On Dec. 30, many in Red Lodge were devastated, learning of the death of 3 year-old Zoe Kern, child of Deirdre McNamer and Eric Kern. We sent words and acts of sympathy to Deirdre and Eric, but were left feeling bereft and helpless in our collective sorrow, sharing tearful exchanges with each other whenever we met. What could we do?
Then Pol ly Richter recalled the Japanese story of 1,000 cranes and said, why not here in Red Lodge, for Zoe? The cranes are created from origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, of which Polly is a master. Or iginal ly, the c ranes appear in the story of Sadako, a 13 year old girl who died in 1955 of leukemia, caused by the bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako courageously folded 644 cranes, believing that 1,000 would restore her health. When she died short of her goal, her classmates folded the remaining 356 cranes to reach 1,000. In 1958, the people of Japan unveiled a statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park. She holds a golden crane. The Japanese still place thousands of cranes beneath Sadako’s feet every year on Aug. 6, Peace Day. Aug. 6 is also Zoe’s birthday.
Polly thought that the community could gather and fold 1,000 cranes as a gesture of healing, caring and love. With the help of Nicole Barlow and Kerri Wolfson, she invited people to Honey’s on South Broadway to fold cranes on Saturday Jan. 4. Lee and Bill Cooper and Maria Torgerson, aged 11, came to assist as instructors.
And many came, about 75 to 100, all told: women and men, parents and children, nimble hands and rough fingers. As they came, Polly, Maria and the Coopers showed them how to fold the 6 inch pieces of paper to create cranes. Some caught on right away and began their own teaching tables. Others struggled to make the creases and to remember the 25 different folds. All persisted, however, and baskets of cranes began to fill. Maria proudly folded the golden crane for the top of the display.
Pat Luptak, Zoe’s dance teacher from the Red Lodge School of Dance, and Robin Taylor, who cared for Zoe in her infancy, were among the proficient. They stayed the whole four hour session, patiently guiding others through the steps that they t h ems e l v e s h a d j u s t learned.
For everyone, Ginny Carroll captured the experience: "It felt so good to just DO something in honor of sweet Zoe...and I learned a new skill that I’m really enjoying. I’ll always think of Zoe when I see or make paper cranes. It was an awesome thing to conceive and organize - one thousand thank you’s to Polly, Nicole and Kerri!"
Folding for many hours, community members succeeded in creating about 400 cranes for Zoe that day. But the word spread and soon people folded cranes all over Red Lodge to create 1,000 cranes. Polly and several he lpe r s thr eaded the cranes, in all their wonderful colors and patterns, on fish line. Mick and Alanna Thompson of Back Alley Metals crafted a display tower for them.
The cranes were made with love for Zoe to remember her as the beautiful child of our town. They hang in the window of the Red Lodge School of Dance, where Zoe loved to dance.