavior. When he passed away they came to pay their respects (Elephant Story reference).

My paternal grandfather was a medical missionary in central Africa. He lived and worked with the villagers of Sanga to create buildings that would later serve as their hospital and meeting halls. He spent 26 years of his life with those villagers and in time he received many gifts of thanks for his help. Several of these gifts were made of ivory. Africans have long respected the power and love that elephants embody. To give a gift of ivory is to recognize that spirit in another. I would love to tell you the ivory was only taken from old elephants who passed away from natural causes but I don’t know the truth. What I do know is the hand carved ivory was given out of love and respect and it is with love and respect I keep it.

I inherited the ivory from my father. Who died much too young from cancer and maybe a broken heart. My father grew up in Sanga and had many fond memories of working with the villagers, helping his father in the hospital and playing with his siblings out in the bush. I grew up watching 8 mm films and slides of villagers coming to visit my grandfather. They traveled for days and weeks away while holding themselves up in precarious positions as they carried awkward goiters the size of basketballs on their necks and shoulders. Goiters of this type are commonly caused by a lack of iodine in your diet. They came from far and wide because they heard that Bwana Munanga, lord husband, would be able to heal them.

In truth, my grandfather was a great problem solver and loved the challenge these goiters presented to him. So many post thanksgiving and Christmas dinners my cousins and I would sit in front of the projector as we watched villagers with gigantic goiters and big smiling faces go into to the hospital for surgery. A week later they came back for their post op holding the goiter with an even bigger smile on their face and boosting of their new pink scar. Their whole demeanor changed. Grandpa would also perform other medical procedures fixing, broken bones, treating illnesses, anything from basic care to intense surgery. He was the only western medical practitioner in the area.

With a name like lord husband and a history of being a miraculous healer my grandfather never stood a chance of having a normal ego. He was, in fact, the most important man in the area and everyone knew it.

My father was the middle child of five. The middle child is the hidden child. Often quiet and revered they watch others to determine the best course of action and are used to being over looked. My father was named after the famous explorer Stanley Livingston. He too was a quite observer but his love for adventure helped push him to become a renowned explorer. Like Livingston, my father loved the outdoors and wildlife. He earned his African name (Kitadi Kantanda, the governor of the country) while hunting a twenty foot python, the skin was his reward. I now own the skin. It’s rolled up next to the tusk.

These names given to the men of my family by local villagers, speaks to the presence they had, an air about them. For my grandfather it was arrogance, for my father it was quiet observation-the ultimate middle child-ness. But there is something to be said for living in the middle of central Africa in the 1940’s and 50’s. These were not easy times. Many things they had to learn to do without and many things they did not miss. My grandmother missed her friends. Although she helped her husband out in the hospital as a nurse and cared for the family, it was a lonely life. My father had siblings to play with and had it easier than most. But they too would recognize what they were missing when they returned to the United States to take a break or get new commissions to be able to return to the mission. They all made sacrifices for the good of others. Those sacrifices formed who each of them were as people and as a family.

At the same time, a world away, my mother was raised in Sweden as a pastor’s kid. She, the eldest of two, spent her childhood first in Stockholm, then a smaller town in the western part of Sweden and then in the country… living the idyllic life of a Swedish girl. Being the eldest, she was the champion of the family the first to strike out and seek adventure. She was a rebel dying her hair at a young age, entering local theater productions and adjusting her ensembles to reflect current fashion. She drew attention to herself and this was not what the pastor’s daughter was supposed to do. She got into trouble with her parents… a lot.

My parents met in England, at a small private college. My father went there because his uncle was the dean and he was expected to be near family. My mother went there because it was the furthest she could go to school while working on her english. Their college years have some fun stories I will tell later but for now I will say it was love at first sight. They were together for fifty years through all life’s challenges.

It is their story that inspired me to write this book. But I realized their story is not really mine to tell. So I will tell my story because by telling it I have learned a lot about myself and my parents. The stories I have gathered over the years are inspired by the amazing people in my life. Both my parents left lasting impressions on nearly everyone they met.

As their only child,  I am left with their legacies. My mother, the troublemaker, and my father, the quiet observer. However, I discovered in the telling of their stories that my father could also be a trouble maker and my mother a quiet observer.

So perhaps my legacy will be how I survived them and what I learned along the way.


  • Teresa Liu
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Helena, I really enjoyed this and found myself sucked into your parents’ lives. Keep writing! I want to read more.

  • Lena Persson
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Helena, you have the gift of story telling! I read every sentence with anticipation of the next. And to know when reading it, it’s a true story makes it even more precious to read. Well done Helena! I wish I had the command of the English language to express my sincere appreciation.

  • Joan Restuccia
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Loved the story and want to read more! I am already seeing the movie in my mind! The individual paragraphs describing your parents, had their unique personality in the writing? The book will be a beautiful tribute! Best of luck.

  • Posted November 2, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    You’ve always been braver than I have. I’ve been working on a couple stories over the years. My family loves them but that’s what families are suppose to do. Kauhi loves them too but he lives everything about me ?
    What I would suggest is to expand your description of your father. Paint a broader picture. So far I like what you said about your grandfather. I can visualize his story and get a good sense of why he would be arrogant.

    My grandsons just woke up so I have to pay attention to them. Will get back to you on this. It’s fun writing!

  • Melanie
    Posted November 3, 2015 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    Cool, Helena. As I am still an unstoppable proofreader, I will note that what you have is an “excerpt” (spelling), and that goiters are caused by lack of iodine, not iron. But keep writing!

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