The only thing I can think after reading the new government study on nuclear shelter protocol is that somehow the authors got hold of my Aunt Kate.
The two doctors, Kathy Gant and Conrad Chester, who were commissioned by the Energy Department to write "Minimizing Excess Radiogenic Cancer Deaths After a Nuclear Attack," recommend that older people be sent out into the rubble to forage for food and water. Kate will be 88 on Christmas Day, but you wouldn't have to ask her, she'd be at the shelter door the minute the all-clear sounded.
She was brought up in the pre-liberation era, and demonstrates fully what someone said about Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross: "The old maid's mania to be useful."
She has to be restrained from taking breakfast in bed to people half her age. If applied to for a loan, she will offer to deliver the money in person or send it by the next post.
When my brother accumulated enough traffic tickets to raise the possibility of a court summons, Kate instantly asked if she could go in his place. My nephew remarked that if there were any sentence involved, she would be glad to serve it--and doubtless turn out the best license plates the state of Massachusetts ever issued.
There's no doubt about it, if the doctors had her in mind, they were on the right track. But among our senior citizens there may be those who would be extremely irascible about being strapped into their walkers and sent forth into the ashes, with a shopping list of uncontaminated items, particularly since the survival of their favorite supermarkets would not be guaranteed.
They have not yet learned to think of themselves in the authors' chilling terms, as being "those who have less to lose in terms of total life expectancy."
As a matter of fact, Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers, one of the groups that felt somewhat abused at the White House Conference on Aging, said she found the study "shocking."
But obviously the doctors, who work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where they think the unthinkable every day, mean well.
And if you look at it from a positive standpoint, the study could produce the most wholesome effect. It could bring about more family reunifications than the Helsinki Accords.
Can you not imagine the number and fervor of telephone calls that will be made to nursing homes and rest homes round the country now that it turns out that Mom and Pop have not really completed their life's work after all? What sociologists call "the nuclear family" could be literally that.
Here are some sample conversations that could be inspired by the report:
"Dad, Phyllis and I were sitting here, thinking about you saying how much we miss you. Certainly I'm not drunk. We were thinking maybe Shadyside is not right for you. Yes, I remember you said so yourself at the time. They let you smoke cigars in the living-room?
"That's wonderful, Dad. But Phyllis says you won't need to go down the cellar with your pipe any more. We want you to come back home. We're going to fix you up your own place right inside the shelter. And we've got a really good map of the city for you. No, Dad, you're not going to have a paper route. Haven't you heard about the Russians? We have to plan. Dad? Dad? Dad? "
Naturally, a certain amount of care in recruiting couriers for the holocaust will have to be exercised. For instance:
"Mother, it's so wonderful to hear your voice. Yes, I know, I haven't called you in a while. Well, I don't think you can say three years is an eternity. I thought of sending you a Mother's Day card, but I couldn't remember the new postage rate. But let's talk about you. Mother, how is your arthritis? Worse? Well, what about aspirin? Doesn't help, eh?
"You don't get out much? Well, actually, that's what I was calling about. Wait a minute, you don't leave your room? Some days you don't get out of bed? Oh, gee, Ma, what a shame. Well, I'll be in touch. By the way, do you ever hear from Cousin Lydia? What is she now, about 76 or so? Whaddya mean, I haven't seen her for 40 years? I have a lot of family feeling. You never understood that about me. I'm not going to let you spend my money saying things like that about me. Goodbye, Mother."
We can also see how the Golden Age Clubs will reorient their recreation programs to more meaningful goals. A little less bingo. A little more weight-lifting, and perhaps a little karate--so when they close with their contemporaries over a jug of water or a package of Twinkies they will be a credit to their shelter.
Doubtless, Health Physics, the curiously titled magazine in which this report appeared, will issue other suggestions and instructions from time to time as we learn to take a more practical outlook on nuclear warfare.