I really feel sorry for today’s youth.
As if things weren’t bad enough for them, young people are now faced with the unfortunate circumstances of the COVID-19 virus, and I can’t help but fear there may be some psychological effects that will linger for the remainder of their lives. Over 200,000 deaths nationwide are simply unparalleled and just downright scary, even to the adult world. Unfortunately, we are all living in the “year of the mask.” Decades from now, today’s children will be speaking of this time period and how it altered their lives.
I think back to the early 1960s when I was but an elementary school kid with very few fears in my little coal camp world. About the only things I can recall as being frightful back then was the possibility of stepping on a rusty nail, getting bitten by a rabid dog, or perhaps getting snake bitten during blackberry picking time. It seemed all was right with the world. Even polio, which left many children dead or crippled for life, was being eliminated with a vaccine. I still have my scar from the vaccine to prove it.
The fact that polio was also referred to as “infantile paralysis” is enough to make one shudder, even today. I remember one of my Logan Junior High School teachers (Mr. Stollings, who was better known as Bub) teaching, despite navigating with crutches, after childhood polio had struck him. I also remember Pat Adkins, a longtime Logan City Hall employee and police radio dispatcher, who worked from a wheelchair due to being stricken as a youngster by the vile disease. Of course, most historians know that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose wife and son both visited Logan at different times for different reasons, also suffered from polio.
Some may recall the building that once stood near the railroad tracks on the Holden Road. The words on the small white structure still linger in my mind. It was sadly called the Crippled Children’s Building. For years, it stood as a haunting reminder of the fight to overcome a crippling disease; the cinderblock structure finally being razed within the last few years.
As bad as the scare of coming down with polio was, it was not that disease that frightened my age group the most. Contracting measles, the mumps and chickenpox were all just part of growing up during the 1950s and 1960s. All of those things, despite the misery those diseases brought upon us, it was the fear of a nuclear war that terrified us.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the fear of nuclear war, especially an attack from Russia, was prevalent. I remember being horrified by the thought of the entire world being destroyed by nuclear bombs.
This fear was only intensified when, as students, we were taught what to do in case of a nuclear attack. It was mandatory that we practiced covering our heads with our arms and getting as much of our bodies as possible underneath our desks in classrooms.
Even as a young kid, I watched the evening news and was quite aware of the talk that the entire world could end in a nuclear war. With fallout shelters being built in parts of downtown Logan and instructions given as to what foods to keep readied in case we had to try to stay alive from the nuclear fallout that was projected to fall from the sky, I was smart enough to realize that there not going to be anybody from my Mud Fork coal camp make it to a fallout shelter in Logan. Besides, I imagined it would be a shelter already filled with people fighting to survive, so I quietly went about my business of how to save my family, should the big event occur.
I knew of one abandoned coal mine and two other caves that I considered possible sanctuaries for my family. The abandoned mine was filled with water and not a viable solution in case of an attack, the water even being poisonous. However, there were two distinct possibilities that I figured could save us from nuclear fallout; both were within walking distance of our coal camp home.
There was a hidden cave across the creek from the Verdunville post office that was rumored to have been a hiding place for a man who liked to make his own liquor. That cave was said to go all the way under the mountain to Holden. Although I had previously traversed a good distance back into the mountainous darkness, I was — unlike some of my friends — too afraid to go very far into the cave’s murky blackness.
The third place I felt more comfortable with and decided it to be the place to prepare for following an atomic blast was a cave that likely had been formed from someone regularly digging and stealing the coal from an Island Creek Coal Company seam of black gold that nobody cared about. Undoubtedly used to warm one of the chimney homes that had been built in the 1930s at No. 16 coal camp, it was well camouflaged and extended at least 50 feet back into the hillside. It, I thought, was the place where my mother, father and five other siblings living at home at the time could escape a nuclear blast, at least for a while.
I never told even my own family about my plans, but I started hoarding certain items in the cave. It wasn’t like my mother could keep a house full of groceries around, but I figured correctly that she would not miss me taking a quart of home-canned beets, a couple of quarts of home-canned green beans and a few other items — like homemade jelly — to my hidden cavern. The strategy was for survival, and not a soul did I tell of my plans. I hid candles and a box of kitchen matches in the cave, as well as glass milk jugs filled with water. Enough, I thought, to do for a month, or so.
Looking back, I realize how absurd it was to practice in school for a nuclear blast. First, it was unlikely that a direct hit was going to occur anywhere near Logan County, and if it did, it would certainly mean immediate death to us all. On the other hand, the fear of being obliterated caused me to think outside of the box, so to speak. For instance, I used my grandfather’s watch one day to time how long it took to walk from our house to the cave — about five minutes, as I recall. In my young survival mind, that was more than enough time to escape any nuclear fallout that likely would come from a blast from someplace like New York, or some other more populated area.
Of course, the worst scenario did not occur in those early days of the 1960s, or even thereafter. We have since conquered space travel and found ways to limit and even destroy diseases like smallpox, AIDS, yellow fever, the swine flu and much more. We have survived it all.
I remain confident that this nation will survive our current dilemma, and I look forward to some sort of normalcy returning in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, folks, wear your masks, observe all the rules, and remain safe. After all, it’s not as if we’re preparing for a nuclear attack.