© James J. Doyle 2012
The sun exploded.
“BONG! BONG! BONG!”
A mushroom cloud formed over the city.
Heat and wind, buildings falling and then the fire.
Little remained but wreckage and flames.
Under the pickup, a baby cried.
Hiroshima was born that day.
She did not know the two who huddled over her,
Shielding her from the wind and the flames.
The heat took them and passed by,
Leaving the baby.
* * *
“I never knew my parents,” the pretty young girl answered. “They died when the bomb dropped and I was born.”
“What’s your name, child?” the man asked.
“They call me ‘Hiroshima.’”
“Is that your real name?”
“I don’t know, Sir.”
“I am glad you can join us here, Hiroshima. St. Mary of Carmel is an excellent school. The sisters will bless you with their teaching and their care.” He motioned to one of the two nuns sitting behind the girl.
“Sister Madeline will take you to the dormitory. She’ll help you to get settled.”
“Father Sebastian, my child. You can call me ‘Father.’”
“Yes, Father. Thank you, Father.” The young girl stood and made a polite bow. Sister Madeline guided her from the office.
Father Sebastian watched the door close and turned to the remaining nun.
“The child’s eyes hold sadness, Sister Angela.”
“She has seen a number of foster homes, Father. She is a pretty thing and smart. Something always seems to happen.” Sister Angela opened a file on her lap and turned the pages. “The foster parents would like to adopt, but now they’re pregnant. A transfer overseas makes another child difficult.” The nun paused. “Then, there’s her background.”
“Father, she’s Japanese.”
“With blond hair and those eyes, she’s not all Japanese.”
“Her appearance has helped to bring her here, to the States. It was hoped that would be enough. Father, we have to tell the prospective parents where she was born.”
“Hiroshima. Was she really born the day the atomic bomb was detonated?”
Sister Angela paged back to the first page. “August 6, 1945.”
“That was the day. I remember. I read that the explosion and fireball destroyed almost everything and everyone. Where was the girl?”
Sister Angela read from a page. “The Jesuits found the baby outside their rectory, which was eight blocks from ground zero. The church and all the buildings around were completely destroyed, but the parish house remained standing. The eight Jesuits had only minor injuries. The baby girl was found under a pickup truck, which may have been sheltered from the blast by the priests’ home.”
“Amazing, so close.”
“Too close, Father. Couples are concerned that she was exposed to radiation. Many that survived the blast have died from the effects of radiation exposure.”
“All eight are alive and healthy. There was an article in the paper on them. One, a Father Hubert, was here to give a talk about his experiences. He spoke at Jesuit Preparatory School.”
“The new high school for young men out on Inwood. I’ve met Father Jack who teaches science and mathematics there.” Father Sebastian nodded in thought. “He would be interested in how these things could have happened.”
Standing, Father Sebastian addressed the nun.
“Thank you, Sister Angela, for all you do. And, please keep me informed on how our new student is adjusting to Texas.”
“I will, Father.”
After Sister Angela closed the door, Father Sebastian reached for the phone.
* * *
Father Jack took a sip of his coffee. “I know Father Hubert and his colleague Father Lassalle. We were in seminary together. They were both in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion. In fact, Father Lassalle is back there again. They are rebuilding the church and school, and Lassalle is heading the work. It is a shame you missed Father Hubert’s lecture. It was quite informative.”
“How did they survive?” Father Sebastian asked.
“The better question is ‘How could they have survived?’”
Father Sebastian nodded with a smile at the teacher rephrasing the question. He motioned with his hand for Father Jack to continue.
“As I recall,” Father Jack began, “Father Hubert said he had just finished morning mass. It was a little after eight. He walked to the rectory, sat down at the breakfast table, sliced a grapefruit and had just put his spoon in to retrieve the first bite. A bright flash and a terrific thunderclap shook the room. Hubert said he was lifted, hurled and tossed like a leaf. He must have hit his head hard and passed out. The next thing he remembers is opening his eyes and stumbling to the door, which was open. He felt along his body and found pieces of glass in the back of his neck. His head hurt and he was dazed, but he was okay. Walking outside, he stood in the street as the other Jesuits came out and joined him.”
Lifting his cup, Father Jack took another sip, remembering the talk.
“At this point, Father Hubert circulated an aerial photograph. It showed the priests in their black cassocks standing in the street. Next to them, the rectory is intact. The church is a shell with only the outer walls standing. Around them, there is nothing. In all directions, the buildings are gone, leveled to the ground. That’s when they heard the sound.”
