Stayin’ alive

The master says it’s glorious thing to die for the Faith and Dad says it’s a glorious thing to die for Ireland and I wonder if there’s anyone in the world who would like us to live.

—Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

A friends tells me she can’t turn on the news at home anymore because her first-grader is terrified of catching “the cronavirus.”

I remember that terror …

It began with nosebleeds. I had so many as a child that the pediatrician told my father the vessels in my nose might need to be cauterized.

“Carterized? What is that?”

“Burned.” Said my father, before thinking better of it.

Burned?

BURNED?

I lived in mortal terror of having another nosebleed, of having the inside of my nose burned.

I told my Sunday School teacher about it: “My nose might have to be carterized if I don’t stop having nosebleeds.”

“Well, it’s better to have a vessel burst in your nose than one in your head.”

A vessel can burst in my HEAD? What does that mean? What happens to you if a vessel bursts in your HEAD? Do you die?

My head felt weak. I tried not to move it very much.

“Why are you walking so stiff and hunched up?” snapped Mom.

And then there was the sign in the church stairwell:

FALLOUT SHELTER

“What’s a fallout shelter?” I wanted to know one evening after supper when our neighbor walked across the street to play Yahtzee.

“Oh, a place where people can go if there’s a nuclear bomb, to be safe from the radiation,” said Mom, taking a drag of her Salem.

“Yeah, and this is the first place that would be attacked,” said our neighbor, shaking the dice, “with all our military bases and being so near D.C.” The dice rolled across the table. “Damn! Nothin’! I guess I’ll have to take it on Chance.”

How will we get to the fallout shelter to be safe, if it’s blown apart?

Why do we live here?

Nuclear bombs… the vessels in my nose, the ones in my head … what’s gonna blow first? What will happen to me? How’m I gonna stay alive?

—Yes, I remember the terror. To this day.

—Remember the children.

Photo: Fallout. m anima. CC BY

11 thoughts on “Stayin’ alive

  1. Oh Fran. This post! Mine is on a similar topic (terror) but from the perspective of teachers having to smile through the fear to protect the children. These are uncertain and frightening times. I am sorry for those early experiences. Such poignant writing.

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  2. Thank you for your frank writing that prompted my own memories of fears in childhood. In my classroom I keep a picture of me at age 8. It reminds to think from an 8 year old’s perspective. My fears were fire engulfing the town where I live.

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  3. You capture the fears of children, through your own stories perfectly. I remember being terrified of thunderstorm warning and tornado watches as a kid. The children are taking notice and you’re right to remind us to remember that.

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  4. Oh my goodness, that must have been so frightening for you! I used to be terrified of the dark, but that was a self-inflicted fear from reading ghost stories and Dracula at a very young age. Fallout shelter, my goodness, never remember having one of those! I am talking to our students as carefully as possible, as I don’t think their parents are fully aware of the situation here.

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  5. I love how you captured the fear of the unknown with your own stories of growing up and also related it to your own child’s current worry. I also think we all need to remember that we’ve experienced this uncertainty before, we will do it again.

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  6. Anything can set us off, I guess, into the land of fear. These childhood examples are so poignant. I love the irony of, ” ‘to be safe from the radiation,’said Mom, taking a drag of her Salem.” Yes, remember the children, indeed.

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  7. You so beautifully capture the way we see Big Terrible Dangerous Things when we are children. Because it is true – we have a different way of seeing and absorbing what is around us when we are little.

    Thank you so much, as always, for this beautiful perspective.

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  8. Our elementary kids are throwing the word around as the latest insult/ bullying/ attention grabbing tactic. They’ve now cancelled our schoolwide Field Day and changed it to fun specials time and extended recess. Ugh.
    Have adults forgotten that children learn by example?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thankful for this painful, but poignant reminder that we must be more cognizant of how we frame things to them. The tenderness and innocence are so easily tainted when we are unconsciously careless of how our words may affect them. I am increasingly concerned for how our children are impacted when it is so difficult for them to discern what is truly dangerous during these times. May we take your words to heart and remember than when they’re needed most. ~Carla Michelle

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    • Thank you and I am glad you liked the opening quote — it was literally lurking in my brain, about things grown-ups say and kids wondering if anyone wants them to live, sometimes …

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