When Will the Big Bomb Drop?

"Before you judge me, judge yourself.

"Are you so sure of the ground you stand on?"

                                                                       Sophocles, Electra


I'm not sure of anything.  I was born and raised in the Secret City during the Cold War years of the 1950s and 60s.

Outwardly an idyllic, peaceful little Camelot with wooded ridges and valleys dotted with government built homes modeled on quaint Cape Code cottages, occupied with seemingly perfect young, nuclear families, our small town was an island of privilege in rural Anderson County, Tennessee.  Amenities included public tennis courts, parks, a voluminous library, superior schools, even our own little local symphony orchestra and playhouse, all funded directly or indirectly with federal monies.

Our mothers were homemakers who baked with the help of Betty Crocker in the mornings.  Many mixed martinis in the afternoons before serving up suppers of soggy canned vegetables, jello salad and casseroles made with Campbell's Soup. We ate around formica kitchen tables and listened to Walter Cronkite on our black and white TVs. 

It was the height of the post war baby boom and we children were numerous, well scrubbed and mostly above average.  

Our fathers, wearing badges that doubled as IDs and radiation docimeters, disappeared behind the fence every morning, carrying government issue brief cases. They were scientists and engineers, highly educated elites with generous compensation packages.  But we children never got to witness our fathers at work. We were not permitted behind the fence. The work our fathers did was top secret.

But we knew that our fathers were not behind the fence making radios, televisions or vacuum cleaners; they certainly weren't inventing new toys like slinkies or hoola hoops; nor were they canning soup or soggy green beans.  We knew what our fathers were doing: they were making atomic bombs.

And far away on the other side of the world, we knew that the Russians were also making atomic bombs, probably in their own little secret enclaves.  And as always I wondered, who would destroy whom first?  And would it be worse to die or survive the nuclear holocaust?  I never doubted that it would come.  We practiced for it every day. 

After school, the well scrubbed children of Oak Ridge played in the green woods, swinging on grapevines and sailing paper boats on shallow, gurgling creeks.  On sweet summer evenings, we played Mother May I, caught lightening bugs in Mason jars and squealed through games of Hide and Seek in the dark.

Mostly, we were happy.

But day in and day out, through every season of the long year, promptly at five o'clock, the air raid sirens went off.   Loud sirens were installed throughout the Secret City to warn us of an impending nuclear attack and most of us had bomb shelters, some make shift, some fancy, in our homes. 

The siren right next to our house on Delaware Avenue wailed with bone rattling intensity every afternoon, shaking me out of my childhood reveries, innocent play, and piano practice.  Every day at five o'clock, I was reminded once again that even children must ponder the imponderable:

                                           When will the big bomb drop? 


More on this later. 

Be Well and Good Luck, 

Martha Maria 

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