“A baby’s cry. It was so out of place, they didn’t believe it could be. The pickup truck was there. That in itself was amazing. Nothing else that resembled a vehicle remained anywhere. The truck was parked in front, near the priests’ house. I can only imagine eight priests in black robes, one in the middle holding a small infant child and the others standing on tip-toes to see and reaching to touch the baby.”
“What happened next?”
“Too much,” Father Jack answered. “Badly injured people started appearing, dazed and in shock, emerging from basements and hidden places, asking for water, wandering in from farther out where the devastation was not as bad. Some of the Jesuits had medical training. A clinic was set up. They did what they could. Relief workers started to appear.”
“Ladies were caring for the children. From outlying schools, the children walked back into the town. Their homes and their parents were gone. A grandmother took the baby. It helped her recover, to care for the newborn, and she knew what to do. I don’t think Father Hubert knew where the baby had gone.”
“I do,” Father Sebastian said. “We have the child at St. Mary of Carmel.”
“You have the child?” Father Jack shook his head in wonder. “How can this be?”
“A stack of paper, many agencies and many moves. She arrived just last week as our ward. She’s staying with the nuns.”
“How is she?”
“She’s a healthy six-year-old with blond hair and intriguing blue-gray eyes.”
“Can you have the right child?”
“The paper trail is clear. She was born that day in Hiroshima, and she was found by the Jesuits who survived the blast. We have the records, if you’d like to see them.”
“No, I’m sure they’re correct.” Father Jack held his hands up with the finger tips touching and stared at the ceiling. “Here. She survived the blast, and now she’s here. Fascinating, simply fascinating. I must write Father Lassalle and tell him. I’ll get a note out to him, right away. What is her name?”
“It is the only name she knows.”
“Poor girl. I’m sure the priests looked for information, papers, but there was so much to do, so many that needed help.” Father Jack dropped his hands to his lap with a sigh. Then, he bolted upright in his chair, eyes wide with a thought. “Wait, Father Lassalle saved the truck. It was the oddest thing. The truck was burned badly, the paint peeled away from the extreme heat, but the engine and major components were repairable. Lassalle has a knack for these mechanical things. They needed transportation and he got that pickup running. It’s still running. Hubert mentioned the mechanical marvel of Father Lassalle in his talk. Maybe. . . .”
“Maybe there’s something in the truck. Do you think it’s possible, Father?’
Father Jack slumped back. “I think it unlikely, Father Sebastian.” The priest abruptly straightened and smiled. “But, I think it’s unlikely that a Japanese girl with blond hair and the name ‘Hiroshima’ has found her way to Dallas, Texas. So, I think we should believe anything is possible. I’m writing Father Lassalle.”
“How long will it take?”
Father Jack laughed. “I have some connections with the military. Still, it’s a long way there and back. And Lassalle is busy. We should have a response in two to four weeks. I wish it could be sooner.”
The priests stood and shook hands.
“I will believe in the impossible,” Father Sebastian said.
“And I too, Father. It is what we do best.”
* * *
“Everett Degolyer was born in a sod house.”
The guide pointed to the large rambling one-story house behind him.
“This house, which was built in 1939, has thirteen rooms, seven baths, five fireplaces, seven chimneys and is over twenty-one thousand square feet inside. Now, that’s a long way from the one-room sod house in the Kansas prairie where Everett was born.”
The nuns and children laughed politely. This was their field trip, and the students were well trained to take their cues from their teachers, even if they did not know what a “sod” house was and why that was funny.
“We’ll take a tour of the house and peek into the library. Everett Degolyer is not only one of the world’s most renowned petroleum geologists, he is a noteworthy rare book collector.”
The white-haired volunteer turned and walked down steps as he spoke.
“What I want to show you first are the gardens. The noted landscape artist Arthur Berger designed the grounds to complement the natural terrain here overlooking White Rock Lake. The trees and plants are spectacular in every season. Some are found nowhere else in the Southwest.”
He knelt down with one hand beside his mouth as if telling the students a secret.
“I am a gardener myself and I can never get over here enough. Everett and Nel are a kind couple, but they are extraordinarily busy and opportunities to visit the gardens are few. So, I volunteer to do these tours. Plus, I get to spend time with you students.”
Standing, the well-dressed guide gestured widely.
“Please, if you have any question, just ask.”
