Duck and Cover!

My Real Memoir

It was autumn, yet the thermometer was still climbing. And so was the economy—Dad’s income was booming. So to celebrate we’d decided to shoehorn a swimming pool into our miniature suburban Southern California backyard. I’d just started junior high school, and visions of bikinied teenage girls applauding all the spectacular dives I would make were dancing in my 12-year-old head.

We visited a dozen swimming pool sales lots—they were everywhere in the 60s. Life was good, and soon to be gooder! We found a contractor, appropriately named Aladdin Pools, to make our wishes come true, and were about to rub their magic contract when…

The Cuban Missile Crisis struck! Every channel on our crisp black and white 19” Magnavox TV was suddenly interrupted by President Kennedy’s announcement that Russian missiles with nuclear warheads were aimed at the United States!

Instantly, everything changed. At school we learned to “duck and cover” because, by golly, no measly atomic bomb could ever stand up to a well-made Masonite desk! Forget swimming pools; Dad started coming home with a different kind of brochure, and suddenly we were visiting bomb shelter sales lots. We stepped down into one depressing abyss after another, and were about to rub their magic tragic contract when…

At the end of October, President Kennedy declared that the crisis had ended. He and the Russians had come up with an eleventh-hour bailout based on the MAD doctrine (not Mad Magazine, but something considerably less amusing–“mutually assured destruction”). In a nutshell: “If you destroy us, we’ll destroy you, and then we’ll all be dead and no one will be left to care who started it.”

So Dad tore up the bomb shelter contract and rubbed the Aladdin contract, and alakazam! the sweetest little swimming hole in all of balmy suburban SoCal appeared! The crisis was over, bring on the bikinis, right? Wrong. I sensed that the real crisis would never be over. True, we hadn’t gone into hiding, but my belief that the world was a safe place protected by the God they talked about at summer camp had.

Three days later, the least scary Halloween I’d ever experienced arrived. Why? Because now I knew the truth: it wasn’t zombies and ghouls you had to worry about…

It was humans.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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41 Responses to Duck and Cover!

  1. Pingback: High Times in Junior High | Mitch Teemley

  2. Gail Perry says:

    That step into grownupness was so depressing, wasn’t it. I remember it well. I didn’t lose faith in God because I didn’t have any at the time. I lost other things though, including my late adolescent delight in the world (I’m older than you, Mitch). My rescue came much later.✝️

    Liked by 4 people

  3. pastorpete51 says:

    Oh I remember hiding under that desk. It was a deadly serious exercise yet looking back it was pretty silly!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Wow do I remember those days, Mitch. I asked my dad if we were going to build a bomb shelter—our neighbor a few doors down was building one. My dad, an aerospace engineer who was working on guidance systems for missiles (I didn’t know that at the time) said there was no point in having one. He said that if it came to nuclear war nobody would survive…that a few might make it for the short term but that the fallout and residual effects would pretty much end us. Like you, my idea of what’s really scary changed overnight.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Anonymous says:

    Loved the concise and visual manner in which you captured this. Well done!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Mitch, you certainly have a talent for putting a new perspective on things, “no measly atomic bomb could ever stand up to a well-made Masonite desk!” I remember those drills too being a child of the 60s. How senseless to climb under a desk if a bomb were coming. Today, it gave me a laugh reading your statement. Blessings.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Thanks Mitch: I was already familiar with atomic weaponry when I was in Grade School. Amateur radio operator and such. I knew being vaporized with my desk was sort of comforting. I was familiar with it and some of the ‘scratches’ on it were mine. Plus, being exactly one year old when Hiroshima was destroyed. I remember the thought of oblivion with fondness. “No more tests, no more books. No more teachers dirty looks” Norm

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Mitch this perfectly explains that moment when as children we have our sense of safety blown wide open and realise just as you said, it’s not the supernatural we have to fear but the natural – and they are all around us.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The Cuban Missle Crisis ended the my sense of general safety as well. (I was six at the time.) My parents shielded my brother and me from the news reports, but something about it must have wormed its way into my subconscious. I was terrified every time an airplane went over our house.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. rwfrohlich says:

    I think we did the “duck and cover” drill in grade school back in the 50s. Had nice solid oak desks so we would have been well protected I’m certain. By 1962, I was serving my time in the army and stationed in France. Actually, French drivers terrified me more than the missiles.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Between family drama and being in 6th grade, I likely didn’t know why, but we suddenly had regular school basement drills and were issued dog tags identical to military ones, which we were never to be in school without. At the time, it was just one more fear — tho’ not as horrifying as today’s active-shooter drills.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Mitch, my wife and I were just talking about this the other day. How very important it was to practice the ol’ duck and cover. And to be sure, that furniture really wasn’t going to make a difference, but we did as we were told because adults wouldn’t tell us to do something in such a dangerous situation that wouldn’t make sense, would they? Then just a few years later, the assassinations and attempted ones started, and that dangerous feeling about our fellow humans was reinforced on a more intimate level.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. murisopsis says:

    This was a very sad episode. I always cringe when the age of innocence ends… I was in kindergarten when JFK was assassinated. I don’t remember much except that it was the first time I saw my mother cry….

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Ana Daksina says:

    I understand that Desert Palm Springs now actually has a humidity problem from all the swimming pools.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Back then nuclear war seemed inevitable. When I was in high school friends promised to meet at Pike’s Peak on July 4, 2000 if war came. There was no war thankfully, but several of us rendezvoused at Pike’s Peak anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. LaShelle says:

    Wow. I can relate so much to this. I felt that way during 9/11. How quickly we learn that the world is a much more dangerous place than we thought and that people are to blame for that. Thanks so much for sharing this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Humans: the deadliest animals on earth. I (Kellye) remember the drills. We lived in tornado alley, so we had to do those drills too. Glad you got your pool and not a storm shelter.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. C.A. Post says:

    Remember the poster in high school that said, “In case of nuclear attack get under your desk, cover your head and put it between your legs… and kiss your butt goodbye”? 😅

    Liked by 1 person

  19. leendadll says:

    But on a bright note, I remember Alladin Pools!
    We had an above ground Doughboy.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: JFK, C.S. Lewis, a PE Coach and Me | Mitch Teemley

  21. Pingback: When Life Gives You Compound Fractures | Mitch Teemley

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