Tales From My Post-Nuclear Life

One has to look out for engineers: they begin with sewing machines and end up with the atomic bomb. ~Marcel Pagnol

There’s an atom bomb in front of the refrigerator. ~Vyvyan, “The Young Ones”

Lethal levels of radiation? My desk will protect me.

With all the talk of nuclear meltdowns and high levels of radiation in northern Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami, I was brought back to my childhood. No, I never lived through such a catastrophe myself (although I remember vividly the news reporters talking about Chernobyl on TV). As the child of parents who grew up at the dawn of the Cold War, and with an overactive imagination, I was convinced the world would end in a ballet of mushroom clouds that would put Dr. Strangelove to shame.

Before you laugh, consider what most kids’ deepest fears are. Monsters in the closet. Diabolical clowns. Bullies at school. My paranoia was (somewhat) rooted in reality, as I knew that somewhere, half a world away, Gorbachev and his minions could press a little red button and wipe the United States clear off the map. How exactly they would do this I didn’t know. I watched Red Dawn and War Games at a tender age, not to mention Rocky IV.

Let me explain…

Many of my Millenial and Gen Y readers are too young to know about Duck and Cover drills. By the time they were born, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Gorbachev was just another nice man in a suit, and the Soviet Union was a relic of history books. When I was growing up, in Reagan’s ’80s, the Cold War was still a reality (even if it were in its death throes.) We did the Duck and Cover drills in school. How exactly a piece of wood and plastic was supposed to protect me from getting vaporized, I never figured out. My parents, of course, living in California in the ’50s and ’60s, were well-acquainted with the possibility that the world could get nuked tomorrow.

But I like radioactive corn!

It also didn’t help that our family lived in Nevada at the time, which was the site of many an A-test. I’m still convinced I saw one from a long, long way off one day (along with the UFO along Route 50, but that’s another blog post for another day.) I knew *something* was going on out on those barren alkali flats. Paranoia planted its seed early in me. Whenever I’d find a strange piece of glass out in the desert, I’d make up a story of how it had come to be in the wake of a nuclear blast. Then I’d take it home with me, radioactive or not. I never grew a third eye or had any hair fall out, so I figured it had to be OK.

There was always the worry in the back of my child’s mind that The Bomb might fall as we slept, unsuspecting, and were turned into human charcoal briquettes. I couldn’t control any of this, nor could the president, God, or even my parents. This was also the time in my life when I started devouring post-apocalyptic novels; everything from I Am Legend and Swan Song to The Stand and Ariel. I wasn’t like the other girls who loved Judy Blume and The Baby-Sitters Club. I needed some meat on my literary plate…and some angst. I still read those books today, if nothing else for survival tips if and when there ever is a nuclear holocaust.

Ssssh...it's a secret

There’s nothing wrong with being prepared. The Boy Scouts got that one right. When I was a kid, I took that advice to extreme measures.

My parents bought a riding mower when I was about 10. It came in a huge crate which they were going to throw away, but I persuaded them to keep. They had no idea what I wanted it for, but we stashed it in my room and I began preparations. I hoarded canned food and powdered milk, glow sticks and Blue Diamond matches in there, not to mention painting it white and lining the walls with aluminum foil. By the time I was done, my parents were quizzical.

“What is it, hon?”

“It’s my fallout shelter,” I explained.

“That’s nice,” Mom said, secretly wondering if her only child had gone mad.

I spent many happy/paranoid hours in my little hidey hole, reading newspaper stories about events in the Soviet Union and noshing on freeze-dried food. Seriously, I think I asked my parents to take me to the Army/Navy store more than other kids wanted to go to Toys “R” Us. I also developed a sweet tooth for freeze-dried ice cream. If the end of the world ever happened, at least there would be chocolate.

It's my atom bomb and you can't have it

I don’t know what happened to “the bunker.” I can’t remember. It probably went the same way as my stuffed animals and the Soviet Union. I’m sure Mom and Dad were finally glad to get rid of it, not to mention getting back all their missing cans of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve still been in awe of the nuclear world we live in. Yes, the Soviet Union has collapsed, and the nuclear arsenals have started to be consigned to memory. But they’re still out there, and the sad fact remains that there are those who wouldn’t hesistate to use them to advance their twisted ideology.

I still believe in being prepared. This means having plenty of dried food and fresh water on hand, being able to leave at a moment’s notice, and learning basic survival skills. That’s common sense whether you’re afraid of nukes or not.

My heart is with all those in Japan fighting to contain the Fukushima nuclear plant. They are heroes, and some of them may already be walking dead. I feel for them and their children and grandchildren, who may feel the effects of fallout long into the future.

And while I know this post is mostly written in jest, there’s nothing funny about the military use of nukes. I pray and hope the world will never come to that eventuality again.

In the meantime, readers: it never hurts to be prepared at all times. Make a survival kit for you and your family, and your pets, if you have them. And be sure to ask for chocolate freeze-dried ice cream at your local outlet. You’ll not be disappointed.

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on March 26, 2011.

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