A hand came up in the back.
“Yes.” The guide rose up on his toes to see the face. “Yes . . . young lady. Here, come forward so I can hear you better.”
The girl moved through the ordered ranks of her classmates to stand before the older gentleman.
“Those trees, Sir. The ones that are blooming, with the pink blossoms.” She pointed. “We have those trees back home.”
The guide studied the girl’s face. He raised a hand to his mouth, in thought, his eyes losing focus. Shaking his head, the gentleman returned his attention to the student.
“Are you from Washington, D.C., young lady?” he asked in a low tone.
“No, Sir,” the young girl glanced at her shoes. “I’m from Japan, Sir.”
Startled, the volunteer stood straight, opened his mouth as if to say something and then closed it. For several seconds, he gazed at the girl’s face and hair.
“Then, you would have seen those blossoms.” The guide’s words were spaced and considered, almost containing a question. “Those are Japanese cherry trees.”
Addressing the larger group, the volunteer raised his voice. “A gift to our country from the people of Japan, cherry trees grace our nation’s capitol and color it with the beauty of their blossoms each spring. These are some of the first to be planted in Texas, and they are cuttings from the original trees in Washington, D.C.”
Turning back to the girl in front of him, he asked, “How old are you, child?”
“Six, Sir.” The pretty face peeked up at him.
“And where were you born?”
The face of the older gentleman froze. He did not speak for several seconds. Then, he lifted his head and scanned the group.
“Before we continue our tour, students, let’s take a short break. Stay in this area. There are small metal plaques in the ground that give the names of the trees and flowers. Study those and we’ll talk more.”
The guide fixed his gaze on one of the nuns.
“Sister.” He motioned to her to come toward him. “Can I have a few words with you?”
The guide and the nun moved out of hearing of the students, who laughed as they tried to pronounce the Latin words on the plaques.
* * *
“Hiroshi Makimoto,” Father Jack read from the letter.
The two priests sat at the small table in Father Sebastian’s office at St. Mary of Carmel. Father Jack had called and rushed down with the letter from Father Lassalle.
“Where did they find the name?” Father Sebastian asked.
“If I know Lassalle, he took that truck apart. They found the card wedged in some insulation behind the glove box. The insulation must have protected the material from the heat. It’s a formal business card: ‘Hiroshi Makimoto, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Hiroshima High Institute of Technology.’ Of course, it is all in Japanese, but Father Lassalle translated it for us. He checked with the university.”
“Is Professor Makimoto still there?”
“No. Sadly, he did not survive the bombing. Lassalle is thorough, always has been. Makimoto did teach there. Hiroshima was an important site in the development of Japan’s aircraft carriers and the planes that launched from them. Key members of the design teams were located in the city. Makimoto was one of the researchers and designers. Lassalle talked to teachers that remembered Hiroshi. He was well thought of and well connected. He even taught in the States before the war.”
“Did Professor Makimoto have a wife?”
“That is strange. Lassalle says when he asked, his sources acknowledged that Makimoto was married but would say no more. When pressed, they were polite, apologized and excused themselves. Lassalle believes they knew but would not share more information.”
“So, is Makimoto the father?”
“There is this part in Lassalle’s letter.” Father Jack turned a page and read. “When I asked about a truck, everyone smiled and agreed that Makimoto had a very nice pickup truck. At that time, the Japanese did not make a pickup truck. This truck was remembered. One party even noted that it was a Chevrolet. This is the model of the pickup we have at the school.” Father Jack paused. “Lassalle goes on, and I will leave the letter with you, but he thinks that Professor Makimoto could well be the father. The business card alone would not be enough. The business card of the owner of a pickup truck of the same type found in front of the rectory? Perhaps?”
“But still not enough to know for sure?”
“I am sorry, Father, but without more information we cannot say for certain that Hiroshi Makimoto and his wife are the parents.” Father Jack stood. “I must get back for class, but I wanted you to have this.” He handed the letter to Father Sebastian. “My friend, I hope this helps. I fear I have put the burden on you as to what, if anything, to tell the child.” There was concern in the priest’s eyes.
“Thank you, Father. And, please thank Father Lassalle. I will pray for guidance.”
“And I will pray for you, Father.”
* * *
Two soft knocks echoed in the room.
Sister Angela crossed to the chair in front of the desk and sat. She noticed that Father Sebastian was reading a letter.
“Perhaps, Sister.” He folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. “How can I help?”
