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Monday, March 19, 2012

Hands Over Your Head

Greetings to all as the sun shines and the tidal wave of e-mail threatens to swamp me. I know, I know, you don't have to answer every e-mail as soon as it comes in... I bet Sheldon does.

My dreaded conference call went well enough; the information was put out, everyone had a chance to speak, and we completed the whole thing in 36 minutes. My requests to take longer conversations off-line to e-mail were honored and I have indeed answered several since the call.

The weather guessers have it easier today. IF they look outside, they will see mostly sunny skies with 5 mph winds from the NW and no chance of rain. They will probably predict 47F for a high, but I expect a couple of degrees more. Hey, it's springtime in Nevada, predicting the weather is a ridiculous undertaking. You can't win.

My writing time has just been preempted by elder care responsibilities. We had applied for Mr. S. to get a power chair from the VA, and today it is being delivered. A World War II Vet is getting served!

I have returned, all is well and the delivery was perfect. The young gentleman who brought the chair out was pleasant, respectful, and genuinely interested in providing the best service possible. The values and attitudes of the new VA has spread to its contracted companies and is a great thing!

Time has zipped by, so we will crank up Mr Peabody's way back machine and set the dial for 1960.


Hands Over Your Head

  

   No, it's not a stick up, at least not of the regular kind. It is the 1960 version of paranoia, visited upon elementary school children daily in their classrooms.

   In the time period of 1960 through 1962 those of us in West Hollywood Elementary School, of Hollywood, Florida, were daily participants in the "Stop, Drop, and Cover" drill. As well as the "Duck, Cover and Wait" version. All of which resulted from the adults being afraid of "The Bomb" and "Castro is going to shoot missiles at us."

   Falling to the ground and curling up in a ball, with your Hands over Your Head, did nothing but frighten young children and create a generation of "Doomsday Children," always waiting for the "Big One" to drop.

   I was in my good old second grade class with Miss Wright (no relation) as my teacher, and we were being instructed in how to properly "take cover" in the event of,  let’s see, what can we tell the children... I know... In case of a tornado... yeah, that's it, a tornado!

   They were afraid to say what we were really doing because it would cause panic for sure,  so we had tornado drills. I had lived in south Florida for years and never saw a tornado, except on television—happening somewhere else.  We were young and inexperienced, but we were not stupid. Kids weren't deaf either, we heard our parents and other adults talking about what was going on with Cuba and the Russians,  and we overheard the teachers talking among themselves. 

   There were some advantages to these drills, besides the obvious disruption to the education process. I was at the back of the row by the windows, farthest away from the door to the classroom. As the drill began, the teacher had to stand by the door. Then she had to sit down in her chair and put her head down on the desk. I think that was just because she was so old that she couldn't get under her desk without getting hurt. She was eligible to retire long before I was born, but she didn't want to give up teaching.

   When they rang the bell to start the drill, we all hit the deck just like we had been shot, playing around of course, to the displeasure of Miss Wright. She would shake her finger at us and make noises with her mouth to indicate to be quiet. We thought that what we did was hilarious and started laughing.

   The girls really didn't like lying down on the floor and getting their dresses dirty. If they were having a bad day anyway for some reason, they were likely to start crying. Depending on which girl it was, it could start a regular chain reaction.  Just like going to the restroom together, one cries, they all cry.

  It was during one of these drills the very next day that we decided to see how long we could make the drill last. Just how far would the teacher play the game until she had enough and called a halt to it on her own.

   When the drill signal sounded we all hit the floor and stayed there, watching the teacher, quietly this time. She thought that we were being good because of her fussing at us last time. When she was satisfied that we were down and in position, with our hands over our heads, curled into a ball,  she sat down and put her head down on her desk.

  As soon as her head came to rest on her desk, I slipped out of the window next to me, (the windows went from the floor to the ceiling), and I ran around the building to the other side. I was going to slip in the window back into the classroom,  but the window was closed! A girl that sat by it had closed it because she was cold. RATS!

