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The Work Of Your Hands


The information written about here was provided by these sources:

Raven, by Tim Reiterman

The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts

Season of the Witch by David Talbot

Double Play by Mike Weiss

and the documentaries:

The Mayor of Castro Street (1984)

San Francisco in the 70's (1990)


It was the Monday after Thanksgiving. I can't remember the exact details of the day; I'm guessing I watched Captain Kangaroo in the morning, put on my green and blue school uniform. Navy blue socks, tennis shoes. My grandmother probably brushed my hair. "Jennifer, you have so many tangles in your hair!" She was always saying this to me. "If you're going to have long hair, you need to brush it more!"  Yet she kept on brushing, then I'm guessing she let me choose the barrettes for my hair. I loved these white ones Mom bought for me at Payless. I took my bookbag, put on my navy blue sweater. My grandmother tied my shoes. "Soon you're going to learn to do this on your own." She always made the knots extra tight.

At the breakfast table my grandfather might've let me read the funnies.  I loved Peanuts. Charles Schultz lived an hour away from me in Santa Rosa. We were practically neighbors.

He hid the front page which detailed the Jonestown deaths. I was in my own world. No children as young as me died. I was learning about God, how He loved me, and all children. He knew my name. 


Miles away, George Moscone was getting ready for work. He had a terrible time; Leo Ryan's funeral was just a couple of days ago. He still felt a terrible sense of guilt. If he hadn't appointed Jim Jones to the Housing Authority, if he hadn't let the Peoples Temple campaign for him... he knew he was going to have to answer to many people the days ahead. His son Jonathan wasn't feeling well. "I can stay home," The Mayor suggested. Jonathan said no, he wasn't that sick. Go to work. The Mayor said okay. There was so much to do. He finally found a replacement for Dan White. The press conference was going to be today. Dan wasn't going to go gently into the good night, but he had to get things done. One step in front of another.

Harvey Milk was in his apartment above his camera store. He made sure he wore his wingtip shoes. Things were looking good. Weeks before he helped defeat the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians or anyone supporting gay rights to teach in the schools. Dan White finally resigned; apparently he was acting like a big baby about it, wanting his seat back. He told the Mayor no, don't do it. You just don't quit then say wait, I want my seat back.  He was trying not to think about Jonestown. He had been avoiding the news; trying not to think about how the Peoples Temple members campaigned for him, how they sent him condolence letters when Jack died. He knew it had a creepy vibe, but he never thought it would go that far. He couldn't figure it out right now. Today was a new day to fight the good fight.

Dan White knew he couldn't go through the front doors of City Hall. They would have him empty out the pockets, then they would see the gun. He found an open window. Sneaked in. Heart beating so fast, but he was done. All those people who said "Dan, we care about you" "Dan, spend time with your family." What bull. Who did this Harvey Milk think he was, coming from New York City, talking about gay rights. And the Mayor. He trusted the Mayor. But he was just as bad as Harvey, saying one thing and doing another. Don't forget Willie Brown. He was in charge of it. He would deny it, but Dan knew. Carol Ruth Silver too. Bragging she was the "first supervisor who was an unwed mother." Like that's supposed to be something to be proud of. He was going to show them. He was going to show all of them.

One of my favorite subjects in school is music. I once brought in my Annie album; I've seen the play twice when it came to San Francisco. Our teacher Sister Louise is teaching us the song "Abba Father" Abba, Abba, Father.

You are the potter; we are the clay/ the work of your hands. While the man sings, Sister Louise shows us to lift up our hands to pretend we are molding clay. I try to imagine molding the clay.


Dan White walks in the Mayor's office. Makes small talk with the secretary. Caroline Kennedy is twenty-one, where does the time go? And John John is eighteen. Eighteen!  The Mayor said he would see Dan. Dan stood up. Straightened his tie. Went in the office.


In class, we are raising our hands, listening to the man sing: Mold us, mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus, your Son,of Jesus, your Son.


White tried to reason with the Mayor first. The Mayor said no. He was smoking, telling him the same old story. Dan tried to be nice. He pulled out the gun. Shoot first. Ask questions later.


At school, we listened to the next lyrics: Father, may we be one in you/May we be one in you as he is in you,

and you are in him.


Dianne Feinstein thought she heard something. She was telling a reporter that this was probably her last year in politics; she was getting tired of the dog and pony show. She stepped in the hallway. Saw Dan White. Oh no. "Dan, may I speak with you for a moment?" 

"I have something to do first," he snapped.


We're almost to the end of the song:  Glory, glory and praise to you.Glory and praise to you forever, amen, forever, amen.


Dan found Harvey in the hallway. Perfect timing. He tells Harvey he wants to talk to him. Harvey probably thought oh God, what now? Okay, just try and get it over with. He went into Dan's old office. Dan pulled the gun. "No, oh no!" Harvey begged. He had a feeling this would happen someday, but today? Now, when there was still work to be done? He held out his hands, as if they could stop the bullets.


Dianne heard the gunshots. He did it, oh no, he did it. She ran into the office. Harvey was dead, she knew he was dead. She tried though to find a pulse. Blood soaked her skirt. No sign of Dan White. From far away she heard "Code Three! Room Two Hundred! Go to the Mayor's office! Get an ambulance here!" 


I had peanut butter and jelly at school. My grandmother made cookies over the weekend. I loved chocolate chip.


Dianne walked to the microphones. She must stay strong. Her voice shaking, she said: "As President of the Board of Supervisors, it's my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed." People cried out in horror. One man yelled "Oh Jesus Christ!" She paused. Oh please, let me get through this. Someone yelled for quiet. "The suspect is Supervisor Dan White." Reporters asked questions: is he in custody?  An aide is helping her walk. One foot in front of another. Get through this, Dianne. People need you.

At two thirty, school is out. I see my grandfather's sky blue Pontiac in its regular spot. I probably didn't notice the shaken looks on the teachers' faces. If they announced what happened, I didn't take note of it. All I can remember is the lyrics of the song we learned today: You are the potter; we are the clay, the work of your hands.


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Wow.  As a six-year-old girl

Wow.  As a six-year-old girl from Maryland in 1978, I knew nothing of this, nor the Jonestown massacre at the time.  [Of course I heard "Don't drink the Kool Aid" and it wasn't until years later, when I read books and saw footage regarding Jim Jones, Leo Ryan & their "utopian Eden" called Jonestown, did that phrase make sense.]  Years later, I learned of the tragic horror of the day that Harvey Milk & George Moscone were shot & killed; I recall seeing the Oscar-winning 1984 documentary "The Life & Times of Harvey Milk," watching it all the way through on my local PBS affiliate and noticing how after they listed the ending credits, after "copyright 1984" [I'm paraphrasing, can't recall the exact year the documentary was made] the words "Dan White killed himself after getting out of prison" [paraphrasing again] were tacked on at the end of the film.


Your memories of such a terrible time in California and human rights history from a child's perspective illustrates your early capacity for empathy, insight and sensitivity very well.  No wonder you are a writer--a compassionately beautiful one at that!