The shiverest shiver of all came from orange sherbert at the Offutt Air Force Base Officer’s Club. My brother and I would sit in back of the car on the way home and shiver while my dad would say, “Knock it off, kids.”
When we first moved to Nebraska from Colorado in 1960, we stayed at the Visiting Officer’s Motel on base and got to eat at the Officer’s Club a lot.
The Officer’s Club was our favorite restaurant largely because of the carpet which was deep purple, magenta and white with a design of space — Saturn, stars, galaxies, planets. It was the 1960s and space WAS the final frontier. A Minuteman Missile stood in front of the main headquarters of this most secret of America’s military establishments outside the Pentagon.
Between our house and this simple, blonde brick building, where my dad went to work every day, were hundreds of silver B-52’s, their tails gleaming in the sunlight on the crisp fall mornings as we walked to school.
The Cold War made a lot of people shiver in fear, but for us it was just a daily fact of life. At school, we had bomb drills weekly, strange and futile exercises because we WERE the target. This finally hit home to me when I was 10 after watching “On the Beach,” and rather than being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the B52’s cleaning their jets, I lay in bed terrified that we’d be the last people on earth waiting for the fallout to drift our way and kill us slowly. My dad, when I told him all this, said, “Honey, there’s nothing to worry about. The bomb, if it comes, will land HERE. We’ll be instantly vaporized. We’ll just go out in the front yard and watch it come. Think of how few people have seen that! And we’ll get to see it!”
Since I’d seen the crater at Alamagordo numerous times and had grown up with this mathematician physicist guy with MS, I guess I had a slightly unusual view of both death and atomic weapons. The only movie I ever saw on base was “Dr. Strangelove.”
When I watch movies about the 50s and 60s made today, I get very angry. I wonder where young people today get the qualifications to make their sweeping summary judgments about times they have never known? Then I remember; I write historical fiction. Maybe I’m doing that, too.
The thought makes me shiver.