Chapter Three
Weldon Springs Story name not yet finalized.

Note about "Drafts" The goal is to get the story out of your head, onto paper, then correct it in revision or revulsion.

Draft of Chapter 3. 

The meeting in New Melle to discus the Cancer epidemic in St. Charles & Francis Howell high school next to the clean up area

As noted on the main page, I purposely avoided using the politician's names. They can be added or not.

Expect the draft to be changed 20 times?

townhall

Chapter Three

The New Melle Townhall meeting room buzzed with the noise of people speaking softly, unsure of what to expect.

Hugging one of the room's corners, I searched the faces to see if I recognized anyone—almost all strangers.

Finally, I exhaled, not realizing I had been holding my breath, dreading that someone might recognize me, an ex-local sent to prison for meth.

Had I ever met the man at the podium? Would he recognize me? I shuffled further into the corner.

I should leave; no reason for me to be here.

"Hey, let's get this meeting called to order, please. Grab a chair or stand against the back wall. There are two chairs over here, so don't be shy."

After a few minutes, "I want to start with a prayer; please stand."

Everyone stood, and I spied a familiar face, one of the ladies who had handed me the brochure for this meeting.

She had a great smile and seemed sincere. Growing up in St. Charles County, everyone I knew told make-believe stories about the radiation in the springs or stuff stored in the Busch Wildlife bunkers. The lady had indeed piqued my curiosity.

Was I here because she was one of the first people, one of the few ladies outside the prison system, who had spoken to me since my freedom? Fifty-fifty, she was the real reason I was here, I admitted to myself. 

The wedding ring on her hand placed her in the off-limits category. Nevertheless, she had been nice to me, so I risked the shaky Camaro to the New Melle meeting.

She shifted slightly after saying the prayer, and I recognized the person who was probably her husband, Missouri Conservation Agent Douglas.

Maybe I should consider moving to another state, Florida? What the hell, I couldn't go home as the family's official black sheep.

I recognized several other people, including the ladies protesting at the lake with the radiation banner and the other lady at the dome handing out brochures for this town hall meeting. 

We had met somewhere before. Her eyes—I knew the eyes. Was it baling hay one summer? Swimming in Twin Island Lakes? The Horse Palace? Some time long before the USAF and the prison vacation?

The man at the podium lifted his arms in greeting.

"Thank you for coming out tonight. Everyone has seen the paper lately about Coldwater Creek, Westgate, and Weldon? Folks, we have a problem with our government hiding the truth from us."

There were murmurs of anger from the crowd.

"I have been a St. Charles County Comminiser for over twenty years. One or two of you may have voted for my opponents.

There was light laughter.

"Did you know that Saint Charles County has had the highest cancer rate in the country for a long time? That is right, we are record holders." 

I didn't know that. 

"Our water, air, soil, and schools are contaminated with unsafe radiation levels and heavy metals. Our speakers tonight are interested in helping us. I hope you welcome our county commissioner, a State representative, and spokespeople from the Senator's office to listen to our concerns." 

The applause was subdued, but then nothing in his words was new information.

A new speaker stepped up to the podium.

"Do we have a full house tonight? Before I introduce our next guest, to start, let me see a show of hands; who here tonight has had cancer or had a family member or a friend with cancer?"

 Nearly every hand in the room lifted.

"Who went to Francis Howell High School or worked on the Weldon Springs ordinance cleanup and construction of that monstrous dome?"

Most of the crowd lifted their arms.

“A midwest Chernobyl. Let me introduce our state representative."

The state representative came to the podium and said, "That show of hands? Isn't that about the saddest thing you have ever seen? Everyone who raised their hands has been impacted by seeing a loved one's health decline or the loss of a breadwinner while Washington and Jefferson City spin lies!

And now, in the paper, the stories about West Lake and Coldwater Creek and the Manhattan Project! Do we have any people here tonight who live next to those radioactive sites?"

A few people raised their hands.

