"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mum's party, 1985 (1)

     You would have loved my mother. I know because everybody did. When she turned 70, I realized the divorce had cheated her out of a golden wedding anniversary. So I threw her a birthday party instead.

June 8, 1985
     If the 750 people I invited have all managed to keep it a secret, my mother is in for a humdinger of a 70th birthday party tomorrow.
     I had wondered whether I could offer her anything in the way of a party that wouldn't be anti-climactic after the recognition others have showered upon her--the key to and citizenship in the city of Hiroshima, the Wonder Woman Award, the War Resistors' League's Person of 1984. On the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima, she was included at a formal dinner with Prime Minister Nakasone.
     But I can give her the one thing she really wants: a family reunion. For they are all family to her, not just her three children and five grandchildren, coming from Los Angeles,  San Francisco, Ann Arbor, and Anchorage for the occasion, but all 150 who will be there in person and the other 600 who are unable to come.
     And she, in turn, has impacted the lives of each one of them.
     We're expecting a busload of people from a church in South-Central Los Angeles. Right after what became known as the Watts riots, Mum moved in with a black pastor and his family there, to heal what hurt and anger she could by her presence. I addressed an invitation to the pastor and his wife and "any other friends of Barbara Reynolds." Two days ago the pastor called to confirm they are coming and bringing the whole choir.
     The Cambodian pastor at Mum's present church in downtown Long Beach has let me know that all the Cambodians there are coming, right down to the newest baby. Mum has been helping provide them with furniture, food, and friendship and is currently setting up a literacy program in their neighborhood. It's no wonder many of the young Cambodian women gratefully call her "Mama."
     Dao and her three daughters are also looking forward to being at the party. Dao is Vietnamese. Mum was instrumental in arranging their release from the nightmare that is Vietnam under communism.
     In response to my invitation, messages have been coming from everywhere, sometimes as many as six a day. Delicate blue stationery postmarked Wilmington, Ohio, addressed in large youthful letters. A crisply typed business envelope from Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review. Spidery writing on a postcard from an obscure town in rural Oregon. Cornell Law School. York University, Ontario. Holland. Ireland. Twenty-four states and seven foreign countries.
     As quickly as they arrive, I open the envelopes and paste the greetings into the bulging scrapbook I plan to present to Mum tomorrow.
      The responses are typical of Mum's broad-ranging friendships. There are letters from women in their twenties, couples in their nineties. Liberal peace activists, solid Republicans. Veterans. Pacifists. Married, single, heterosexual, homosexual.  Black, brown, white. Quakers. Evangelicals. Roman Catholics. Jews. Buddhists. Humanists. New age. Agnostics. Atheists.
     My old boyfriends.
     There are letters from people who just met Mum this year and letters from her grade school classmates back in Wisconsin. The woman who played the piano at Mum and Dad's wedding. A number of them are in Japanese; I can make out "Omedetou gozaimasu" (Congratulations).
     My husband Rick looks over the quantity of letters arriving daily. "It looks like you have almost every major group represented."
     I consider for a brief moment. "We don't have any midgets."
     It isn't intentional. Believe me, if my mother knew any midgets, she'd want them included.

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