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Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Times They Are A Changing

We are planning a little twist in our fire drill tomorrow morning. The event marks Fire safety Week and we are adding a change in the procedure to test our ability to accurately and quickly account for everyone in the school. We'll meet with the representatives of the fire department following the exercise to collect feedback that will help us respond with more efficiency and effectiveness in future drills.

The fire drill itself reminds me of a unique drill I experienced long ago when I was in elementary school and times were much different than today. I thought I'd share it in this Blog to demonstrate how times have changed.

It was early in the school year of 1962. The leaves were only beginning to hint at autumn. We could still pretend to be Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays and play ball after school wearing tee shirts without shivering.  Things were starting to settle in as we became accustomed to third grade. During breaks in the game, some of us had shared plans for what we might wear on Halloween.  There wasn’t much for us kids to worry about as we each hung our baseball gloves on our high rise handlebars and hopped on the banana seats of our bikes to race off for home and dinner– except the unusual drill we had that morning.
It was certainly different than our fire drills. We were led quietly out of the classroom and into the hallway, where we followed instructions and sat down on the floor with our backs against the wall and our heads bowed between our bent knees. We did that twice - once before lunch and then again before afternoon recess. It didn’t seem to make much sense at that time, but before the day was over I was going to get a primer in nuclear physics and energy.
I pressed down hard on my pedals and slammed the brakes in such a way that when the rear tire skidded on the tiny pebbles of our alley-way it announced my arrival home. I dropped the kickstand and rushed up the stairs of the front stoop and into the apartment of my grandparents. I was hungry and Nanny could be counted on to have something delicious on the table minutes after I washed up.
In between bites of food and gulps of milk, I told Poppy about the new drill at school. He just nodded his head a few times and then began explaining about President Kennedy, Nikita Khruschev, the Russians, some Cubans, a lot of Commies, a few missiles and an atomic bomb.  He rattled off the list of potential mayhem as if it he was singing the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Somehow GE came up too. General Electric employed over 30,000 people back then and it dominated the city – even providing Schenectady’s tag as, “The City that lights and hauls the world.”  The hauling part was done by the locomotive engines that came out of ALCO, the other big manufacturer at the time, the American Locomotive Company. It seems that the Russians wanted to bomb Schenectady because of all the stuff General Electric was involved in that was vital to the country. Nearly everyone in our class had a dad or an uncle that worked there. My Uncle Andy did but I wasn’t sure what he did and he didn’t give me the impression he could do anything that would somehow tick off the Russians. But who knows.
Anyway, Poppy told me how he was a volunteer during World War II because he was too old to be in the army, and he helped with the blackout practices and air raid drills to make sure every place in the area had covered up all the windows. It seems that the Germans also wanted to bomb the heck out of Schenectady. I never knew my hometown was that important. Years later it would become evident to me that every place, big and small, fell victim to their collective pride and pumped up the perceived value of their town, village, or city to the point that every darn dot on the map of America was squished into the Russian’s top ten list for a nuclear attack! They must have had a mess of missiles.
I continued to eat while Poppy went on about atom bombs and mushroom clouds and Japan. There was a lot to his explanation but the part I clearly remember to this day was how he cut through the physics and all of the technical details and informed me about the power of an atomic bomb. He casually shared that the reason we put our heads between our knees like that was because if a nuclear bomb really did hit Schenectady we’d all be kissing our rear ends goodbye. That pretty much told me all I needed to know. It was far more understandable than how my teacher would have described it.

We have gone from the bomb drills of my youth to the lock-down drills of today, from crack being a jagged break in the sidewalk to crack being a dangerous illegal drug, from aides supporting instruction to AIDS being a deadly disease threatening millions across the globe.

Times surely have changed...

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