It is Time to Get Creative

A Tribute to my Mother

At the women’s rally in Wichita Saturday, a lot of people carried signs that said, “I’m with her” (arrows in all directions); “I March for my Daughter” (granddaughters, sisters); “I March for Her” (picture of the Earth). My mind returned over and over to my mother. I marched for her. Though she’s been gone nearly fifteen years, I’m sure she would have been there in spirit.

Mother was born a hundred years ago today. Speakers at the Wichita rally often made historical references, and I pondered the social changes of the last century.

Helen Peterson, the fourth and last daughter of Frank and Mary Peterson, arrived on this earth January 22, 1918. When she was born the War to End All Wars was raging but would end ten months later on November 11, 1918. At the time of her birth, women had no voting rights, or property rights. The women’s suffrage movement was going strong. The 19th Amendment was ratified two years later, when young Helen was learning to speak her first sentences.

In April 1923, when she was barely five years old, her father Frank died after an emergency surgery to treat a bleeding ulcer. The operation was performed on the kitchen table of their farm house, and that is where he died. Helen’s widowed mother was left with four young daughters, ages 5 to 13. With no rights of inheritance to the farm her husband owned, Mary Peterson was evicted. She moved her girls to town and returned to her pre-nuptial career as a school teacher.

Helen remembered little of her pre-school days when Frank was around. But she had lots to say about growing up with her mother who struggled to keep those girls warm and fed. In the 1920s and 1930s, working mothers were social outcasts. Mothers were supposed to stay home and raise their children. Mary Peterson had no choice, however.

Mary Peterson and her four daughters, 1936

Tutored by her mother, Helen excelled in school. She graduated high school at age 15, went on to college, and had earned a master’s degree in physics before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Helen found employment in the east, as a physicist developing technology that would benefit the war effort. She possibly would have settled in the east.

Quartz crystal sample such as those Helen worked with for US Navy.

Her mother, however, developed severe hearing loss and was dismissed from employment. She sank into an inconsolable depression and Helen returned to Kansas to take care of Mary. Working at KSU in the department of Physics, Helen met the man she would marry. She settled into a new role as supporting wife, and a few years later, mother to three daughters of her own. Having missed out in childhood watching her own mother handle the role of wife, she blazed her own trail and devoted herself totally to the care and nurture of her husband and daughters.

However, Mother never forgot her roots.

A lifelong Republican of the Eisenhower camp, she was never shy of voicing her skepticism in regards to Roosevelt, or Kennedy, or Carter. But she proudly proclaimed herself, “a women’s libber,” and was an active member of the League of Women Voters. She had a big heart and wanted to help those who faced seemingly insurmountable challenges in life, but recognized how easily folks fell into a sense of entitlement with the public welfare system of the 70s and 80s.

I have no doubt Mother would be aghast at events of the past year, with hard-won rights being stripped from some of the most vulnerable citizens, including women. The last thing we need is to regress toward the conditions her mother experienced as a young widow in the 1920s. Helen would have been at the women’s rally chanting with the rest, “Hear Our Votes! Hear Our Votes! Hear Our Votes!”

And she’d say, with a twinkle in her eye, “It’s time to get creative!”

A block from her favorite Sunbonnet Baby quilt, possibly a gift from her grandmother

Mother’s childhood was undoubtedly filled with the necessity of using what was available in new and unexpected ways. True creativity functions well when faced with limitations. Take what you have (or what you are allowed) and from that create, construct, or devise what you need. It’s a skill that comes in handy in many of life’s endeavors, and one we should nurture in our children.

The nullification of many progressive steps over the last year is like a tornado of denials. Our limitations seem to grow daily. We are falling backwards in the progress toward liberty and justice for all. I can almost hear my mother say, “It is time to get creative,” the little suggestion she repeated often when my sisters and I found ourselves run up against limits, absences or lack of resources.

In today’s world, she might even suggest, “It is far past time to get creative.”

When today’s youth express their heart’s deepest desire to be “Make Lots of Money,” I am concerned. When our whole culture revolves around piling up numbers, when violence erupts after one person’s numbers don’t measure up to another’s, there is cause for grave concern.

Money is, after all, an invention of humans. It is a tool to facilitate transfer or acquisition of things a person needs. What are needs? Food, shelter, clothing, companionship, a sense of purpose. When a tool becomes not just the means to an end, but the end itself, it is being utterly misused. Beyond meeting basic needs, the accumulation of personal wealth seems to have become the only measuring stick we value. We measure our lives with something totally artificial.

What about things money can’t buy?

Chris Hedges wrote in Empire of Illusion (2009), “A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power. . .which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death. Morality is the product of a civilization.”

