On June 21, 2004, Barbara Moore died peacefully in my embrace. Barbara was the mother of Carolyn Layton and Annie Moore, and the grandmother of Kimo Prokes, all of whom died in Jonestown. Her survivors include me – her husband of 61 years – her daughter Rebecca Moore, her grandchildren Tim and December, and her great-grandson Conner. Another granddaughter, Hillary Moore, preceded her in death.
Barbara was also a surrogate mother for a score of young adults who came to live with us for varying lengths of time. In Berkeley we had teenage “runaways.” She welcomed junior and senior high groups into our home. I jokingly called her “Magna Mater,” the Great Mother.
She was also “Ms. Hospitality.” Singles and couples looked forward to potlucks at “Barbara and John’s.” Because of my pastoral responsibilities, we could not travel on weekends or Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, so we invited friends and strangers for holiday dinners. That included Thanksgiving 1978, when we still did not know the fate of Carolyn, Annie and Kimo. Barbara did not even think of canceling.
Fun may not be considered a virtue, but for Barbara, fun was to be prized. During her palm readings in the role of Madame Barbara at home or at parties, she would ask men, “Of course you take your wife out to dinner every week?” If they hesitated, she would said, “You must.” Life is hard enough as it is, so Barbara was for parties, feasts, celebrations and any other occasion for fun. When Barbara said that she could not understand why Carolyn had become involved with Peoples Temple, Becky replied, “She is having fun, just as she did at home.” One of the things Barbara liked about Peoples Temple was that the members seemed to have fun together.
For Barbara life was compassion as well as fun. Even as Carolyn expressed her concerns for peace and justice in the Temple, Barbara, Becky, Annie and I were picketing with the Farm Workers, boycotting grapes, marching for racial justice and peace. The Local Women’s Peace and Freedom group sent Barbara to a Paris Peace Conference to end the war in Vietnam.
A pastor and friend said at the graveside, “For some of us, our acts of charity are measured out. For Barbara, it was always overflow. For some of us, Christian charity had a time line or cut-off point. For Barbara, Christian charity knew no bounds. Gracious, thoughtful, funny, loving, she had it all, and she gave it all to life: to every circumstance, every place, every condition.”
Our first encounter with Jim Jones was negative, for it was then that we learned of Carolyn’s and Jim’s relationship. During the following years I would be awakened by Barbara’s sobbing. She would be sitting up in bed and saying over and over, “We’ve got to get Carolyn away from Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.” Still, it never occurred to us to sever our relationships with Carolyn and Annie over our disagreement with some of their choices.
Carolyn, Jim and several of the boys visited us in Davis. Annie noticed that Willie, her flower child dog who never barked at strangers, growled at Jim. Several years later we were crushed when Annie told us that she would be joining Peoples Temple.
Several years before the mass movement to Guyana, Jim told me that he understood that we had doubts about him and then added, “I will never let any harm come to Carolyn and Annie.” Perhaps “truce” is the best word to described our relationship with Jim. We welcomed him into our home and at our table. Publicly we affirmed the good works of Peoples Temple, such as housing for elderly women and developmentally challenged teenagers in Redwood Valley, periodic sickle cell anemia tests, regular blood pressure check, nutritional education, enabling individuals to become free from drug addiction, taking stands on justice issues. Face-to-face in our home we confronted Jim and Carolyn about our problems with adulation of Jim, paranoia, claims of healing, and the failure of members to challenge Jim on issues. Over and over again Barbara would ask Jim, “When are you going to get a divorce and marry Carolyn?” Jim never said a word. Barbara was one of the few to challenge him.
Barbara loved and admired Marceline Jones. We did not see her often, but when we did, Barbara would give her a big hug. I suspect that Barbara’s identification with Marceline was rooted partially in her own pain. She knew that Carolyn’s relationship with Jim had to be deeply painful for Marceline. She also respected the older black women whose strength and wisdom had come from living through so much struggle, heartache and joy.
Carolyn came to live with us in August 1974, before Kimo was born the following January. One day I found a marriage certificate for Carolyn and Michael Prokes on my desk. I was irritated that Carolyn had just left the certificate without talking with me. She must have feared that I might not sign the document, because she talked with Barbara about it. Barbara was concerned about Carolyn and urged me to complete the document. I signed as pastor, and Barbara signed as the witness. The crisis passed.
Those were good days, especially after Kimo was born and Barbara could be a grandmother.
