When I attended Mt. Carmel Elementary School, in Douglasville, Georgia I lived on one red clay road, where it branched off to a second red clay. If you turned onto that road, you faced a steep, red clay hill, closed in by pine trees, and if you made it to the top, a farm family’s gardens, chicken coop, and cow pen. Older cars didn’t always make it immediately, and after a rain—no one made it to the top in one attempt.
If one attended grade school then, and I assume high school, but I hadn’t made it that far yet and never thought to ask, you didn’t have active shooter or tornado drills—you had bomb drills. When the warning sounded, you dropped to the floor and crawled under your shaky wooden desk, hoping it would protect you from nuclear annihilation. If you were the daughter of an aeronautical engineer, you knew that was useless and a bomb would get you anyway, and that the military planes he worked on might save the world carrying nuclear bombs to hit Russia before they could hit us.
I was a cowardly kid, and given the times, I really didn’t expect to become an adult—all the students in Georgia would be vaporized when Russia attacked Lockheed’s plant in Marietta.
Things happened—and eventually, we quit crawling under our desks. When President Kennedy was assassinated, there were rumors that Russia had a hand in it, then everyone found out about Marilyn Monroe, and blamed the Mob instead of Russia. (Inexact history, but that’s how children remember things that frighten them, right?)
But the nightmares of those bomb drills—and the dislike for communism—colored my beliefs. On one occasion, I dreamed that the Russians bombed Douglasville. Blood ran up the steep red hill, and everyone died. Planes roared overhead even after the world had pretty much ended—the dream was horrific enough that I remember it vividly even now.
And suddenly, here we are again—Putin threatening nuclear destruction “of anyone who interferes” with his invasion of the Ukraine. And while he ramps up war talk—China makes military gestures, too. Only this time, I don’t know how it ends—gone are the capable men and women of past years who understood strength instead of empty bluster and selflessness and love of country over empty egotism.
Ironically, now my own kids—and my grandkids—will be affected by the nuclear threats in a world that supposedly had put those behind them in the interest of human survival.
One can only hope this new and very real threat plays out as it did decades ago. Here is how sisters Hattie and Maddie Wharton and their friends saw it in Her Borrowed Angel:
“The Russians. You know the Russians are the bad guys. We used to have those bomb drill things,” Hattie explained. “I don’t know if y’all ever had them.”
Hattie and I exchanged glances. “I’ve heard about them,” I told her. “You hide under desks in case they bomb us.”
“Why would they bomb us? How many people could they kill? Three hundred?” Bobby’s questions poured out.
Before I could answer, Billy interrupted. “I don’t want nobody killing me!”
I felt smart again. “They—the Russians—won’t kill us. But everyone has to practice for bombs just in case. Because they have those nuclear bombs like in Japan. One of the planes Dad worked on is to carry supplies to our soldiers if Russia attacks us.”
“Mr. Raymond don’t look much like he’d know any Russians,” Billy pointed out. We reached the bottom of the hill and Hattie broke into a trot as we passed our house. “We can’t let anyone see us,” she hissed.
“You hidin’ from your Pa, too?” Bobby jibed, and she slanted a glance at him. “Doesn’t everyone?
Garcia, Leslie P. Her Borrowed Angel (pp. 31-32). Kindle Edition.
Let’s hope future storytellers won’t have any grimmer takes on a similar situation that should never have arisen again.