We are regressing to an age that predated civilization.

What would happen if the bulk of us simply quit? Quit craving money for money’s sake. Quit worshipping the power allotted to those with the largest bank accounts. After all, power is proportional to the extent that we covet what others have.

Let’s just quit.

What if, instead, we honor leaders who demonstrate the mature attributes of civilization? Things like compassion, courtesy, kindness, encouragement, respect for others. Things like integrity.

Several of my elders who still breathe, read, and think have expressed grave concerns for the direction we’re heading, unlike anything they’ve ever known. They are truly afraid for our future. When we experience the limitations that nullify programs and institutions which served to provide personal security for generations past, it’s high time to get creative. Let’s think of new ways to care for each other. Let’s re-invent our culture and re-build our government of-the-people, by-the-people, and for-the-people.

I think Mother would heartily agree.

Happy 100th birthday!

Quilt made from Helen’s scrap basket by her daughter.

The Year Came In; The Year Went Out

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-My-Mother-Rashbaum-Burt/dp/145020399X

The year 2017 started for me in Japan. I read on my Kindle during the long flights and the first book of my year was Burt Rashbaum’s Tears for my Mother. It is a vividly graphic account of a family struggling with their mother’s encroaching dementia. Alzheimer’s remains a dreaded word for many families. It spares no group the horrors of mind disintegration.

Rashbaum’s account was deeply personal. The characters were patterned after some in his own family. He tapped vividly into the reality of what it could be like to watch your own self slipping away. Significantly for me, the author is part of my own family, the Jewish cousin who married into one side of my husband’s family. I enjoyed a few days in this cousin’s Nederland, Colorado home last summer, rewarding myself with a writing retreat in the artsy mountain community.  Before I left, Burt and I had swapped books and I came home with another novel of his, the 2015 release of The Ones That I Know.

http://www.amazon.com/Ones-That-I-Know/dp/1511961716

Like Tears, this story is based significantly on events in Rashbaum’s life. One of the characters resembles him a great deal, and another resembles his wife. Through the pages of this book, I again found myself immersed in post-holocaust Jewish reality, which unless you’ve been there is hard to imagine. It tells the story of a group of neighborhood friends, who grew up together in NYC and lost touch as adults. They reunite when one of them publishes a book about their youthful adventures. The book examines how connections of family and friends possibly go beyond the grave and revisit the same group in a fresh incarnation. It explores life’s purpose, as well as its challenges. It is a snapshot view of a variety of contemporary issues that have a basis in historical drama.

At the end, after reading these books, I felt I knew and loved my newly found cousins much better.

The year 2017 was ushered in for me by Rashbaum’s novel Tears for my Mother. It is fitting to conclude this book journey series with The Ones That I Know. Through my reading adventures in 2017, I felt my family expand. My circle of friends has grown as well, and that’s no small matter in today’s uncertain world. We hear much about alternative facts, conspiracy theories, rigged elections, international threats and climate change. The news media is under fire. Our courts are being stacked by extremists. Our constitution itself is on shaky ground. If one thing is clear, I believe that “the ones that I know” have something to say. As long as our constitution stands we need to exercise our right to write, to share our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our memories and fears.

Americans consider free speech to be a birthright. It is guaranteed by the first amendment. Free speech serves to hold the powerful accountable and for that reason we must defend it fiercely. Our freedoms and rights will exist only as long as we keep using them.

For all my writing friends and cousins scattered across the country—“the ones that I know”—I say, “Write on!” And may the force be with us all.

Sharon Cranford and Dwight Roth discover a distant kinship

Kinship Concealed by Sharon Cranford and Dwight E. Roth

http://www.amazon.com/Kinship-Concealed-Mennonite-American-Connections/dp/1937952428

The distinguished speaker rose after her introduction, an engaging and unique smile spreading across her African American countenance. With the ease of an experienced public speaker, Sharon Hill Cranford captivated the room’s listeners. She gave a brief history of her writing adventure, which started when she was confronted by a fellow faculty member at Hesston College in central Kansas, Dwight Roth, a white man with an Amish Mennonite lineage. He challenged her claim to the family name of Mast, a Mennonite name. Thus began their journey to discover a family connection through divergent lines of Amish immigrants to the US in the mid 1700’s. These two respected faculty members discovered they are indeed distant cousins.

The result of the research is a book jointly written by Cranford and Roth, Kinship Concealed. On the surface, it is a family story, a study in geneology that involved close examination of documents from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Texas. Deeper down, it is a modern examination of the American drama resembling Alex Haley’s Roots.

