Bed Full of Girls

Some may have begun reading this article expecting to find an account of youthful indiscretion or conquest, but they would be wrong. This is a recollection from early childhood, of a time and place where joy and menace intersect.

This memory - like many early memories - reveals itself in bits and pieces. Some bits are clear images. Other pieces are vaguer impressions.

My flashback has two points of view: a child's and an adult's.

My mind's eye sees a bed full of girls in baby-doll pajamas which were fashionable in the 1950's. Since I recall feeling enchantment not arousal, I was younger than puberty. Furthermore, since the retrieved feeling is of enchantment – as opposed to irritation – I can infer that the girls are cousins not sisters. The clearest picture in my mind is of being in the east-facing upstairs bedroom of my maternal grandparents house on their farm. The town of Hope, North Dakota is four miles to the east.

Equally lucid is a vision of morning with the sun shining directly into the room. The topic of conversation among my cousins began with a breathless discussion of a recent tornado in the city of Fargo, North Dakota. I believe that they were referring to the tornado of June 20, 1957 which killed ten people and injured over a hundred. North Dakota is not in Tornado Alley, so this was an extraordinary occurrence. The tornado had been designated as an F5 event, which is the highest measurement of strength.

The previous conversation narrows the inference of my age and the identity of the girls. I would have been eight years old. One of my mother's uncles had three girls whose ages were close to mine. This uncle was just a few years older than my mother and had started his family shortly before she had.

I can confidently guess that at least three girls were on the bed. The three were probably ten, six and three years old at the time and lived in the small city of Grand Forks, N.D, which was on the border with Minnesota and just 80 miles away. No doubt they had slept in the west-facing bedroom across the hall and had come piling into my room for the sun.

Grand Forks was near a Strategic Air Command (SAC) Air Force Base, which was one of two such bases in the state. The second one was outside of Minot, just 60 miles north of our family farm. I remember hearing adults say the existence of the SAC bases and North Dakota's position in the northern tier of states made it a prime target in case of a Soviet nuclear strike. 1957 was during the depths of the Cold War and atomic warfare was a real possibility. Such a possibility was not a reality to an eight-year-old boy or to a girl of ten or six or three; it was as entertaining as a fairy tale.

The conversation moved from that of a tornado to that of the Cobalt Bomb, which was a theoretical concept that described a bomb that could destroy all life on Earth. Here was the rushed, lively chatter of children with their whole lives ahead of them expressing ideas of unimaginable horror.

 

All of this was spoken in a sun-dappled room and the sun was rising over a town called Hope.