"I had been reading the reports about radioactive waste material from the Manhattan Project stored in the open air at Coldwater Creek, then dumped at the West Lake Landfill or trucked out to the Weldon Springs quarry and dumped. The reports are too outrageous to be believable. Who would do something like that? And the landfill has been on fire for how many years now?"

A child began to cry, and I was shocked to see Jodi Defisher stand up holding an upset child; the little girl looked two or three years old.

Suddenly, I realized why Jody had never visited me in jail; there was a taste of bile, a bitter taste, as I did the math. 

Was that my daughter in her arms? 

Calvin warned me Jodi had gotten married, but a grunt escaped me when her husband stood up, holding a matching little girl with straw-colored hair.

It was Jodi's drug dealer! She had married her meth dealer?

Jodi, still pretty, if haggard looking with that son of a bitch drug dealer next to her. They both pushed a double baby carriage out of the way and carried the girls outside, trying to calm the upset girl.

There began a litany of horror stories from the audience members.

"Holy shit, holy shit," I whispered, unsure if my words were meant for the people around me with horror stories or Jodi with her husband and my twin girls?

"I went to Francis Howell High School while they were moving all the radioactive stuff to where the dome is now. Every day, there would be yellow dust on the student cars. We joked about yellow dust. Well, cancer isn't a joke."

I have twin girls! And she never told me. Not one fucking word.

The next speaker, a slightly older man, stood up. "I worked at the Weldon Springs cleanup project. I had more hair then."

He got a few chuckles.

I stared at the door where Jodi had left the meeting.

 

"During the Weldon clean up, we had to wear those dosimeter badges. If our badges indicated we received more radiation exposure than allowed, we had to quit for the day. 

Our foreman always warned us, "If you want the full twelve hours of pay, put on another radiation badge and keep working." 

We did that; we just changed badges when the card turned colors. But we were young, and the pay was good. So now, I am a cancer survivor, but I don't know if I can face the Chemo again if the cancer returns."

"Our friend Billy Watson?" The speaker was the lady I had spoken with near the dead sunflowers at the trail entrance.

 "Billy, he would sneak into the containment area where the Manhattan Project waste was staged after being removed from the Highway 94 quarry. One day, the federal contractor saw him and three men in full radiation suits walked through the school, and with the help of the principal, they escorted Billy out of class. Out of sight, they took his clothes and hosed him down."

"Is Billy OK? Did he get cancer?" asked the state representative.

"No, farm machinery, a combine accident, but he was never the same after messing with radioactive stuff."

I stared at the woman. 

Billy? In high school, at one party at the Yellow Cake factory, the usual Boones Farm and PBRs, pot, and bonfires, the wood always burned a cool blue and green. 

I was a senior, and there was a girl in tenth grade, angry at her boyfriend Billy, and the girl-what was her name? We had gone back to my car. She said it was revenge for something Billy had done with another girl. 

I recalled that I did not care what Billy had done. The next time I saw her swimming at Twin Island Lakes, she pretended not to know me.

She had a black eye.

An Old farmer in coveralls stood up to speak, "My father worked in that Weldon factory when it was active. They never told anyone that uranium was hazardous. He died a young man. All the Weldon workers died young, but they were mostly from St. Louis, so there was no pattern or record of their passing; no one noticed or cared. My father went to a fair amount of their funerals."

People were eager to speak, their anger and hurt held in for too long.

"My mother had three miscarriages. Remember the trailers they set up in Wentzville for the Yellow Cake workers? The men must have brought all the radioactive dust home in their clothes. No wonder everyone got sick. What happened to the trailers? Who lives in them now? The trailers should have been put under that radiation dome. It's not right."

The next speaker was Agent Douglas. "Most of you knew my father at Busch Wildlife."

A few people scowled at the agent or the memory of his father.

"Dad died a pretty horrible death, cancer. Every day, he sat in that office at the Wildlife area headquarters, and no one ever said a word about how deadly the buildings were. They just let him poison himself."

The spokesman for the Senator spoke next. 

