By Tim Hayes

In the municipal park where my friends and I spent most of our free time as kids, stood a tower comprising two thick, enormously tall, wooden telephone poles.

Some sort of contraption rested at the top of this tower, connected to the two poles, but we could never figure out what it was, what it did, or why it stood looming over the swing sets, see-saws, sliding boards, and sandboxes we so often frequented.

Even more, we didn’t much care.  The two-pole tower simply existed.  It was just there, so while it may have been a bit of a mystery to a bunch of grade-school kids, it never made much of a difference to us.

The two-pole tower did work great as home base for games of “tag” or “release” or hide-and-seek.  It made an easy place to agree to meet after school as the starting point of our afternoon adventures.  The two-pole tower may have been somewhat of an anomaly, not really blending in with the rides and ballfields of our neighborhood park, but so what?  It meant nothing.  Just a two-pole tower somebody stuck there long before any of us showed up.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the true purpose of the two-pole tower – and it scared the living tarp out of me.

The tower stood higher than anything else in that park, for a good reason.  The poles were larger, thicker, and sturdier than standard utility poles, also for a good reason.  The contraption at the top never made sense to us as kids, because it had never been used in our lifetimes, and again, for a good reason.

And what was that good reason, you ask?  Our mysterious two-pole tower actually had been used during World War II as a blackout warning siren for our sleepy little neighborhood.  When the siren at the peak of the tower sounded, during nighttime drills, people had to turn off all of their indoor and outdoor lights, draw all of their shades (which had been painted black on the side facing outward), and turn off their car headlights.

Why?  To practice self-preservation.  To not give enemy warplanes any visible targets to drop bombs on them.  To keep them and their children alive.

Can you imagine having to take these measures against the potential threat of airborne bombers cruising over your comfortable suburban cul de sac?  That remains a reality in too many parts of the world, even today.  But thinking of it happening – or even practicing over the chance of it happening – in the community where I grew up, is simply mind-blowing.

The art of war has changed since the 1940s, of course.  Today we have unmanned drones, GPS satellite targeting, and all forms of long-distance destruction available.  It keeps the side that’s doing the shooting safer, the more miles it can keep away and apart from where the bombs are landing, I suppose.  Still makes it difficult for me to accept the rationale behind war in the first place, though.

Wouldn’t it be great if, like that neighborhood park my friends and I enjoyed all those years ago, we only needed the swing sets, see-saws, sliding boards, and sandboxes?  If people could just live alongside each other in peace and joy and friendship?

It’s too bad that idyllic dream has to acknowledge the potential terror signified by that two-pole tower.  It’s too damn bad.

Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting