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Talk to Terrie: Growing Up During the Cold War

March 16, 2021

March 16, 2021

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One of the suggestions that we received for a blog topic was to write about the Cold War.  Since this era spanned at least 40 years, I thought I would start with sharing my own memories of growing up during that time.  Future blogs will discuss the events mentioned here in more detail.

My earliest memory of the Cold War was that of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  I was two months shy of turning nine years old when that was going on and I didn’t quite understand.  All I knew was that something bad was happening in the world that had my parents and other family members quite upset.

I remember my dad and uncles discussing whether to build a bomb shelter in the back yard.  That was vetoed since our house had a full-sized basement.  I didn’t understand why my dad was suddenly putting up 2 x 4 shelves up on the basement stair wall.  After all, we had perfectly good cabinets in the kitchen.

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of students getting under their desks and covering their heads during a bomb drill.  I don’t remember ducking under my school desk when we had a drill.  I think it may be because the desks were so small.

Instead, we went out to the hallway.  This actually was a much better solution because the school was made out of cinder blocks which, theoretically, would provide better protection than the windows.

The next nuclear event I remember was when a radioactive cloud from an above ground nuclear test was over Pennsylvania. And then it rained.  I remember that we couldn’t buy milk for three days because the government officials were worried that the cows were eating grass contaminated with radioactive particles. This was around 1964 or 1965.  I don’t remember which country was responsible for the cloud but only three countries had nuclear weapons at that time.

Funny thing is that I don’t remember being afraid of being bombed either.  Maybe it was because I was so young, or maybe it was from watching T.V. shows like Combat! and McHale’s Navy.  What did frighten me, though, were the stories being told to us about the daily life of the people living in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

I worried about what would happen if they conquered the United States?  Would we be forced to turn our small house into apartments?  Would we have to stand in line for hours just to buy bread? Would we be forbidden to travel outside our country without permission?  Would people be thrown in prison or shot trying to escape?

As I grew older, I often wondered if these tales were an exaggeration.  My research for this and upcoming blogs revealed that these stories were pretty much on the mark.

I’m sure it could be difficult for people who didn’t grow up during the Cold War to realize how real the threat was.  But it was and I am very thankful we avoided the ultimate confrontation.