Bozoette Mary had an entry on her blog the other day about the nuclear war duck-and-cover drills back when she was in grade school. The prompting for this was that her employer was quizzing employees about their emergency evacuation procedures and she won an emergency preparedness kit filled with all kinds of goodies like a flashlight and an AM/FM radio and bandages and plastic sheeting and duct tape and a dust mask, etc. (Hey, that sounds very cool to me; wish my company would give me something like that.)
So that got me thinking about those halcyon days of yore... when we had to practice emergency air raid drills in grade school, practicing for the day that Russian bombers would come over the the pole, down across Canada, and drop atomic bombs on us.
The interesting thing is how we weren't terrified out of our minds by this. I mean, look at our schools today. If anything at all untoward occurs, the school is mobbed by "grief counselors" (yes, you too can become a certified grief counselor!)
When I was in first grade, one of my classmates fell into the Roundout Creek and drowned, very close to my house. No grief counselors were called to the school. Nobody thought we would be traumatized and scarred for life. The whole class got up one day and the teacher led us down the street to the drowned boy's home and we went inside. The wake was being held in his family's home (this was 1949) and he was there, laid out in his casket in the living room, surrounded by flowers. I remember a bunch of little old ladies dressed in black (this was a very Italian neighborhood). One at a time we went forward and stood by the casket, knelt on a little padded stool of some kind, genuflected, stood up, and let another take our place. We attended a Congregational church, so the kneeling and genuflecting was a bit odd, but from infancy almost all of the kids I played with were Catholic, so I had some idea of what it was about and just copied what the others did.
The world was still recovering from World War II. Some parts of the U.S. may have been experiencing a post-war economic boom, but not Kingston, NY. Men from our neighborhood had gone off to war, some never came back, some came back wounded. The Soviet Union -- headed by Stalin -- was busy building atomic bombs.
Then came the Korean War. I was a bit young to have much knowledge of World War II while it was going on -- I just knew that my father was "over there" in Europe and he would be home when the war was over -- but I was seven when the Korean War began and I could read the newspapers and magazines and knew about the fighting. (I remember being puzzled by acronyms -- I read POW as "pow!" like the sounds in comic strips and was really confused until I asked my parents and found it meant Prisoner of War.)
Duck and cover...
At one point we practiced curling up under our desks. I wondered if my student desk would really provide much protection. If our concrete school building couldn't protect us, what good would a little wooden desk be? Then they switched to having us go to the school basement. The basement held the school cafeteria. That was a bit of an afterthought. When the school was built in the 1870s everyone went home for lunch. At some point (perhaps during WWII, when fathers were at war and many mothers worked in factories, a cafeteria needed to be added to the school?) although I always went home for lunch (as did most of the kids). When I was in sixth grade (the highest grade in the school) our air raid drill position was on the stairs leading down to the basement while the younger kids filled the cafeteria room.
In high school your place during an air raid drill depended on what floor you were on at the time. If I recall, students on the first floor went to the basement and students on the second floor went down to the first floor hallways and sat on the floor against the walls (or, in most cases, against the lockers that lined the halls).
I never went through another air raid drill after my senior year in high school (1960-61). The Cuban Missile Crisis came while I was a sophomore in college. In September of 1966 I became a teacher -- there were no air raid drills. Fire drills, sure, but never another duck-and-cover drill.
And today, of course, is the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Caught us off-guard. Just like 9/11. Just like the next one?
Blasts from the past -- selected entries from the archives for this date: