Sunday, April 24, 2011

Welcome to the World, Esther Grace Walker! By Charlie Hawkes

I have been given permission to announce the arrival of the newest in the Walker family.

Justin and Sharon Walker of Lockport, son and daughter-in-law of Cindy (Hawkes) Gabrys, annouce the birth of their daughter:

Esther Grace Walker
born April 23rd, 2011 at 7:59 P.M.
weighing 7 pounds, 5 ounces
and 19 1/2 inches long.

Mother and daughter are doing well.

Our love to all, Charlie

Friday, April 15, 2011

Daniel Mott, Missing in Action during the Civil War by Pat Kinsella Herdeg

Second Battle of Bull Run

"Our boys fell like the leaves of autumn."

April 12th marked the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter. We will have many reminders around the nation about the Civil War, but here on the cousins’ blog, we remember family.

Daniel Mott, younger brother of Diadamia (our Great Great Grandmother), was a farmer with his father in Virgil, NY. He enlisted in the 76th NY Regiment during the Civil War, and by all accounts—military, official and personal—he went missing in action on August 28th, 1862 during the Battle of Brawner’s Farm, in the Second Battle of Bull Run, also known as the Second Manassas.

Daniel was the ninth of thirteen children. Two of his older brothers had fought and died in Texas during the Mexican War. In 1861, both Daniel and his younger brother, William, joined the Union Army. For whatever reason, they joined months apart, and fought in different regiments. William came home and lived until the age of 62. Daniel was not as lucky.

Our Daniel mustered in as a private in 1861 in Cortland, NY at the age of twenty-six. He was to serve a three year term in the 76th NY Regiment, Company A. The Register of Enlistments records that our Daniel is six feet, one half inch in height, with grey eyes, brown hair, and ‘florid’ complexion.

A letter from Lyman Culver, a Cortland County boy in Daniel’s Company A, describes well what Daniel’s camp must have looked like before they encountered the enemy:
Brawner's Farmhouse

I wish you could take a peep in our tent this morning - you would think it looked rather sassy - the 76 Reg. occupies 290 tents with three and four in each tent, overhead is our Enfield rifles & swords on one side, our knapsacks canteens, and if you take a peep in my overcoat you will find a six shooter and bowie knife - they were presents to me and I have been waiting for a chance to use them.

On the afternoon of August 28th, 1862 near Gainesville, VA, young Culver got a chance to use his sassy weapons.

To prevent the Federal commander’s efforts to concentrate at Centreville and bring General John Pope of the Union into battle, Stonewall Jackson ordered his troops to attack a Union column as it marched past unawares on the Warrenton Turnpike—Daniel Mott of the 76th NY was in this Union column of men.

For one and a half hours, the soldiers fought, only thirty yards apart in places. In this short time, this opening salvo of the Second Bull Run Battle inflicted casualties amounting to almost one-third of the 7000 men engaged. General Gibbon, a veteran of some of the heaviest fighting of the entire Civil War, later recalled, 'The most terrific musketry fire I have ever listened to rolled along those two lines of battle… neither side yielding a foot.”
Marker for the 76th NY Regiment at Brawner's Farm Field that day

This savage fight at Brawner’s Farm lasted until dark. In another account of the action, Captain Noyes, a staff officer at Brigade headquarters, from which point he had a good view of the opposing forces, wrote in his work "The Bivouac and the Battlefield":

"All along the low ridge parallel to our position stood double lines of Rebel infantry. I saw a mile of lightening leaping from their muskets while a deluge of thunderbolts shivered like fiends among us and over us. Our boys fell like the leaves of autumn."

Another soldier, Uberto A. Burnham of Cortland, had been a school teacher, and wrote in later years about the day Daniel Mott disappeared, August 28th, 1862, at the Battle of Brawner Farm, Second Bull Run:

And now it became apparent to the two brigade commanders that their small force was in an extremely dangerous position. It seemed imperative that the six shattered regiments that had done the fighting should get out of the way while night lasted. It was decided to leave the Centerville road and retreat to Manassas. Preparations were immediately made for the march, ammunition was issued. Details were made to bring in the wounded.

Capt. Watrous of my company commanded the detail to bring in the wounded of the 76th. They went in the darkness close to the Confederate lines. They could hear the conversation of their men and the cries of their wounded. When they came to a prostrate form they put hands on the face to see if it was cold. If not he was picked up or helped up.

