During the nation’s historic period of the Cold War, I was busy growing up in a small town—a Secret City—wholly and specifically constructed by the federal government during World War II to develop and produce the world’s first atomic warhead. The Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, made components for nuclear weapons, and the K-25 plant made highly enriched uranium for the same purpose. As a direct result, my civic duty as a five-year-old boy moving to the town with his parents in 1957 was to attend school during weekdays and otherwise stay out of the house, because when my father was off shift from the Y-12 plant, he needed sleep. The facility operated around the clock, and my father’s rotating ‘shift work’ schedule meant that he must sleep during the daylight hours some weeks, midday hours some weeks, and at night other weeks. Life for me became complicated.
My days were taken up with school and my afternoons with play. I spent the remainder of my time reading or sleeping. On weekends, I stayed at friends’ homes or Mother took me out for almost any activity at all, including something as mundane as seeing some kid’s new puppy in a box or as crushingly boring as a ‘pasting party’ for S&H Green Stamps. Imagine two or three mothers and their hostile kids—having been pressed into service—arrayed around a kitchen table sponging stamps and filling the pages of those onerous, wrinkled trading books (although my mom did trade them in for a nice set of TV dinner trays once). To be fair, we kids usually got our fill of sugar cookies and milk in the bargain.