I suppose that if, back in the fifties when all heck was breaking loose, which we’ll get to in a minute, if we had had something like the internet or tweeting like we have now, we’d have been more worked up over stuff going on. Maybe. Hard to say. But there was a lot going on.
The good thing, at least as I see it from here and now, is that we didn’t know how bad, how really, really bad, everything was.
By everything going on, here those “things” are, in no particular order: Hiding under our desks when, not if, they dropped the big one; Looking under our desks for communists, who were lurking everywhere; And not swimming in August or we’d get polio.
Let’s just overlook a minor flu pandemic that tore through the world in the early-mid fifties, which led to a very rare doctor call to our farmhouse to see if I was going to make it. (Or if ma was going to burn out of me any chance of my ever having any chest hair with those ungodly mustard plasters. Which she did. Because I don’t.)
First, those sneaky communists. You see, the thing was, we were told they could be everywhere, anywhere, and they could especially be masquerading as school teachers. That in turn meant that any teacher not born in our small rural town WAS A COMMUNIST! We knew that for sure because back then, we still had an innocent belief that our political leaders wouldn’t mislead us. We were after all The Greatest Generation. We had just kicked butt in WW 2. We were all driving cars that went really fast. We had refrigerators. We had penicillin. We were going to outer space.
We had politicians whom we trusted.
Apparently not, in hindsight. Those dirty commies they warned us about seemed to just kind of disappear in some sort of slight of hand. Unfortunately, before they did, a lot of good people were driven from their careers.
We couldn’t go swimming in August, because that was when polio happened the most, and since that was when we really wanted and did go swimming, swimming must spread polio.
Like I said, lack of communication….
So I was in the first year of high school when they lined us all up for our first polio shot. We were excited. And why not? Now we could go swimming any time we wanted. (Excitement back then was hard to come across.)
I remember standing in the line for that polio vaccination. Remember, this was a big deal, that vaccination. We all knew people crippled by polio. They were everywhere. Vaccination was so miracle-ish. No more iron lungs. So the vaccination thing went ahead with gusto.
At the age of 14, standing in that line, I had the brains of a stump, but I also had muscles for the first time, and what better time to use them than just as the nurse stabbed at my shoulder with the needle. I of course tensed my arm muscle. (Like I said, a stump.)
The needle, I was pleased to see, crumpled like the fender of a cheap car. I was amused. The nurse wasn’t. A classmate standing behind me was even less amused. He fainted dead away.
They should make needles stronger, I thought to myself. They should make kids smarter, the nurse thought to herself.
Okay. There’s only one big deal left from the fifties: Hiding under our desk so we could survive that atomic bomb that was for sure coming from Russia. Yeah, you bet. On the other hand, while you were down there, you could look for communists in hiding.
As we now know, with Russia planting missiles on Cuba, we were a lot closer to all this happening than we knew. There was no internet or social media offering up an hourly buffet of scenarios from which we could and would ignorantly choose. It was, in short, a great age of innocence.
We were, after all, The Greatest Generation. Our muscles bent needles. Vaccinations didn’t kill you, refrigerators (they tried to tell us) and polio did, and all the communists—more or less 40-some at the time—were hiding on the Iron Range in Minnesota.
It was fun while it lasted.