I was captivated by the family drama unfolding on its pages. How devout Christians could rationalize the purchase of slaves was horrifying and baffling. I cried with Cranford’s great-great-great grandmother as she was ripped from her infant, a boy fathered by the master’s son. Nika was sold away south and lost in history, but never forgotten.

Charley Mast, Nika’s infant son, lived to be emancipated. He passed along his stamina and the desire to excel to his children. Highly educated, Cranford’s family members have earned distinction in today’s world as leaders in their chosen fields. Cranford’s speaking engagement detailed her own experience growing up in Texas during the Civil Rights awakening, the outright prejudice and obstacles thrown in her path by white people in positions of power. Yet she endured and has become an icon to her family.

That these two distant cousins could find it in their hearts to undertake such a personal examination of the sins of our fathers and reunite as kin, signifies a hope that the rest of our society might one day reconcile. The events of 2017 painfully confirm we have a long way to go. But, as Cranford writes in her prologue, “If this story encourages any portion of our society to reexamine its heart, it can play a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers of distrust and prejudice that years of pain and hypocrisy have bred,. . .”

We are, after all, one big human family, built on the same foundation. If we listen to Cranford and Roth, perhaps there is hope yet for our shared future.

Coming next: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

 

Your Dreams are Over

Tribute to a Friend who Died much too Young

J. Scott, your dreams are over,

Snared in your youth by the Big M—

            Heartless,

            Trickster

            Devil.

Your gentle tortured soul now free

            But

Your words live on in our troubled world.

The genius of your soul—

Kneeling in awe of the literary greats

F. Scott (you know) Fitzgerald

            Hawthorne

            Rowling

            Thoreau

            Bronte

            Tolstoy

            Huxley

            Tolkien

            Dickens

            Lee

Spouting quotes from the pens of the masters

You read long before.

Once.

Genius.

The journeys you drew me into

Expanded my understanding of family.

We are all part of

            The human one.

You took me places I’d never dreamed.

            Courtroom witness stand

            Visitation at a Maximum security

Lockup

            Pre-dawn in the empty parking lot

                        Of the Johnson County Jail

            911 emergency call for an

                        Ambulance

            Visits to a residential rehabilitation home

Through it all you shared your dreams

Your hopes

Your disappointments

Your fears

 

Your open, gentle spirit showed great devotion

To young Kassidy, a child sister ripped by cancer

From this heartless life.

“I love God,” she taught from her heart.

“And God loves me. That’s all there is

            To it.”

In your world religion rejected and

            Judged you

            Without mercy

For your deviations from the norm.

Kassidy showed you—God Is Love.

But not even she could stop Big M.

You searched for your place,

A home that would love you always.

On the journey, you befriended

            The friendless,

Fought for those

            In the margins.

You took up causes of those

With little voice.

And you wrote for them.

Because you were one of them

And they needed you.

The Pen is Greater Than the Sword, Scott. Or the Needle.

And your words live.

            Even if you don’t.

Big M stole you from those who care.

In this age of rigid conservatism

And legal discrimination,

The civic powers criminalized

Your disability.  Your addiction.

When you needed help,

They served you blame.

They pulled the rug of security

And assistance

            From under your feet.

And you fell.

Forever.

In your words, “Life is suffering. . .

            But God is Love.”

As your spirit takes its first

Hesitant flight in freedom,

May you find the Winds of that Love,

And may they bear you

            Ever higher.

                        Scotty.

The wind is blowing.

Rise up with it and ride.

Decades of Memories: Memories of Decades

Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise. Sunset.

Swiftly fly the years.

One season following another

Laden with happiness and tears.

                        -Sheldon Harnick

So goes the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

Earlier this summer, I was honored to be asked to photograph the fiftieth anniversary reception of some cherished friends. Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century.

Some time after that, I realized with a shock that my summer of 1967 held momentous memories for me as well. I had just turned twelve. In early June I was fitted in a Milwaukee brace, a structure of total spine length, from chin to pelvis. This was an attempt to combat the progressing scoliosis (curvature) in my spine and I wore the brace 24/7 for the next two years.

Fifty years ago. Overnight, my life changed. Childhood ended in an instant. One day I was rolling down a small hill in a friend’s yard. The next, I met sadness, despair and heartache. My life was changed. There was no return. Events and encounters during that time of life shaped my personality in many ways, some subtle, others blatant. Before the summer was over, my family moved two states away from the only home I’d known. Trauma after trauma.

I’ve heard it said that without the sad moments, you’d never know when you were happy. This rings true. Happiness and tears go hand in hand.

Swiftly flew the years, though it didn’t seem so at the time. Jump ahead to 1977, one of the happiest times of my life, forty years ago. August 6, 1977 was my wedding day, a day when I started a new life with my best friend from college, Craig Winter.