   I'm not one to panic easily, and I saw only one option. I walked around to the door to the classroom and went in,  just like it was the most normal thing in the world. The teacher never moved a muscle. 

 As I was about to get back on the floor,  I thought, "Why not?" I walked over to the other side of the room, stepping carefully over the bodies sprawled all over the place (you could only stay curled up in a ball for so long). I moved a chair over very, very quietly, climbed up on it and unscrewed the nut on the center of the red alarm bell. I stuffed it full of paper towels until no more would fit and then screwed the nut back in place. Just as I got off of the chair I heard the muffled rustle of the striker inside the bell, but nothing that could be heard from more than a couple of feet away, so we were in business. I went back to my spot and lay down with a book under my head and my arms crossed to wait it out. The "random and spontaneous" sounding of the alarm, always happened at 9:00 a.m. on the dot and was over just as precisely at 9:15 a.m. every single day. You could set your watch by it, except that I didn't have a watch.

   We were struggling to suppress the giggles and were each determined not to be the one that ended our "drill." It was 9:30, and no movement from the teacher. We were getting a little restless already. Kids can only be still for so long and then they have to do something or explode. By 9:45 one of the girls, who was pretty bold for her age, came over to me and said that two of the girls had to go to the bathroom. What was "I" going to do about it? Who made me bathroom monitor anyway? She said this thing was my doing so I had to tell them what to do. Boy, it's lonely at the top!

   I figured that Miss Wright probably wouldn't remember if she did it or not, so I eased the "hall pass" (a piece of wood with "Miss Wright" burned into it) off its hook on the side of the desk and gave it to the two girls, and let them out of the door.

This was getting serious! Recess was approaching swiftly, and we weren't going to miss our favorite "class" of the day! Normally we went out at 10 a.m. and returned to class at 10:30. It wasn't looking good. Wait a minute! What was I thinking? I told everyone in a whisper to be completely quiet and line up on the sidewalk and then march out to the playground just like we did every day, only 10 minutes earlier. Yeah, extra time and first dibs on the ball field and the basketball court. Why didn't I think of this sooner. Out they went, quiet as mice.

   Miss Wright had been lying there for a long time, and she was VERY old. A momentary flash of headlines, "Teacher dies at desk, while children play joke...." crossed before my eyes. Aaahhhhhh! Then she let out a raspy, gurgling snore that would do a bear justice, and I knew that she was just "sawing logs" and not "joked and croaked." And out the door I went.

   On the playground the teacher that usually pulled the "early out to recess gag" to grab the fields for HER students was pacing up and down, obviously not happy that someone had beaten her to the punch for once and wanted to speak to the teacher responsible for these children who had "violated the recess starting time". What a big baby!

   She approached several of our class, but the kids were on the move, afraid to have to answer any questions. It was getting to the point that she was going to blow the whistle at us... and you can't disobey the whistle. It just isn't done! So I moved to intercept her without being obvious and "let" her capture me and demand to know where our teacher was. But it was OK, I had a plan and I hoped it worked, because plan "B" for this one was run like mad!

   I said, "Oh, Miss Wright wasn't feeling well and had to go to...", and gave it a little turning red and bashful look, "to the ...." She said, "Out with it, son!" And I answered, "To the facilities." Yeah, good and vague, no real direction given and I never said to the bathroom. And followed up with, "And we are worried about her, she didn't look well, kind of all sleepy looking and red in the face."

   And that's exactly what she looked like when the teacher and Mr. Sullivan, (the principal) found her still asleep, face down on her desk, with her Hands over Her Head!

She was so flustered and confused about being asleep, and getting caught that way by the principal,  that the subject of the bell not ringing nor the early recess never even came up, not on that day or any day afterwards.

   As far as their stupid drills were concerned, I'd much rather get blown up by a missile or bomb while I was playing ball instead of hiding under a desk, counting B & B... you had to ask, didn't you? Bubble gum and buggers ! Now there's a good reason to put your Hands over Your Head! In case they fall on you!

   And that's the way it was in the 1960's, when the World was "smaller" and so was I.   


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