Barbara and I visited Jonestown in May 1978, and spent a week in our daughters’ new community. As we were leaving, we looked back from the wagon. Our eyes were fixed upon Carolyn and Annie who was holding Kimo. In the 50’s I had read a book by an Anglican priest who had been expelled from South Africa for fighting against racism. These words from the front of his book came to mind, “Look your last upon all things lovely.”
From the beginning to the end, Barbara wrote to our girls and welcomed them into our home. It never occurred to her to do otherwise. They were our daughters and always would be.
November 18, 1978 divided our life into “B.J.” and “A.J.”, before and after Jonestown. When the end came, Barbara wept not only for Carolyn and Annie and Kimo, but also for those whom she knew and did not know. She’d met many People Temple members over the years, and mourned them all.
A few days later Barbara exclaimed, “Jim Jones murdered our children. I will not let him destroy me!” I told her that I could not preach the following Sunday. She said, “You must and you will.” And I did. A psychologist offered to preach for me. I told him that our family had some things to say about Peoples Temple that would not be heard unless I spoke now. Because we were willing to affirm publicly the humanness of the members, we escaped becoming imprisoned by shame. The religious community of Reno where we then lived affirmed us and shared our grief.
A friend asked me if Jonestown had left me a feeling of bearing stigmata. I said, “Yes.” It felt as if we were wearing a scarlet “J.” Eight or ten years after Jonestown, Barbara was summoned for jury duty and was asked the usual questions. At lunch she commented to another juror, “I guess that I’ll be on this case.” Her luncheon companion replied, “No, I don’t think you will. You didn’t give answers they like to hear.” When the afternoon session opened the first words from the judge’s mouth were, “Is there anyone here whose family members died in Jonestown?” Shocked, Barbara raised her hand. The judge said, “You’re excused.” Bewildered, Barbara arose and walked from the courtroom. She was half-way down the hall when a bailiff ran up to her and asked, “Are you all right?” She said “Yes,” but she wasn’t. She never learned of how the judge came to know of her Jonestown connection or why it was perceived as affecting her ability to be an impartial juror.
After we moved to Sacramento in 1981, we began attending the annual Memorial Service at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, where Kimo and two hundred and fifty others were buried. On the tenth anniversary, Becky and our family friend Mary Maaga invited Stephan Jones, Pat and Kevin Ryan, and four or five others to join us for lunch. Early in the conversation, Pat Ryan said to Stephan, “You father murdered my father.” Stephan responded, “My father ordered the killing of your father.” I reflect upon that moment as the beginning of the time that all of us – no matter what our relationship to Peoples Temple or our perceptions of Jim Jones – could talk together calmly, joined together with a recognition of mutual loss. Barbara and I listened as others talked that day. The sun had sunk low in the western sky before we left.
With others we asked, “How could this have happened?” We continue to live with this question. Without even discussing what we would do, from the first we were together in trying to bring healing and reconciliation of those who had been shattered by the tragedy.
On Mother’s Day in 1985, Barbara and I went to Davis where our family lived before our daughters moved away – Carolyn and Annie to Peoples Temple, Becky to Washington, D.C. with her first husband – and attended the Whole Earth Day celebration on the University of California campus. It was Annie’s birthday. Barbara’s account of the day captured our past and our future.
I could easily have missed the darkness of our past. I might even have accepted the image of [our former son-in-law] Larry Layton as he appeared suddenly as a long-ago face. Where did I know that person in my conscious and unconscious, that person who was the husband of Carolyn in another life? There he was, blue eyes large and credulous, beautiful teeth, the smile tentative, hair slightly graying, the face out of a canvas by Raphael. There he was, a young man buffeted about by forces beyond his comprehension.
Larry gave me a hug. We parted. If I hang onto myself, the setting, and the fact that people are strolling all about us, I thought, I won’t scream or run down the pathway between the bicycles or act weird or crazy.
We visited the cemetery [where Carolyn and Annie are buried] and walked over by the huge oak tree, noted the beauty of the setting, and remembered and remembered and remembered. And I remember still and always, there is my Tiger Tiger burning bright, John the priest and husband. And there are the treasures sparkling, Becky, Mac and the little ones … and the gift of relatives and friends.
I couldn’t breathe well for about three days, but I’m all right. The Mother’s Day mosaic is full of sense and nonsense, and the pieces are loose, and that’s the way it is. About the best activity now, probably, is a stroll down the Sacramento Mall, a chocolate sundae, or a new pair of sandals.
(John Moore is a retired Methodist minister who lives in Friday Harbor, Washington. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here.)