It was a hot morning. We had discussed the idea of an outdoor ceremony, but Kansas in August can be brutal. Instead we chose the small Methodist church of my grandmother, and fed everyone homemade ice cream at our simple reception.

Forty years have flown by, filled with happiness and tears. Alone today in Nederland, Colorado, I honor Craig’s memory. Our marriage lasted seven and a half years, until the day he flew away, an angel struck down by cancer at age 33. But he left me behind with a beautiful daughter to raise, another experience filled with happiness. And tears.

I headed west a few days ago, bringing seven-year-old grandson Donte, Craig’s grandson, to visit his mama in Denver. Donte had asked to visit Craig’s resting place. In the innocence and openness of childhood, he wanted to know where I “planted” my first husband. We took the short detour to the country church cemetery outside Lincoln, Kansas on our way to Denver.

Donte honored the grandpa he’d never meet, days before the 40th anniversary of our wedding. Words do not exist to describe the poignancy of the moment.

Forty years. Four decades.

I remember, Craigie. Happy anniversary.

Grandmother’s Stories

I remember being fascinated by the stories my grandmother told of her early days. Horses and wagons. Moving to Kansas in a covered wagon. The tornado which destroyed their farmhouse a few months before my dad was born. The floods they endured after record cloudbursts up-river.

What kind of stories will I be able to tell my grandchildren? Or my children theirs? What could happen if we don’t take immediate steps to change the direction we’re headed? These might become the good old days of fairy tales and adventure stories.

Just imagine. . .

The silver-haired woman smoothed locks of the squirming girl child in front of her. “Hold still, Cam, dear. Two minutes. I’ll get your braids done.”

“Aw, Gran,” the child protested. “I hate when you fix my hair. It hurts.”

“The longer we wait, the more it will hurt. Shush now and sit still.” She combed the locks with knobby fingers, veins of age rising on the backs of her hands. “If only I had a comb.” The woman sighed.

“What’s a comb, Gran?”

“It’s a tool to help work out the knots in a little girl’s hair.”

“You used to have a comb, didn’t you? Years ago, when you were little?”

“I had many things, Cam.”

“Tell me.”

“We had plenty of combs and brushes for our hair. And our teeth.”

“Teeth! You combed knots out of your teeth?”

Gran laughed. “Not exactly. We brushed our teeth to keep them healthy.”

“So they wouldn’t fall out of your mouth, right?”

“You remember, child. Yes. We had a lot of things you’d never believe.”

“Like what?”

“Like cars, to drive us wherever we wanted to go.”

“On wheels?”

“With rubber tires. And we had a whole house for every family. And plenty to eat, with appliances to fix our food.”

“What’s a ‘plance’?”

Gran laughed. “Appliance,” she pronounced the word carefully. “Appliances were tools for a house. There were refrigerators for cooling our food to keep it from spoiling, and stoves to cook our meals. We had tools that would chop our food, or mix it up so we could bake cakes and pies in our ovens.”

The old woman’s fingers worked quickly, easing tangles from the child’s hair. She traced a part down the middle of her granddaughter’s head and tossed half the tresses to the front, across Cam’s chest.

“Tell me about the water,” Cam said.

“Oh yes. There was water, running from faucets in the kitchens and bathrooms—water to wash our food—and the dishes we ate on. We had water to wash ourselves. Even our hair!”

“You washed hair?”

“My yes. There’s nothing that feels so fine as a soft and silky head of clean hair.”

“And you could wash every day?”

“Every single day. Twice if we wanted to.”

“What about the flushes?”

“Our fancy toilets? Every family had one or two in their houses—special thrones for a privy. And you could flick the handle on the tank and flush your products down with swirling water.”

“Like magic.”

“It seems so now, little Cam. It didn’t seem magical to me then. When you have so much that is right at your fingertips, you get lazy. And you take it all for granted.”

“Like it will always be there?”

“Exactly. Like it was always there and always will be. Then something happens that shakes you awake and you realize how lucky you have been.”

Gran finished the second braid, knotted the grimy ends and tied a bit of twine around it.

“Tell me the story again, Gran. Tell me about how you lost my grandpa.”

Gran removed a polished stick from her own silver hair and shook her locks until they cascaded around her shoulders. “What—has Philip given you a day off?”

Cam grinned. “He’s off somewhere with the scouts. Tell me the story again.”

“About Grandpa Stefano?”

“Yes.”

“Ah. That story.” Gran combed her own hair, smoothed it into one long tress and twisted it to the top of her head. Holding it with one hand, she fished the polished stick from her worn skirt pocket and worked it through the twist until her hair was again secured neatly on top of her head. “I think you’ve heard this tale before. Where should I begin?”

