So, here it is; almost the end of the first week in August. How's your summer going? Having fun? Vacation maybe? Working in the garden a bit? That can be hot, tiring work in August. Especially here in north Georgia. And the mosquitoes! Voracious little insects, aren't they. Loaded with all sorts of weird viruses, too. But, heat, mosquitoes, humidity - it all comes with August.
Early this morning my wife Kathy covered our four-year-old daughter Molly in bug repellant and dressed her in a long-sleeve shirt and dungarees before going outside to spread pine bark mini-nuggets around the rose bushes and impatiens and coleus and the now-green azalea bushes that blaze in reds and hot pinks every spring. Molly loves helping her mom in the garden. She's got a little rake and a kid-size trowel for digging and a miniature hoe that she tries to use like a shovel. Even at 8 AM the heat already is beginning to sag through the pine trees in our front yard and the humidity is building.
It's not difficult for me to imagine another early August morning 63 years ago; to invent another cute little four-year-old girl working in the garden with her mother or grandmother. Instead of north Georgia, however, this imaginary little girl is digging holes in the ground and spreading mulch around azalea bushes in the Chugoku region of western Honshu, the largest island in the archipelago that is the nation of Japan. She and her mom live in the capitol city of Hiroshima Prefecture. The child's name is . . . how about Akemi? In Japanese, her name means "bright beauty."
Akemi is happy. She knows nothing of the war raging across the globe for the past six years. She is oblivious to the policies of her country and its leaders. She's four years old, for heaven's sake. Like Molly, Akemi loves to play with her dolls. And like Molly, Akemi loves her mom and her dad and knows nothing of the fears and shadows that dance around her like the Bunraku puppets her father takes her to see when he has a weekend day off from work.
Molly loves puppet shows. The last one she saw at The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta was a story about a make-believe Cinderella who joined a circus! The last time Akemi and her dad went to the auditorium to see the puppets the story was about ancient spirits who lived on Mt. Fuji and protected the pilgrims who came to honor their ancestors. When the show is over, Molly loves to stop at an ice cream shop near the theatre and have a milk shake or a crunchy cone. Chocolate. Always chocolate. Akemi loves ice cream as much as Molly does. Her favorite flavor is berry. Blueberry. Is there a child anywhere who does not like ice cream?
It is 8 AM, August 6, 1945. Akemi and her mother dig in the soft garden earth, planting flowers that will keep their colorful petals until at least the end of October. At 8:10 AM, Akemi's mother rises from her kneeling position and goes inside their house to get a glass of cool water. At 8:12 AM she returns and offers a cup to Akemi. At 8:14 AM Akemi hears the sound of an airplane overhead, distant, like the droning of a dragonfly. She smiles and reaches for her mother's hand as the air in their garden and the air for miles and miles and miles around her turns to fire. Together, they become shadows. Like the puppets Akemi so dearly loves.
Molly stops digging and looks up at her mom. A little kid smile teases her mouth, floats across her face. Kathy is Molly's absolute model. Has another four-year-old little girl ever so dearly loved her mother? Of course. All little girls love their mothers. That is a universal truth. Molly asks for a glass of water. "I'm thirsty, Mommy. And I'm getting awfully hot. Can we go in now?"
The waves of sound from the morning cicadas roll gently against Molly and her mom as they walk into the house and close the door.