Shelter from the storms

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Fallout shelter signs remain on many buildings as obsolete reminders of the great scary unknowns we prepare for as a people, only to have to switch gears when the scary thing becomes something else.fallout_shelter

In my childhood they were relevant signals that, in case of a nuclear attack, you could seek shelter in, presumably, the basement of the buildings where they were posted, but I never thought about that. I liked the triangle design and colors but didn't know what fallout meant.

My parents probably betrayed no significance in them, and I can’t recall anyone I knew being on edge about the risks of living in a world in Cold War.

By the time I was old enough to really understand what the signs meant, our country was in the midst of a boatload of things about which to fret and worry but we were soon in a stance of detente with the Russians, then came disco and I figured if they didn’t attack us over that, we were home free.

Now and again, I see Fallout Shelter signs. This one I photographed on the federal post office building on Grant Street. The gold color on some of them are darkening with age, and I wonder why they remain in place.

As historical markers, I am glad they are there. Plus it would be good to know if, in an emergency you might still find some canned peaches or gas masks in them.

I have wondered whether those shelters were all stocked with things to eat and drink and, if so, for how many people. And I wondered whether there would be a fallout shelter guard to say, “Sorry, we’re full. Try the library across the river,” or whether, when you got into one, there would be lemon jello and Ritz crackers for 10 people for 3 days.

Then what?

These what-ifs float around in my head sometimes when there is a big emergency — or the chance of one — such as Hurricane Sandy poses to many people east of us and maybe even to us.

Hurricanes that packed this kind of punch used to be rare enough that you could remember the year, such as Camille in 1969 and Agnes in 1972. I remember these two in particular, though they were minor league storms compared to some we have had recently.

I still remember 50 degree rainy days in June because of that wench Agnes.

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