Friday, September 29, 2017

Hiroshima -- Book Review

The original book was copyrighted and published in 1946. It is nonfiction. The edition I just finished reading was published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1985. I know, I know -- where have I been that it's taken me so long to read it? And why did I read it now?

Reason No. 1 -- my daughter loaned it to me. She's a student at Colorado University, Denver. Her Honors Project is a book of poetry focused on poetry of witness and documentary poetics. This is but one of the books she's reading in preparation to write her poems.               .

Reason No. 2 -- In today's world climate the threat of nuclear war has thrown me back to the days of my youth when magazines had Jello recipes, diets, and blue prints for bomb shelters.

And Reason No. 3 -- Hersey's book Hiroshima mentions Father Hubert Schiffer, a German Jesuit priest. He and three other priests were in their Hiroshima mission compound less than one mile from ground zero on the morning of August 6, 1945, when the bomb called "Little Boy" exploded over the Japanese city.

Many years ago I got to hear Fr. Schiffer speak. At that time he was the Catholic Chaplain at the University of Oklahoma. Appropriately enough, he was speaking in the underground auditorium between the Sequoyah Building and the Will Rogers Building in Oklahoma City's Capital Complex. That area included a cafeteria, the auditorium, and enough space for important state government officials to take cover in the event of a nuclear attack.

I remember it had huge metal doors that could be closed and ample supplies of water and crackers in barrels. I also remember that across the hall from the auditorium was a cafeteria (which we Welfare Department employees patronized religiously.)  They made the best cinnamon rolls and coffee, good reasons for us to look forward to coffee breaks.

Anyway, when Fr. Schiffer spoke, he told about his time in Hiroshima.

At the time of the bombing Wikipedia sets Hiroshima's population at approximately 340,000–350,000. Fr. Schiffer said that before the bomb, he could not see the ocean from his building because of the city's many other buildings. After the bomb, almost everything in the central part of the city was gone. There was nothing to block his view of the sea. Wikipedia estimated as many as 123,000 people died that first day.

Fr. Schiffer told about being taken out of the city to recuperate from injuries and radiation sickness. It took about a year for him to recover. When he was well enough, he returned to the city to find orphaned children roaming the city, depending on each other, and living however they could. He took over the bombed-out shell of a building and began collecting the children and the necessities to care for them -- sometimes leaving food outside the building to lure them in.

The American occupying forces had plenty of supplies in the area but Schiffer was blocked from them by the red tape many of us are familiar with. Finally, with a borrowed truck and a couple of people to help, he showed up at the gate of a supply depot. He explained that he needed bedding and food for his orphans, but he did not yet have official approval. The MPs refused him admittance.

He said he was going in to get what he needed. He had his helpers get out of the truck. He laid down in the front seat behind the truck's steering wheel, gunned it, and crashed through the gate. The MPs (I guess thinking it not a good idea to fire on a priest) stood by while he and his helpers loaded the truck. They handed the MPs a list of what they were taking and left. Father Schiffer said he never heard any complaints from the American military, nor did he receive a bill. In fact, after that, the Americans responded in a more favorable and timely manner to his requests for aid.

John Hersey's book follows six survivors of the bomb. The book begins:

August 6,1945

Miss Toshinki Sasaki, a clerk in the personel department of the East Asia Tim Works, had just turned her head to chat with the girl at the next desk.

Dr. Masakazu Fujii, a physician, had just sat down to read the paper on the porch of his private hospital.

Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor's widow, was watching a neighbor from her kitchen window.

Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German Priest, lay on a cot in the mission house reading a Jesuit magazine.

Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young surgeon, walked along a hospital corridor with a blood specimen for a Wasserman test.

The Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, was about to unload a cart of clothes at a rich man's home in the suburbs.

The mundane activities did not really touch me until I read the Hiroshima Methodist Church and, all of a sudden, I realized that my view of World War II Japan was fundamentally wrong. A Methodist Church -- not a mission, but a church lead by a Japanese Methodist minister and attended by Japanese parishioners. In his book Hersey talks about damage to the Chamber of Commerce Building, the difficulty of withdrawing money from the damaged banks, the heroic efforts of medical personnel to treat the horribly wounded in equally badly damaged hospitals, etc., etc., etc.

This did not at all fit my John Wayne/Robert Mitchum-American-movies-trained concept of the people who attacked my people at Pearl Harbor.

Of course, these were not the people who attacked Pearl Harbor, any more than I was the person who dropped that atom bomb on them. I hadn't realized just how complete my sense of us and them was -- at least for the Japan that existed then.

That was before I was born. That was the Japan that my father fought in the Pacific. In my mind, somehow World War II Japan was completely separate from the Japan where my school friend Ray's great grandparents came from. Or the 1970's Japan my little yellow Honda car came from.

