Duck-and-cover drills stick with this baby boomer

We’re already close to back-to-school days. Not for us, but maybe, for our memories. Seattle’s Ron Gompertz, author of Life’s Big Zoo, remembers one thing in particular about school days that still puts a chill in his spine.

When I was in grade school, back when the moon was free of footprints, Cold War “duck and cover” drop drills worried me so much that I went home with headaches.

Hippies said we shouldn’t trust anyone over thirty, but as a Cold War kid it didn’t really matter because I didn’t think I’d live that long. I remember hoping that if they dropped the bomb, it would land on my head.

We knew the drill. When the teacher shouted “DROP!”, drop we did. We dropped to a fetal crouch below our tables, fingers interlaced over those precious brain stems the Russians wanted to blow to smithereens. We’d remain in pretzel position until the teacher’s all-clear signal triggered the usual youthful chaos of flying pencils, desks tipping, and old “Bazooka Joe” bubble gum from the underside of one kid’s desk landing in another’s hair.

Atomic bomb testing.

I don’t remember any neighbors with backyard fallout shelters, but there was a big one under my grandmother’s apartment building. It was a great place to roller-skate, but would have been a sad place to die. It took until fifth grade before I realized that crouching under a plywood table wouldn’t save me from an incoming H-bomb any more than the concrete basement would save my granny or her Russian babushka counterpart from mutually assured destruction.

Ron Gompertz

My teacher, a law-and-order man with a NASA buzz cut, always accused me of being unfocused because he didn’t understand that I was usually focused elsewhere. One day early in 1969, I was daydreaming about the coming summer’s moon landing when Mr. Buzzcut shouted, “DROP!” A potentially explosive last moment passed before I realized that he and I were the only ones above the desk line. Hoping it wasn’t too late to hide from the H-bomb or, worse, avoid a demerit against my Permanent Record, I scrambled under my desk.

A blot on one’s “Permanent Record” was worse than getting a swat from the business end of the principal’s paddle. The shame and sting of corporal punishment would fade, and if you stuffed the back pockets of your Sears “Tough Skin” jeans with folded paper, you could dull the impact. Swats were hell, but the Permanent Record would follow you all the way to the Pearly Gates.

Lucky for me, this all happened before the digital age. I’ve checked on Google and thankfully can’t find any trace of that Permanent Record.

Growing up in the digital dark ages meant that aside from contagious laughter, none of our youthful misdeeds ever went viral. “Going viral” back then just meant some classmate sharing the chicken pox with the rest of us in the days before vaccine.

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3 Comments

    1. Talk about Baby BOOM-ers! Our classrooms’ problems were that someone would always pass gas. Never a girl, of course. Must’ve been the “pretzel position.” The teacher could not discern who the culprit was because he or she was stuck under their own desk. I don’t think Civil Defense prepared for THAT. As a teacher myself for years, when we did the drill, I was Arnold in “Kindergarten Cop.” That room was silent! Of course I bribed them with extra P.E. time. Nicely written, Ron!

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