“Where you always do.”

“Of course. It’s always best to begin at the beginning. Come with me, Cam. Let’s walk.”

Imagine the wasteland where Cam and her grandmother would walk. Then think of the huge wildfires we’ve seen each of the last two springs. Think of the erratic and unpredictable weather patterns. Think of the epidemic of earthquakes influenced by fracking procedures. We could be one, maybe two, generations from a life very different from what we now know. Our choices matter very  much.

Vote, while you still can. Vote for a candidate who respects the voices of the little guys. If we can’t change our leadership, our landscape and our future could look very bleak.

 

Hiroshima. . .Now

(One month ago today, we walked through the museum and around the grounds of the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. That was before the inauguration of a dangerous leader in the US who seems oblivious to lessons of the past. Over the last month, I have struggled with a search for the most appropriate words to describe our experience in Hiroshima, as humbling as it was awe-inspiring, and as terrifying as it was motivating. Our entire trip to Japan for a visit to our US military family, was in the shadow of ominous historical events that predate my years, but which my parents lived through and knew intimately.)

On a driving tour of the US Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, several landmarks were pointed out. Most were fairly recent constructions, but one, in particular, stands out in my mind. It was not new, and had been part of the original military post, back when the base belonged to the Japanese military establishment.

Building where the attack on Pearl Harbor was planned.
Building where the attack on Pearl Harbor was planned.

“That’s where they planned Pearl Harbor,” we were told by our marine corps son-in-law. The origin of the attack which drew the US into the war–the beginning of the end of my uncle’s life–was here in this building. Part of world history collided with my family history. This  tidbit of information put our walking tour of the Hiroshima Peace Park into a personal perspective.

Hiroshima’s Peace Park covers a huge area, crosses several fingers of the bay, and showcases one building which sustained major structural damage on the fateful day of the bomb. Genbaku Dome, preserved forever as a reminder of the horrors of nuclear war, once was a modern building designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel. Completed in 1915, it was only thirty years old at the time of the bomb.

The dome before August 6, 1945.
The dome before August 6, 1945.

“The A-Bomb Dome is the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall which was destroyed by the first atomic bomb ever to be used in the history of humankind on August 6, 1945. (8:15 am) The atomic bomb was detonated in the air at an altitude of approximately 600 meters almost right over the hall. The explosion of a single bomb claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and the city area of about 2 km radius was turned into ashes. In order to have this tragic fact known to succeeding generations and to make it a lesson for humankind, the reinforcement work of the ruins has been done by the contributions of many people who desire peace within and out of the country. The ruins shall be preserved forever.    August 6, 1967   Hiroshima City”        (Inscription engraved on a monument at the site)

Genbaku Dome today
Genbaku Dome today

Contributions from many Japanese people and others around the world dedicated to peace have preserved the ruins of this building.

dsc02707

“As a historical witness that conveys the tragedy of suffering the first atomic bomb in human history and as a symbol that vows to faithfully seek the abolition of nuclear weapons and everlasting world peace, Genbaku Dome was added to the World Heritage List in accordance with the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention)’                      December 7, 1996, Hiroshima City”                                                                  (Inscription engraved on a monument at the site)

It has received four major restorations to preserve its bombed-out condition from further crumbling. These occurred in 1967, 1990, 2003 and 2016.

Genbaku Dome, the A-bomb Dome
Genbaku Dome, the A-bomb Dome, from a viewpoint on the targeted bridge.
This t-shaped bridge was reportedly the target of the bomb in 1945. Detonation almost directly above the bridge damaged, but did not destroy the structure. It was still usable afterward as this photo shows.
This t-shaped bridge was reportedly the target of the bomb in 1945. Detonation almost directly above the bridge damaged, but did not destroy the structure. It was still usable afterward as this photo shows. The dome would be to the left of this photo.
The uniquely shaped bridge today.
The uniquely shaped bridge today.

 

From one bridge to the other at Genbaku Dome
From one bridge to the other at Genbaku Dome

The other end of the Peace Park houses a massive museum. A short walk brings visitors across one of several available bridges and along a mall featuring the Pond of Peace above which a platform showcases the Flame of Peace.

The Flame of Peace
The Flame of Peace

“Symbolizing the universal desire for a world free from nuclear weapons, the flame will burn until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the earth.” The flaming monument burns continuously, reminding visitors of the somber promise and the huge sacrifice this community made. The reverent mood of the park made the day’s overcast sky an appropriate backdrop for our visit.