As they hurried away under cover of darkness, it would have been easy to leave behind Daniel Mott, wounded or already dead.

The National Park of Manassas has the Groveton Confederate cemetery, where soldiers from both sides were buried by Confederates. After the Civil War, all northern soldiers that could be found in Groveton were dug up and re-buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Our Daniel is most likely buried in Arlington under the Tomb of the Unknown of the Civil War. This granite tomb, shaped like a casket, holds the remains of 2,111 Civil War soldiers, most of them from the Bull Run Battlefields.

So, when you next visit Arlington Cemetery, stop in at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watch the changing of the guard, but then, search out the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers of the Civil War and stop and think of our Daniel.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thoughts on Japan, By Beth Kinsella Sakanishi

Walking home from teaching her first ‘Current Topics’ class since the earthquake, Beth got thinking about an old essay she wrote and what she would add to it now:

In Fits and Starts

I was trying to think of a way to describe the shaky islets in a swamp feelings here. That fragility, but also the connectedness to a sure and history-laden environment. An emotional ecosystem that lives with and sustains flow, change. I looked back at an essay I wrote several years ago and saw I have been thinking these things out for years. I was talking, in the piece below, about how the historical fear of fires in Japan, and the other natural disasters, does something to the human spirit. How it can make the idea of ‘change’ less scary in one way (it has to be done, over and over and over, in this land of typhoons, floods, earthquakes, fires), but also, on the other hand, more awful (Again? Again, you are asking me to pick up the pieces of my life and somehow get over the loss, again?) All I know is that people here live with impermanence, transience, fragility, in ways as built into the fabric of their lives as Americans do with ‘freedom’, say. And because something is in danger of being taken away or destroyed does not mean you live without it. That is part of what I was writing about below:

"Change. In a land of frequent earthquakes, of seasonal typhoons and floods and fires, don’t people get used to their lives being ripped out from under them? This is a country where you can still hear, especially in winter, people walking the neighborhoods at night, around dinner time, clicking two pieces of wood together, calling out the same refrain echoing down the centuries, “Beware of your fires”. No, people here still have paper panes in their tatami mat rooms, and a heart that slows for a moment, listening to that neighborhood warning, then fumbles to find its pace again.”

“Japan lives with extremes. Friends back home in snow country, where the only natural disasters to worry about are blizzards and ice storms, cannot imagine how I could live in a place that is so prone to earthquakes. The thing about earthquakes, though, is that they seldom last more than a minute or two, and often much less than that. They are terrifying for those moments, and in fact, so disoriented am I -- every single time -- by the unexpectedness of the jolt, that it takes a handful of seconds to recognize what it happening, even though I have been through these rumblings literally thousands of times before. When mind kicks in, after heart and body have already sent up their flares, I run to the doorway and wait. And in those moments of waiting think enough thoughts, enough worst scenarios, to fill a very long book.

But then it is over, and never having experienced a serious quake I am only talking about those that leave no more than a few dishes or picture frames broken. Right after one, for the next day, that is all anyone talks about: where were you? what did you do? Everyone uses this time’s warning to check that their earthquake kit is up-to-date, too. By the end of the week, though, the earthquake and the certainty that a bigger one is coming some day, has already faded. This kind of time is too quick with its shout to keep holding on to.”

Of course, now that I have lived through a big one, or at least the outer edges of one, I can report that my mind worked differently in the 9.0 jolt. And whether it was because it was so long -- five minutes instead of the usual 30 seconds or so, because it was three quakes that happened sequentially, overlapping a bit -- or because it was so strong (if it was a 9.0 there, it was about a 7 in our part of Chiba), time did a funny thing. Instead of the flood of thoughts that usually go through my head in the lesser, quicker jolts, this time, I told Takeshi all my mind could come up with was “Please stop, please stop, please stop,” in a loop as fierce as a mantra. What I had not remembered until a few days ago, and this had come back to me eerily just an hour or so before the most recent, strong aftershock, was that I had for the first time ever thought, “This feels very different. It is not stopping. I might die in this one.” I had not even been able to ‘remember’ I thought that until a few days ago, a month after the quake.

