Monday, September 20, 2010


My great-grandmother, Jenny Lindolm, was supposed to join her father in America. Her mother, ____, and she had finally received the money to join ____ who lived in Chicago. Unfortunately, her mother died of consumption and she was forced to live with her aunt and uncle.

Her father eventually sent money for her to join him in Chicago and she took a boat to New York City. She was forced to live in steerage and, according to her story, every time the boat rocked, the potatoes stored in bins rolled. Early rock and roll.
She arrived at Ellis Island, passed the health tests and, not knowing a word of English, merely showed a taxi driver her father’s address. He took her to 42nd Street, Grand Central Station, where she presented the same slip of paper to the ticket agent, who sold her a ticket to Chicago.

She arrived in Chicago at night and in the middle of winter. She took a taxi to the address on the slip of paper. On the way, she noticed that every time the taxi passed a house, the taxi’s wheels rose up and then fell.
The next morning, she looked out the window to discover the secret of the risings and the fallings. It was piles of frozen garbage. Welcome to America.

Years later, she married a man whom she had met at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He was a chemistry teacher. He had this idea of purchasing land in Mexico and growing rubber trees. He called his company the Rock Island Tropical Company.

I have two volumes of Stanley’s In Darkest Africa, dating from 1887. In one volume are smashed six 4-leaf-clovers. In the other volume are two letters describing the Rock Island Tropical Company.

It is curious that my great-grandfather was a chemist. So were my mother, my father, my uncle, and so am I. He had a dream of helping indigenous peoples economically. So do I. The book is about Africa. I have been traveling to West Africa for better part of ten years. There’s something to genetics; the apple does not fall far from the tree.

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