March Badness

meftbllfrside 48bit 800 color  dust122It was March, 1963. I missed my old school from last year. I longed to have friends like the ones I had there. My new school experience at Oakview Elementary in Silver Spring, Maryland, was one big bore. Tedium. Rote drills. So many things, over and over again. Even air raid drills.

Curled up in a ball under my tiny wooden desk, I wrapped my arms tightly around my knees and bowed head. All I could think was – hadn’t World War II ended twenty years ago? Was sitting under this desk going to save me from our school roof falling down, let alone an H-bomb that landed on the cafeteria? Scarier still was coming face-to-face with sharp, petrified boogers down here, ones that dated back to World War I students.  If that wasn’t scary enough, what about the words, “Hitler was here,” and “Burn this school,” scratched on the underside of my desk?

Suddenly, my teacher said, “All right, children. Get up, now. The drill is over.”

Oh, no. Reading hour was next. Remember the exciting day back in early October when reading period was cancelled? Just to watch TV? That day had such potential.

It was a cloudy morning when a hundred students assembled on Mrs. Clark’s classroom floor, all eyes locked on the RCA Victor TV set showing Mercury Atlas 8 standing straight up against a clear Cape Canaveral sky. I sat cross-legged on the hard linoleum tile, my body forced between other kids’ legs and torsos. The position grew increasingly uncomfortable because the launch went through several delays. Even teachers began to whisper. “What’s taking so long?” “Do you think the rocket’s having technical difficulties?” 

Then the TV screen began to flutter. The picture turned snowy. The horizontal hold went wild.

An assistant librarian rushed to the scene to fix the ever up-scrolling picture. It looked like Mercury Atlas 8 had already blasted off six hundred times. Frustrated teachers fidgeted with foil-wrapped rabbit ears and various loose wires behind the set, all to no avail. If world-famous RCA Victor couldn’t keep its own horizontal hold under control, how was America to keep China from dropping the big one on our cafeteria, let alone Washington DC, worse yet Disneyland?

Out of nowhere, the TV announcer proclaimed the mammoth rocket had taken to the air. Everyone in the class rose to their feet and cheered the incredible news, even though no one actually saw the rocket go anywhere.

Eh. I wasn’t as impressed. Just not the same without seeing it. What a letdown. Even October had been boring. 

I missed my old school. I missed their horizontal hold, their TV sets, and my friends, the few that I had. I could think of nothing else. It was as though I was frozen here, locked in time forever, never to escape the worst month of all – March.

This was an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer. Read more there about my nostalgic look back at the 60s and the Baby Boom generation.

4 Comments

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

4 responses to “March Badness

  1. gloriad54

    I was in 3rd grade in Fairfax, Virginia in March, 1963. I have never thought about this before, but do you know if kids throughout the country had to do those drills on the floor covering our heads, or just those schools within proximity to the federal government in D.C.? I don’t remember watching this launch. My first memory of watching news breaking TV in school was November 22, 1963. Great post!

  2. Good question, gloriad54. For some reason, I can see kids in Kansas doing air raid drills back then, too – the whole Cold War hysteria and all. I was shocked all classes stopped what they were doing to watch a space flight, but we did. It was very novel and important then I suppose. After the first two or so went up, it became passe, and it was back to class. … Funny you’re from Fairfax. I wound up teaching near there (at Langley High School) for 13 years after college (that experience is described in another chapter of my memoir). Thanks for replying! I love swapping notes with others about stuff that went on.

    • We had to do those “duck and cover” drills too when I was a kid in Texas. They were supposed to be effective for tornado attack as well as nuclear attack, I guess. I remember living in fear of both kinds, as well as not being convinced that the old duck and cover would really help too much.

  3. Yes, that’s right, they were called the “duck and cover” drills. I forgot that. Funny: we went from “duck and cover” to playing Duck Duck Goose in class, all in one morning!

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