Like many Americans, I've been watching the situation in Japan with the nuclear reactors with great concen and interest, hoping that things will improve, there's no meltdown, and the people will feel safe again.
The thought of "nuclear fallout" has brought back many memories for me. As a child on a farm in rural South Georgia, we were the only family I knew that had a fallout shelter. That's right - my dad built an underground shelter of concrete walls and a concrete roof. All we had to do was walk several cinder block steps down into the earth, make a left at the bottom of the stairs, then an immediate right and we were in a dark, damp room measuring about 16x18 feet.
In 1957, the year I was born, the Gaither Report was published to inform people of the nuclear strike capabilities of the U.S.S.R. and the United States, and frankly, President Eisenhower felt a responsibility to encourage the building of fallout shelters across the country. The U.S. Department of Defense issued instructions on how to build one. All my patriotic Dad had to do was order the manual, wait two or three weeks for it to arrive, then get to work! Imagine if Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube had existed then! Shelter owners could have just told one another what to do, what to avoid and how else the shelter could be used once the fear of war subsided. Today, of course, we're at war with nuclear power plants when we aren't embracing them as a solution to our energy challenges.
Anyway, our family fallout shelter was very simple. There was a single light bulb in the ceiling with a pull chain. In reality, our family of eight couldn't have survived 14 minutes down there, never mind the 14 days the government told us to expect to have to stay underground should a nuclear fallout occur! I wasn't worried, though. I was confident my parents would know exactly what to do and they'd keep us safe.
Meanwhile, we discovered that a fallout shelter also made for an awesome place to play with friends. And my enterprising father figured out that we could take advange of the dark, underground, cool space, which was a perfect environment for storing farm-grown potatoes.
Ten years ago, shortly after 9/11, I read that underground shelters and in-home bunkers were regaining popularity as Americans looked for anything they could do to keep their families safe. This new incident has caused yet another uptick in people fearing the worst and trying to prepare for it.
Ironically, my father filled in the fallout shelter with dirt and sealed it permanently several years ago. Why? Because as a grandfather, he thought it was the safest thing to do. He didn't want the grandchildren to fall down the steps or get hurt (or even bitten by a snake) while playing in the big dark hole.
So, we've come full circle. That which was supposed to protect children by being readily available became the thing that could harm them by being readily available.
As I'm writing this, it occurs to me that I still haven't met a boomer who had a fallout shelter at home as a child. Or maybe I just didnt' know that tidbit about them because it was a distant memory nobody thought to mention. How about you? Did your family have a fallout shelter? What are your memories of that time?