The box of food in the pantry says it all

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Suggested head: The box in the pantry said it all

"The thought that disturbed him the most, and that made the prospect of war much more fearful than it would otherwise have been, was the specter of death of the children of this country and all the world - the young people who had no role, who had no say, who knew nothing even of the confrontation, but whose lives would be snuffed out like everyone else's.

"They would never have a chance to make a decision, to vote in an election, to run for office, to lead a revolution, to determine their own destinies." Robert Kennedy, speaking about President John F. Kennedy's thoughts during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When you are 10-years-old the possibility of a nuclear war is hard to understand. A box of food and containers of water stored in the kitchen pantry in case of a nuclear war you relate to more easily.

The first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis was Oct. 16, 1962, 40 years ago. I was 10-years-old and I remember bits and pieces of those days that are a part of history. It was scary, but as a child I never knew how close the world came to a nuclear confrontation and what that would have meant.

What I recall are the family conversations during those days; Mother explaining why there was a box of food sitting on the pantry floor. We were not to touch any of the things in that box, she said, because they were provisions in case of a nuclear attack.

Looking back, I realize how bizarre it was to talk about the safest place in the house to stay until the danger of radiation exposure passed, like the danger of radiation exposure would pass if an atomic bomb hit anywhere near us.

The hall running beside the staircase in the center of the house was chosen as the best place. There were no windows and the doors into rooms that had windows could be shut.

I remember something about two weeks being how long we'd stay in the hall after a nuclear attack. I wanted to know if our dog would be in the hall with us. That was important to me because I didn't want Rusty outside in the nuclear fallout I'd heard so much about.

I pictured it looking like snow, deadly snow.

Under the house there was a space, not quite a basement but more than a crawlspace. Mother said during they talked about turning it into a bomb shelter.

"We were so close (to Cuba)," she said. "We were just waiting everyday to hear …"

In class we talked about what to do if the attack came during school hours. Again, I don't think I comprehended what was happening. I didn't grasp, as President Kennedy did, that life as I knew it might end.

I did know I wanted to be home when the bomb hit. If we were going to be shut up somewhere for two weeks, I wanted to be with my parents, my brothers and sisters, and of course, Rusty.

In my mind there was no question we would survive a nuclear attack. The adults had things under control. We had food and water; we'd camp out for two weeks in the hall. Then life would go on.

I don't when I knew the crisis had passed. Mother and Daddy stopped talking about doing anything to the space under the house.

As far as I was concerned that meant the danger was over. Anyway, there were more important things like climbing trees and the approaching holidays.

Life went back to normal; but Mother kept that box of food in the pantry a long time after those days in October passed, and none of us dared to touch a thing in it.