I grew up during the Cold War. On spring and summer Saturday mornings, they tested the air raid sirens. In grade school, we had drills where we had to get on our knees on the floor under our desks, bend over and cover our heads with our hands. Even then I didn’t think it would make any difference if we were bombed.
The Sault Locks, we were told, were a target for the A-bomb or H-bomb, whichever one was the going thing. The Locks had also been a target during World War II when dirigibles floated over the area. I didn’t care which letter of the alphabet they called it; I was scared stiff. I think my whole generation must have been terrified.
We saw pictures in Life magazine of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after they dropped the bombs to end the war. We saw the mushroom clouds. We saw the people photographed in hospitals as they lay dying in agony from radiation poisoning.
I don’t know how I knew this; I probably heard the grown-ups talking. But I knew that in order to even think of surviving a nuclear blast, you had to be at least five miles from the epicenter of the blast. I calculated that we would have to be at my Uncle Don’s house on Baker Side Road. We didn’t have a car, so I was pretty sure my family and I would fry.
Sometimes I feel angry when I think of how all that affected our childhood. The fear was crippling. I didn’t know anyone in the Sault that had a bomb shelter in their backyard, but there were many U.S. families that had them.
After college, in the late 70s, when I worked at Community Action, we found large tins of Civil Defense food in the basement of the building because it had been designated a bomb shelter. We opened a tin of candy that dated from the 1950s. It tasted pretty awful. It brought back all the memories of the fear I had felt as a child.
On one hand, when I think of the fear that children in other countries have had to live with, I guess we didn’t have it so bad. On the other hand, no child should have to live in fear of bombs being dropped on them. Not one child.