Living in the Shadow of the Nuclear Warhead – A ‘Glow in the Dark’ Memoir

During the Cold War era following World War II, I was busy growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee—a “secret city” constructed by the federal government wholly and specifically to help develop and produce the world’s first atomic weapon. But as a five-year-old boy in 1957, my duties consisted only of attending school during the week and otherwise staying out of the house whenever my father was off shift from the Y-12 Plant (the nearby facility that made components for modern nuclear weapons). OIPR7QVJCUGMy father’s three rotating shifts meant he slept odd hours, and the thing he needed most in this world was sleep. Staying out of the house so my father could rest undisturbed also meant that my mother and her friends rotated us kids throughout homes in the neighborhood based on the same shifts. I’m sure they were concerned with our after-school enrichment, but perhaps they were as much concerned about keeping the peace at home.

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‘Little Suzi’ and Ol’ Patch

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Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi moved at the end of summer with her mother, Wilma, into a small apartment in a town that was new to them both. At first, Little Suzi didn’t want to move at all, because it meant leaving her grandparent’s house in a city where she had lived all of her seven years so far. And, worse yet, it meant leaving her granny and granddaddy behind.

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“You’ll miss me too much,” Suzi told her granddaddy. “You won’t have anyone to play checkers with or watch boxing on TV. And who’ll help you dig dandelions out of the yard before you mow the grass?” And later, Suzi told her granny, “Who’ll lick the big spoon when you make chocolate icing? And who’ll watch the cookies and cakes in the oven so they don’t burn?”

Little Suzi’s mommy didn’t want her daughter to feel sad, but it couldn’t be helped. “I know you don’t want to leave Granny and Granddaddy,” Suzi’s mommy explained. “Neither do I, but we must. The old factory where I work—the one Granny and Granddaddy worked in years ago—well, it’s closing down. I was lucky to find a new job in a town near here. It’s not really very far away. We can visit Granny and Granddaddy on weekends.”        

Little Suzi understood, but something else was worrying her now. “How will I get back here to my school after we move?” She liked her school and she liked her teacher at the red brick schoolhouse in the city. And she liked her little friends in her class. 

“Will a bus pick me up and bring me there?” she asked her mommy.

“Oh, no, darling!” Suzi’s mommy answered. “It’s much too far away for that.”

“You mean I can’t go to school anymore?”

Little Suzi was nearly in tears at the thought of being alone all day with nothing to do and no grandparents or friends to play with (except, of course, her imaginary, invisible friend Albert).

Suzi’s mommy smiled at her daughter. “I would never move to a town with no schools! You’ll have a new school in our new town and you’ll make new friends.” Then she hugged her daughter close to her skirts and patted her hair to comfort and reassure her.

Little Suzi’s invisible friend Albert had been quiet until now, but he couldn’t hold out any longer: Well, that’s too bad. I could do without any old school. First grade was alright, but now that place takes up a lot of our play time, what with all that useless readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic and such.

        

Suzi heard what Albert said, but she decided to wait until her mommy left the room to scold him. “I like school,” Suzi told the silly boy. “Besides, you need to go to school. You don’t want to grow up ignorant, do you?!”

But Albert apparently didn’t care about growing up ignorant, because he answered her by crossing his eyes and sticking out his devilish tongue at her.

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It was not very long before Little Suzi found herself living in the new town with her mommy and getting ready to start her new school. They did miss Granny and Granddaddy, but Suzi would be very busy in school, so the sunny autumn days would go by quickly. All was well—and even Albert had to admit their new garden apartment in the town was a nice place to live—but there was one big change that Suzi had not expected. Continue reading “‘Little Suzi’ and Ol’ Patch”