Saturday, May 7, 2016

Skipper and Mum: The "Crash"

     My parents did divorce when Mum came back from the World Peace Study Mission in 1964.  Privately, my mother always referred to it as "the Crash." 
     Ironically, peace was part of what drove them apart. Their different approaches to seeking world peace, each of which became a full-time cause for them, leached the peace out of our family--and out of our hearts. 
     But of course that was not the core issue.  The core was much more personal. For the two of them, 28 years of hurts and resentments had built up; now they came to a head.  When they finally sat down to talk them through, they couldn't get beyond them.
     Looking back, symbolizing that lack of personal communication--and the lack of intimacy--to me now is the fact that Dad had designed the Phoenix with separate quarters for his wife and himself.  He designed a small cabin in the stern for himself and put Mum and me in a "ladies' cabin." The boat was home to our family and three unrelated men for ten years and the only room with a door was the bathroom.  

     Yet I know they loved each other.  They had a comfortable relationship. They shared the same tastes (except classical music and how many people to let into their lives). They had strong moral values and the courage to act on them. (See The Color of Friendship, below the "Brave Little Boat" posts.) They loved books, both reading them and writing them. Dad had a great sense of humor. We all loved that about him. Humor and word play in our family covered a multitude of failings--and it would be Dad's very effective coping mechanism when he developed dementia during his last decade. 
     In fact, however, he sometimes used humor where a dozen roses would have been kinder. For instance, they had two wedding anniversaries; the private one and the public one, about six months apart.  When either one approached, he'd joke that the other one was the "real" one, the one they should celebrate. For 28 years he never celebrated either one. (He didn't "do" Christmas either; Tim and Ted remembered Dad buying himself a couple of cans of baked beans to put under the tree in Yellow Springs. "Giving gifts," at least to others, was not his love language.)
    A long-awaited gift of cheeses from dear friends in Wisconsin arrived just as we were pulling away from the dock in some port beyond which we would be unable to receive mail for months. Someone ran along the dock holding up the package as our lines to shore were falling away into the water. He waved it over his head and shouted, "It's from America!"  Mum was actually jumping up and down and clapping with excitement--until Skipper just shouted back, "Enjoy it!" and she realized he was not turning back.  
     A 50-foot sailboat with an 18-hp engine is, admittedly, unwieldy to manage.  But Skip could have managed it if it had mattered to him, could have put the dinghy in the water and rowed to shore if necessary or had someone bring it out to us. (Our cat at the time, the last of Mi-ke's generations, had been lost on shore and turned up at the last minute, too. But I knew Mum felt more deeply the loss of the gift from childhood friends halfway around the world.) 
     He was proud of her but he assumed she knew that.  She was amazed after the divorce when friends told her how he had bragged about her to them, about how she had cooked three hot meals a day for seven people for over three years even when she was seasick--compliments he never gave her
     He would tell her--tell each of us--when he wasn't happy with us. I remember times when Dad would tear Mum down verbally in front of Ted and me.  First there would be the accusations. She would try to answer, then to argue back.  As he got louder and started using words like "stupid" and "crazy," and as her attempts to explain were interrupted and shouted down, I would see her lower her eyes and tighten her mouth in smouldering anger and gradually slump in resignation, her head sinking lower and lower as she just gave up.
     The occasion I remember most vividly was when she was making out a Christmas card list. Dad looked it over and saw on it the name of a couple "who only had us over for dinner once, for Pete's sake." (We were hardly ever in a port long enough to see people more than once.) That tirade lasted a long time. But Mum was headstrong and she probably sent them a Christmas card anyway. I think for years she had gotten in the habit of doing what she wanted behind his back. 
     But he wasn't great on providing affection and approval and Mum, a woman who lost her father when she was 15 and had no brothers or males to look to or bond with, hungered for more. At last she sought it elsewhere. 

     Mum told the world that the divorce was "mutual." In truth, she had resisted reconciliation.  When one man railed against Earle in a public meeting right after the divorce for his adultery with Akie, Mum quietly but firmly defended them by saying that she was equally guilty of betraying the marriage contract.
      Immediately after the divorce Mum had a crisis of faith which brought her to Jesus Christ.  But she didn't know what to do with the rest of her life. Not only had Earle left her--and kept the boat--but Ted had just married a Japanese woman in Tokyo, where they were both attending International Christian University. (They would eventually have two daughters, Naomi—who figures later in the story of the Phoenix—and Lisa.)  And I had been born again and had flown back to the States for Bible College.

     Mum, alone, with no home and no income, found God's comfort and forgiveness. And purpose.  She moved back to Hiroshima and spent the next 11 years of her life, living on donations from friends, helping the hibakusha.  On August 6, 1965, the 20th anniversary of Hiroshima bombing, she founded the World Friendship Center, a place where visitors from around the world could meet hibakusha and brainstorm ideas for peace.  She did not consider herself an activist but an educator.

     On August 6, 1975, now back in the States, she founded the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio, to house the 3,000 books and other materials about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, nuclear weapons, war and peace (in both Japanese and English) which we had accumulated, the largest such collection in the country.   
     Then she moved to Long Beach, California, to be near me, my husband and our two children.  Supporting herself by doing housecleaning and live-in childcare, she devoted the rest of her life to helping Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees.

     Born June 12, 1915 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mum passed away suddenly on February 11, 1990, during an extended visit to Wilmington, Ohio.  She was 74. On Hiroshima Day that year, my brother Ted and I flew in her place to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the bomb and the 35th anniversary of the World Friendship Center she had founded.
     On her birthday in 2011, the survivors of Hiroshima unveiled a monument to her in the Peace Park for her 17 years of friendship to and advocacy for them. She was the second American (the first was Norman Cousins) and the first woman to be so honored there
     In 2015 Mum would have been 100 and the World Friendship Center celebrated its 50th anniversaryHer daughter, two granddaughters and five great-granddaughters came to the celebration. That same year the Peace Resource Center celebrated its 40th anniversary.

This is where the story of Mum and the story of the Phoenix part company. Below the posts of The Reynolds Family, The Nuclear Age and a Brave Wooden Boat, I will be posting MUM: The Conscience, Courage, and Compassion of Barbara Reynolds, June 12, 1915 - Feb. 11, 1990.    

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