"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

25 June 2017

A book review

Some sweet friends gave me a pretty little notebook for Christmas.  Its the kind of notebook that you don't really want to take notes in.  Its the kind of notebook that makes me feel like my thoughts detract from the book rather than add to it.  Were I an artist, the unlined pages would no doubt be filled with elegant sketches and some day when I grew old and grey(er) my grandchildren would marvel at the talent in that pretty little notebook. 

But I'm no artist.  And so I was left with the question of what should I put in a notebook that would not be disposable.  What notes would I want to keep?  And so I decided to keep a running list of books I have read, starting January of this year, titles and authors. 

Entry #22: Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

I wonder if I am reading more books now that I am recording them, competing with the empty pages of a blank notebook.  Nonetheless, Girls of Atomic City captivated me.

Atomic City, for those who may not have guessed, was Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  I grew up on the other side of Anderson County from Oak Ridge, but my father remembered growing up in Oak Ridge itself, when it was indeed a secret city.  It was on no maps in its early days, and you had to have government credentials to come and go. 

According to Kiernan, nobody in Oak Ridge talked, not even among themselves, about what they did there in the early days.  My grandfather never did.  I asked my mother recently, as she was always close to her father-in-law, if he had ever shared those details with her.  He had not.  I do know that the family arrived in Oak Ridge sometime between late 1942 (my father was not born there) and 1948 (when I have a dated letter by my grandfather detailing his thoughts to a patent lawyer).  I know they had left by 1953, when my uncle would have graduated from Norris High School. 

The women in Kiernan's narrative often arrived in Oak Ridge without knowing where they were going or what work they would do there.  It may have been Oak Ridge where my grandmother moved into a house she'd never seen, but I have no other details about my own family's arrival there. 

I have an address (from the same 1948 letter) on East Drive.  That is all.  Kiernan describes the "Cemestos" (asbestos and cement composite) houses intended to last only a few years, though many still stand and house families, like that house on East Drive.  Alphabet houses, given letter names for the size and style of the houses, I wonder how my grandfather rated a "D" house.  (A houses were the smallest.) 

So now when I find pictures of Oak Ridge, I wonder who those nameless people are... women in a store (does she have my grandmother's nose? could we be related?) boys building a soap-box derby style airplane (could that be my uncle?) 

Kiernan's women were real women, many still living when her book was published in 2011.  Their stories of mud, "hutments," radiation, and secrecy have me captivated.  I wish I could interview my own Atomic City family and hear their own stories.

02 June 2017


My grandfather was a coal miner.
With all that comes with it.
Black lung, mine rebellions, violent endings
both to the rebellions and to human lives.
Family photos of young men in caskets,
when there was no war abroad.
Poverty, feuds, wizened grandmothers,
mountain men.
My grandfather was a union organizer.
A migrant worker
after he left the mines.
He went where the money was.
Cincinnati, New York, Radford, Oak Ridge.
An air raid warden,
leaving my grandmother frightened in the darkness
with two small boys,
while he roamed the town,
attending to the compliance of other homes.
An old man, stooped over, chewing tobacco,
he wanted more for his sons.

A quick mind, sparkling eyes, he wanted more for our world.
My grandfather was a backyard inventor--
a water engine, clean technology.
Safety and efficiency.
He would have been fascinated by your smart phone.
He would have marveled at your hybrid vehicle.
Solar roofing tiles would have delighted him.
He would have reveled in an Ohio River safe work and play.
He would have been shocked by your loyalty to the coal that slowly kills. 

My grandfather used to say,
"We can never destroy the earth,
We will only destroy ourselves first."
My grandfather was a coal miner.
But my father was an engineer.