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Life in Oak Ridge

July 2, 2018

July 2, 2018

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Growing up in Oak Ridge seemed to be the “norm” for me. I was born and raised inside the city and have many memories of my life here. I was raised on the “East” side of the city. My parents married and both worked at K-25, ORINS (Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies), and X-10. I remember at Elm Grove Elementary School having “bomb” drills. The sirens would go off and we would have to practice hiding under our desks. Every day at 5:00 PM the sirens in the city also went off, “testing” the warning system in case of an emergency where the city needed to be evacuated.

My parents first lived in a cement “A-house” after they were married and were able to move to a larger “B-House” after I was born (and an even larger home after my 2 brothers arrived). Homes were labeled A, B, C, D, E, F, etc. depending on how many children you had and were government owned housing for several years; later purchased by the owners. Our home was off of Delaware Ave. and we had a “bomb shelter” under it. It was a dirt basement with flashlights, canned food, dishes, shelving etc. placed there. We would get in trouble if we went in there and moved anything as we were told “it might be needed to survive someday.”

Streets were named after States, beginning with A’s on the East end of the city going west to Wisconsin (much later as the city grew). Jackson Square was the center of the city and had a record store, department store, bus station, play house, pharmacy, and other shops. In later years, an outdoor shopping area was built “Downtown” and we had a Christmas parade there every year when Santa arrived! At Oak Ridge High School, Union Carbide put on a huge Christmas party for the families who worked at the sites. They had a show for everyone and then we stood in a long line waiting sit on Santa’s lap and give him our Christmas list. Santa came and gave out free “huge” stockings to all children and they always included a “bolo paddle.” This was a wooden paddle with a rubber string attached that had a ball on the end. Of course, when the rubber band broke it was not thrown away; it became our parents “paddle.”  We really did not like that toy much.

When I was still in Junior High (now called Middle School) it was segregated. The blacks lived in a different area of the city, but the year I entered 8th grade we moved to a new junior high school which was no longer segregated. The city had several elementary schools, two junior high schools and one High School and the schools in Oak Ridge were rated top notch. We played in the creeks all around the city which today, and even 40 years ago, had signs “MERCURY PRESENT.” No one thought anything about any of this, my children even went out to catch crawdads in these same creeks. There were two unique things Oak Ridge also had. They had, and still do have, one of the largest public swimming pools around; Oak Ridge Pool which is across the street from the High School. That is where myself and most of the other children in Oak Ridge spent our entire days in the summer.

There was also “Carbide Park” which was near C.A.R.L., the Comparative Animal Research Lab, and you had to have a pass to enter it. Passes were given out to site employees only. There was a huge swimming area, camping spots, boat ramps and picnic areas. Today the park is public and called Clark Center Recreation Area. I married, moved here with my Oak Ridge High School sweetheart, and raised our family here. To me, life in the “Secret City” was, and is, a great place to grow up and live!