Beyond the pond, visitors find an artistic stone cenotaph, adorned by fresh floral bouquets. President Obama spoke here in May 2016.

dsc02672

Inside the museum visitors are able to amble through displays that include a panorama of the A-bomb detonation, items fused by the intense heat of the bomb, a room dedicated to education about the lingering dangers of radiation, and paper cranes.

Model of the A-bomb detonation in the museum
Model of the A-bomb detonation in the museum. Note the unique t-shaped bridge to the right of the dome. Much of the area on the point of land is now part of the Peace Park.

 

Replica of the bomb dropped over Hiroshima
Replica of the bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Today’s bombs would be much more efficient.

 

Origami cranes have become symbols of peace, largely through the efforts of a little Japanese girl named Sadako. She was only two years old in August of 1945. Though she survived the bomb blast, a few years afterward she developed leukemia, a common occurrence for the survivors who were exposed to immense levels of radiation.

Sadako set out to fold 1000 paper cranes, hoping that the legend of wishes being granted to a person who would fold 1000 origami cranes would heal her. That was her wish. But it was not to be. Sadako died of her cancer in October 1955. Ten years after the bombing it claimed yet another victim.

I was five-months old at the time she died. It has only recently impressed me how close to the actual event we were. Ten years. One decade. That hardly seems long at all now that I’ve lived six decades.

Sadako’s cranes have become a world-recognized symbol of the hope for peace. The park in Hiroshima has peace cranes scattered in many places. A few of Sadako’s original cranes are preserved and displayed under glass in the museum.

A few of Sadako's original origami cranes, preserved in the museum
A few of Sadako’s original origami cranes, preserved in the museum

 

Another glass-topped display features two new cranes, folded in May 2016 by the visiting US president, Barack Obama.

Museum display of President Obama's visit, May 27, 2016
Museum display of President Obama’s visit, May 27, 2016

 

The peace cranes folded and given by Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima
The peace cranes folded and given by Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima

There are strung garlands of thouands of cranes draped on a park sculpture, and cranes hung from the trees.

Colorful paper cranes strung together and draped onto this shrine for peace
Colorful paper cranes strung together and draped onto this shrine for peace

 

Peace cranes in the trees
Peace cranes in the trees

There was even one live crane seeming to survey the scene below from a perch on the rafters of the burned out Genbaku Dome, looking for peace even today.

 

dsc02698

 

View from the Museum to the Dome
View from the Museum to the Dome, past the Cenotaph, the Pond of Peace and the Flame of Peace

Extending to either direction between the dome and the museum are a number of special exhibits. A children’s memorial, dedicated to the memory of Sadako; a peace bell inviting visitors to swing the gong and feel the reverberations; a memorial to the victims of the atomic bomb; fountains flowing with precious water, keeping the hope of peace alive.

Memorial to the victims
Memorial to the victims

 

dsc02691

dsc02689

 

The Hiroshima Peace Park is one great reminder about the horrors of war. When ranked among the developments of humanity, war is one with purposes of destruction, domination and retribution. It lies at the bottom of the list of our achievements. On the other hand, the Hiroshima Peace Park celebrates some of the best that humanity has to offer–beauty, creativity, art, and the resilience of life, a gift of hope for those who will come after us.

Peace, where art thou?
Peace, where art thou?

Next:

Lessons from Hiroshima

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiroshima. . .Then

A month ago, we walked through the museum and around the grounds of the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. That was before the inauguration of a dangerous leader in the US who seems oblivious to lessons of the past. Over the last month, I have struggled with a search for the most appropriate words to describe our experience in Hiroshima, as humbling as it was awe-inspiring, and as terrifying as it was motivating. Our entire trip to Japan for a visit to our US military family, was in the shadow of ominous historical events that predate my years, but which my parents lived through and knew intimately.

dsc02677
Peace Museum, 2017. English message on left. Japanese message on right.

 

“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace,” as Pope John Paul said on the 25th of February in 1981.

Peace. . . A condition marked by freedom from oppression, harmony in relationships, and agreement to end hostilities, a definition according to my desk dictionary. It is also a condition that is perhaps as far removed from reality today as it was 75 years ago.

news-headlines-pearl-harbor

The US was drawn into active participation in World War II after Japan bombed Navy ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

300px-uss_shaw_exploding_pearl_harbor_nara_80-g-16871_2
USS Shaw exploding in Pearl Harbor.

My uncle Lester, the older brother of my father, was in his third month of training for service with the US Navy at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He hastily jotted a note of reassurance to his family, and sent it home via air mail. Not to worry, he wrote, he was all right. However things were likely to change given the course of events, and his Christmas leave was likely to be cancelled.