“I’ve had a strange request.”
“A gentleman, one who helped guide the girls on the field trip to the Degolyer Estate, has asked if you would visit him at his house.”
“For what purpose, Sister?”
The nun pursed her lips in a worried look. “He would like you to introduce him to one of the students.”
“And who is this gentleman?”
“Oh, I’ve checked him out. He’s quite reputable. Good character and references. All that.”
“And what does he do?”
“He teaches. At SMU. A full professor. He gave me his card: ‘Benjamin Lindquist, Professor of Oriental Languages.’ On the tour, he asked Hiroshima where she was from, and she answered ‘Japan.’ She was very well-spoken and polite. Perhaps, he has a research project and the girl can help. Background, language, you know, those sorts of things.”
Father Sebastian laughed.
“I see no harm in it, Sister. We have good relationships with the people at SMU. Yes, Hiroshima and I will visit the professor. Please set it up to least disrupt the child’s studies. You have my schedule.”
“Yes, Father. Thank you.
“Thank you, Sister. I’ll look forward to the time with our student.”
* * *
Standing on the front step of the professor’s house, Father Sebastian pressed the doorbell for the third time.
“No one is answering, Father.” Hiroshima raised her eyes in a shy smile to the priest, who tilted his head in thought.
Father Sebastian raised a finger. “I remember.” The priest’s face held a wide grin. “Sister Angela said, ‘If no one answers the bell, just walk around to the garden gate.’” His eyes scanned the yard. “There, the path to the left. I’ll go first. It’s a bit narrow.”
Around the corner of the house, the gate was open.
“Anyone home?” Father Sebastian called.
“Yes, please come in.”
A gray-haired gentleman stood from his plantings and took off his gloves.
Shaking hands, Father Sebastian spoke first.
“I’m Father Sebastian of St. Mary of Carmel.” Glancing down, he said, “And, I think you’ve met this young lady.”
Hiroshima curtsied in well-trained fashion.
“And I’m Benjamin Lindquist,” the gentleman said with a smile. ”Call me ‘Ben.’ Yes, I have had the honor to meet Hiroshima.” He looked into the girl’s eyes. “It is good to see you again, Hiroshima.”
The professor motioned with one hand toward the house.
“Now, I know you’re both wondering why I asked you to stop by. So, let’s go inside and get some hot tea, cookies and milk. Then, I have some things to show you.”
Seated in the small study with the professor’s desk and books, they sipped their drinks and chatted. Ben talked about his department at SMU, and Father Sebastian gave the history of the school. Hiroshima listened, enjoyed the cookies and scanned the room. Framed pictures were everywhere.
Ben noticed the girl’s eyes traveling the shelves.
“My wife was Japanese. Her name was Keiko Hiroki. She taught English Literature and I taught Japanese.” He smiled at Hiroshima. “Obviously, we were so mixed up, we were fated to be together.”
The professor stood and fetched a picture.
“This is the two of us.”
He handed the framed photograph to the student, who studied the couple, and handed the picture to Father.
“You had blond hair,” Father Sebastian observed.
“I do. I mean, I did. It’s white now. Our daughter was a blond. Took after old Dad. Katherine, our daughter’s name was Katherine, she studied languages too. She met a young engineering professor who was on a teacher exchange to SMU. It was love at first sight. They were married in the spring.” Ben glanced at Hiroshima. “Beneath the blossoms of those very cherry trees you noticed in the Degolyer gardens.” He picked up another frame and handed it to Father Sebastian. “This is the two of them.”
“Your son-in-law is oriental.”
“Japanese. His name was Hiroshi Makimoto.”
Father Sebastian dropped his tea cup. It was empty and fell into his lap. Scrambling to recover the cup, he fumbled it with a clang back into the saucer on the lamp table. The priest’s hand was shaking.
“Are you alright, Father?” Ben asked. “You look a little white.”
“Yes, Father, he was a professor of engineering at the university in Hiroshima. They moved back there after they were married. It was before the war.”
“Hiroshima?” the girl asked softly.
“Yes, your name, that’s where they lived.”
Professor Benjamin Lindquist stood, walked to his desk and picked up a small frame that had faced away from them. Walking slowly to the girl, he handed her the color picture.
“This is Katherine when she was about your age.”
The student studied the picture, frowned, turned the frame around and held it out, so the priest could see the girl.
“Father, this is me.”
