By: Ruth Deming
Thirty years and I am finally retired from teaching.
I won’t go on about the years flying by unnoticed – but of course it was true.
All I really wanted to do was sit down with a nice cuppa tea – Harney & Sons Peppermint – but ‘twas impossible. I have too much to do.
Did I mention my name was broadcast to the 50,000 readers of the Times Chronical in Cheltenham, PA?
A Rocco Romero came out to the house and took a lovely photo of me. With my blonde squiggly curls, I looked as young as I did at my wedding when I was Susan Lehman Bernstein. He wasn’t much of a husband. We never got a formal divorce, I simply waited until Ernie dropped dead.
I gave myself two weeks off after I won the Beverly Sils Prize.
Drinking my beloved Peppermint Tea – I never needed caffeine to stimulate me – I sat on my screened-in back porch and watched “Disaster Films” on You Tube.
Possibly I scared the chicadees and sparrows that flew outside. Certainly not the squawking blue jays or the regal red cardinals.
One film, in particular, moved me, and this is where I would go, in the second half of my life.
The Krakatoa Volcano.
Few people know about this, other than the thousands of viewers on You Tube.
The volcano is located in Indonesia and Japan. Japan has more active volcanos than any other nation.
My heart throbbed when I thought of this. I, Susan Bernstein, was going to meet Krakatoa.
My beloved father, whose Hebrew name was Menachem, would tell me, “Susie, we can’t begin to comprehend the mysteries of our planet. But the Almighty wants us to try. To do our best.”
I arrived at a bed and breakfast six weeks later. The Bloomsbury Guest House featured English-style breakfasts in the downstairs dining room. After eating poached eggs on crisp toast, and a bowl of spiced cucumbers, I wandered around to all the photos or reconstructions on the walls.
In the year 338 AD “a thundering sound was heard and a great glowing fire reached the sky.”
In 1780, crew members of HMS Discovery found the island as a friendly place whose vegetation was dense and lush.
How tame! If they only knew.
Two-thirds of the original Krakatoa Island was obliterated by the 1883 eruption.
Two-thirds! Where had all those bodies gone. What a tragedy. The noise made by the eruption could be heard around the world. And the sky – our own familiar sky – was blood-red.
Seven of us met to travel to Krakatoa. A married couple, parents and their two teenagers, a boy and girl, and myself. We were picked up outside the bed and breakfast in a conveyance that resembled an American golf cart.
“Good morning,” said a jaunty Mr. Akash, accompanied by his Malaysian servant, whom he did not introduce.
Nervous laughter abounded when Mr. Akash said the volcano was not expected to erupt.
I thought of Daddy’s words, “What do we really know?”
The scenery was like that of a desert, as our cart rumbled along. I stuck my head outside to catch the breeze. Bottles of water had been passed out to keep us hydrated on this very hot morning.
One of the teenage girls had asked the temperature and Mr. Akash said, “Don’t worry your pretty head about that.” Then, he announced, “Ninety-two degrees.”
After that, we all gulped our water.
It is customary when visiting the volcano to approach it from above.
We had been advised to wear thick shoes. I wore a white pair of sneakers I’d purchased at Walmart. Now I wondered if Indonesia had Walmarts. “Of course,” I thought, “I am not naïve.”
Stumbling, I put my arm on that of a single man who had a handlebar moustache.
“So sorry,” I mumbled. “Lost my balance.”
“Do leave it there, memsahib!” he said, mysteriously.
Peering down at the volcano, it looked like “The Eye of God.”
I refrained from kneeling and praying over it.
Sure enough, a rumbling was heard.
Then another one.
Mr. Akash held up his hand.
“She is simply testing us,” he laughed.
At that, I kneeled down and prayed.
And that is how at the Bed and Breakfast another photo was added.
“Krakatoa exploded on July 4, 2020, at 3 pm.”