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Nuclear Fears Fade; Flower Fears Don’t

During the Cold War of the 1950s, we grade school students practiced hiding under our desks or sitting against hallway walls with heads tucked between our legs in useless feel-safe tactics to “avoid” dying in nuclear attacks.

Nuclear war did not scare me very much back then.

It did scare a lot of people. I remember classmates being frightened to tears at our Catholic elementary school in Warren. I remember solemn black-and-white TV discussions. I remember adults abruptly quitting conversations when we kids came into rooms. I remember ordinary people, not rich, including a neighborhood barber, scraping together money to build underground bomb shelters — as though there would be an inhabitable world when they emerged.

But I do not remember being afraid of dying in nuclear war. I do remember being very afraid of being punched, hard, by John Tassone, an older neighborhood kid, if I screwed up again while playing second base when John was pitching in a pickup baseball game.

My childhood faith in God’s Providence, reinforced daily by those nuns, pushed the fears of wars and rumors of wars into the background.

These days, I think we are as close to the horrors of nuclear war as we have been since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba and then withdrew them after a measured response by the United States and President John Kennedy.

But I am still not very concerned, for two reasons.

¯ I have absolutely nothing to say as to whether Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the United States’ Joe Biden, or any other leader of a nuclear-armed state launches nuclear missiles.

¯ Medically speaking, I am somewhere between a wreck and a catastrophe — though, paradoxically, I am fully functional, albeit at “putz around” speed.

The wear and tear of eight decades is having its effects. Don’t feel sorry. As I said, I’m mostly functional although I do loudly over-advertise my arthritic aches and pains.

But getting this old narrows my focus away from catastrophe and toward, well, ordinary death. Each week, someone I know is dying. Each month, I traipse to hospitals in Brookville, DuBois or Pittsburgh to see how the medical profession proposes to patch-and-glue this or that ailment. Nothing gets cured. This or that fatal probability just gets pushed back a bit.

That, too, is fine by me.

But I do have fears, self-inflicted.

As I write this, springtime sunshine is drying up the last torrents of April showers and brightening our springtime daffodils, quince, azaleas and other flowers and shrubs planted by my wife.

That brings me to more imminent worries.

I love our zero-turn riding mower. I love it so much that I spend hours at a time zipping here, chugging there, my noise-canceling headphones encasing me in the warbling melodies of 1950s-60s folk and country music (and shielding me from my own “key of W” attempts to sing along).

What is there to worry about in that?

I … umm … well, I … I nip a tulip here, or smash a daffodil there.

Thanks to decades of bulb planting and plant nurturing by my wife, there are literally hundreds of such delightful flowers brightening our landscape.

Surely, one or two might sensibly be spared in acknowledgement that I steer a riding mower in geezer fashion: Here a nip, there a lop, just a chop, I never stop!

My wife glares.

In that, there is reason for real worry.

I am contrite, abashed. I promise to do better. I intend to do better, I really do.

But while I screech out, “… stuck in Folsom PRI-ison!” my eyes lose their focus on the mower’s wheels in rapturous devotion to the twang of the late, great Johnny Cash.

Therein lies my own cold, dark, doomed day of reckoning.

About whether there is nuclear war, I am as powerless as I am before the blinding stroke of lightning or the locomotive sound of an approaching tornado. I might run, I might hide. But it will or won’t hit me, regardless of pretty much whatever I do.

However, I can control the riding mower. All too often, I just don’t. That open-mouthed soundless wail comes from my wife if she sees the casualties among the blossoms.

Those chopped petunias, those crumpled daffodils generate a threat to my peace and tranquility that is more immediate, more certain than what could reach us from half a world away.

No, I won’t die in retribution for having guillotined a tulip. She will make sure that I stay very, very much alive to endure every dollop of the spousal retribution before which I must assuredly and deservedly tremble.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor/publisher at newspapers in DuBois, Brookville, New Bethlehem and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: notniceman9@gmail.com.

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