The original book ended and was published during the first anniversary year of the bombing. Hersey wrote:  A year after the bomb was dropped, Miss Sasaki was a cripple; Mrs. Nakamura was destitute; Father Kleinsorge was back in the hospital; Dr. Sasaki was not capable of the work he once could do; Dr. Fujii had lost the thirty-room hospital it took him many years to acquire, and had no prospects of rebuilding it; Mr. Tanimoto's church had been ruined and he no longer had his exceptional vitality. The lives of these six people, who were among the luckiest in Hiroshima, would never be the same.

The hope at the end of World War II was that nuclear weapons would never be used again. Hersey does not end the revised edition with such rose-tinted glasses. He dates the development of nuclear weapons around the world up until the 1985 edition of Hiroshima. He brings us up to the fortieth anniversary of that first nuclear bomb. Each of the six survivors was still alive. They had built new lives for themselves. They had endured.

The cover of  Hiroshima quotes the Saturday Review of Literature -- "Everyone able to read should read it."

I concur.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Be Here Now -- NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition Round 2

He sat on the edge of a planter outside the sushi restaurant. This was where they came on their first date. She’d never had sushi before. She was late then, too. He probably should have picked her up at home instead of meeting her downtown.

“I’ve missed you,” he said, getting up.

“You’ve been gone.” She looked tired.

“Work.” He gave her a kiss. “There’s a wait, do you mind.” This was where he asked her to marry him. A public place, in case she said no.

“Productive trip?” she asked.

He appreciated that she knew how frustrating a new software launch can be. She smelled of cinnamon and fresh baked bread.

He nodded. This was where she told him she was pregnant. She needn’t have worried. The business was just getting started. It was a little tough, but Michael was a beautiful baby. He was glad it worked out so that he could be there for the birth.

 “Is it too cold to wait out here?” he asked, putting his arm around her.

She shook her head and leaned against him. She fit perfectly, her warmth spreading into him. This was where they came when his father died. He still missed his father.

The hostess opened the door and called their name.

He took her shawl and held her seat for her. She didn’t wear coats, not even on the coldest nights.

And she liked spiders. She took as many pictures of the garden spiders as she did the flowers. And she was always worried about them when the weather turned cold. He liked that about her.

“I love the lights,” she said. Hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny lights hung throughout the restaurant glimmering around the wait staff and customers alike. They made her smile.

The first time Michael OD’d, they came here. Their beautiful, brilliant son. How could he have been so unhappy? What could they do?

Treatment seemed to help them all. He made sure he was home for every family session.

He stayed home a whole week for his own gall bladder surgery. She teased him about his risk factors, the four F’s – Fair, Fat, Forty, and Fertile -- saying she liked the last one best of all.

Then when she was in treatment, she lost her hair and wore scarves. Bright Indian looking ones. Elegant black ones with gold or silver threads wound through. He stayed home for those six weeks and for the two months after. They came here often then. The lights would glitter on her scarves and she would laugh at his travel tales of woe.

He cut short his trip to London, when Michael went to jail. He didn’t know if she was well enough to stand the stress alone. They came here after their first visit.

Now Michael was dead. Had been for almost six months. He couldn’t stand being at home. He worked and traveled and worked almost the whole time. He couldn’t stand her sorrow. He couldn’t stand his own.

He wondered how it is that some places -- some simple, quiet places are the safest places to be?

The waitress poured tea and said she would be back to take their order.

He looked at her, his beautiful wife. He just looked. Somewhere along the line, she’d grown old. He had, too. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Maybe he’d been gone too much. Maybe she’d learned she didn’t need him. Maybe she didn’t want him.

“Why are we here tonight?” She asked.

“I need to know if we’re going to be alright.”

She pushed her tea away and took her keys out of her purse. The tiny airplane on the key fob gleamed in the restaurant’s low light. He’d given her that trinket after his first business trip.

“Let’s go home,” she said. “I’ll have a glass of wine, you have a scotch, and we’ll go to bed.”

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon -- Book Review

On April 17, 2017, I was listening to NPR's 'Fresh Air' with Terry Gross. She was interviewing David Grann about his new book Killers of the Flower Moon, scheduled for release the next day. (To read a transcript of that interview click Killers of the Flower Moon.)

I am from Oklahoma and all public school students get one semester of Oklahoma History in the 9th Grade. I had my one semester. It not only didn't cover all the 'good' stories about Oklahoma, it certainly didn't cover any of the 'bad' stories about Oklahoma.

When I was well out of school and working for the Oklahoma Welfare Department in Logan County, I had the great good fortune of working with a woman from Marshall, Oklahoma, a very small town in the northern part of the county. She had long known a woman named Angie Debo who received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Oklahoma in 1933. Dr. Debo had been writing articles and books on the treatment of Native Americans by local, state, and federal governments. She named names many of whom were still living, which drew the ire of the powers that were and attracted death threats. 

