I like to read about events in history that occurred on any given day. Today in 1957, the Gaither Report was issued. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had called a special committee to review our nation’s defense readiness. It concluded we had fallen far behind the Soviet Union in missile capabilities, and the report vigorously recommended citizens build fallout shelters for protection in the event of a nuclear attack.
It was five years after this report was issued that my dad dug a huge hole under our house to be used as a bomb shelter. We merrily had skated along in that thing called the Cold War, but in the autumn of 1962, we learned of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and things changed. President Kennedy went on TV, and notified the citizens of our country about the Soviet missile activity in Cuba, and extreme danger it posed to all of us. That was it. Neighbors, schools, and communities mobilized, and began doing what it took to protect their families from impending doom.
And for my family? There was my dad, every evening, after working all day, taking his shovel and bucket to my parents’ bedroom, descending into what once was a crawl space beneath the house, and through his diligence, was becoming our salvation should the bomb fall. My mom dutifully followed him, bringing a thermos of coffee with two cups, and a book to read while my dad dug. When he filled a bucket with dirt, she took it outside, and carefully emptied it into the backyard. Being a gardener, she arranged her piles of dirt artfully, building little berms that she intended to cover with flowers and vegetables. My mother never envisioned what the yard would look like post nuclear war; only that the dirt would make some lovely hills and give texture to the landscape.
At school, we were drilled on the drop and cover method of survival. We sat at individual desks, and upon cue, had to drop to the floor, crawl under the desk, and crouch there with our hands covering our heads, remaining in that position until the teacher gave us an all clear release. And do not think for a second that a nuclear bomb falling on us was the gravest concern during those drills. No it was not.
We girls, in those days, were bound to a dress code that mandated dresses or skirts. No pants, whatsoever. So, any girl crouching under a desk had not only to think about protecting herself from a bomb, she had to protect her modesty from boys who would not avert their eyes for any reason, given an opportunity to look up a crouching girl’s skirt. The skill required to keep prying eyes at bay was to swoosh the back of your skirt with your hands into the crook of your knees as you crouched down into a squatting position. After the skirt was tucked in the crook or your knees, you had to squeeze your legs and knees together really tightly to hold everything in place while you covered your head with your hands. It was not easy, but could be accomplished with determination, and strong thigh muscles. And a look on your face that told anyone trying to see something off-limits they would be better off with a nuclear bomb falling on them than to continue that improper behavior.
We survived those perilous times, both the bomb and the ridiculous drills. Looking back, how could anyone possibly have believed there was any merit to a homemade bomb shelter, or hiding under a desk with hands covering our heads? Why did anyone believe there was any safety in the following instructions? When you see a flash of light brighter than the sun-don’t run; there isn’t time. Fall flat on your face. Get down fast! Stay at least a minute. I am thoroughly convinced someone somewhere meant well; however, the world leaders, scientists, teachers, and parents of that day had witnessed the effects of atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so how did they think lying on the ground for a minute was the key to survival?
I only can surmise collective ignorance and naïveté were the culprits. Back then, those colossal weapons were still in their infancy stages, and we were young and relatively inexperienced in their potential for total destruction. Times have changed, and we know better now. The danger those weapons pose remains, but those of us who remember have a perspective unlike anyone else’s. We have held our breath, waiting for the fateful conclusion to a global threat; we have looked into the eyes of our loved ones, bade them good night, and wondered if we would be alive in the morning; we have hidden under our desks at school, knowing we could be annihilated at any second, dying with those same sweet kids we had known since Kindergarten; and we have emerged unscathed from it all, older and wiser.
Sometimes when I read the news today, I think about how frightened we were once upon a time, and how we dug holes and practiced our drills, doing all we knew to be safe. In hindsight, none of it would have helped, but though we were clueless, we believed we had some control over our lives and the outcome of a global crisis. Now we are connected and informed minute to minute with our advanced technology, experiencing national and international events instantly, or shortly after they happen; and yet, I do not think anyone feels any safer or more secure for it.
Perhaps, the answer lies in being able to do something, anything to bring back a sense of control. We need to take some action, be involved participants in creating our own well-being. We need to grab a figurative shovel and bucket, and behave as though we can make a difference in how we live and survive in these dangerous times. Yes, I believe that very well could be the ticket.
Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power. ~Benjamin Disraeli