It was. Lester made it home for one last visit the following summer before losing his life, almost a year to the day after Pearl Harbor. The big war impacted my own family in ways we still feel after 75 years, as surely as it left an impact on countless other American, European, Russian, and Japanese people.

Hiroshima before August 1945
Hiroshima before August 1945

About 3 ½ years after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and many battles later, The US took the fight onto Japanese soil.

dsc03387

With the horrific bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki a week later, the war ended. The Japanese people had changed forever.

Hiroshima before the bomb
Hiroshima before the bomb

At 8:15 in the morning, as civilians scurried to their daily work, school children settled into their first class, and businesses opened for shoppers, the world’s first atomic bomb was unleashed in the air 600 meters above downtown Hiroshima. In an instant, the city lay in smoldering ruins.

HIroshima after the bomb
Hiroshima after the bomb

An estimated 200,000 people perished. Most were civilians, including the school children. A number of US prisoners of war and Korean natives working in Hiroshima also were lost.

After the bomb
After the bomb
Aftermath of the bomb
Aftermath of the bomb
Destruction
Destruction

2b24774e00000578-3186815-devastated_hardly_any_buildings_in_hiroshima_were_left_standing_-a-96_1438857513539

hiroshima-bomb-result-3

hiroshima28
This unique t-shaped bridge is reported to have been the target of the A-bomb. It was still standing after the blast, and could be used, as seen here.

The detonation of the atomic bomb over a bridge in Hiroshima triggered the end of the war and was heralded with great celebration in this country. It was only later, after the destruction became apparent, that we realized what had been unleashed in Japan.

Washington Post edition with news of the bomb
Washington Post edition with news of the bomb, August 7, 1945
dsc03385
The Evening Star, Washington DC August 14, 1945

Seven decades later, Hiroshima is again a bustling, modern city, undistinguished from many other cities around the world, except for its World Heritage site, commemorating the bomb and a pledge to world peace that this kind of destruction will never happen again.

from a museum sculpture
from a museum sculpture

 

Next:

Hiroshima. . .Now

 

 

“Under a Winfield Kansas Moon”

The Walnut Valley Festival, 2016, came to a close Sunday, September 18.

dsc01638

Hardy folks who stayed the course through a week of weather contrasts once again headed home after filling their souls with uplifting music and cameraderie. After downpours upriver flooded the traditional Walnut Grove and Pecan Grove campgrounds, campers re-located to various places including the city lake. Folks braved more rain Thursday and Friday, to welcome sunshine on Saturday all day long. Children exhausted themselves with outdoor play on the hillside at Stage 2. And the musicians raised roars from audiences hungry for a fix of favorite musical entertainers.

I was reminded again how this festival is a most appropriate setting for several final scenes in Sundrop Sonata.  Music brings harmony to our lives in more ways than one.

dsc01632

dsc01666

dsc01677

dsc01679

dsc01668

dsc01680

dsc01638

dsc01671

dsc01688

As darkness descended over the festival grounds, a full moon rose over Stage 1 during the final 2016 set of John McCutcheon, Tom Chapin and a whole group of related friends making music for their fans. Their new song, written especially for this year’s festival, says it all.

(Chorus)

“Under a Winfield, Kansas moon

This is our Walnut Valley tune.

We come together to sing it again

It’s great to see you my friend.”

dsc01682

 

Ripples Through the Generations

            It is now seventy-two years after the accident in the whale boat, three times the span of Lester’s short life. What happened to the folks during those ensuing decades?

            Shortly after World War II had ended, the family received medals Lester had been awarded posthumously for his dedicated service. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore a decade had passed, Frances and Gloyd were blessed with a boy and a girl. the first children of the next generation. Born just three years after Lester’s death, Frances named her son David Lester in honor of her brother.

            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn that first decade, Lester’s father Charley died of heart disease. “He took Lester’s death hard,” Wallace told us, “and never got over it.” Wallace was convinced the accident in Narragansett Bay was a contributing factor in his father’s death.

            Sometime in that first decade, Josephine met and eventually married another man. The home wedding was attended by well-wishing members of Lester’s family, and officiated by his aunt Mabel, the first woman in Kansas to be an ordained pastor of the Methodist Church. Though Lester’s mother kept in touch with Josephine for many years, they eventually lost contact.

Josephine's wedding. Lester's aunt Mabel officiated.
Josephine’s wedding. Lester’s aunt Mabel officiated.

            Before ten years had passed, Wallace, a high school senior in 1942, had gone to college, met and married the woman who would be his faithful partner for fifty-three years, Helen Peterson.

The wedding of Wallace and Helen. The two youngest children belong to Frances and Gloyd.
The wedding of Wallace and Helen. The two youngest children belong to Frances and Gloyd.

