In Reston, Bonnie Graves has decided to take up her hobby of drawing and painting again. If suffering is supposed to inspire an artist, she says, it certainly has not worked for her in the more than 11 months since her husband was taken hostage in Tehran.
"I'm not a great artistic soul," she said with a short, sharp laugh, as she got ready to give a granddaughter an arithmetic test. "A certain tension within me has extended into my arm. But . . . life goes on."
As the firey leaves of autumn drift for the second year through their disrupted lives, a number of the hostages' families, like Graves, seem intent on avoiding the emotional trampoline of rumors. They speak instead of learning how to live day by day on a level tightrope strung between hope and fearful uncertainty.
Graves, often outspoken in her criticism of U.S. policies in Iran, said she had refused to let herself be whipped about emotionally by the latest round of speculation that there might be a breakthrough in the hostage situation before the presidential election, as the Iraq-Iran was increases the pressures on the government in Tehran. The Nov. 4 election falls on the one-year anniversary of the embassy seizure in Iran.
So, she is taking a long, stoic look up the road. "If nothing happens by next summer," she said. "I'm going to move the family away from here, away from the pressures of Washington."
The latest storm of hopeful rumor is a double-edged sword, according to Louisa Kennedy, wife of hostage Moorehead Kennedy Jr. and a speaker for the hostage families.
"The one-year anniversary will be a very difficult hurdle, another test of the families' will power, of their ability to stay buoyant," she said. "They've gone through 11 months of emotional ups and downs, stress, worry, strain. . . . As one goes through this, you learn to cope. You become inured."
Most of the families interviewed expressed either praise or at least sympathy for the Carter administration's handling of the hostage crisis. A few, like Graves, are critical. In any case, they said, they are getting little information out of the State Department.
"I talked to somebody at the State Department this morning. They don't know anything. They're just like us," said Hazel Albin, 78, the mother of hostage Robert Blucker. She and her husband just returned to their Little Rock, Ark., home from a charter bus tour of the northeastern United States and Canada.
"We went on just like nothing had happened," she said. "If it could be one year, it could be 10."
Betty Kirtley, another Little Rock resident, will celebrate the 22nd birthday of her son, Steven, Friday without him. He, too, is a hostage.
She said she believes the U.S. government's hands are tied, because to use force against Iran would be "close to suicide" for the hostages. She has stopped thinking about the future, she said, and for now, "I'd rather have him alive and a hostage than dead."
[Campaigning in Pawnee, Ill., Republican candidate Ronald Reagan said yesterday that the Carter administration owes an apology to the hostages for their nearly one year of captivity, and that he would support administration efforts to win their release even if those efforts were politically motivated.]
For a number of the relatives, the war in the Persian Gulf has heightened their already painful anxieties over the well-being of their captive relatives, even though some Iran-watchers say the conflict may hasten the end of their ordeal.
"I find the war very frightening," said Dorthea Morefield, in San Diego, the wife of a hostage. "They were already in a life-threatening situation. Now a war's been added."
Morefield said she makes a determined effort to go out to a movie or to Disneyland with the kids now and then to relax and have fun. "For my own mental health, it's important to get away from all of it, at least for just a few hours. . . ."
But for the most part, she said, her life remains constricted by the tension. "The minute you get in the door and the phone is ringing, it's all back again."
Morefield quit her job in a hospital business office after her husband was captured, and since then she has made it a point to stay close to home, especially for the sake of her two teenaged sons. (Other children are not living at home.) "We may not even see each other, but I'm there, should they need me for any reason. If something happens."
Violence is no stranger to the Morefield family. Her husband had found himself in the midst of guerrilla warfare in Colombia and Uruguay earlier in his career. Their son Richard Jr. was one of four persons shot to death in a robbery at a Roy Rogers restaurant near Alexandria in 1976, when the family was living in the Washington area. Late last year, she reflected on that experience, saying, "You have to face the whole pain of things. You have to understand that pain in order to recover. But that doesn't make it any more bearable."
For Morefield, as for many of the relatives, hostage-related matters -- telephone calls, meetings, conferences, television and newspaper interviews, public appearances, answering sympathy mail, keeping elaborate scrapbooks of news clippings for their hostage relatives -- consume a large share of the daily routine.
Many maintain a love-hate relationship with the reporters who hound them for comment periodically, whenever there's a break in the news from Iran. The hostages have urged the families, as Gary Lee wrote to his wife in Falls Church, "Please, try to keep us on the front page."
But that effort extracts a high price. "In a press center like Washington, anytime anything breaks, you get 20 calls," said Bonnie Graves. "We've even had TV crews trotting up our front lawn unannounced." It is in part to get her children away from this kind of pressure, the "I saw your mom on TV" atmosphere, that she plans to move away from Washington.
All around them, oases of public concern blossom on billboards, bracelets, bumper stickers and the evening news. A harvest of yellow ribbons -- on lapels, around trees and on mailboxes -- has sprung up in the more visibly patriotic precincts across the land. The old symbol, borrowed from the Civil War, expresses women's hopes for the safe return of their absent soldiers.
In Memphis, Ernest Cooke, father of hostage Donald Cooke, said he thought he had resigned himself sometime in September to a really long ordeal, maybe a whole year. "Now, as we get closer to the end of a year, it gets rougher. . . . It looks like it could drag on indefinitely," he said last week.
The Cookes are among the families who have had no mail or other word of their hostage kin since April and the aborted U.S. rescue attempt. They are still optimistic, he said with a mixture of pride and concern, even though they've had reports that "our son has been cantankerous with his captors. They might be punishing him. He's got quite a streak of sarcasm in him.He's a skeptic. A cynic. I don't mean in an excessive way, just that he's given to satire."
The hostage families have received little mail since August, and none since the outbreak of the war in the Persian Gulf, according to Louisa Kennedy. Her family got 30 letters from her husband in Iran between December and April, but since then, only one.
In that context, she vehemently denounced the attitude of the hostages' terrorist captors as "tiresome," and a sign of a "crummy mentality. . . . It's despicable and wholly unworthwhile, and you can quote me."
Bonnie Graves got a short note from her husband in the small batch of mail that came out of Iran in late August. He asked about a new tennis racket with a French name. "Said he wants to try it out," she said."It's funny, because our son says it [the racket] is garbage."
That son, Alan, was a tennis pro when his father was captured, "hoping to make the big time," Bonnie Graves said."But during this time, he has opted seriously to resume his studies. He's in school. I expect his father will be pleasantly surprised."