After exploring the topic of Finding Stuff, I realized that I hadn't told one of the more interesting stories related to that subject. Here it is.
In the mid-1960's, when this story takes place, fallout shelters were still something that people thought seriously about. There wasn't the full-blown paranoid hysteria about atomic warfare that seemed to pervade some segments of the populace during the 1950's, leading to folks actually constructing their own personal below-ground fallout shelters in their backyards, but the Iron Curtain was still up, Berlin was divided by a wall, and nuclear war was still considered a reasonable possibility.
(As a child, I never imagined a world without The Soviet Union, The Berlin Wall, or a cessation of what was known as The Cold War. That I even feel the need to supply informative links, in case someone reading this has no idea what those things were, is a small thrill. It's nice to realize that some of the situations that crazy adults thought of back then have actually gotten better.)
Anyway, nuclear war...
Places to hide yourself from the resulting radiation were designated by the sort of signage seen above. Most of them in the Boston area were in school basements and other such places that no kid in his right mind would ever want to be trapped in for a few years while things cooled down, but in our neighborhood of Dorchester Lower Mills, the nearest public fallout shelter was the firehouse on the corner of Temple and River.
The firehouse hadn't housed any actual firemen or firefighting equipment since the late 50's. It's only real function, aside from being the place where everyone would run like deranged lunatics when an atom bomb fell on us, was as a rehearsal hall for some neighborhood members of a drum and bugle corp named The Crusaders. Its non-proximity to residences made it a good spot for these teens to blow their trumpets and such without disturbing too many folks.
(Not to digress far afield, but we younger kids thought the guys in The Crusaders were gods. We'd often hang out by the big garage door of the firehouse and listen to their rehearsals. When one of them actually deigned to talk to us, it was as though the kid spoken to had been knighted. The words were usually something like, "Hey! Don't touch that tuba, ya little bastid!", or something similarly kind and heartwarming, but we didn't care. They could do no wrong.)
After a while, the firehouse wasn't even used for rehearsals. It was completely abandoned, and fell into general disrepair. Tall weeds sprouted in the surrounding yard and litter piled up in the driveways. And that's where our story truly begins.
Stephen Murphy and I were walking around the neighborhood one summer day, with nothing in particular planned as entertainment, and we passed by the old firehouse. We were about 9 or 10 at the time. We took a detour off of Temple Street and onto the grounds of the firehouse itself. We circled around outside of it, poking in the weeds and trash for whatever might be of interest to young boys. We came to a door. We didn't expect it to be unlocked, but we decided to try the handle, anyway.
The door opened.
With about as little hesitation as a Democrat offered an opportunity to raise taxes, we went inside. While we had seen some of the firehouse during the drum and bugle rehearsals, much of the place remained a mystery to us. And is there anything in the world quite so fascinating to a couple of preteen boys as a firehouse? The mere thought of actually being able to slide down the firepole without anyone telling us not to do so was enough to make it one of the best days we would likely ever have.
We crept about in the hot and dusty interior. There wasn't much of anything in the place, other than a few ramshackle wooden chairs and a dilapidated desk, and after sliding down the pole a couple of times each (which was not done without hesitation on my part, as it seemed inordinately higher than I had imagined it) it didn't seem like there was much else to do there. Then Stephen tried a door we had assumed was a closet. We found that it opened into another room we had yet to explore. And, inside of that room, we found The Fallout Candy.
A large barrel-shaped container, made of a hard cardboard of some sort, was the only thing in the room. It was imprinted with a "civil defense" symbol.
When we got closer, we saw that it had metal-ringing on top and bottom, and a metal lid. It was somewhat similar to this...
... but it did not bear markings identifying it as being full of supplies for the toilet. With the direct logic of youth, we decided the best way to find out what was inside was to open it. So, we pried off the lid and found, much to our immediate delight, that it was loaded to the brim with CANDY.
We could hardly have been happier had a genie popped out of it.
It was hard candy, in three flavors - raspberry, orange, and lemon/lime - and it looked like it wasn't rotten or anything, so we each had a couple of pieces. We didn't die, so we decided to take the barrel and have the rest of the candy for ourselves at a later time.
As we dragged the thing home - which wasn't easy, as it probably weighed between 30 and 35 pounds, it was an unwieldy shape, we were just kids, and we had to haul it up one hill and down another for a total of three blocks - we just naturally assumed that our parents would let us keep it. After all, it was United States of America government-issue food, even if it was candy, and we had been taught for years that Communists were evil but our government was beneficent and kind, so if you couldn't trust government candy, what in hell could you trust?
We brought it inside. My Mom and Irene Murphy inspected it. The barrel did have writing on it, which we hadn't noticed in the dim light of the windowless room in which we found it, but it gave scant information. What it did seem to say was that the candy was jammed full of vitamins and minerals. We all figured out it was meant as a ration of some sort should there have been a nuclear attack and folks had become trapped in the firehouse for a century or two. It had been sealed tight, so it didn't appear to present a danger from being spoiled or contaminated (and, anyway, it was hard candy, and that stuff has a shelf life similar to petrified wood, which was probably why it had been chosen in the first place as the vehicle for conveying vitamins to people whose skin would be peeling off due to radiation poisoning.)
The upshot of it was that we kept it in the basement for a few months and, every so often, Stephen or I would eat a piece. We showed it to our buddies, and they had a few pieces, too. But, even though it was free candy, it wasn't the sort you felt like gobbling down over and over. We got tired of it in a relatively short time. We finally threw the whole shebang into the rubbish after the container started getting wet and moldy from being stored in our leaky cellar.
The firehouse was eventually torn down and now there's nothing on that corner but a vacant lot. So far as I know, neither Stephen or myself suffered any deleterious effects from eating the fallout candy. As a matter of fact, what with all of the vitamins in it, we might have been the healthiest kids in the neighborhood. Had there been a nuclear war, I suppose we might have felt a pang or two of guilt about moving the only food in the fallout shelter to our own house, but there wasn't one, so we didn't.
And, if the government has been looking for that missing candy all these years, and they decide they might want to press charges against us, this is all a lie.
Soon, with more better stuff.