I know this piece is dark, so far, but it won’t stay that way. I just mean to be showing you how the mind suffers these horrors (and I am so far from knowing firsthand any of the real horrors; my shocks have all been second-hand from the flood of news images and stories we are still getting day and night), and then repairs itself in fits and starts. I feel absolutely pummeled at times by the emotional impact of the Tohoku stories, the scenes repeated over and over (like the twin towers falling again and again, though Japan learned something from that, I believe, and did not give us tsunami waves endlessly, after the first few days), the repeated need to be up on the latest thing that has gone wrong at the Fukushima reactors.

And yet.

Yet, even I, knowing my adopted country as well as I do, having lived here now more years than in my home country, am amazed and inspired by how quickly people find alternative ways to live when ‘normal’ is not possible.

One last bit from the essay I quoted above. In that piece, I was talking about a time, years ago, when I was deciding whether to go or stay and visited Kyoto one winter to help me think. This is how I ended the piece:

“The way the sky after a typhoon is scrubbed bluer and more cloudless than it has been for months, the way fear jumps up but then in settling down brings a calm deeper than before -- these are the cleansings of a place where nature can change your world in an instant, but can also foster determination to dig in. I think of all the fires Kyoto has endured, all the civil wars and faction fights, the earthquakes and typhoons and landslides, and what I see down every street, in every shrine and temple garden, and views unchanged for a millennium, is belief that we can pick ourselves up and start again. This is the real heart of Kyoto, of the whole country, and is one reason I chose to stay that long ago winter I was in doubt.”

Well, I cannot say that anything is so easy this time. And yet, I see this same belief and determination everywhere:

People all over the country donating children’s backpacks (an odd -- to me -- humungous thing that tells you how much homework these kids get, and hard as a turtle’s shell, so sturdy that one young girl was saved from the tsunami’s sweep when the strap of her backpack caught on an upper landing and she was held above the waters until they receded) for those who need them in the Tohoku area. These are expensive items, not the small amount we would think a backpack might cost.

I see Japanese companies with a mindset lightyears ahead of their usual tradition-bound thinking. This is a country where ‘flex time’ took forever to get here and is not widespread, where every year during the week-long ‘Golden Week’ (April-May) and New Year holidays, almost everyone has the same days off and so every flight out, and every train home or to a popular destination is packed (I just stay home!). An atmosphere where some companies have only recently let some employees work from home. All changed: gearing up the real threat of summer blackouts (Tokyo summers are hellish, people need air conditioning), companies are suddenly talking a language any American has known for a decade or more, with flex-time, a 4-day work week, staggered vacation times, leaving early, having a third of the workforce work at home (so the company doesn’t use as much air-conditioning), on and on.

I see all the lessons learned from other quakes: prefectures affected by the Kobe one all ‘adopting’ a Tohoku prefecture and since they are prevented by law from sending money, send ‘people’ instead: nurses and doctors and social workers, of course, but also -- and this I never would have thought of but they’ve been through it and grasped it once -- municipal workers to help take the place of key city officials and other natural planners in an emergency, who were lost in the tsunami. And whole schools moved together -- children, with their teachers, to another prefecture that has an empty school.

Some of the hardest choices facing those in the quake/tsunami/nuclear zone have to do with ‘change’. Do you leave or do you stay? Some of the terribly exhausted choose to stay in shelters or their damaged houses because they still have a relative ‘missing’ and will not leave until they know for sure. Others, whole communities, have moved to another nearby prefecture, but have done so together (with their local gov’t setting up right along with them, in this new place) so they can go back together ‘when they can’. Still others stay because they cannot bear to let others down.

There is the example of one hospital, the only hospital in a town of 10,000. Water had reached the third floor, the computers and expensive equipment like MRI machines had all been ruined. After the first week, the president and the full-time doctors left, pleading ill health. Well, the nurses were made of sterner stuff and they stayed. The head nurse, most of the other nurses, and some rotating part-time doctor staff from other cities are keeping the place running. On almost no sleep, day after day, week after week. The head nurse said, ‘Sure, I wanted to run away, too, but I couldn’t leave these people.’

You see how connected Japan is from this disaster: the reason milk is scarce (one company in Ibaragi makes most of the nation’s cartons), and the 3 big auto companies are really up against it (the parts manufacturers are almost all, in small factories, in Tohoku), and that some foods are still scarce even in relatively removed Tokyo (certain key ingredients were from Tohoku) -- is all from one huge swipe of Mother Nature.

