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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

I love the book group I am in, not only for the variety of books we read, but because it is such a caring and congenial group. There is always something new we learn about each other in between the pages we  discuss, which happened again last Thursday as we finished our discourse and enjoyed some refreshments our evening’s host  Donna had prepared.

Donna is one of our liveliest members. She has been a repeat medalist in speed walking and the long jump in the US National Senior Olympics, earning honors again this past summer.

Donna casually mentioned she didn’t mind missing the opening of an exhibit at the Elmhurst Historical Museum in order to host our group at her house. When pressed, she went on to say that she was invited to the opening of the exhibit on the Cold War and that they had filmed her oral history.

When Donna heard about the upcoming exhibit and that it would include artifacts of the era, she donated some pamphlets and ephemera on Civil Defense preparedness that she had kept from the 1960’s. She was subsequently invited to the museum to record her story.

With a little time to kill on Wednesday after my stroll in the park, I drove over to the Elmhurst Historical Museum to see the exhibit. It is a small museum in a historic house, much like town museums everywhere. It is where the world comes to meet the citizens and stories of a community.

Alert Today Alive Tomorrow is a traveling exhibit of the ways Americans responded to the threat of an atomic war in the 1950’s and ’60s. The museum also has its own exhibit of how Elmhurst and its residents coped with that threat. Among the artifacts, posters, and videos of Civil Defense newsreels, there were also several “declassified” videos of local residents telling of their experiences living in Elmhurst at the time of nuclear threat and what they and their families did. It includes two men who tell of building bomb shelters on their properties, one a child at the time, the other a young construction worker who built his own bomb shelter two feet under his basement. The interviews were quite cleverly done in black and white with a reel-to-reel in the background and one light hanging from the ceiling; an atmospheric interpretation of the era.

I was so proud of Donna’s willingness to share her experience as a young mother in the ’60’s and her contributions and appreciate that she gave up a chance to attend the opening in order to host our gathering. I thought about the Cold War and the sense of dread I sometimes felt as a child, especially at school on days we had Civil Defense drills, ducking and covering under my desk in the event of a nuclear attack. (I wrote about it last year here.)

I also thought about the book we just read,  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which spans part of the same time period. We tend to glorify the 50’s and 60’s and the simplicity of the times. In so many ways it really wasn’t simple at all.

I was reminded that reading books is not just about the words on the pages. It is also about the ways books expose us to literature and history, the famous and infamous and ordinary folks.  They help us learn and explore science and medicine, theology and philosophy. Books connect us as people to other times and places, and to each other where we learn the most amazing things.

I love the book group I am in.

These are a few pictures I took of the traveling exhibit.

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