Friday, July 10, 2009



So, the Class of '68 recently hosted it's "Hilltoppers" reunion .... and I was off in Florida, cavorting with a Mouse. While I never intended to join those relative strangers, it sure stirred up memories. Allow me to reminisce?

My "real" hometown lies midst mountains and mesas formed a million years ago, in what’s believed to be the largest volcano that ever existed on Planet Earth.
Originally homesteaded by ranchers in the late 1800’s, Los Alamos eventually became home to an exclusive Boys School. A frequent visitor in those days was a young professor from the University of California at Berkeley – Robert Oppenheimer. Later, when searching for a site for a secret laboratory, he remembered the isolated ranch school. Reached solely by a winding dirt road that clung to the side of cliffs, “Lost Almost” seemed a fitting site for development of the atomic bomb.

Because of the secret nature of the work, early settlers couldn’t tell friends or relatives where they lived. Each carried drivers’ licenses bearing numbers in place of their names. Outgoing mail – all censored – carried a return address, “P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, NM.”

When the war ended, the community nearly became a ghost town. Instead, the government decided to maintain the labs and soon after, a new wave of caretakers moved in to expand the operations. My parents joined this second invasion of the mountain in 1952.

In retrospect, mine was the type of hometown that kids hate and their parents love ~ a suburbia without an urban core. We knew neither slums nor "silk-stocking" districts. Since having a job was tied to obtaining housing, Los Alamos had no unemployment .... and few senior citizens. Employees who retired, simply seemed to disappear … replaced almost 1-for-1 in their jobs.

“Hill kids” weren’t bored listening to dad talk about his day at work ~ because, in most cases, dad wasn’t allowed to talk about his work. Research projects and the security procedures that guarded those secrets were not discussed, and few of my friends, if asked, could describe exactly what their fathers did for a living. “He works at the AEC” was considered a sufficient reply.

Too, no-one seemed terribly concerned about the danger of living across the canyon from the nuclear laboratories ~ although the occasional muffled boom from a test area might raise eyebrows. Authorities, on the other hand, fretted over being a possible target in a nuclear attack, and devised a well-organized plan for this apocalypse: All residents were assigned to one of several well-stocked bomb shelters; we even had opportunity to participate in several mandatory evacuation drills ... big time fun for a 10-year-old!

As the city was virtually closed to the outside world throughout my grade-school years, our family had to pass through guarded gates when leaving the hill. Planes didn’t simply avoid our skies; they were forbidden from traversing our air space. Security wasn’t sought ~ merely assumed. Now, with a chuckle, I recall my dad's words when he'd call each night before bed, "Have you and your mom locked the doors?" (Like, what on earth could happen there?)

I left Los Alamos in a hurry, without looking back ~ knowing that among the Class of ’68 the greatest sin was to stay when you didn’t have to! None of us had any real roots in a city only a few years older than we were. When my parents retired and left the hill in '81, they were tickled to have received something like $17,000 for their "quad" unit. Who'd ever guess, a couple of decades later that like-kind parcel would be marketed well over $300,000?

And who'd have guessed, that someday I'd look forward to going home again? No, we've no immediate plans ... 'suppose this what they call nostalgia.

4 comments:

  1. Amazing story and think it is real!!

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  2. I also graduated in the 60's. Your story about your hometown is fascinating. I lived in Alpharetta, GA, and couldn't wait to get out of the "sticks". It is now home to corporate offices and multi-million dollar homes.

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  3. Wow! What a story teller you are. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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