Explosions of Memory

April 14, 2009

Never has apocalypse looked so beautiful. That was my first thought today upon seeing four photographs from a 1970 French nuclear test. Then I thought of my childhood and pilot friend, whose Army adventures included flying helicopters to a radiated and cratered South Pacific atoll to help repair what an atomic bomb had wrought.

Then came the flash of another high school classmate whose house in the 1960s had the only fully functioning backyard bomb shelter I ever saw. It was also the site of romantic encounters — none mine.

That memory triggered more flashes, bursting into my easily distracted brain in a chain reaction of recollections: the doomsday paranoia I grew up with during the Cold War; this extraordinary novel that uses the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a plot device in a story of unlikely post-war connections; waking up in the middle of the night recently and watching Gregory Peck in the movie version of Nevil Shute’s all-so-real fictional tale of Armageddon, the novel On the Beach, which I read as a kid . . . I could go on.

Behold the power of The Bomb in memory.