Dr. Debo's books focused on mistreatment of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes -- the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole who had been forcibly moved from the Southeast United States to Oklahoma Territory pre-Civil War. But I knew some of her journalism dealt with the Osage. So I knew a bit about the Osage murders.

I had long entertained the possibility of writing a biography of Dr. Debo. The idea that someone else was writing about those days in Oklahoma and naming names, got my attention. I went right home and ordered David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. And it did not disappoint. 

Killers of the Flower Moon takes on the situation in the Osage Nation in the 1920's. 

Because the Osage were living in a nation of law, they were, in a way, much better off than most of the Native Americans who had been moved into Indian Territory. The Osage sold their lands in Kansas to the U.S. Government and they bought their lands in Oklahoma. That means there were deeds involved. Not treaties with highfalutin language that was so nonspecific that it could be twisted to fit whatever the U.S. Government wanted it to mean. The surface rights to the land were divvied up among members of the tribe and could be sold, but mineral rights were reserved to the tribe and could not be transferred except by inheritance.

As of 2017 this still means "The Osage Tribe owns all mineral rights located within Osage County and has an income from all oil and gas found in Osage County." according to the Osage Minerals Council. 

Oil was discovered and the Osage became the richest people on earth. Wikipedia says "From 1921-1925 an estimated 60 Osage were killed, and most murders were not solved."

Because local law enforcement was either unwilling or unable to deal with the situation and because it was gaining national notoriety, the nascent Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought in to it. In 1924 J. Edgar Hoover was named director. He came in determined to make the FBI a modern, national police force, free of corruption. The investigation of the Osage murders was "to be a showcase for his bureau." (Grann) 

He assigned a former Texas Ranger to lead the investigation. Tom White was an exemplar of the Old West Hero. Honest, fearless, compassionate. Grann couldn't have invented a better character for the hero.

When I heard they're making a movie of the story, I couldn't imagine why. I was looking at it as history, nonfiction which normally limits entertainment interests. My husband pointed out that it was a perfect Hollywood story -- super wealthy victims, shootings, bombings, poisonings, throwing witnesses off of trains; corruption in high places, and low ones; tall, good-looking FBI agents unraveling the conspiracies -- of course it's perfect for Hollywood.

The same day I heard the interview on NPR an article by Sean Woods in Rolling Stone (April 17, 2017) described Tom White "... born in a log cabin, policing the frontier at a time when justice was pretty raw. There's a picture for me that's so amazing: White's got a cowboy hat, he's riding a horse, and he's got a gun. In a later picture, you see him with a fedora, he's trying to use fingerprints and he's got to file paperwork, which I just always love, because he clearly hated the paperwork." Referring to photographs in the book.

"EXCLUSIVE: In a stunning end to the biggest and wildest book rights auction in memory, Imperative Entertainment has paid $5 million and won the rights to make a movie out of David Grann’s book Killers Of The Flower Moon: An American Crime And The Birth Of The FBI, which Doubleday is publishing next spring." So said Mike Fleming Jr., March 10, 2016, more than a year before the book was published, on an online entertainment rag. 

IMDb names  Director: Martin Scorsese; Writers: David Grann (novel), Eric Roth; and Star: Leonardo DiCaprio. Pretty impressive names.

You know, any time a writer cashes in this big, it makes me happy, regardless of Hollywood's dismal record of handling really good books.

Here's hoping the movie is as good as the book.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Forty-one Years Ago -- Flash Fiction

image from Pond5

I knew this morning when I woke up. I understood. Forty-one years ago the world came to be when I held up my hand and blocked the sun. It disappeared. For that moment, the sun didn't exist. That was my first memory. Before that moment of knowing, nothing existed.

I've been told or I've read that the world is billions of years old. Or 6,000 years. Some say we landed men on the moon and there was a great earth quake in San Francisco more than a hundred years ago. I've seen both events or representations of them on TV. And I've seen planes fly into the World Trade Center buildings many times, maybe hundreds of times, also on TV.

I cannot, from my own experience, say that any of that is real. But I can say, from that moment of knowing forty-one years ago to this morning, the world  is real. Because I was there then, and I am here now.

When Grandpa was alive, I watched Matt Dillon shoot a new bad guy at the end of every Gunsmoke rerun. Somewhere along the line, I understood that Matt Dillon wasn't real and didn't really shoot those men.

I did, however, believe the things that knowledgeable people told me. Or that they wrote in books or video-documented. Their reasoning seemed sound. It gave me something to believe. To understand how things worked, how they got here. Why I was here. What the point of my being must be.

I would grow up, get married, have babies, raise those children, become a grandmother, and always learn. Become who I was meant to be. Learn what was real.