But this realization of being connected is also, of course, why the nurses stayed, why every famous Japanese sports player, singer, comedian, writer, etc., from the affected area has gone back, or has tried to go back, to cheer people up. It’s why so many foreigners stayed and why when people asked me if I had gone home for a short time, I said I had not.

I don’t know if belief and determination are enough to bring Tohoku back, but I do know that I understand those unchanged scenes of Kyoto now even better than that winter long ago. And I don’t know how precisely you keep picking yourself back up, but I am sure that is exactly what people in Tohoku who lost power again, because of the 7.1 quake two days ago, in many areas that had just gotten it back after a month, are doing today. Perhaps shaking their heads and muttering mo ii (enough already!), but then sighing and getting back to cleaning the mud off the photo album someone found and returned to them, or scavenging what could be saved from the wreckage of what was once a sake-brewer’s or a fish-product company or a ramen shop or an auto parts factory, or picking the debris from a much smaller now farm field and planting the crop that has to go in now, today, and not tomorrow.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yesterday's Aftershock--More From Beth Kinsella Sakanishi

Beth writes about yesterday’s aftershock and the ones before it: I am finding all of this is something like having PTSD. You can't forget it; there are too many aftershocks and places without electricity. Every time it all is shoved in my face again, and we are what 200 kms from the area most affected?

I could not bear to watch the tsunami video you sent so don't know which one it was. The hardest part for me watching those videos was listening to the Japanese, which you are spared. Just heartrending as people call out encouragement you know is too late.

We have had other aftershocks (here in Chiba) just as strong as last night's or almost as strong -- 900 aftershocks, of all sizes and duration, and counting, according to some reports, but the tsunami was, as always, the added element of terror, this last time.

More blackouts and no water for places in Tohoku that had only recently started to get back on their feet. Really feels never-ending.

But they did warn us (as they did in the NZ quake that happened just before ours, so we had heard this idea twice) that any time in the first month after, we could have anything up to a 9.0 as an aftershock.

It was a longer than usual shaking, though, and at night, so that was upsetting.

Hard to imagine those poor folks still in evacuation centers, or those who could not stand it anymore, and went back to their damaged homes.

No way to escape thoughts of it, even here, as we go through darkened stations and no escalators (and station stairs here are very, very long flights, often) -- as we all struggle to preserve electricity.

Supposedly, the bigger the earthquake, the more aftershocks and the more frequent, and the stronger they are. They had started to be more spaced out last week, but then had picked up in frequency in recent days. Guess the aftershock last night was why.

Hopefully, things will calm down again. Grateful, as always, for everyone's thoughts...

Love, b

P.S. You can post this, if you want, but it is scattered. I am tired. But it is a bit of on the spot reporting.

----------Pat Kinsella Herdeg here--I pass on to Beth all of your comments. They DO help her. She is tired now much of the time, but feels she should explain some of what is going on over in Chiba, at least.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

“Hands” By Beth Kinsella Sakanishi

Beth and Takeshi

The other day, I read a short article about some young men from Tokyo who had gone back to one of the hardest hit areas. One of them was searching for his parents’ home, and his two friends had come along to help.

Many times a house cannot be found because it was swept out to sea; other times you can find it, but hundreds of meters away from where it was supposed to be, carried an unimaginable distance by the tsunami.

That was the case with the now famous pair -- grandson and grandmother -- rescued over a week after the tsunami. The family had felt very strongly that the pair were still alive, somewhere. They had had a phone call right after the quake from the grandson who told them they were at home, and okay, and then the call was cut off and they heard no more. The family came to look in the coming days, at where the house should have been, but also further away. They looked and looked, circling wider and wider in their search, but never quite far away enough because who can imagine a world wrenched so hugely awry? The two were safe, though, and trapped in a small space near a refrigerator, so could eat a few things, and drink some water, until the grandson could finally find a way to the roof and wave his arms and call to rescue workers, “My grandmother is inside.” Both of them say that talking with the other one kept them alive, able to hope.

But getting back to the three young men from Tokyo. The hometown boy did not find his family home, but the three stayed to search the area because they came upon so many belongings strewn everywhere, as far as the eye could see.

At first, he was just looking for something, anything, from his home that he could bring his parents, but they kept finding so many of the lightest things that had floated ashore: photos, drawings, photo albums, notebooks, certificates, books. They started to collect as many as they could thinking that if they brought them somewhere and kept foraging and finding more, people to whom they belonged, people who had lost everything but memories -- these people might come and claim something that was theirs.

