Mrs. Albina had just finished her math lecture. I was sitting two seats from the back, third row from the door to freedom. Fourth grade was no place to spend time doing easy math drills. After all, it was October and the weather in Carol City, a relatively new suburb in north Dade County, Florida, was perfect for outdoors.
It was better weather for P.E. and an awesome game of full contact kickball, not multiplication tables.
I had picked my seat because it had the best view of the playground, so even if our class was incarcerated I still could watch other classes out in the free world. Honestly, I had also picked it because I got to sit behind Trudy, the prettiest girl in the whole world.
We were just about to be released for our turn in outdoor heaven when the alarm bells began to ring without stopping. We knew that signal: It had been drilled into our little limited-attention-span minds since the first day of school.
For weeks now my buddies and I had sat in the field north of 207th Street and west of 27th Avenue during our time not in school. Huge trucks filled with soldiers, the armed vehicles and tanks, and trucks pulling cannons headed south held us in awe.
Terry joked wonderment that maybe all that weight would sink South Florida since we all knew how close below ground you could find water. Every house in the neighborhood had wells, mostly used for irrigation, with each house blotched with orange-yellow stains where sprinkler water hit the house. But boy did that cold water taste and feel good on a hot summer day. No one had air-conditioning then. Fans and cold water were our balm when the temperatures hit the 90s to rival the humidity
That October day sweltered too. Too hot for us and too hot for those thousands and thousands of soldiers moving south. We weren’t sure where they were going to stop, but we did know, even at age 9, why they were there.
So as the bells rang we did what we had been drilled to do. We pushed back our seats and crawled under our desks. We had been taught to cover our heads with our arms and keep our eyes tightly closed, but I just couldn’t. I had seen the AV film about atomic bombs and how staring at the blast would blind you.
Blind me! Heck, I also saw the effect of the blast wind and knew within seconds of the sound it would all be gone: my house, my buddies, Mrs. Albina, my school and yes, even Trudy. So I chose to peek. I wanted to see that beautiful day and that amazing playground one last time.
Then the signal came and it was over. We were expected to now go to P.E. and laugh and play and be carefree. But I couldn’t.
I know I changed a lot that first atomic bomb drill. How could I not? They weren’t changes easily seen or noticed, but they were there within me. My innocence had been compromised at 9, but I wasn’t yet much aware of the changes.
The world just felt different, but Trudy was still the prettiest girl and I still preferred P.E. to math. The real changes would come in the late 60’s, but from the inside my eyes, from then on, began to view the world very differently.
Writer’s note: It was October 1961. Soviet Union ships had delivered nuclear missiles to Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev had banged his shoe in anger at the United Nations and Fidel Castro had deceived the world. President John F. Kennedy stood his ground and the world was at the brink of war until Khrushchev blinked. Later I found out how much had been given up to make him blink. Two days shy of this October we greeted another Castro in our country, the brother of the man who took us to the brink of a catastrophic world war. How times have changed and how much we have forgotten, at our peril. It does matter who’s at the desk in that small Oval Office when the alarm bells begin to ring.
Ed H. Moore resides in Tallahassee, Florida, where he is perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder. Column courtesy of Context Florida.