Charlie sprang full grown and twenty-six years old when I met him. Though a man, my own Athena. wore full armor -- a three-piece suit, a striped tie, and nice leather shoes. He came to my booth at the Downtown Art Festival. Before that, he did not exist. Not as a baby or teenager. Not even the night before that morning. But I saw him every morning for the next ten days of the art show.

Our nods became hellos and then lunches. When he laughed, he'd throw his head back and laugh out loud. His laugh attracted attention and made people smile. When he told me things, he made me see them as he described them. Sometimes I saw them before he described them.

He looked at me when he listened to me talk. He knew the stories I painted without me having to explain them. Why my skies were yellow ocher, trees had faces, and why snow flakes fell in the desert.

But I know now, that none of that existed when we were not together. He was only the bits and snatches that occurred when we were together.

At night as he slept beside me, he was real while I listened to him breathe. But when I slept, he ceased to exist. I would wake, joyous to find him there. Real again.

He gave me two babies. Now that I think about them, I understand how real they were at first when they were always with me. Then they became strobe light flashes. Eager faces anticipating a cookie, a first date, a graduation, a baby of their own. Or the light shown for a moment on broken hearted tragedy. A dropped ice cream cone, a lost love, a failed campaign.

Sometimes when I see them now and they are again real for the moment, I wonder who they've become, who I've become.

I went to bed last night. I didn't hear Charlie's breathing. I knew when I woke this morning that he wouldn't be there.

I thought about the world. What I know first-hand about it and when, I know for a fact, it came to be. Forty-one years ago when I held up my hand and blocked the sun.

Light filtered between the blinds. The dog wanted out. The children, now no longer children, would be here at 10:00 to help make arrangements.

The world still exists. It is real. At least for a while longer.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Walking Group's Field Trip -- nonfiction

Several years ago a couple of people who participated in a class sponsored by the Consortium for Older Adult Wellness started a walking group. Since then more and more people have joined the walks. Most are active at one or more of Lakewood's four rec centers and most are senior citizens, though that is not a prerequisite.

The walking group is very free-form. Not everyone walks every time. Most of the time we walk at one of Lakewood's more than 200 parks. We do keep our walks to easy terrain because we have all levels of fitness in the group. Probably the biggest difference between our walking group and others is our penchant for coffee and treats at local coffee and bakery establishments.

We don't claim to be a weight-loss program or even a fitness program. It is an opportunity for us to get together with really nice people from different backgrounds and different parts of the country and, indeed, the world. And, of course, we use the après-walk visit to solve the world's problems.

Occasionally we take field trips to local areas of interest. Last Thursday we visited Hudson Gardens.

Hudson Gardens and Event Center is a 30-acre non-profit botanical gardens located along the bank of the South Platte River, in Littleton, the next town south of Lakewood. Walking there is free to the public. They have concerts on an extensive lawn during the summer, rent facilities for weddings and other private events. They host a big beer festival in September, and decorate for holidays from fireworks for Fourth of July to lights for Christmas.

Originally developed in 1941 as the private gardens of Colonel King C. and Evelyn Leigh Hudson.  The gardens contain varied grounds ranging from high, dry prairie to river wetlands, featuring plants that thrive in the dry Colorado climate.

The rose gardens are a joy from June through late summer.

This time of year, the pumpkin patch is very popular. They also have raised beds of kitchen garden veggies -- green beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, etc. 

The big surprises for me were the varieties of sunflowers.

Colorado grows sunflowers in fields, like wheat or corn so I'm used to seeing the standard commercial sunflowers they grow for seeds. The fields in Eastern Colorado are actually quite beautiful and the flowers follow the sun just like the sunflowers we grow in our flower beds.

But these sunflowers come in all kinds of colors. Like these on the right. They're colored more like Indian Paint Brush, but of course they're much larger. 

And below are little white ones nestled in among the more standard yellow ones.

                  And, of course, the bees like them, too.

Then there are the water features. Because Colorado east of the Rockies is in the High Plains Desert, water is a limited resource. There are books written about it. There have been pitched battles fought over it -- both in court and with guns. So water, any water is appreciated and celebrated. 

That's Rich. He's the mainstay of the walking group. 
He hardly ever misses a walk and often comes up with
wonderful suggestions -- like Hudson Gardens.

For our après-walk it was Lucile's Creole Cafe for brunch. I get to take credit for this choice. Lucile's is my favorite restaurant in Colorado. But, then of course, I love Louisiana food and they do it pretty much right.

My place at the table -- beignets, fruit, and coffee. No, I didn't eat all those beignets myself. I shared.

The first time I had a beignet, I didn't see what the big deal was. The next morning I had one and it was pretty good. The third morning I HAD to have one.

This was us. Not all of us could be there for the walk that day, but for those who missed it and for those who didn't, we'll do it again. Laissez les bon temps rouler, y'all.