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Every generation is faced with its own worries

Every generation has its worries.

My mom was born during the Depression and she entered her early teens during World War II.

My daughters suffered through fears of the catastrophes that might happen in Y2K, 9/11, and the focus upon terrorist threats in our homeland.

Children of today worry about their Twitter and Instagram posts.

My worries as a child focused around dangers posed by the Soviet Union and communism as a whole.

The Cold War was a constant reality. Fighting for worldwide democracy seemed to be the focus of adult talk. 

Many boys, barely older than me, graduated high school only to begin their adult years in Vietnam.

Our country was in a state of turmoil. President John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby and then Martin Luther King, Jr were all assassinated.

The Vietnam War, city riots, sit-ins and the Nixon presidential scandals were all part of our social studies current events.  Television was our eye on the world and we got to watch the tragedies over and over on the nightly news.    

In school, we learned about bomb shelters and their nearest locations. We practiced jumping under our desks and covering our heads, as if such a simple act could really protect against a nuclear bomb.

In the late 1960s, the 4-H clubs were invited to spend a night in the fallout shelter that was located in the basement of the First National Bank in Ironton.

As always, Mom made sure we didn’t miss out on the learning opportunities offered. Everything we were to experience was to be an exact replica of the procedures we would go through if a nuclear bomb actually was dropped near us.

On a Friday afternoon, we met the leaders of the simulation in the lobby of the bank, then we were promptly taken down an elevator to what seemed several floors below ground. We were told this would be the safest place to escape the deadly radiation. 

We were led through several sets of thick doors, each fortified with concrete and iron and each closed tightly behind us.

Finally, we entered a very dimly lit, cement-surrounded large warehouse-type room.  We were each given a scratchy, dark greenish-gray army blanket. Mom set all our blankets tightly together as we sat on our designated space waiting for further instructions.

Once all the leaders and club members were settled, the instructional guide directed our attention to the large containers that were tightly sealed and neatly stacked against the wall. He told us this would be our water supply. He held up a small package of something he said was dehydrated and a round tin container. These were our food rations.

Our bathroom was behind a partial temporary wall and consisted of a large trash can lined with plastic and a special seat. He told us our body waste would be tightly bound and placed in a separate storage area.

He showed us a shower that would be used if we had been exposed to radiation. This shower was between two of the heavy doors that led to our large common room.

If someone had been exposed to radiation they would have to take a unique shower before entering the final safe spot. Once the doors were closed, anyone who came to the door after the radiation was deemed too dangerous would not be let in.

We went through the night eating the rations, drinking our small allotment of water and using the trash can for the bathroom. As each club settled into their area, Mom gathered us all together and tried to tell us this was a good experience. She told jokes and stories and laughed at the rations we munched on. I could tell she was trying to convey, ‘see this is a safe place for us if the rest of the world is extinguished.’ After trying, but not being able to sleep in this oppressive atmosphere, the next morning was filled with relief when we were allowed to escape the darkness.

I knew the adults were trying to prepare us for what seemed a very real danger and the goal was to give us a sense of control, peace and security. It had the exact opposite result. Sister Linda and I began talking about how our house was 18 miles from Ironton. There’s no way we could make it to the fallout shelter in time.

We decided we needed to find a cave to make into our fallout shelter. Though the acreage around our home is full of large limestone rocks that jut out of the hills, there are very few caves. The best we could figure on was an opening under one large rocky jut that we could crawl back into for shelter. It was on the hill that bordered Minnie Belle’s small cabin, just down Aaron’s Creek from our hollow.

Linda and I planned how each of our siblings would have a job: two to carry buckets of water, two to carry whatever food we had in the house, someone would be in charge of getting candles and matches while the rest would carry blankets and pillows.

Linda and I even practiced how many minutes it would take to walk the trail. Because we were using Minnie Belle’s land we decided we should invite her to stay with us in our fallout shelter as well. Though it wasn’t the best solution for a nuclear disaster, we took comfort that it was somewhat better than ducking under our desks and covering our heads with our hands.

Every generation has its worries. Within our human frailties, even children desperately try to strategize to protect those we love from danger.

Though the world appeared dark to us, we discovered that if we shared our worries with each other and made what we thought were feasible plans to overcome disasters, we could find comfort.

The best part was that we would be together, no matter what troubles the world would throw at us.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.