I drove by my old elementary school today and it brought back memories that took me back forty years. The palms of my hands started to sweat and felt uncomfortable. It is amazing how some experiences that we had many years ago will be in our memories as fresh as if it had been yesterday. I have one such experience that will surface from time to time.
In the early sixties, we moved to San Antonio, TX. My mom enrolled at Bonham Elementary School that was a few blocks from our home. My first years at the elementary school were rough and very challenging, but that is another story. I did not speak English and I had to rely on my classmates to translate what the teacher said. I was new at the elementary school and I felt lost and alone. One day, the teacher was talking and every one in the classroom was silent and was carefully listing. I had never seen the class so attentive, to the teacher, and that made me very curious. I asked the boy sitting next to me to tell me what was going on and all he said was that he would tell me later. Later that afternoon I asked several kids that spoke Spanish what did the teach say in class. They told me that San Antonio was a target. I did not understand what they mean that San Antonio was a target, so I asked them to explain it to me. One little girl said that Fidel Castro had some atomic bombs, in Cuba, and they were aimed at San Antonio. I had been getting a lot a ribbing, from the kids at school, so I was not convinced that they were telling me the truth. On the way home, I asked another boy what the teacher had talked about. He said that San Antonio would be one of the first cities to be hit by the atomic bombs because there where several military bases in the city. This time I started to get nervous. When I got home, I sat on porch waiting for my mom to get home from the sewing factory. I did not have a father so I had to ask mom everything. When mom arrived, I told her all about the teacher and that the kids told me that San Antonio was a target of atomic missiles. I asked my mom if she knew anything about the missiles and atomic bombs. I was hoping she would say that it was just a joke and the kids at school just wanted to frighten me, but she said that at work her boss had explained to all the employees that if a siren goes off they had to go to the cellar to protect them selves from the bomb blast. I did not know what to think. The only experience I had with blasts had been with fireworks.
Two days later, I was next door with my friend watching TV set. The man on the TV was talking about atomic bombs and then they showed an atomic bomb being detonated in the desert somewhere, and I saw the blast pulverize buildings and tossed cars and trucks just as if they were made out of paper. The man in the TV explained that we had witnessed a small test bomb and that the missiles that Fidel Castro had pointing at the USA were much larger and more powerful. The devastation of the test bomb shocked me and frightened me.
That following Monday the teacher talked about the bombs again and the boy sitting next to me told me that we had to practice a bomb drill. I had never hear of a bomb drill and asked him to explain, he just said that I had to do what he did. The teacher spoke and all the kids got up, they cleared the desks, got under the desk, and pulled in the chair hind them. I watched and did as they did. The boy next to me said that I had to hold my knees together, put my face against my legs, and close my eyes tight. I asked him why I had to close my eyes and he said that the teacher said that the light from the bomb blast was very bright and hot and that it would burn your eyes out. The teacher gave another instruction and every one got out from under the desks and sat back down on the chairs again. I asked the boy what was next. He said that we had to practice the bomb drill again but this time we had to wait until the school sounded the alarm. I asked him what alarm. He said that when you hear three long siren blasts that meant that the bombs are going to hit San Antonio, and we had to do the bomb drill just like we had been practicing. The teacher asked if we were ready. I was nervous, I wanted to do the bomb drill right, and did not want to make any mistakes; then all of a sudden, there were three long siren blasts. Every one cleared off their desk again, quickly got under the desk, pulled in the chair behind them, held their knees together, put their face against their legs, and closed their eyes. I did the same thing, but as I was doing the bomb drill, I noticed that I had been faster than most of the class. It had been my first bomb drill. Every one in class had practiced the bomb drill before, and I had been faster than most of the class. I felt good about that because I was good at something especially something as important as a bomb drill.
Later that afternoon I sat on my porch anxiously waiting for my mother to come home from work. I wanted to tell her all about the bomb drill, how good I had done, that I was faster than most of the class, and that it had been my first bomb drill. It seemed like hours and hours before I saw my mom walking around the corner. I ran down the street to me her, and I began telling her all about the bomb drill, how good I had done, that I was faster than most of the class, and that it had been my first bomb drill. I told her that I cleared off my desk, quickly got under the desk, held their knees together, put their face against their legs, and closed their eyes. Mom let me talk and talk she was good at letting me talk. I was feeling pretty good about my self because I was good at something. That night I recalled the bomb drill and was thinking that if we practiced again what I could do to improve so I could be faster then I remembered what I seen on the TV a couple of weeks ago and I got a sick feeling. I remembered how the test atomic bomb, in the desert, flattened large brick buildings and how the wooded buildings were pulverized.
A week later mom was nervously gathering all the loose change that she found in the house and began counting the money that she had saved because she heard that President Kennedy wanted the people had to stock up on food and water in preparation for a missile attack from Cuba. Mom said that I had to go to school and that afternoon when she came home, we would go to the grocery store to buy what food she could. On my way to school, I walked by a newsstand stand and on the newspaper cover I read the words Cuba and missiles. I could not read the rest but I did recognize the words Cuba and missiles. Later that day the teach was giving a lesson when all of a sudden the school alarm went off. It was loud and it shock me. All the kids quickly stood up and from the corner of my eye, I saw the teacher moving fast to the other side of the room. I felt a panic and chill run down my back. My legs felt like led and the faster I wanted to move the slower my legs would respond. I felt desperation because I thought would not make it under the desk before the bomb blast. I stumbled mostly because I had my eyes closed.
I remember that I was told that the bright and hot light from the bomb blast would burn your eyes out. It seemed like an eternity before I made it under the desk. I held my knees together, put my face against my legs, and I already had my eyes closed. I was shacking with fear. My thoughts were of my mother and my sister and that we would never see each other again. I wondered how much it would hurt to die, and that I did not want to die alone. I herd loud screams and the more I herd them the more I wanted to shut my eyes and ears. I herd a loud slam on top of the desk then the chair behind me flew out from under the desk. I held my knees tighter and shoved my face against my legs as hard as I could and dared not to open my eyes. I felt a sharp pain on my right arm then a powerful jerk that pulled me out from under the desk. I listen to the screams and the more I listen the more they sounded like laughter. I listen more carefully and yes, it did sound more and more like laughter. I herd the teacher screaming, but I did not understand. I wanted to open my eyes but I was afraid my eyes would be burnt out. I felt I was being dragged across the floor by my arm. The pain on my arm was unbearable and I was forced to open my eyes. It was the teacher and she was mad. All the kids were in the hallway watching us and laughing. The teacher pulled me off the floor by my arm and walking me out the classroom. We walked outside the building, and I saw all the classes lined up and they were waiting for my class to join them. We were the last class to exit the building. All this time the kids laughed and called me all sorts of things. Some things I understood and others I did not. I felt very confused, I felt so stupid, and extremely humiliated. The school principle stood in front of all the classes and said a few things then all the classes started to go back into the building one by one. When it was my class turn to go in, I hid and stayed behind. From my hiding place, I watched every one go back into the building, I walked out of the schoolyard, and then walked home. I sat on the porch waiting for mom thinking of what had happened at school. I did not go back to school for a few days, and I never told mom what had happen. It was later that I found out that the school also had fire drills.