Oct 26 2020

The Cold War

Published by at 3:46 pm under Coronavirus Journal,Family

Good news on my paint-speckled car. One of the men working on my neighbor’s house spent two full hours trying to scrub off the constellations of teeny dots. It’s not quite like before, but plenty good enough for me. Phew.

During the presidential debate last week, there were times when Trump made me laugh out loud, derisively:

  • “I am the least racist person in this room. I can’t even see the audience because it is so dark, but I don’t care who is in the audience.”
  • “Nobody’s done more for the African-American community than Donald Trump.”
  • “I know more about wind than you do.” [He can say that again!]

Eight days till the election. I’ve checked and my ballot has been processed.

I don’t want to think about the present any more. Let’s talk about the old days. As I’ve told you, about six months ago Small spent a fortune to digitize all sixty of our family scrapbooks that span from 1946 (when she and my father were courting) to 2017. I admit to thinking she shouldn’t have blown the big bucks on such a project, but I find that I refer to them quite frequently. Like today, when I perused a randomly selected folder—1961 to 1962—just looking for something to show you. I found this:

See my dots? I had a serious case of the measles and a 105° fever (note the glazed eyes) that led to hallucinations of things that shouldn’t have been in the room with me. Ma always said that, of her three kids, I always got the sickest, with mumps and chicken pox and mononucleosis and whoknowswhatall. I’m clutching Tigery, brought to me by Uncle Phil. Tigery became my favorite animal until our mutt Davey disemboweled him sometime after I recovered. Still, for years after that I kept his empty fabric shell of a body. You can’t go throwing out a friend just because his stuffing’s been ripped out.

You’ll also notice another elongated tiger on my pillow. Look: I still have it! (I still sleep in that same bed, too.) The animal is lacking certain important features, but it’s still kicking.

I also found a picture from my seventh birthday. My godmother Nancy always gave me the best presents, and on this occasion she outdid herself. I was wild with excitement.

For two days I played with my accordion all day and into the evening. On the third day I was sitting on my street corner when a tough neighbor kid came up and persisted in asking to borrow it. I was too polite and shy to keep saying “no.” So of course he broke it and I still haven’t forgiven him. Someone, probably Ember or Jesse, recently asked me what was my favorite toy I ever had. It was this, hands down.

A picture of note from a few months later shows the installation of the fallout shelter in our backyard. I don’t remember much about that era except that there was a threat from some guy named “Khrushchev” in Russia who was going to drop poisonous nuclear gases on us or something. So Dad had a big hole dug in our backyard and a giant metal tube laid underground, in theory a safe place for his family to retreat in the event of attack.

The Cold War was serious business to Dad, but to us kids it was a blast. That cylinder was buried soon after this photo was taken. Inside were six metal-and-canvas bunks suspended by chains. It was like having our own submarine. You climbed a few steps down a metal ladder to get to the main chamber. Inside, there was a hand-cranked fan that sucked in potentially toxic air from outside through a series of decontaminating filters. And of course when lanterns were off, the darkness was total, and suffocating.

Neighborhood kids would ask about our “bomb shelter.” That term, a misnomer, always irked my father, I guess because the place was never intended to provide safety from a bomb, but just nuclear fallout.

The fallout shelter was strictly off-limits for us kids. But one time when I was a preteen, a bunch of years after it was installed, my parents let me have a slumber party down there with five other girls. After dinner, we all descended into the basement and entered the rectangular metal corridor that led to the shelter. Shortly after we’d all picked our bunks, we heard a strange tapping coming from underneath the plywood floorboards, and other eerie noises.

Soon, we found the cause. My mother’s friend, Missy, had been hiding down there on the cold metal under the floor for about half an hour. Waiting for the right moment. Just for a laugh.

The adults left us alone then, and somehow we all eventually fell asleep in that dank tomb. Lamps off, there was no way to tell whether it were midnight or 9:00 a.m. When someone flipped on a flashlight to check the clock in the middle of the night, you could see the cold, steel walls dripping with condensation.

Speaking of the Cold War, a decade ago in graduate school, a young Russian woman in my cohort asked me if my having grown up under those nuclear threats had led me to dislike Russians. I told her I had nothing but happy memories of the political crisis. Ah, youth.

One response so far

One Response to “The Cold War”

  1. Molly says:

    Poor little measles girl! I was about to ask if that was the same bed as you have now, but then you answered my question before I could even ask it. I rec’nized it.

    That’s so wild about having a fallout shelter in the yard (as every practical house does). And funny about Missy’s prank.

    I enjoyed the photos and stories veddy much!

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