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Categories: Northern Tales | Esther Pettersson


From Great North Road

By Esther Pettersson
November 2004

One of the most wonderful pets we were fortunate to have as children in Kitwe, was a chimpanzee which we named Jesse. We got her from the Congo as a little baby and she was loved and brought up as one of the family. Jesse had a baby high chair and used to eat at the table with the rest of us. Like any human baby, she often threw down the spoon on the floor and my father used to tell her to "pick up the spoon, Jesse". No problem for her being a monkey, jumping out the chair and got the spoon only to climb up again. She wore a diaper while inside and used to wear my cast-off ballet outfits. Jesse hated dogs though and while she was chained up outside the house, all dogs gave here a very wide berth. It came to pass that Dad needed money and sold Jesse to the circus in town. This was a turning point in our lives and we cried to see such a wonderful member of the family go and live with someone else. Whenever the circus was in town they came to visit with Jesse and she was spoiled like any child would be. If Dad ever wanted a beer out the fridge, he used to ask Jesse to get him one. Being in familiar surroundings, she would leap from her chair and charging into the kitchen would get a beer out the fridge and a bottle opener out the drawer. She would open the bottle, take a huge gulp and then give the rest to Dad. Jesse always knew the kitchen held other delights too, like cake and biscuits.

Jesse's new owner, who loved her very much, took her to the United States where she made a few Tarzan movies and we lost touch with them for many years. It must have been about 27 years later, I was then living in Johannesburg, in South Africa when I read an article in the daily paper about a very sick chimpanzee called Jesse, who had been given to the local Zoo because its old owner could no longer look after her. I phoned my Dad who was then living in another state of South Africa called East London. He flew over to Johannesburg and we went to the Zoo the next day. The zoo keepers, after hearing that Dad could possibly be Jesse's original owner, allowed him into the sick bay where she was being kept. Jesse knew Dad right away and climbed into his lap where she remained safe and warm in his arms, stroking his face and gently pulling at his arm hairs and scratching his freckles. Dad had tears in his eyes as he hugged and kissed her beautiful head and face, over and over.

Jesse was a very sick girl and died soon after the visit, but they had made this wonderful loving connection once again.

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