On Friday in mid-November; Bonnie Graves received a panicky call from a woman in the State Department: "Mrs. Graves, you're scheduled to leave on Sunday, and you haven't picked up your tickets yet, and the office is closed."
"I don't think you've looked to see where I was going," Graves recalls telling the woman. That day her husband, John, had been taken hostage at the American embassy in Tehran, abruptly postponing Graves' new job at the consulate there.
Since then, the Reston homemaker has been popping in and out of the news reports and appearing at events.
In brief remarks before the crowd of about 200 at the Washington Ethical Society last night, Graves urged a massive petition drive to encourage Congress to examine the possibility that America had intervened unjustly in Iranian affairs during the shah's reign.She also said she supported former attorney general Ramsey Clark's recent mission to Iran.
Graves' daughters, Nanette and Luzette, also joined her on the stage. Luzette played guitar and sang a song she had written based on one of her father's letters from Iran in which he wrote: "May all violators of human rights be judged by the same standards."
"In the initial phase, I refused to talk to the media about how I was passing Christmas or what my emotional ups and downs were," she said. "I feel that's something I should share with someone close to me, not John Q. Public."
Lately, however, there has been less and less news of the Iranian hostages situation, particularly since the aborted rescue mission in April. And Graves worries that Americans may be postponing or avoiding decisions in the direction of foreign policy toward Third World and developing nations.
"It isn't the hostages that are being put on the back burner. They have been on the back burner since the beginning," she says. "It's the principle that should come first, and not the people who happen to be caught in the web. I personally am caught, but it's the principle that matters.
"I think we owe ourselves a self-examination," she says. "There are indications that perhaps there were things that took place in Iran that were not in keeping with our traditional values. Where is the truth going to jeopardize us?"
On a table in her living room is a 5-by-7 photo of her husband taken last summer. A foreign Service officer for 18 years, john Graves is a specialist in French-speaking Africa where he and his family lived for 14 years before being stationed in Washington in 1973. He had only been at his post as public affairs officer at the Iranian Embassy for a few months when he was taken hostage.
Despite national attention directed toward the hostages, the last seven months have been lonely for Graves. "There has been disappointment and regret, but grief is always a very personal thing." She has met with other hostage families but has not built up close contact because, she says, "We didn't live together oveseas. There wasn't that common bond, and that is a real tragedy."
Graves' 20-year-old son, Marti, said pressure had been put on the family by the State Department, the media and even his friends who, he said, "Blamed everything on this situation. If I'm upset about something, they say 'Oh, it's because of that [the hostage crisis].'"
Graves says that her "real low point in the crisis came with the Moslem rising in Kabul and later in Pakistan. "My reaction was, 'oh my God, this is it, a holy war.'"
Setting back in her chair beside an African statue, Graves glances out over her patio. "I knew this would be a long time. The way I get through it is I imagine the worst scenario, which would be that he never comes home. Then, after that, anything else that comes along would be gravy."