“Yes, child.” Father Sebastian swallowed, lowered his head and then raised his eyes to look directly into the child’s eyes. “That is your mother. Katherine and Hiroshi Makimoto are you parents.”
“Father,” Ben sighed. “Do you know this?”
“I know this baby girl was found by the Jesuits under a truck outside their rectory after the bomb exploded. I learned recently that truck most likely belonged to Professor Hiroshi Makimoto. I have just learned that your daughter was married to Hiroshi. And now I am looking at a picture of your Katherine in the hands of a young girl who looks just like the picture. The resemblance is remarkable and explains why our Japanese sources were reluctant to acknowledge a blond American wife to a distinguished Japanese engineer. Yes, professor, I believe this is your granddaughter.”
“Grandfather?” Hiroshima asked, turning to the professor.
“Yes?” Ben returned the question, watching her face.
“What is my name?”
A tear slid down the gray-haired professor’s cheek. He seemed to be trying to say something.
“Professor?” Father Sebastian asked.
“I received a letter from your mother.”
Ben kept his eyes fastened on the young girl as he spoke.
“It was written before the bomb dropped and wasn’t delivered until after the war. I knew they were expecting a child. Then I heard nothing. After the atomic bomb exploded, I hired people to find them. There was no evidence they survived the blast. I let them go. Then, the letter came. In the letter, Katherine is so excited. Things seemed calmer to her. She knew the war would end. The baby would be there soon, and she had a name. Katherine, always the linguist, said in the letter that it was destined. I would see the baby. It was fate and she had just the name.”
He paused, caught his breath and said to Hiroshima.
“Your name is Moira, the ancient Greek word for fate.”
“Moira,” the child repeated the name softly, extending the syllables.
“Moira,” she said again in a quickened pace and smiled.
“Moira Keiko Makimoto.” Ben gave the child her full name.
Professor Benjamin Lindquist stood and knelt down in front of the young girl.
“It is good to see you, Granddaughter,” he said, his voice breaking.
The young girl threw her arms around the professor’s head.
“Thank you, Grandfather,” she said into his ear
Little Moira placed a light kiss on the professor’s cheek.
“It is good to be home,” she said and reached out to touch the priest’s hand.
* * *
“So, the adoption papers are finalized?” Father Sebastian asked, holding an over-sized teddy bear in one arm and the right hand of the child in his left hand.
It was Sunday, October 5, 1952, and the two men stood near the entrance to the State Fair of Texas. A giant cowboy statue hovered over them.
“Yes,” Professor Ben answered, holding a white paper cone topped with cotton candy in one hand and the left hand of the child in his right hand. “The lawyers say I can pick up the papers tomorrow.”
“Grandfather, does this mean I am now your daughter?” the child asked.
“Yes, Moira. I have legally adopted you. You are now my daughter and I am your father. You can leave the school dormitory and you can live with me.”
The young girl touched her cheek to her father’s hand.
At that moment, Big Tex’s hinged jaw dropped open and his booming voice echoed over the 277-acre Dallas Fair Park announcing to one and to all in a deep Texas drawl that the day’s attendance was a fair record.
They all looked up and listened in amazement.
“That is one big talking cowboy,” Father Sebastian laughed.
“The paper said this morning that he sports a 75-gallon cowboy hat, wears size 70 boots and stands 52-foot tall.” Professor Ben paused. “He’s the biggest mascot of any state fair in the country. Of course, everything’s bigger in Texas.” With a smile, he nodded to the girl. “This is Big Tex’s first year at the fair, daughter. He arrived just in time to greet you.”
“A friend at Jesuit told me,” Father Sebastian mused, “that he used to be a 49-foot Santa Claus in a little town south of here. Apparently, the novelty wore off, the figure was without a home and the construction was disassembled. One day, the State Fair president drove by, saw the pieces in a field and had an idea. Big Tex was born from those old parts and given a new life with a tall hat.” A wide grin lit the priest’s face. “I guess anything is possible.”
Benjamin Lindquist turned to the priest with a chuckle. “Father, if there is anyone who does, I know that you believe in the impossible.”
“I do, Ben,” Father Sebastian agreed. “A friend once told me it is what we priests do best.” He gave the child’s hand a squeeze. “There is always hope, Professor. Hope in the future. Hope in the children.”
Together, the two men turned their heads to the young blond girl between them.
With sparkling blue-gray eyes, Moira looked to one and then the other, and smiled happily at her fathers.