I was watching the short amount of news I allow myself these days and happened to see a quick segment showing one of these rooms of ‘things’. Whether it was the collection the boys started or not, I am not sure. The idea caught on and soon most towns had such rooms. I had the sound turned down and so wasn’t listening to the voiceover, but was just looking. Things were neatly sorted out in long lines: someone had thought to put like things together: photo albums in a long line like train cars, a ‘photo gallery’ over there: wedding photos, graduation photos, family and travel photos, and ‘Coming of Age Day’ photos.

Both the graduation and Coming of Age Day photos have a depth of meaning that is hard to grasp unless you know this culture, but when you do, you can’t see these things in the ‘room’ without being moved.

Graduation ceremonies are very big deals here: I remember being surprised and amused, when I first got here, to hear that mothers get all dolled up for and even (shock!) fathers attend kindergarten graduation. But there are very elaborate, stylized ceremonies at every level, from kindergarten to college; it is an important ritual to both child and family.

Among the most moving short segments of the many we are still getting every night on the news, are the various graduation ceremonies (the school year begins in April in Japan, so graduation is in March ) where either a child has died, and so the father or mother sits in their seat with a photo of the child on their lap, or a parent is not there to witness this event and we see the poor child go up, knowing they are going through this family ritual with a broken heart.

‘Coming of Age Day’ photos -- this is a treasure that you can’t guess at from outside the culture because we don’t have anything like this. ‘Coming of Age Day’ is when all the young Japanese who have turned twenty that year ‘become adults’ and have a ceremony at their city hall. A few young men dress up in traditional male Japanese clothing, but most wear a western suit.

Almost all the young women, though, rent very expensive kimono, and get up at the crack of dawn to be ready. Literally: I have a friend who helps them put on their kimonos because young women can’t do it themselves -- it is very complicated and they are not used to it -- and she is up by 4 a.m. to help them dress and have their hair and makeup done professionally. This photo is often the only time they will ever wear a kimono and is priceless.

I could also see children’s drawings and things rolled up into tubes that looked like diplomas. What moved me most, though, was one ‘drawing’ that some child had made: two hand prints in the middle of a background so white that you knew someone had carefully cleaned the mud from it. The hand print art reminded me of a short article in today’s paper about a donation from Indonesia: ten thousand people, lining up for hours in front of the Japanese embassy, “stamped their palm prints onto a huge board in Jakarta on Sunday as a message of solidarity to the survivors” of the disaster.

And this in turn brought to mind another image from perhaps a week ago, when volunteers were just starting to be able to make it to the worst-hit areas. The news program had found a few different types of people to focus on: the people from Niigata and the Kobe area who had been through their own earthquakes and who had been helped by others and wanted to give back; the teachers who made sure their families were okay and then went back to spend some time each day with their students in the shelters.

One that was so culturally attuned that only someone from here, or someone who had spent time in Japan would get the full impact of was this sight: the rescue workers who rigged up, as one of their first priorities every area they came to, bathing areas (not showers -- the point was not merely to be clean) because there is little that a Japanese finds more soothing than a long soak (and any onsens, hot spring resorts, in the areas who were not too damaged, also immediately allowed people to use their baths for free).

One of the first times I saw anyone from an evacuation shelter smile was the first scenes of them making use of onsens and these bathing areas. And the community aspect of it was/is important. Men and women bathe separately, but you usually bathe with all ages together: grandmas and middle-aged women and mothers with their young children, fathers, sons and grandfathers, after a week or more with no running water (and you know how fanatic the Japanese are about cleanliness...), all relaxing, talking from time to time, and finding some bit of comfort, together.

But the group that made me cry was a collection of elementary or possibly junior high students that arrived like a flock of chicks and descended on one shelter saying, “The massage team is here!” Grandchildren in Japan often massage the aching shoulders of grandparents. It is a custom I have always found sweet. To see these children doing so, for strangers they were treating as their precious grandparents, and to watch the complex emotions steal over the faces of the elderly men and women who received this gift, is something that will stay with me for a long time.

I think that here is one thing I take away from this: that yes, food, electricity, water and medicine have all been vital to get to those in Tohoku, but other kinds of help are just as important. It is the spirit, the heart, that needs food, too, to keep the body alive.