Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why Won't Anybody Tell Us Anything?

First, two announcements:

1. in is the shop for some repairs. I really hope to be back there blogging by next week.

2. Recipes will no longer be a regular feature on the blog. Expect occasional appearances of great food, but mostly, we're going to talk about books.

Thanks for checking in here. I love my readers.


“How would you like to live in Chicago?” my husband said one day.

“Hmmm,” I said, as visions of adventure and skyscrapers paraded through my head.

We’ve had conversations like this throughout our corporate-gypsy marriage. Prospects of Chicago or Xenia, Ohio, or some small place in Mississippi that I can’t remember have been our mind candy for years.

photo credit 

So I could relate to the women in Tarashea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos.

“How would you like to live in the Southwest?” their husbands asked them.

“Hmmm,” the wives said. “Where in the Southwest? What would you be doing?”

Their husbands could not tell them.

Butte in New Mexico

You probably know that Los Alamos is where they built the bomb that we dropped on Hiroshima. But back then, it was all top-secret stuff.

It all started with a man ringing their doorbell and asking if the professor was home. Then the husbands asked the wives, “Would you like to . . . “ Then more mysterious men turned up to interrogate them about that Communist club they had joined back in college.

Then: “We watched [our husbands] disappear into train terminals, through the doors of unmarked black sedans, down airport runways, and we were left behind, overwhelmed. We called our friends . . . And they met us . . . At our house with a . . . Chicken casserole and a flask. . . . We wanted to tell them everything we knew . . . But we could not.”

Once the wives got “there,” to the Southwest, wherever it was they were going, not that anybody would tell them where, they faced what amounted to a camp painted a uniform olive green. Maybe their house had been built for them, maybe not. The altitude, the dry climate, the hand-cranked wringer washers—all of it was new and strange.

Mind you, these women were not the sort of girls who stood in a farm yard calling “Soo—eeee, soo-eee, soo-eee!” before throwing grub to the family sow. These were women who wore high heels. They held college degrees half as brainy as their husbands. The Paris they heard about on the news was no remote and exotic idea; it was where they had studied abroad for a summer. And as for laundry, they hired people to do it.

But here they were in New Mexico, hand-cranking those wringers, the machines their mothers washed with, hanging their husbands’ boxer shorts and their babies’ diapers on the line, then bringing them in the next morning, “square little ice boards.”

They leaned on each other. They ditched the heels, taking up blue jeans and boots. They showed the newbies around, “here are the quonset huts, here are the trailers,” and smirked at them for still wearing the high heels.

And they all wondered: what could our husbands be up to in the Tech Area? There were even women scientists up there. The wives cozied up to them, hoping to pry the secret out. But all lips were sealed.

Then one day, they found out.

Norman Ramsey signs Fat Boy

Drawing on memoirs of wartime Los Alamos, Nesbit novelizes the three-year internment of women who just happened to be married to men who “wanted to know if their theoretical predictions could become a physical reality.” 

I read it eagerly, all the while imagining myself stuck in some small place in Mississippi and nobody willing to tell me what the heck we were doing there.