By Philip Drucker
How many times have I heard in my life the phrase “grow up.” Many, many. And for the most part not undeservedly so. I must confess I did resist for the longest time. Just didn’t see the point of it. Much more fun to stay young and dumb, forever. Finally, by no great change of mind or attitude I am “growed up”. Getting older did not by itself instill this conclusion. It was the world around me, getting younger and my past getting farther away. The crowning blow was when I realized I knew about things that no longer were. That they would never be again and that they were worth knowing and importantly worth sharing. If for no other reason than for the sake of preserving first-hand knowledge of what happened. You know, the Truth.
The 1940’s generation, the beginning of the baby boomers had a great truth to tell. Preserving the true stories of World War II. Of Nazi atrocities, of the horrors of war and the Holocaust. Fortunately, they did a good job. With eye-witnesses to the concentration camps slowly dying out, and the wolves of revisionist history and self-serving propaganda licking their collective lips in anticipation of rewriting history in a way that never was, keep running into the miracle of radio recordings, film reels, and books, and books and books and books and books. Try as they may, you just can’t put enough lip stick or service on a swastika and make it look like anything other than what it was. Genocide on a grand scale in the interest of preserving the superiority of a bunch of criminally minded, bigoted nationalist meets racist protect the blood line, lying, cheating, stealing desperate, deviant, despicable, decadent, probably sexually challenged miscreants bent on a crusade best left to the eight levels of hell from which it came. I’m talking about the 1930s and 40s. Get my point?
I was born at the tail end of the 1950s. The tail end of the baby boomers. Mine was not a war fought on the battlefield. My generation’s war was not fought on minefields, but mind fields. The Cold War. An ideological war fought between two seemingly incompatible mostly economic and somewhat political theaters of engagement. I remember the black and white TV images of Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe and his fists at the UN. I remember him promising obo the Russians, “I will bury you.”
I remember Sputnik and stories of the Commies planning on putting laser cannons on discs in orbit capable of shooting Dr. Evil “laser beams” at us from outer space. You know, now that I think about it, Nikita did look a bit like Auric Goldfinger and his Bond genitalia threatening laser beam movie machine.
I remember JFK and Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs and The Cuban Missile Crisis.
All fond memories delivered via our old 13” B&W Zenith TV. The one with the rabbit ears, and the tin foil. We were poor, OK?
But the black and white memory I am most fond of was a film we were forced to watch once a month as part of our early civics indoctrination elementary school curriculum of red induced communist terror. Forever seared into my brain will be the name and image of Burt The Turtle. Often referred to as “Duck and Cover.” This was real and we believed every word of it.
Hello, old friend...
I remember the sirens. I remember the black and yellow radio-active signs. I remember our nearest shelter was in the basement of the Sears on Pico Blvd. I remember ducking and covering under my desk. On command, repeatedly. These are not gray scale film or television memories. This was my The Wonderful World of Disney (every Sunday after Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom RIP Marlin Perkins) in living color real life, first hand experiences.
I think I had that shirt...
Spies were everywhere. Dark skinned Slavic looking people (myself included, I was five) were under suspicion. In those days, you were Goofus or Gallant from Highlights Magazine. If you didn’t have your own subscription (we were poor, remember?), you could always binge read several issues at a time (pre-historic Netflix) while visiting your dentist for your bi-yearly teeth cleaning. Of course, the Hidden Pictures were always marked up with circles, but hey, it was better than nothing and quite frankly, I wasn’t yet interested in Sports Illustrated, Redbook or National Geographic (possibly, not always).
Do you see the turtle?
Soon, cooler heads prevailed (somewhat) and the world changed. The red menace had moved on to a place in southeast Asia I had never heard of. A place called Vietnam. North and South to be precise. There was Viet Nam, VC, NVA, Viet Cong, Charlie, GI Joe, and war atrocities a plenty. I was confused. I was probably six or possibly seven years old. What were we fighting for? Darned if I knew.
Around the same time, the monthly siren testing ended, and they stopped force feeding us Burt. My good friend who wanted nothing more than to keep me from being “knocked down” by a nuclear bomb explosion was quickly becoming another fading childhood memory. Oh, we still had duck and cover drills. Yes indeed. But now, they were for our safety and protection against earthquakes. Specifically, the “Big One.” I learned about the San Andreas fault line and told it was highly possible California could fall into the sea. If we were lucky, maybe we would become an island. Nobody really knew.
Soon, it was hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have earthquake drills. Nuclear bomb blasts? The Reds parachuting in to clean up what was left? Laser cannons? Why, we were all told that we were “mistaken” and that Burt the Turtle was warning us about the earth shifting beneath our feet and cracks opening in the earth to swallow us whole. Surely, not bombs falling from the air. But they were, weren’t they? At any rate, we were all urged not to be a Goofus, but a Gallant, stop bothering the adults and forget about it.
But I can’t. And neither should you.
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