A nuclear power plant near home

My mom wasn’t a hippie, though she lived on Hessler Road as a college student–a Cleveland street where hippie power still reigns. Late 60s, with my bearded dad at the wheel of their VW bug, they looked the hippie part, anyway. Enough to be stopped by a police officer, as they traveled country roads to my mom’s parents’ house in upstate New York. The checkpoint was in a little place called Woodstock. The officer tapped on the driver’s-side window. “Going to the music festival?”

“What music festival?”

Alas. My lovely parents weren’t hippies, but they weren’t content to become carbon copies of their parents, either. Starting fresh, newly-married, they moved to the country, where they would raise a few ducks, some chickens, a goat named Esmeralda, and eventually us human kids. What veggies she couldn’t grow in her lush garden, my mom got from the natural food co-op she helped to run. We had a local honey man and a pumpkin man. None of this struck us kids as any kind of resistance against the powers of 80s consumerism powered by…well, power.

For that reason–a kid’s obliviousness to her mom being anything but Mom— her bright yellow No Nukes! t-shirt stands out in sharp relief when I think of her. A child of the 50s, my mom would have recalled the duck-and-cover drills of the Cold War. She would have remembered Love Canal, not just as the famous environmental disaster, but as the working class neighborhood 45 minutes from where she grew up.

And so, as I was working recently on a new story set in Ohio in the 80s, my thoughts–and research–turned to that familiar landscape and those looming cooling towers, pictured above, belonging to the local nuclear power plant: the site of my mom’s protest days. Did she carry a sign at the gates of the power plant? Did she chant or yell? I don’t know. She never took us kids. Did she join a small group of Sierra Club members who planted spiderwort flowers–with white petals they said would turn pink if exposed to radiation–at the plant gates? Did they turn pink? There’s so much I never asked her.

Today, my dad’s lake view is marred by the cooling towers of yet another nuclear power plant, less than a couple hours west following the lake shore. And so, in a small way, nuclear power has followed our family. In a much greater and tragic way, it has followed so many other Ohio families, including writer Melissa Ballard’s.

From Ballard’s essay, “Nuclear Power,” published in Belt Magazine, January 3rd.

On each visit to a nuclear site, Dad wears a badge. After the visit, he turns the badge over to a technician. The film in the badge, when developed, measures his exposure to radiation. When his cumulative numbers reach a certain level, he has to stay out of the plants for a time.

“Wow, Dad, do you glow in the dark?” I say, teasing.

“No, dear. It’s safe,” he says.

I hope you will read Ballard’s moving essay about a father-daughter relationship–one fraught with struggles of power on several levels. While you’re there, check out some of the best in regional reporting and writing–on offer from Belt Magazine–via my native Cleveland. Thank you to the editor for allowing me to sample Ballard’s essay here.

Is it safe, nuclear power? I’m in no position to debate such things. Such things do color a place, I can say that. Such things do much more than mar the lake view with hulking towers. They change the conversation around power–actual and figurative–that are carried on within families and communities. And we remember and carry the conversations further–those we had, and maybe especially those we should have had with the family members we’ve lost.

We research and write and connect and converse.

What is your impetus to write? What do you wish you would have asked a loved one you’ve lost?

*Image of a nuclear power plant in Perry, Ohio, by Eric Drost.

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11 thoughts on “Powerful conversations and an essay by Melissa Ballard

  1. I wish that I had spent more time with my grandmother before she passed. I was pretty close to her growing up because she helped raise my sisters and I when my mom went back to work after being a stay at home mom. I still feel guilty to this day because I had a fight with her on her last days and kind of stopped coming around. I wish I would have fixed our relationship while I had the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those last days and moments always feel so weighty. I totally understand that–and the guilt. But I hope that our loved ones, at their passing, remembered the breadth of the relationships they treasured. For me, I continue my relationship with my mom, though she passed, by talking about her with my kids and by writing about her. My wish for other writers is that they can also find some kind of resolution–so keep writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is so powerful. In 1972 dad was offered promotion that would have taken him to Antwerp in Belgium and then Grangemouth in the north of Scotland and a long way from southern England. He’s already moved us once three years before and seen how much we hated it. He couldn’t do it again. After that he was sidelined and gradually came to hate his job. He sacrificed ambition and some level of enjoyment for my brother and me.and while it didn’t kill him it also left him with unfulfilled ambition and regret. I never did find then time to say thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Geoff. I’m guessing your dad knew, on some level, that you appreciated his professional sacrifices. It’s just what we parents do, right? I bitched and moaned plenty in my childhood about living in the “boonies”–outside of town, a half hour from the mall (God forbid!), but I don’t think I ever realized or appreciated how lucky I was to live my whole childhood in the same house. Living near D.C., we of course know quite a few military and other families for whom moving is a regular thing. I guess I should count myself lucky, twice-over.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing that essay. My dad was also promoted when I was a teen, and while the promotion posed no danger to him, it was a turning point in our lives. On this side of 40, it’s often easy to forget how 16 felt. Melissa’s essay captures that feeling, and the wonderfully messy relationships fathers and daughters can have, beautifully.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s a lovely essay, isn’t it? 16 is so fraught–even without upheaval! I also thought Melissa did a beautiful job of describing the power-play that can go on between fathers and daughters. I was not a “Daddy’s girl,” myself, something I see portrayed in many pieces about fathers and daughters. More like the relationship described in “Nuclear Family,” my dad and I butted heads. I could turn his words around, frustrate him, but he never stopped looking out for me. He still does, actually! Thanks so much for checking out my post. I was so happy to get to excerpt Melissa’s essay here.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your mum sounds a lot like my mum! Although, rather than protesting a nuclear power plant, my mum protested about nuclear weapons being stored in the hills by our village. I think she did take me to protests (in my pushchair) but I don’t remember it.

    Liked by 2 people

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