I believe former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was responsible for the early death of my mother.
He didn't use a knife, and he didn't use a firearm; he didn't run over her with a car or push her into a pool. The fact he died 22 years before my mother has nothing to do with it, because his blame is a lasting legacy, one that seems to be going on and on. No, he didn't use the usual devices of death, he killed her instead, with radioactivity.
And to be sure that no one accuses me of party politics on this matter, I blame Harry Truman and John Kennedy almost as much, since they presided over the nuclear tests in the Nevada desert during their administrations as well.
I came to the realization of what had happened only a few weeks ago after years of stupidity thinking that the radioactivity from the tests in the 1950's and 60's had only gone as far north as Richfield. It was then that I saw a map that showed the hot spots that were created by the tests; they stretched from Nevada to New York, from Montana to Iowa. Some of the hottest spots were two thousand miles away, where the radioactivity finally mixed with bad weather and rained out onto the ground. The Salt Lake Valley, the closest large metropolitan area to the northeast, was also a very hot spot.
I grew up in Murray, a baby boomer born in the early 1950's along with my two sisters, who were war babies. I remember seeing on television announcers like Roy Gibson saying that the tests had taken place, but that the government said there was no danger to residents in northern Utah. The television, however, often told those in southern Utah to stay in their house for a few hours until the clouds and dust had passed.
After all we were fighting the commies, and no one questioned that the government was doing what was best for everyone. Besides, they were there to protect us.
I know now that my mother, my two sisters, my father and I are all down winders. I remember wishing I could be like the kids in St. George and stand on a red mesa watching the mushroom cloud and the red glow from the explosions. I can now appreciate how lucky I was because I didn't get to see that.
I grew up on a dairy farm, next to the Jordan River. I remember after the nuclear tests state health officials would show up within a couple of days to take samples of our milk, a place where excess radiation shows up very quickly. I remember my father being nervous as to what might happen if the milk proved to be too hot. I remember the relief when they told he and my two uncles that ran the farm with him, it was okay. The next day the milk truck would come and take the milk away to the dairy so it could be bottled and sent to hundreds of customers. Each day we, too, would drink that fresh milk.
Recently I heard that when those tests across the state were first done, state health officials were concerned about the high levels of radiation that appeared. But that the feds "recalibrated" the equipment to more accurately record the levels. Of course it was done for our own good, why else would they test. Certainly they wouldn't lie to us.
We also raised most of our own food and produce. Tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, peaches and just about everything else on the farm went into our refrigerators and our mouths. We did raise wheat and other grains, but that went into our cattle which also ate grass from our pasture and alfalfa from our fields. Fields where the dust of summer would settle and the thunderstorms would pour down.
I remember windy days in those summers, often with fine dust blowing out of the sky and covering things. I remember sitting in the back yard, looking at my Tonka trucks in the dirt that had been covered overnight with white grime.
I remember how healthy we felt, and at that time we were. Growing up near a city, but still in the country, eating fresh food grown by our own hand.
Years later, after all us kids had moved away from home, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, then it moved into her bones and ultimately eight long years later, it killed her.
Within a couple of years of my mother being diagnosed, my oldest sister was also told she had breast cancer. Later spots began to show up on her spine and other places as well. She still survives, but is fighting the disease daily, hoping it doesn't come back.
My other sister waits and wonders. I do the same.
My father, now almost 91, has had heart problems, and some skin cancer removed from years of exposure as a farmer in the sun, but otherwise he is very healthy, for now.
Maybe it is heredity or some other factor. But when I look around the neighborhood I grew up in, and see the number of cancer deaths, things aren't quite right. The number is way high.
We have to ask, if those tests had not been done, if the American people had not been guinea pigs in the laboratory of world politics and ideology, would my mother be alive to share the joy of great grandchildren? Would my sister be as healthy and happy as she used to be? Would the rest of us not be under the cloud of possible cancerous cells that we think about daily?
Two out of five of us, and counting. In some ways we were a "Cleaver" type of family. I remember problems, but I also know that I had about the best childhood anyone could have with wonderful parents and siblings. All in the presence of a pall of death around us each time they tested a device 350 miles away.
Now, the military and our president thinks it is important to develop a whole new line of nuclear weapons to act as "bunker busters" against terrorists. Terrorism is as big a threat as communism was, maybe in some ways even more so, because it causes the opposite of a police state, anarchy.
But if those weapons are developed and they are tested, will a new generation be exposed to radioactivity the same as mine was. What will the government do to protect us this time? Will they lie and hope we don't recognize the truth?
Will in another 50 years someone be saying that George W. Bush is responsible for the early death of their mother?