            In the second decade beyond Lester’s death, Wallace and Helen welcomed three daughters to the family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            In that second decade, Lester’s sister Frances met him at the pearly gates, a victim of cancer. She left her school-age children in Gloyd’s care. Her son David, Lester’s only nephew, enlisted in the US Navy upon his graduation. He began an involvement with the navy that continued through the rest of his life, with active duty and the naval reserves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA            Lester’s mother Georgia persevered with a broken heart. Though she had lost much in a few short years, she devoted herself to her remaining children, and then her grandchildren. She was a trusted and beloved friend to many people. After Charley’s death, she managed the farm with astute business sense. She rarely spoke of Lester, but he was never far from her thoughts. His portrait hung on her living room wall for decades after she moved the farm house to town. She guarded her memories, stored the photos and other memorabilia in the attic, and mourned privately.

            Still there were times when she mentioned her son, and alluded to his sunny personality, always with a tenderness in her voice, and a reverence that spoke volumes about the depth of her love and her loss. I recall waking in the middle of the night during a visit to her house to hear her sobbing alone in the darkness of her own bedroom. She died fifty years after Lester, in her 99th year, to finally join those who had preceded her.

            Perhaps young Paul suffered as much as anyone from his brother’s tragic death. Only seven years old at the time, Paul grew up in a house shadowed by grief. His father was never the same. His mother carried on the best she could. But her heart was wounded. Maybe Paul never even remembered, in the end, what life had been like before Lester’s death. He grew up, left home, attended college for a while, and spent most of his life alone, bouncing between jobs in the kitchens of various Kansas City restaurants. He died alone and nearly penniless at the age of seventy.

            Lester became a legend in the family. Life moved on. He was gone, but not forgotten.

            That brings me to the point of this whole project with the letters from 1942. Lester Franklin Harris was a good man. Through his twenty-four years of life, and his sudden, unexpected death, he impacted the world around him. Like pebbles tossed into a still pond, the ripples started during his life continue to spread outward, undulating through generations of people who weren’t even alive when Lester left this world.

            If he were still alive today, my uncle Lester would be 96. My cousins, sisters and I would have grown up to know the good-natured generous soul others loved, but we never had that opportunity. We knew him only through the occasional story, a fond remembrance or gifts shared once in a while.

            When I was establishing my piano repair shop, my father  (Lester’s brother Wallace) gave me a portable shop vise. In a voice filled with reverence and love, he explained, “This belonged to Lester. I want you to have it.” Lester’s vise has assisted me with numerous projects over the years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

            In the late summer of 2013, my cousin David Lester Pickett passed away at the age of 68. At the family dinner following his service, his widow handed me a small new testament, covered in a zippered canvas case. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt had been a gift to Lester when he enlisted in the US Navy. In my imagination, I saw our grandmother passing this booklet to David when he entered the navy, with the same sense of reverence and honor that my father displayed with he passed the vise to me.

            Over the years, the fresh wounds that jolted the hearts of my family in 1942 had two effects. Either they contributed to a sad life and an early grave, or the wounds healed. Scars would never disappear, for Lester would never be forgotten. His mother and his siblings had to learn how to carry those scars like badges earned in the storms of life.

Lester's flag.
Lester’s flag.

My grandmother learned how to laugh again. My favorite memory of her is her belly-busting, whole-hearted laughter. But she never forgot Lester. She kept his letters, the flag which accompanied him home, a box full of cards and notes, two memory books from the funerals, the medals, a photo album and a few personal items. Upon her death, the memory box passed to Wallace. Upon his death, it passed to me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUntil 2010 I had no idea the letters existed. But when I read the words written in his own polished penmanship, Lester has come alive for me after seven decades.

            None of her grandchildren knew our beloved Grandma Georgia before her heart was scarred with grief. I wonder what we missed. What was she like before? Who would she have been if Lester had lived?

            The love my family felt for him and their grief at his loss crossed generations to impact those of us who never knew him. That experience in 1942 led them to support me with compassion and empathy when I struggled with a series of losses four decades later. That, in the end, is the greatest honor we can give to those whom we have loved and lost: to use the pain, and the healing, to assist others when they face their own storms in life. None are immune to grief. When you love somebody, you risk the pain of loss. If we can honor those memories with compassion to others, then the world will be better for it.

            Ripples from Lester’s life continue to spread towards the horizon in every direction. He was a good man, and the world is a better place because he lived.

Lester Franklin Harris
Lester Franklin Harris

(Lester’s World War II memorabilia will be displayed in the Dunlap, Kansas historical museum housed in the former Dunlap Methodist Church.)