"Terrible, children, aged grandparents dying early, babies lost.

Have you heard of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA?

The United States blasted over two hundred atmospheric nuclear weapons development tests from 1945 to 1962. Consequently, there are a lot of sick people. RECA is mainly intended for the good folks who did uranium mining and processing out west. But the workers at Oak Ridge got some money.

The Senator has promised to add Missouri area codes to the RECA fund.

This will entitle cancer survivors to benefits of up to twenty-five-thousand for each person."

There was a gasp from the crowd.

Someone yelled, "Twenty-five thousand wouldn't cover one day in the hospital!"

Another person said, "Do you pay taxes on that twenty-five grand?"

The Senator's representative raised his hands in the universal gesture to calm down.

"I'm just telling you that's what the government offers. Maybe you can get more on a case-by-case basis."

Jodi and her husband, who were carrying the twins, my twins, walked up to the speakers and whispered something.

The original speaker nodded his head and walked to the podium.

"Before we go, folks, Brian would like a few words."

The meth dealer carrying the yellow-headed girl tapped on the microphone.

"Most of you know Jodi and I, and we appreciate all the community has done for our daughters and their fight with leukemia. We are not giving up."

The crowd clapped in approval. 

I was horrified; my twins were suffering from leukemia.

"Jodi and I would like to ask again for blood donations for the girls. They are AB-positive and can accept all types of blood. Thank you so much again."

I stumbled out of the meeting room as if drunk.

AB Positive? 

 O-Negetive, I am O-Negetive; those girls are not my children. 

A sudden sadness overwhelmed me; in one night, I had gained and lost two daughters, while at the same time, relief and shame washed over me, a guilty relief that it was not my children with leukemia.

People began walking out the doors, and I faded into the shadows of the parking lot, overwhelmed with mixed emotions.

My parents, Ray and Kim, stepped out the door, talking with Jodi and Brian. My father, always the alert hunter, recognized me and turned his head.

"You really cannot go home again," I whispered as I watched my father's truck drive away.

Brian saw me watching the truck and pulled Jodi towards me.

"We heard you were released," said Jodi, "I'm so glad you're OK. 

She gave me a one-armed hug while holder her daughter, and Brian shook my hand.

"Meet our girls, Liza and Ellie."

I did not know what to say, "I heard Brian say the girls are sick?"

"Yes, they're sick, and we love them so much. The Lord works in mysterious ways."

"I'm sorry, I never saw you in prison, but I became pregnant, and then the girls were born, then the sickness. Seemed like I never had time to visit.

"It's OK," I lied. "It would have only been depressing."

"How are you doing?" asked Jodi. "Did the VA ever help you?"

"Doing good," I said. "I have a job as a janitor over at the Weldon Springs dome."

"You and Brian got married?" I asked, struggling for words.

"When you were arrested and sentenced? It scared the hell out of us. We got away from the drugs. Something good came out of it. We want to thank you for what you did," said Brian.

He shook my hand again.

"Have you seen your parents," asked Jodi, "Or your brothers?"

"No, not yet," I admitted.

"Your mother wants to see you. We talk about you all the time whenever I see her at Walmart. She misses you. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with your dad," she said. "He's just a dick." 

We started laughing.

"It's good to know he has not changed while I was on the state's vacation."

It looked like they would force one of the kids on me, and I said, "I have to go now."

Before I slipped into Calvin's car, I saw the brochure ladies walk out the door.

Billy was her boyfriend, I thought. What was her name?

End of Draft 1

Next Chapter


In all fairness and because of the seriousness of the subject matter, this is the actual flyer & not the one I made up for the story. And this includes the speakers names.

Currently working on adding the real names, but I do not want to get myself or anyone in trouble by misquotes and so stayed with the fictional characters.

for now

meeting

Watch the actual Town Hall Meeting on You Tube



RECA link


Return to Chapter 1 & 2 page of story



Return Home from Chapter 3 of the Weldon Spring Story



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