Growing up with the bomb

In this week that commemorates the 62nd anniversary of the use of atomic weapons against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, we turn this column over to Bainbridge historian Jerry Elfendahl for second half of a two-part essay entitled, “Hi-Yo Plutonium – Away!”

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We devouredCheerios and ate two bowls when one would do. We bloated our way through two boxes as fast as we could, just to get the third box top. A full box, without a top, sat untouched in the pantry for weeks.

Then we Scotch-Taped three shiny new Roosevelt dimes and a real nickel nickel to a piece of cardboard and put them in an envelope. On it, I carefully printed the address of the Ranger headquarters. I added a purple, three-cent stamp bearing Thomas Jefferson’s profile and left the envelope in the mailbox on the porch.

All we had to do then was wait.

“What you think, Kemo sabe, shall we cut ’em off at the pass?”

After three weeks, every kid in the neighborhood, including one whirling dervish nicknamed “B-Bomb,” was running home from school to see if the Pony Express had brought the goods. The Lone Ranger and Tonto had rounded up every outlaw in the West, yet still no Atomic Bomb Ring encumbered the trigger finger of any Rangers’ cap pistol.

“You sure it didn’t come ‘Air Mail Special Delivery’?”

During dinner of white greasy stuff called “margarine” (that we mixed with food color to make it look like butter), Wonder Bread, Jello Pudding and meatloaf stretched with Cheerios, we asked about Atomic Bombs.

There wasn’t much to say except, “They ended the war.”

They must have killed a lot of “enemies,” people in those faraway lands – kids, families, cats, dogs, everyone! But they weren’t that far away. I’d heard ’em on radio and seen’em in LIFE. The subject made grownups – we called them “blownups” – speechless and sad. The horrible war was over. That was the main thing. For that, people were thankful.

Four weeks, five weeks, six weeks and, teetering on the brink of Never, a tiny cardboard box with a Cheerios logo showed up from some military guy: “General Mills, Battle Creek, Michigan.”

It had to be.

Something rattled inside. I opened the box quickly, yet carefully. The ring was bright red, non-metallic, light-weight – miraculous “plastic?!”

On top was a big, tapered rocket-shaped thing with tail fins, the Atomic Bomb! Was this what ended the war? Was this the last thing some city children saw falling from the skies before the blinding flash and they were vaporized?

The ring was so large it was hard to find the finger hole. If I wore it outside, I’d have to put it on after my jacket. If I shoved it down the sleeve, it might break.

A piece of paper fell to the floor: “Instructions.” The bomb had a door that snapped open revealing a hollow core – the Secret Compartment!

I never used it. I wanted to. It was too small and I had too many messages. I wanted to put a note inside asking why on Earth we needed a bomb that could destroy thousands of beautiful people and their voices in faraway lands and cities like the one in which I lived. But no one would have found the note but Rangers.

“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver. It’s…”

I watched the Lone Ranger only occasionally after that. I felt betrayed by The Masked Law Man. He had left his moral, Silver Bullet world in which he only shot in self-defense, only wounded and never, ever, shot to kill – even the worst desperado. Instead, he had armed his posse with A-Bombs. Hey, maybe that’s why he wore a mask!

Today, in the cancerous dust of nuclear proliferation, “Chemo-savvy” has new meaning to most families. Depleted uranium bullets have replaced silver ones. Pre-emptive strikes and collateral damage have replaced self-defense.

And the moral to the story? We’d better find it soon.

Whoa, no plutonium – Away!

– Jerry Elfendahl