Escape From Jonestown (cont.)
Posted: Monday December 24, 2007 12:36PM; Updated: Thursday December 27, 2007 11:25AM
He'd sink into depressions each November, the anniversary of the tragedy. He'd dream Yvette back to life, then watch her vanish each time he drew near. He'd dream that his father was coming after him. Then wake up, go to work and crack the Kool-Aid jokes himself. But now it was '93 -- with Waco on everyone's lips and Jonestown suddenly disinterred -- and the coworkers to whom he'd confided his past kept asking, "You O.K, Jim? You O.K.?"
"Are you O.K.?" he started snapping back. Something was bothering him, something stirred by Waco -- so many children, dead again -- something that he just couldn't reach. And now his child was asking about Jonestown. He could dodge it, keep the kid in the dark. But that carried an explosive risk too.
He swallowed hard and started in the shallow end. He started with the story of a minister and his wife entering an Indianapolis orphanage in 1961 to adopt a Caucasian baby girl, only to be distracted by a wailing 10-week-old African-American boy whose unwed mother, age 15, couldn't raise him. Jim told Rob what his adoptive mother had told him, how Jim had stopped crying the moment Marceline Jones lifted him into her arms, and how she and her husband decided right then to make him the first black child in Indianapolis ever adopted by a white couple, and to consecrate their belief in racial equality by giving him his father's name.
Jim tried to humanize that man with raven hair and sunglasses and the Chairman Mao cap. He told Rob about the gentle side of the Reverend Jim Jones, his hugs and kisses, his ability to make Jim Jr. feel unique, prized, chosen. Then one day Jim peeled an old family portrait from a scrapbook, framed it and placed it on the mantel. "See, Rob?" he said. "They called us the Rainbow Family. Seven of us eight kids were adopted, and we came from all over." He pointed to Agnes, an elder sister who was part Native American. Then to Suzanne and Lew, both adopted from Korea, and to Tim, a close family friend whom the Joneses ended up adopting as well. Then to Stephan, their one biological child. Then Jim told Rob about the two who weren't in the picture: Goldie, the eldest, who married and broke ties with the family before Jim was adopted, and Stephanie, another child adopted from Korea, who died in a car crash.
He told Rob about the adventures of the Rainbow Family, the years abroad in Brazil, Argentina and Hawaii, and the long caravan that formed in 1965 when Father -- as everyone in the church called Jim Jones Sr. -- led 70 Indiana families to the Peoples Temple's new home, a tiny hamlet in the vineyards of Northern California. About the orphanages his dad ran, the soup kitchens, free clinics and senior citizens' homes he opened, the theaters, restaurants and hospitals he desegregated. About his dream that their church would be the seed for a new world, one without barriers between rich and poor, races and sexes and ages.
Little Rob didn't need to hear the messy details. Not yet. Didn't need to know that it was Grandpa's raging paranoia that drove the Rainbow Family to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and then to Redwood Valley, Calif. -- two sites listed in a 1962 Esquire article as among the likeliest to survive a nuclear holocaust. That it was his lust for greater power that sent the family and the temple to San Francisco in '72, and that it was published stories about his alleged abuse of church members that stampeded them to Guyana in '77.
The kid was way too young for that, and besides, Jim had learned something. When he spoke well of his father by day, his father stopped stalking his dreams at night.