Ladysmith Black Mombazo

I was listening to an interesting story on NPR this morning about America’s first elephant. It came from the creator of The Memory Palace. I thought it reminded me greatly of This American Life and The Moth both sites devoted to story telling. That is what the historian in me is drawn to……stories.

While I was sculpting yesterday I had occasion to tell a story to tell one to one of the passerbys who mentioned that she had brought the famed South African Musical group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, past my house on their winter visit to Duluth a few years ago.

Sorry, this story will have to wait until after church and after I finish emptying my attic for tomorrow’s beginning of its metamorphosis into my new office.

I asked the passerby if she had taken the choir out to take a picture by my sculpture and she said I had to be kidding. There was no way these Africans were going to get out in our cold but she said they were impressed with the sculpture. She couldn’t recall which sculpture it was. I told her I had gone to this performance at Sacred Heart Church myself. I had to because of one particular family story but it didn’t hurt that Sacred Heart is Dr. Ahs’s baby. We stayed at his Danish summer home one year a decade ago and he is also, coincidentally, the expert in a malady which once nearly killed Claudia. I’d told the story about Ladysmith, South Africa, to my daughter when she was just in kindergarten and as a result she named her first gold fish “Ladysmith.”

I’ve apparently mentioned my Mother’s paternal Grandfather Thomas Robb three times in Lincolndemocrat. As a twelve year old boy he sailed with his family from Ireland to settle in the United States. As his ship approached New York Harbor in 1860 on his voyage another ship passed them heading out of the harbor. It was hailed with the question asking for the latest news. “South Carolina has just seceded from the Union” was the reply.

Thomas grew up in Pennsylvania and as a young married man made up his mind to start a farm near the railroad by Salina, Kansas. He was a poor farmer but he was a lover of Great Britain. He subscribed to the London Times which was delivered and devoured by his family in the middle of the Kansas nowhere that you will remember from the Wizard of Oz.

In 1900 England got mired in South Africa fighting the Boers. The Boer War is often called Britain version of America’s Vietnam. The family got particularly enraptured with the stories about a small town with a British unit in it that was surrounded by the Boers who laid siege to the town. The Times coverage of events was breathless and the family waited for each new London Times and the latest report on the siege steadfastly cheering the British on. During the siege their milk cow had a calf which the family named Ladysmith in honor of the defense of the City.

One day as the the siege went on their father took a short trip away from the farm. When he returned all of his children rushed out to greet him crying “Ladysmith has fallen, Ladysmith has fallen.” Thomas Robb was furious. The Boers had bested the brave British and he was not to be mollified. Suddenly all the children burst out laughing. Ladysmith the calf had fallen into the pit the family stored their winter ice in to keep their food from spoiling through the summer.

BTW – I took a pilgrimage to my Great Grandfather’s home in Assaria, Kansas eleven years ago and took pictures of what remained of the homestead. This uninspired root cellar may have been Ladysmith’s landing pad.