I grew up on a farm along the bayou, a piece of land that was a little more than two acres yet the size of a country in my young mind. It was complete with barns, chickens, cows, and most importantly a bomb shelter. A bomb shelter secretly built in the fall of 1956 by my only brother, Norman.
A few days into the beginning of his second grade, Norman returned home from school and quietly said to me “Amy, we talked about protecting ourselves from being bombed at school today. So I am going to build us a bomb shelter.
“What is a bomb shelter Norman?”
“It is a place that protects us from the bad guys,” he responded. “I am always going to take care of you. Ok. But promise me never ever let daddy to know.”
“Why not Norman?”
“Cause he doesn’t like me messing up the barns. I will build it in the far barn so he never finds it. Ok? Please don’t tell him.”
With a puzzled look I replied “”I won’t Norman, I promise.”
Now this was 1956 mind you. I wasn’t in school yet while Norman was in second grade. In my mind Norman knew everything and his talk of us being bombed frightened me. At that time I trusted that he knew what he was doing and that indeed he would protect me.
Norman would come home from school each afternoon, eat a quick meal the would disappear into the barn. This was his routine for a couple of weeks. Our dear mother one day finally asked Norman “What on earth are you doing in that old barn?”
“Mama, you know how the Russians have lots of bombs,” he replied. “I am building a place for me and Amy to hide, to protect her from being harmed.”
Mother just smiled and replied simply “That’s sweet of you Norman.”
“I will always protect her mama, don’t you worry. “
“I know you will son,” said mama with a tear flowing down her cheek. “You are a good big brother.”
Now I was curious little girl. I wanted to see just what he was building. So after school one day while Norman was eating mama’s leftover corned beef hash I asked “Can I see the bomb shelter yet Norman?”
“Not yet Amy. It’s not done. You need to wait till its finished.”
The two of us, under the watchful eye of our mother, did everything together. We completed our chores together. We played hide and seek. Norman taught me how to play jacks and Candyland. We even made our own farm complete with toy tractors and trucks. Our life on the farm was beautiful in my eyes. I had the best brother anyone could ask for.
Later that fall, as mama routinely tucked me into my bed then said our prayers, I realized Norman hadn’t been working on his bomb shelter any longer. Was it finished? I tried to imagine what it looked like. Was it big enough for mama too? How many rooms does it have? I wanted to see it. In the dark that evening, I tried to remember as far back as I could. Being that young you really don’t have any perspective of time. It seemed I didn’t remember much pass the day Norman told me about his secret project. At that moment, that is all I could remember. How long ago was that? I was only four at the time. It didn’t matter I thought. Cause we had a great life.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of my daddy’s truck door close shut. A few moments later I heard the door to the side of our old farm-house slam so hard the windows in my room shook. Frighten I sat up in bed. I then heard yelling from outside the other side of our house.
“Shut up woman!” I heard my father yell. “Get off your butt and get me some food. What in the hell you think this is. I work and you sit on your butt all day doing nothing.”
It was my father, what was he doing?
“Oh shut up,” mother yelled back. “You will wake up the kids!”
I had never heard this before. What was going on I thought? Through the yelling I could hear the heavy footsteps of my father going back and forth across the old wooden floor of our house. I was frightened. I layed back down and pulled the cover over my head then plugged my ears. Suddenly I felt someone on my bed. I sat up frightened only to see Norman in front of me.
“Amy, let’s go!” he said in a hurried voice. “don’t say a word. Just follow me.”
This frightened me even more.
“Where are we going Norman?” I whispered.
“To the bomb shelter! Be quiet! Hurry! Put on your slippers and let’s go!”
“That’s why my parents were yelling,” I thought. The bad guys are coming!
So I put on my slippers and we quietly went into Norman’s room. He had his window open and a ladder propped against the house so we would reach the ground safely. With a flashlight in one hand and my hand in another we slipped through the barbed wire fence, then across the pasture toward the barn which housed his bomb shelter.
“Why tonight?” I thought as we ran. “How did he know the bad guys were coming?”
I had no idea why but somehow along with the fear I felt safe. I knew he would protect me. As we ran across that pasture, I glimpsed back to the house and could hear yelling from the distance. What about mama and daddy? I looked up into the sky, scared as to what I might see.
We arrived at the barn and Norman opened the giant doors, quickly closing them behind me. I hadn’t been in this barn. It was the one farthest from the house. Once Norman had told me there were ghosts in this barn, which kept me away from the little interest I had in ever visiting this structure. Once inside, we reached a ladder that went up the wall. With his flashlight in hand, he told me to climb to the top then sit and wait. He soon followed me and shined his flashlight on this huge pile of hay bales.
“We’re here Amy. This is our shelter.”
We weaved our way to the side of this monstrous structure of straw to a little black hole on the back side.
“Okay Amy, crawl into that hole’” he instructed.
The entrance was very small. Large enough for kids our size to fit but certainly not built for an adult. Norman was right behind me, his light bouncing up and down as we crawled through what felt like miles of tunnel. My body itched and my knees were hurting. Finally, I reached an opening. It was large enough for me to stand. It was quite impressive to this four-year old. There were little two wooden chairs. Hanging from the string of the hay bale ceiling was a flashlight. Norman had equipped the shelter with water and food; crackers. fig preserves. two chocolate bars. An orange and grape Check soda. All neatly sitting on an old door placed on another bale of hay. Norman had another flashlight placed in the whole in the door that once housed the doornob. This was it. I was finally in the bomb shelter. I felt safe as I sat quietly, waiting to hear the planes of the bad guys who Norman was protecting me from.
“What will mama and daddy do Norman?” I asked.
“They will take care of themselves Amy. I will take care of you.”
I felt safe. I don’t know how long we stayed in the shelter that particular evening. It was quiet. We hardly talked.
It was one of many nights we ran to Norman’s shelter. They all coincided with our parents yelling. Over time, I realized what the shelter really was. I understood why Norman built it. I understood who the bad guys were. It was never an enemy of our country. He was right here in our own house. Norman knew it. My mother knew it. Eventually I did as well.
My father died in a car accident before I turned eleven. As I got older, I realized it was alcohol related. After the accident, we never entered the shelter again. Norman and I never talked about it. I never asked him what became of it. Our shelter was now our own house, our rooms, our beds. As it should be.
Norman did protect me from the bad guys as he had promised me years ago. So today, on my wedding day, my big brother will walk me down the aisle.
My brother, my protector.
This story is fiction. Thoughts, suggestions and critique is welcomed.
Till we meet again. Good Day.
Mind of Shoo