The very first Earth Day, 1970, was a very inspiring time around Cordova High (Sacramento County). The principal, Dr. Lopes, encouraged seniors to do exhibits about the various threats to the environment, and us younger kids were invited to look at these student displays and maybe learn something.
One exhibit was called "The Population Bomb." I'd heard of the book by Paul Ehrlich but had never given a moment's thought to what the phrase actually meant. (Hey, I was young!) I sauntered over to the "Population Bomb" exhibit … and my life was changed.
Here, some thoughtful senior high school student had mathematically explained, in simple, logical terms, how if two people more than replace themselves by having more than two kids, long-term disaster looms, as this frightening chart at the right shows.
Well, I was pretty moved by that information, and felt the urge to do something. At one corner of the display there was a "pledge" signed by a lot of students, stating that in the interests of the planet they would have no more than two children. I signed it without hesitation.
The next day there was a huge furor over the "Population Bomb" sign-up sheet. Parents had been outraged to learn that their children were being indoctrinated to have no more than two children. The fact that it was an informal, voluntary pledge with absolutely no power of enforcement -- that meant nothing to the irate parents. They demanded that the sign-up sheet be removed and destroyed post haste.
And it was.
I never understood why parents were so exercised about the sign-up sheet, and why they couldn't care less about the population problem.
Which brings us to my sister -- ah, my wonderful, lovely, gifted, fabulous big sister Judy, who at the time of the first Earth Day had already given birth to her first child. Judy's a church-goin' kinda gal, the one responsible for dragging the Leber family into the Mormon church. I knew Judy wanted a big, huge family if her Heavenly Father let her have one; I also knew that I was ambivalent at best about the prospect of parenthood. She had her god to keep her family safe and well; I had no such assurances.
So I figured, I'd allow her two children, and me two children. If she had a third, I could only have one child. If she had four kids, I would remain childless. She came first, so she would decide.
Judy's first child was a huge, ugly little baby boy who grew up to be 6'6", cute as a button, and a Mormon missionary.
Then she had an adorable little olive-skinned girl who went to BYU (Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah) and now, a mother herself, studies medicine at Notre Dame. (Still Mormon.)
The third one -- the first of her children to take one from my nest -- was born August 9, 1974, the day Richard Nixon resigned. I always told him, "You were born on a very, very special day." He was an agent provocateur within his family, charming but deadly with logic. A thinker. A risk-taker. A professional musician. It was embarassing that my sister, a college professor, had a son who refused to go to college, but she did manage to get him to go to school: Bartending School.
But Judy was not done having children, not even after the experience of Number Three. She had a fourth child, a beautiful, charming girl, the picture of my grandmother. And when she arrived, there went my hopes of having a child of my own. Oh well -- spilled milk, lah de dah.
I didn't have a problem making this sacrifice; figured it was just as well. But then, Judy presented me with a helluva dilemma, one I still haven't resolved: she had two more children! Delightful kids all, love every one of 'em like crazy, but … so many?!?
And there's still that nagging question … I haven't figured out yet whether or not, in the spirit of my original "Population Bomb" pledge made sincerely in my mind so long ago, I am obliged to go out and kill a couple of people.
I'm an environmentalist, but that just seems a little extreme.