When Memory Lane is Land-Mined…

Plane with smoke bombThere was a best-selling novel a few years ago called “The Thirteenth Tale” in which the protagonist states that everyone mythologizes his or her childhood. I think there’s some truth to that but I have to say there was a three-year period in my childhood when I didn’t need to embellish the things that happened to me.

I was nine years old the first time my brother placed a live bomb in my hands. It was the Sixties and I was living in post-war France with my parents and three brothers. My dad was the acting commanding officer at Chambley Air Force Base, an American air base situated in Alsace-Lorraine that had originally been used by the Luftwaffe during the German occupation.

Chambley was war-damaged and geographically remote (basically, it was no where near Paris) but after the war it was deemed ideal for the purposes of the United States Air Force who, under NATO, flew its F-86 jet fighters from there during the Cold War.

The unexploded bombs my brothers and I found—and we found dozens during the year we lived in France—were the result of an Allied bombardment in November 1945 when the 8th Air Force dropped 3,753 tons of bombs in our backyard in one day… resulting in the ultimate scavenger hunt 20 years later for four Boomer kids.

A few other memories in my scrapbook from the time include:

  • The fact that I attended the girls-only village convent school—built in the 1300’s—which had no toilets but a very nice straw-filled outdoor stall.
  • My first kiss which I got from a French boy (named Laurent) in a stone washhouse built by the Romans in 300 AD.
  • Being shot at by an angry French farmer who patrolled his vineyards in an effort to keep out pests (i.e, wily American kids)
  • Playing a game in the hills with my French pals that involved teasing wild boars with rocks and sticks until they chased you intent on ripping you to bloody pieces. (Fun!)
Gosh! What a fun playhouse! Wouldn't you want YOUR children frolicking here among the vipers & wild boars?

Gosh! What a fun playhouse! Wouldn’t you want YOUR children frolicking here among the vipers & wild boars?

I once tripped over a dead body in a snake-infested World War II bunker that my brother and I discovered and were trying to fix up for a clubhouse. (The Mouseketeers was real big back then.) It was a skeleton, wearing a molding German uniform. (Showing an early entrepreneurial streak, my brother tacked up a sign at the entrance to the bunker to sell tours to the local French kids—”Ten francs to see the dead kraut.”)

When my father was later transferred to Germany, I had a full-scale castle in my backyard—built in the 1200’s—complete with dungeons, stone balconies and crenulated towers—that my brothers and I played in almost every day of the two years that we lived there.

We moved back to the States when I was 12 at which point I began a fairly conventional adolescence, but I’ll always be grateful that there was a time in my childhood when I was not only allowed to discover the world on my own terms but was able to experience history and true adventure as a part of my daily round.

How about you? Original WWII AN MK-43 Dive Bombing Training Practice Bomb
Anybody else have a few years of your childhood that would make a decent adventure story? Love to hear!

7 thoughts on “When Memory Lane is Land-Mined…

  1. I found a hand grenade on a street in Paris in 1978. I reached to pick it up but recoiled, picturing my right hand, or worse, blown off. Took a wide birth around it. Have always wondered why it was there.

    • 1978 is pretty darn recent to be finding hand grenades! And in the city! I do wonder what the story was behind it. Left over from the war? Pretty smart that you didn’t touch it. I was always haunted by a story that happened when I lived in Indianapolis about a dad with three teen kids and they were all leaving a high school football game one night when the dad saw a paper bag near his car and he kicked it away–and got his leg blown off! Grisly, I know and every since then I’m always paranoid on the side of caution these days about unidentified items no matter how harmless they look. Great story, Jackie. Thanks for sharing!

  2. “I was nine years old when my brother placed a live bomb in my hand.” Although its true, its a great first line to a book. Thanks for sharing your early experiences with us. Pam

  3. Growing up in chicago for me has been really quite boring. I always said I could write a book of my life. But when I think about it, it wouldn’t be all that exciting. I survived breast cancer and made jokes about it. My sense of humor comes from my father. They say that Jewish people make the best comics. I do get that from my dad Reading you irish end games series has given me a family

  4. My father Col. Carl H. Leo was a Squadron Commander at Chambley AFB where I was Born. He died when I was a Jr. in High School so I am interested in History. I found one of those practice bombs out in the Dunes Florence Oregon where I live now.

Leave a Reply