Saturday, July 24, 2010

Funny how the lens keeps narrowing when I'm striving so hard to see life through  a panoramic view that takes me away from this closeup of the inevitable ... .

Last night during the early evening I drove out to Kaiser Shipyard 3 to the old SS Red Oak Victory where my fellow ranger, Craig, and historian Steve Gilford were showing a vintage film, "The Man from Frisco."  This would be a special screening of a rare movie that fictionalizes the story of the great WWII industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser, whose exploits in shipbuilding at that time are so much a part of the narration in my role as a NPS interpreter.  It was a way to escape the gloom that had descended since Saturday morning.

This morning I've been trying to concentrate on the upcoming week when, starting Monday, I'll be involved in the planning for a fall series of arts projects (photographic exhibit, lectures, films, etc.) around the subject of the Japanese American story for which I'm planning two bus tours to be co-led with Toru Saito -- tours of related sites including a visit to those abandoned greenhouses with the roses still cascading out of time-shattered roofs in defiance of the destructive actions of the unknowing.  The NPS, the Richmond Museum of History, the Richmond Arts Center, and the Japanese/American Historical Society are partnering in this exciting venture.

Before that happens, I'll be working with a group of 90 high school students who are coming from all parts of the country and the world in a program called AYUSA.  They're international ambassadors for their countries and are being hosted by the Richmond Community Foundation.  They will be based at the University of California during their stay.  They're arriving on Saturday, July 31st, where -- among other activities will be a Betty-led walking-tour of the Nystrom Historic District wherein lies the Maritime Child Development Center, the Nystrom Village -- worker housing, and MLK park  (all a part of the scattered sites that form the park), which are being restored to enable the telling of the stories that are so vital to the reclamation of that era.

Unfortunately, the disembodied presence of death has narrowed my lenses so much that I'm struggling to keep some breadth to my thinking and am failing miserably.

As I walked up the unsteady see-through whatever-it's-called (hanging-on-the-side-of-the-ship stairs?) to board, I realized that I'd completely forgotten until that moment that it was from this deck of the SS Red Oak Victory that I'd scattered my eldest son's ashes about ten years ago; evidence that this, too, shall pass.  I almost turned around in the gathering dusk to drive home, feeling that there was just no hope of this fog of despair lifting, but I plodded on my unsteady climb to the top deck; made my way through the narrow passageway past the galley; down the steep ladder-like stairs to the Hold where suddenly life returned in full color as I caught sight of Steve and Craig and Lois preparing the projector and smelled the buttery aroma of popcorn in the popper -- and finally those 124 movie buffs who were entering the Hold with grins of anticipation turned up, and life began to return again.

Today Dorian's persistent and nonsensical talk is a welcome change from the gloom that has claimed me over the past week, and her innocent absence from that which has so drained the life from these past hours serves to lift the spirits and change the conversation.  I'm experiencing a re-directing, despite the need to incorporate this new reality of loss -- and by my daughter -- who is spared much of the pain by her childlike existence. unseen and unexpected blessing, I think, but evidence that perspective and balance will return in time.

Photo:  Japanese Greenhouses by Richmond photographer, Ellen Gailing.
Sobering times ... unfathomable sadness  ... resignation?

I remember a dear poet friend, Benedict's, words on the death of my mother in 1995.  The words were of little comfort then, but were so resoundingly true that I found a strange kind of peace in them despite their finality.   He said, "Betty, we must remember that no life is complete without a death."  At the time they didn't make sense to me, but in the days that followed; after the flowers were wilted and the mourning clothes put away -- they were strangely comforting, and right.

I would never have been ready for this death since I could hardly imagine Lottie's life ending before mine.  It just isn't fair, in the scheme of things.  There was so much left unspoken ... but maybe that's inevitably the way that fate has of keeping a 'presence' alive -- the essence of those who've passed on -- a way to sustain life even in death.  I suppose I'll be in silent and sometimes troubling conversation with my sister for as long as I'm alive.

Photo:  by E.F. Joseph of Lottie as a vibrant teenager. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Day of Remembrance at Port Chicago with Ranger Shelton Johnson of Yosemite ... .

... it was a day of chill winds and patriotism -- of the best kind.

Among the hundreds of those who gathered at the monument for this 66th anniversary of the tragic explosion that vaporized 2 ships and 320 young Americans were dignitaries like Rep. George Miller who carried the legislation to turn this monument into the 392nd unit of the National Park System; from Washington, Deputy Director Micky Fearne of the NPS; the mayor of the City of Concord, reps from Senators Boxer and Feinstein; survivors of the no longer existent small town of Port Chicago; park rangers from surrounding NPS sites; Sea Scouts who provided the honor guard for the proceedings; friends, families of the lost as well as the survivors.

In his poetic fashion, Ranger Shelton Johnson embraced the cutting wind and by so doing, removed the chill and gave it personality; made it into the central character in his moving address.

Someone in the audience used his/her cell phone and created this video and had it online within 24 hours.  Of course the professional DVD that was produced of the entire event will be available within a reasonable length of time, but in the interim ... enjoy!

Photo:  all that's left except for memories.

Port Chicago Great Explosion - A Belated Thank You