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.
ROB CAN feel it
now. No one here can stop him. He whirls and powers through two defenders to
score, giving Riordan a 30--19 halftime lead. But where's Jim?
slipping outside the gym and lighting a cigarette, sucking hard so he'll have
time to light and suck a second one. Always dropping out of sight when he can't
be the wonderful guy everyone knows. But no, it's nothing like it used to be,
back when Rob was four, when Jim started heading out for work or an
... and vanishing.
He would drive for hours, tearing at himself. Dammit, he'd been on his father's
security team, protected him from danger. Walkie-talkies, earphones, weapons,
code words, the works. He would park his car at the beach and pour from a
bottle into a plastic cup, hoping vodka worked as a solvent on the stain. He'd
skulk back home, wrung out and ragged, a day or so later.
Waco had started
the slide, then his eldest son's questions about Jonestown, then the thing that
began to appear in the boy's hands, that round thing wrapped in dimpled
leather, that ... basketball. "Dad," he'd ask, "can we
Jim took the ball
in his hands. All the old guilt and remorse began to seep from it. Selfish. So
damned selfish to have been off playing basketball on his family's day of
reckoning.... See, that was the problem: Jim's father had pounded that
basketball shame into his sons even before Jonestown, and then, in the sickest
possible way, proved himself right! He wouldn't forbid them to play. He was a
master at knowing just how far he could push people, and he seemed to sense
that basketball was the boys' outlet from the demands of temple life. He'd
shame the boys instead, snort, "What a folly! What a waste of time when the
world's in shambles and we need to be changing it." Didn't Jim, of all the
boys in the Rainbow Family, see how exploitative the sport was, how it kept
blacks from using their minds to smash the shackles of a repressive capitalist
The Jones boys'
basketball guilt was laced, of course. Laced with liberation, a feeling that
they were thrusting a middle finger at the holy hypocrite every time they
shoveled snow or swept leaves off their concrete patio court and went at it.
They'd come home from a two-hour practice at Ukiah Junior High, grab a ball and
play again. Normality. That was the game's gift. A couple of hours to feel like
regular kids instead of the cult loonies who'd invaded Redwood Valley.