Made the mistake of opening the box marked “Dad.” Now overwhelmed, fingers dusty from newspaper clippings from the 50’s on – my father’s career as, as one paper put it, “a Ban the Bomb apostle.” He started in Halifax, where the U.S. was actually, believe it or not, dumping nuclear waste off the coast of Nova Scotia, and subsequently spoke across the country and wrote many articles. There’s one long, beautifully written and funny editorial published in May 1958, entitled “Radiation causes cancer, mutations,” refuting a recent speech by the Vice-Chairman of the Defence Board of Canada, who said nuclear fallout was no danger at all. My father obliterates that argument.
But I happen to know that in May 1958, as he wrote the piece, his wife and children were still in London, England, due to return in July, and he’d been desperately looking for a house he could afford, had just found one, bought for the astronomical sum of $27,000 – my mother was sure we’d never be able to afford a vacation again – and was painting it himself. He was more importantly spearheading a group of parents anxious to found a private school for boys. They began to meet early in 1958 and had many, many meetings. The Halifax Grammar School opened that September with 50 boys in a house bought by the parents – and it flourishes still.
This is on top of his actual work – research in his lab and teaching as an assistant professor of Physiology at Dalhousie. A year or two later, there’s an article about three men being made full professors, including Dad. With the others, it cites their research. For Dad, it says, “Dr. Kaplan is very well known as a figure in Halifax public life. He is chairman of the board of directors, the Halifax Grammar School, is on the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Council’s board of directors and board of hospital management [because of his near-death bout with polio]; he also has played a major role in the Canadian Committee for Control of Radiation Hazards. He has an extensive record of publications and is well known as a lecturer and TV personality.”
He had to make a choice – activism, social concern, or his career as a scientist, and there’s no doubt which side won. He would have liked both – a Nobel Prize and to save the world – but that was not possible, even for him.
How to squash all this into a story? My mother kept every $@# clipping, including ones about my uncle Edgar’s stellar bridge career and friends of theirs, weddings, concerts, prizes. I have to figure out what’s of importance in one crumbling page after another. FUN. We writers know how to have fun!
This work helps me avoid the news of the world – Ukraine, Brazil etc. Plus Truth and Reconciliation Day, vitally important for the country but a day to feel sad for what human beings do to each other. So I’m going to sit here with the dusty newspapers and forget the present for awhile.