Vexations and Conundrums

Ready or Not

The 1960s were a turbulent time. I was a child during a period of fear of nuclear power and discord in Cuba. Castro was discussed often, along with Russia and missiles that could hit U.S. shores.

Parents mirrored concern and tried unsuccessfully to act like everything was under control.

At my parochial school we received a memo to take home to our parents. This was unusual. The memo outlined the requirement that we each were to be assigned “dog tags” with our personal information and wear them at all times. We had to have an emergency evacuation bag at school. The bags contents were listed on the memo, in a list which outlined the following:

Canned goods such as soup

Several pairs of underwear 

A change of clothes

Toothbrush and toothpaste

I’m sure there was more survival gear, but it was so long ago I can’t remember it all. What I do remember is that our getaway bag had to have our name on it, for identification purposes. My mother, a frustrated artist, took this task as an art assignment. She sewed a beige bag with a drawstring top. A bright red band of fabric closed the top firmly. The final touch was my name, embroidered in bright red script, large and beautiful across the front of the sack.

When I arrived at school, other students had pillowcases with their names inked hastily and sloppily as an afterthought, rubber bands closing the tops. I was so proud of my bag, I turned to the back wall of our class often to admire my mom’s handiwork, standing out amongst the pile of sacks.

I had concerns about wearing my dog tag. I asked my mother why I needed a tag when I could just tell people where I lived and who I was. She paused, carefully weighing her words. She did not want to mention that I may be dead, so instead she informed me we may have to go far away when escaping and I might not be able to explain where I lived. I accepted her explanation reluctantly.

To make everything even more frightening we had to watch a black and white government training film on what to do in case of an atomic bomb attack. There would be a huge bright flash and we were to hide beneath our desks and listen to our teachers. There was no mention of our instant incineration or radiation poisoning that I recall. Things were all hastily handled by teachers trying to underplay nuclear obliteration.

Decades passed. Today I see our world once again talking about which countries are nuclear armed. Leaders are claiming allies and having photo opportunities with them. International groups are in perpetual meetings to address the state of the planet, and how to avoid nuclear annihilation.

I stay perplexed that humankind has made so little progress in half a century for how to relate to other countries. I want to be optimistic, yet the news offers little positivity.

I feel as helpless now as I did in the sixties. I want our world leaders to find a way out of the chaos, military aggression, and discord of our era.  I cross my fingers in hope.

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Katina Pontikes
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