Imagine yourself fresh out of high school. Someone tells you that you can make 79 cents an hour, but he can’t tell you where, or what exactly you’ll be doing. It’s the middle of WWII, and your family had just survived the Great Depression; 79 cents an hour is really good money. Would you say goodbye to your family and friends, pack a suitcase and get on a train the next day?
Well, it’s the middle of the great Virginia Book Festival http://www.vabook.org/index.html/ and this glorious, spring-like afternoon I found myself at the New Dominion Bookstore on the historic Downtown Mall listening to Denise Kiernan talk about her book The Girls of Atomic City. I learned something new today. The race to build an atomic bomb wasn’t just happening in New Mexico. Over 80,000 people were assembled in Oak Ridge, TN – a town that was built for the sole purpose of enriching uranium. Only no girl knew exactly what they were doing there. All of their jobs were so well compartmentalized; plus they had been advised not to talk or write home about their work, or they would be fired. http://www.girlsofatomiccity.com/the_book.html
I wanted to ask her, after she explained how she had interviewed some of the surviving women now living in an assisted living community at Oak Ridge, if they felt any remorse when they found out what they had been working on, in their later years. But I didn’t because the bookstore was packed and I was squeezed under the stairs on a stool. I’m just going to have to read this book myself, and draw my own conclusions. Or maybe I’ll email the author and ask her!
I love the Book Festival, it’s quintessential Charlottesvillian. There was a beautiful carousel that was whirring in the middle of it all, and gown and town were mixing it up with alacrity. I bought the Love Bug a few books naturally, and visited with Anita and Skip who come over every year from Richmond. I told them how we had just seen the movie Monuments Men. I learned a few things during that movie as well. And who doesn’t love George Clooney? Plus his dad does a cameo at the end.
This was a week to go back in time, to the 1940s. Of all the programs so far this weekend, I can honestly say Ms Kiernan was the best. But I doubt I’ll be attending any other festival events because poor Bob has finally come down with that flu-like illness I mentioned earlier. Not to worry. I just made him some delicious Jewish chicken soup, he should be feeling better in no time.