Bomb Shelter Blues


My childhood house on 69th Street in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, had a big bump in the backyard. It’s where my grandfather built a fall-out shelter that connected to our basement. It was during the Cold War, and thoughts of atomic bombs being dropped on us was enough to motivate him to save his daughter and five of his grandchildren.

We always called it the fall-out shelter, never a bomb shelter, but that’s what it was.

I don’t remember the shelter being built, but I do remember when it was done.  Grandpa built crude bunkbeds out of plywood. There was a deep shelf for canned goods and there were the typical basement bugs.

I didn’t like going inside the shelter. It had no door, just a maze entryway like you see in airport bathrooms.  Step over the creepy broken drain cover in the floor. Then walk this way, turn here, then turn again.

Does radiation not turn corners?

“Why isn’t there any bedding?” I asked.

“We’ll put it in there when we need it,” my parents said.

“How will we do that?” I asked.

Won’t we be running for our lives? Are we really going to stop by the linen closet on the way to the fall-out shelter?

“How will we open the canned goods?” I asked. “Where are the dishes?

“We can take a can-opener down there when we need it.”

Now we are rifling through kitchen drawers as we scurry to the shelter?

“Maybe I’ll get an extra one at the store,” my mother said.

None of it made any sense to me.

“Why does Russia want to bomb us?” I asked.

“You worry too much,” my parents said.

Excuse me, you’re the ones with the bomb shelter tumor messing up our backyard.

But then foreign relations began to improve.

“Susie, run downstairs and grab a can of green beans from the shelves in the shelter.”

“Are you going to replace this can of beans?” I asked. “Because later, we might need them.”

Especially after waking up from sleeping on rough plywood with no blankets!

As the months passed, the stash of canned goods was getting depleted.  The second can opener was never purchased and the bedding was not taken downstairs.

It was a half-ass attempt to save us all.

Here’s the thing with OCD.  I already had enough troubles going on in my brain without adding having to worry about an ill-equipped fall-out shelter.  It would’ve been better off to have NO bomb shelter, so that I could enjoy the Cold War in ignorance like the rest of the kids on the block.

Maybe my grandfather had OCD, too. Instead of always having to have a Kleenex at the ready as I did, he needed to build us kids a great big reminder of something else that could happen.

Why does a ten year old need the burden of our foreign relations with Asia to add to her plate of worry?  Why are my pants always too short?  Why are my feet so big? Why does my hair always do that weird cowlick part thing? Will my brothers have to fight in a war?  How will I escape the Midwest? How will I afford to go to college? What if I fail math class?

Couldda Wouldda Shouldda

I was a Camp Fire Girl. I should’ve earned my Cold War Preparedness Badge by getting all the needed supplies that were missing and getting them into our shelter. Alas, there was no such badge. I should’ve suggested to somebody to add one. But hey, I was only ten.

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