Monday, October 6, 2008

The root of my psychosis

Some of you may be wondering why I garden, can, freeze, preserve all of these foods when it is so much simpler to go to the grocery store and buy them. First of all, home grown tastes better and is better for you. Those are good reasons in and of themselves. For me, however, it goes much deeper. But quickly, before we begin, here's a picture of a five-gallon bucket of carrots. I wasn't sure if I was going to get any this year (since I barely thinned and weeded them over the summer), but come September I was pleasantly surprised.

Okay, story time. When I was little, one of my favorite things to do was to go into the small wooded area behind my parents' house, build myself a fort, and then gather berries, nuts and leaves for my pretend winter survival. I knew what I was doing: I had the Tom Brown Guide to Wilderness Survival on my shelf, I watched a lot of Grizzly Adams and Little House on the Prairie, and I enjoyed reading books where kids ran off into the wilderness and fended for themselves (like My Side of the Mountain and the Boxcar Children books).

I think all of these influences merged in my psyche to form a mild obsession for self-reliance. And it seems that within the last ten years of my life, this gentle-yet-insistence psychosis has affected my thinking more and more. I've yet to see if this is a good thing, or a bad thing. Time will tell.

I also blame this obsession on the cold war, and the peak of nuclear anxiety in the early 1980's. I vividly remember one night in particular during that time. A few weeks earlier I had been scared out of my skull while watching 'The Day After,' that nasty nuclear apocalypse made-for-TV movie. Why my parents allowed a pre-teen to watch such a film, I'll never know.

On the night in question, I woke up around midnight, hearing the faint sound of sirens. I crept into the hallway, listening, realizing that the sirens I was hearing were the same sirens I had heard while watching that horrible movie. I knew what was happening -- the nuclear bombs were coming.

What do I do? We had no fall-out shelter, no provisions, no plan of action, nothing. I was clutched with desparate fear. Where would the bombs land? Would the impact wave hit our house? When would the fallout begin? Would I die immediately, or suffer through radiation sickness for months before eventually dying a painful death? As you can see, I had a pretty vivid imagination as a child.

After a few minutes of terror, I decide to wake my parents. I go into their bedroom. Mom is absent for some reason, but Dad is there sleeping. I wake Dad up, gently shaking him and asking him to listen for the sirens. He groggily rises, still half asleep. He can't hear the sirens. I tell them they are air raid sirens, for a nuclear war. He says that if that's the case, then there's not much we can do about it. I am shocked by his nonchalance. He goes back to bed.

I am still terrified. I decide to go downstairs, and turn on the tv to see if there are any public alerts with more information. I creep down the dark stairs. The sirens seem to be getting louder. I walk through the dining room and the kitchen. The sirens are louder still. I stand at the small stairway leading into the family room, and see the television already on. My mother is stretched out on the couch, asleep.

The sirens stop. I watch the tv, and find myself watching 'The Day After' again. My brain leaps to conclusions: my mother has fallen asleep while watching tv, and that same horrible movie is being replayed. The sirens I heard upstairs were coming from the tv. The bombs are not coming, it is a night like any other, and I won't have to die from radiation poisoning.

I go to the tv and switch channels, just to make sure there are no news reports. I turn off the tv, and listen to the silence. I go back upstairs, make sure my Dad has fallen back asleep, and then go to bed. It takes me a long time to get to sleep. In the morning, my father remembers nothing of me waking him.

Just one hour of one child's life, but it's tendrils stretch out beyond twenty years.


Harold Phillips said...

Ok, that's a hair-raising story! I think it goes a long way, though, to speaking to the overall zeitgeist of our generation. What a lot of cultural critics tend to forget about our "slacker" generation is that we grew up during the nadir of the cold war, without the recent memory of World War II to help put it in perspective. Kids today (just to sound old and crotchety) don't really have a conception of what it was like to believe that nuclear anhilation was right around the corner. They have their own fears brought about by the state of the world today - terrorism being the chief among them. It's not the same feeling, though, as the firm belief that at any moment the evil "Ruskies" could nuke us, and thereby assure that we'd nuke them... which would, in turn, turn the world into an awful shell of its former existence.

Yeah... a MAJOR part of who we are, as a generation.

Don't feel like you should have to explain your desire to be self-sufficient, though. Given the economy and how much food costs at the grocery store, you're ahead of the game in my book. Why do you think Trish and I are steadily harvesting the apples from our tree and planning the produce we want to put in the garden next spring?

Kathy said...

I notice how there was no mention in your story about any concern for the welfare of your little sister!!! You marched right past my room to wake up Dad during this crisis, but did you even stop to think of your innocent little sister? Oh no! Figures. And that's why I'm so warped!

Jo said...

Harold - You are so right about how the fear of nuclear war affected many in our generation. Terrorism is obviously a tremendous fear, but it is different than that of nuclear war. Although perhaps we should be afraid of both in this day and age.

So how many gallons of applesauce have you made so far?

Kathy - Ha! Sorry. I wasn't concerned about Karen or Bob either, if that makes you feel any better...

And don't try to blame your warpedness on me! Remember, I was there when you grew up - I know what crazy things you did!