Glimpses of Childhood: Tornado Drills, A-Bomb Drills and Bat Guano

Being born in the latter days of the 50’s. I was the very essence of a 60’s child. I was too young to ‘tune out and turn on’ and I missed the ‘free love’ thing altogether.

Still growing up in the 60’s was an interesting journey to say the least. It was the era of the Cold War and the images of atomic bombs and the devastation that they entailed were scary. The ‘child friendly’ film above was still being shown in schools and was intended to help us youngsters know how to react when the bad guys dropped the big one on us.

Oddly enough, if you were in school and a tornado hit, the drill was almost exactly the same as in the film. As this 2010 news clip shows, the drill has not changed much from the one that we practised when I was in grade school:

In the 1960’s the bad guy was Russia and the threat of them dropping a bomb on us was a daily threat. We were urged to have a ‘fallout’ shelter. If you were a frugal family, you used your tornado shelter (aka storm cellar) as both a place to hide when the twisters came to flatten your home and the place to hide from the after effects of the nuclear explosions.

A bit fancy, this one could have been for the Rockefeller family.

If my family ran and hid from either the bomb or a twister, our shelter was a bit more ‘down-to-earth’ and we shared our ‘safe space’ with the canned preserves and spiders and other creepy crawlies that loved the dark dank shelter.

“Just pass some canned tomatoes while we’re waiting, will you?”

Of course growing up in the rural south as a child we never really bought into the whole ‘Ivan-the-Terrible‘ Russian is going to drop a big, bad bomb on our heads. We did, though, believe whole-heartedly in the chances of being blown away by a tornado.

The schools did show us many films on the dangers of the atomic bomb. I remember vividly the film that they used to show prior to the Duck and Cover film. This was a very short film and it had been made at one of the Nevada test sites. It showed cinderblock buildings being turned to dust and cars being thrown about like Tonka toys.

It was terrifying to a 7-year-old. But it was still just a movie. We only had to look out our school windows to see the damage that the last  tornado did to Old Man Jones’s barn. I’m sure he would have come in and told us about it but, unfortunately for him, Old Man Jones went the same way as his barn.

The visceral reality of the tornadoes damage which could be witnessed personally far outweighed the terror of the ‘filmed’ atomic destruction.

As I write this I am reminded of a school I attended in Springdale, Arkansas. It was in the 60’s and it was huge. The school boasted three floors (one of which was under ground level) and if you were on the top floor you had to go down a circular slide as part of the schools fire drill.

Now a historical building and it’s been re-designated as a High School.

I was in the school when I was in the fourth grade. The time I spent there was marked by two events. One was the day I went to school in the morning and it was drizzling rain. By noon the rain turned to sleet and then snow. By two o’clock in the afternoon the snow was so deep that the basement windows were covered and school let out early. That marked the beginning of one of the worst snow/ice storms in Arkansas history.

The second event was the initial trial run of the fire escape. On the back of the school was a tower that housed a circular slide. It had sat unused throughout the summer months and it was decided to give the tower a ‘trial run’ when school started up. Unknown to the school authority’s, a family of bats had made the tower their new home.

The first person who went down the slide was a teacher (presumably showing how safe it was) whose backside was immediately covered in bat guano. The fire escape was closed for a long time while the school got rid of the bats. Not to mention the guano.

So growing up in the 1960’s was pretty cool, if not a bit scary. You just needed to know what to do when the A-bomb hit or when a tornado was barreling down on your town. Oh and the necessity of avoiding bat guano.

Okay, who forgot the toilet paper.