Neva reviewed her grandchildren’s Christmas wish lists before logging onto the Internet. She smiled at some of Merilu’s whimsical requests, like ‘things that make me smell nice’ and ‘pretty pretty princess stuff.’
She laughed out loud at several items on DJ’s paper. ‘A car, a house, Montana, letterman’s jacket.’ She knew his parents were getting him the jacket, and so did he.
What’s next on DJ’s list? Hmmm, I don’t know what a kanji dictionary is but a poster of waterfowl and turtles? That I can probably manage.
She googled ‘duck posters,’ feeling rather smug at her tech savvyness.
What a lot of websites to scroll through! Guess I just have to click on one and see what’s there.
Dozens of posters later, Neva’s enthusiasm lagged. None of them really jumped out at her as perfect for the bedroom wall of a former Ranger Rick subscriber. She was considering googling ‘kanji’ instead. Clicking to one more page, Neva’s eyes riveted on the screen.
“Oh, my! If that doesn’t take me back!” she exclaimed. Peering closely, Neva adjusted her bifocals to take in the complete picture.
“How old was I when I first saw a Bert the Turtle poster?” She rested her chin on her hand and let her memories march back in time to 1962 and Mrs. Chester’s third grade classroom.
Nine-year-old Neva, crouching under her desk with her arms crossed on the back of her head, swiveled her neck to the right and frowned at Freddy. “Gosh! I hate putting my face on this dirty floor! And it’s so cold! I think my knees and elbows are about to freeze!”
“Yeah,” Freddy muttered. “Wish we could be like Bert. He doesn’t have knees or elbows.”
“At least you got jeans on, Freddy!” Neva pouted. “I wish us girls could wear pants to school.”
The duck-and-cover practice had been a weekly occurrence since the fall term began in her small rural elementary school. At an assembly that first week Mr. McBride, the principal, explained that Mr. Khrushchev, the leader of our biggest enemy, was threatening to drop nuclear bombs on American soil. He talked about Cuba and Castro and missiles but Neva hadn’t really paid much attention to the details. Mr. McBride showed a cartoon film, starring Bert the Turtle, to the whole school. It was kind of a funny movie with a silly song, all about finding cover when danger came. Each teacher was given a poster of Bert for the classroom wall.
Mr. McBride had taken the children, classroom by classroom, for a tour of the underground cement-lined tunnel beneath the gym floor. Until that time, Neva hadn’t known it was there. She noticed it seemed pretty crowded, even with just her class, and especially with the rotund principal taking up the space of at least three grown-ups. She knew, because of a word problem Mrs. Chester had given them in Arithmetic, that approximately 360 students attended her school.
Two weeks later Mr. McBride addressed the students at another assembly and her unspoken question was answered.
“We’re all aware of the Crisis our country is experiencing,” Mr. McBride said. “The school board has come up with a system. In the event of an emergency, we will have a few buses running to take those of you home that live within a couple miles of the school. The rest of us will remain here—the younger children in the tunnel while third graders and up will duck-and-cover in the classrooms as we’ve been practicing. We’ll have a practice run of the busing procedure next week.”
During the busing practice, Mr. McBride patrolled the corridors, making sure the children crouched in orderly lines. Neva would never forget Mr. McBride yelling at Freddy.
“Young man!” the principal thundered. “You will stay down until you are told to move or your name will be Mud Turtle!”
Neva shook her head at the memory. “Wow! Almost fifty years later and Bert the Duck-and-Cover Turtle is now a piece of vintage art worth $150.”
Then with a slight shudder, Neva prayed, “Lord, in my incomprehension of atomic blasts and nuclear fallout, I considered myself lucky to be one of those children allowed to go home. I’m thankful a third World War was avoided during that terrible time. I pray that this next generation will be protected too. No matter what happens, thank You for Your grace that covers us in every circumstance.”
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