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.

 

Diversity Lends Stability

One of the first lessons in Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is “Beware the One-Party State.” Isn’t that what we have now in our country? If not yet, we are certainly approaching it. There’s something immoral, unethical, and deeply wrong with a system that inaugurates a candidate even though his opposition won the approval of voters by a significant majority. There’s also something immoral, unethical, and deeply wrong with a system that allows the majority party in Congress to re-draw voting district lines so their candidates have a clear advantage.

It doesn’t take much intelligence to realize a society is stronger and more stable if all views have a voice in our capitals. The great art of negotiation and compromise benefits us all. We have been created with a wondrous variety in interests, opinions, and talents. Rather than try to squelch those who hold differing views and talents, we’d all be better people if we tried to understand and learn from those who are different.

Diversity lends stability. Sound familiar?

Those of us fascinated by the study of science understand that ecosystems thrive when populated with a wide variety of species. In such vibrant systems, even if one species is decimated by a disease, others can adapt to fill the thinning ranks. If an area is home to only one kind of plant, and a pest or disease invades, the area is laid waste very quickly.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, science and scientists don’t really have an agenda to thrust on the rest of us. Scientists are curious thinkers. They notice something in their world and they want to know why it is the way it is. They watch,  measure, take things apart, get into the very smallest building blocks with increasingly technological equipment. And they keep asking questions. Ecologists noted over and over that “Diversity of species lends stability to an ecosystem.”

Even if you’re not a fan of modern science, maybe you are concerned with finances and the economy. My advisors recommend a retirement plan that utilizes multiple funds, guarding against the dire possibility that one failure would wipe out your life savings. (“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”) Many people have watched their pensions disappear after economic disasters in recent years. Let’s not watch our entire country go the same way, with a government run by one party that answers to a few wealthy individuals.

Diversity lends stability.

If, for no other reason, this one reason makes it important for people to vote. Those of us with the opportunity to cast votes in an upcoming election must take the opportunity seriously. My congressional district is one of those. Advance voting is already open and I voted today. I voted for the candidate of the “other” party—the one not in power in Washington. To my friends and neighbors in this 4th district, I urge you to vote as well. Cast a vote to support a diverse Congress. Vote for James Thompson because diversity lends stability.

Lessons from Hiroshima

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Throughout our visit to Japan, I was impressed by the welcoming attitude of the people. Japan has become a nation dedicated to friendship and peace. The event on the morning of August 6, 1945 served to reverse their course in history. One plaque in the museum commemorated the Japanese Empire’s former war-mongering stance and noted that now, since the bomb, they are no longer that way. War is not the answer. They have changed. One event, one terrible violent, destructive, bloody event, shook them up so that they changed.

Maybe though, it wasn’t the people themselves that changed. Maybe it was just their leaders. The rotating wall showing faces of victims lost in the bomb were overwhelmingly women and children. The leaders who made the decision to go to war were not those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was the innocents who suffered and paid with their lives.

My life as a woman has been marked by “taking care” of people and things. From the children in my own home, to pets they left behind when they moved out, to aging parents, to grandchildren. I would be hard-pressed to fill my days without someone to feed and take care of. Other women have different amounts of the nurturing instincts I feel. Indeed there is an complete spectrum of nurturing care among us. Women in general are more loving, giving, caring, and compassionate than men. Where would we be now if women, instead of men, had historically led the way in many countries around the world?

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What will it take to shake our leaders awake enough to lead for the people’s benefit, and not for their own narrow interests? Will the Orwellian dictates emanating from Washington be enough? Or will it take something that will be far more violent, destructive and terrible?

Will we, as a country, return to our role as leader of humanitarian advances in the world? Or will we succumb to ever-increasing limits on our own personal freedoms and education?

What will it take?

Whatever might be the turning point in our tide of division and anger, I hope the world will remember that Americans and the US government are not the same thing. There are plenty of decent, compassionate Americans still here. The leader who was not elected by the people speaks NOT for us.

I imagine many of the Japanese civilians who suffered from the bomb were decent, compassionate people. The innocents were not to blame. Their emperor spoke not for them, nor for the anguish in their hearts.

I recall the visiting Russian delegation that made a stop at my home last summer to view our alternative energy installations became my friends. They were good, people, decent and compassionate. Perhaps their government speaks not for them either.

And the Arabian family we invited to Thanksgiving dinner a couple years ago. A Muslim father, his beautiful and gracious wife, and two sweet children joined us to experience the traditional American feast. They were decent, compassionate people. I could see it in their smiles and feel it in the openness of their conversation.

Each of us, in every moment, can conduct ourselves as kind ambassadors to those we meet. If our government lacks consideration for the rest of the world, we must fill in the gap. We are our own ambassdors, in every way possible. It matters how we treat our neighbors on planet Earth.

If we learn anything from the Hiroshima story, let it be that people are people— kind, loving, compassionate neighbors on this planet. A nation, regardless of the continent it occupies, is not the land, nor its leaders. A nation is its people. No people, no country on earth, deserves the kind of destruction an A-bomb represents.

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We can’t afford to forget that.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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
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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