Back again—I would have skipped dinner, and just finished the letter, but they’re real strict up here. The first morning, I decided to sleep in and forget breakfast, but the “Blessed Mother,” as they call the lunatic who runs the shots around here, came down on me like a truckload of bricks. Stormed into my room, pulled me up by the nape of the neck, and had me marching into the dining hall before I could open my eyes, virtually. So meals—they explained to me—are a gift from God, because there are some (starving Armenians, maybe, or have they died off a long time ago?) who have nothing. So skipping breakfast is like flipping the bird at God.
In fact, pretty much everything I do is an affront to God. I wanted to smoke a cigarette, and would have too, if the Blessed Mother hadn’t caught wind—or smoke—of it. And then it was holy hell. Not because I was pregnant, but because it wasn’t seemly in the face of God. Yes—her words, not mine.
She’s stuck in the 1950’s, and not the best part of it, if indeed any part of it was good. Can you believe it—she still makes us practice atomic bomb drills. Even hauled out—did I tell you she was stuck in the ‘50’s?—some creepy old educational film prepared by the Civil Defense Authority called “Duck and Cover.” It starts with Ernie, or Bertie, or somebody or other. Anyway, he’s a turtle, and—so says the 1950’s voice—he knows just what to do! Because when danger approaches, he ducks and covers!
Well, it goes on for about ten minutes, this ridiculous film. First we learn that there are two types of nuclear attacks, and you can be sure it’s true because Miss Davies, third grade teacher, has written them in her neat cursive on the blackboard. And there they are: With Warning and (the only logical thing in the film) Without Warning.
With Warning is easy, since presumably there will be time to act immediately to save your life and the lives of others. The alarm will ring, and that’s when any child should look around for an adult, who will of course know just what to do, and protect us! And lo and behold, there is a kindly adult, his pipe in hand, and he guides the little girl into a fallout shelter! Of course, there is something a little creepy about the way his arm is draped over the girl’s shoulder. My own father would have belted the guy, but it was a different age.
Of course, the attack may occur when you’re in school, and then the solution is simple: DUCK AND COVER! In this case, six little kids are sitting around a fairly small table, so they only showed one child crouched under the table. And there he was, with his chin against his chest, and his arm covering the back of his neck. So I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask: what were the other children supposed to do? Where were they to DUCK AND COVER? That’s when the Blessed Mother piled on me like the bomb itself.
“Oh, it’s all a joke for you, isn’t it, little Missy! Well, let me tell you, the Reds are everywhere! And at any moment, they can drop the H-bomb, and then what’ll you do? Do you know, they got submarines capable of going up the St. Lawrence Seaway? They do indeed, and any one of them could carry five or ten warheads each. Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee, all the major cities could be visited with the satanic flames of fire! Yes, Satan himself guides the hand of those godless commies! And who shall be spared but those whose lives have been sanctified by constant prayer, and unceasing devotion to the Virgin!”
Everybody in the group looked at me—five girls, five fetuses, and two nuns. And they were sending eye telegrams: “did you have to set her off?” Because then we were hearing about the three little kids in Fátima, and the message the Virgin had given them about Russia. And it seems that the Blessed Mother is hung up on Russia, too, because we were all urged to pray, each night, for the conversion of Russia. The Commies, you see, had perverted the religion out of those devout people, and now the world hung in the balance, and only incessant prayer to the Virgin Mary could save us. So those bombs, skulking evilly towards us on the bottom of the St. Lawrence Seaway? Well, we were just as much to blame, since the Virgin will always protect those who turn to her!
And so it went for ten more minutes, because when the Blessed Mother gets going—generally before she puts her foot out of bed in the morning—well, there’s no stopping her! But finally we get back to DUCK AND COVER, and that’s when we learn that there may be no warning! Then what we’ll see is a blinding flash—more blinding than the sun! So that’s no problem, either, since little Billy, riding his bike, knows just what to do! And that is DAC, but this time, that clever little Billy happens to spy a newspaper! Wonderful, since even a newspaper can provide excellent cover for Billy’s little neck! So there we see Billy, pressed against a wall, the newspaper shielding him from irradiation or atomic burns or fallout or whatever it is. Now then—what is Billy to do?
Easy—wait until a responsible adult advises him that it’s safe to move! And behold, there the responsible adult is, having been advised by the civil authorities that Billy and all the other crouching children can go home! Mother is in the kitchen, dreaming up new ways to incorporate Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup into casseroles!
Whew! Such a relief, since I’d always been told: just one little A-bomb can ruin your entire day! But no, by being ready and remembering your basic DUCK AND COVER, you can be safely at home in your green suburb, even though the city center has been completely aerosolized, and great clouds of radioactivity have mushroomed into the air, where they will circle around the earth for all time! See? So now it’s time to bring back that loveable old turtle, Bert or Ernie, and sing that charming little tune:
Well, it turns out that the Blessed Mother has a beehive in her bonnet about the commies, and how we can all outwit them, since one of the girls told me that last week, it had been about how to construct a fallout shelter! And guess what? The point was to build the shelter with at least one right-angled turn. Why? Because the fallout falls straight down, and cannot turn corners!
“What if there’s a wind,” I said. “Anyway, my house has more right-angled turns than any bomb shelter ever built, and the maid still has to dust every surface every week. So why is fallout going to be any different?”
Well, they didn’t know, but at least they had the answer to the question that had always bugged me: how would we know if there was any fallout at all? Easy—we were to take a clean, white dinner plate and put it outside, if we suspected fallout. And then, every fifteen minutes, we were to open the door to examine the plate for grey residue. Oh, and then shut the door.
Well, I can hardly wait for that one, but I will note the Blessed Mother was singularly lacking, since there we all were, sitting ducks for the evil Commies who were even now pointing their nuclear warheads at Necedah, Wisconsin! So wasn’t that just the time to get us all down under the table, with our arms sheltering our neck? Shouldn’t we be prepared, as well?
Then I realized—half of us were so far gone with child that we’d never get up again!