36 Hours

36 Hours by Mary E. Latela, July 9, 2016


When my roommates heard I’d signed up to spend 36 hours in a fall-out shelter –they did not believe me. Part of the reason I took the plunge was to quash my reputation as a scaredy cat. If it’s loud, frightening, or filled with strangers, I stayed home.

I went. This was in the 1960s when the Cold War had everyone thinking they could survive a nuclear attack by hiding under a school desk or in the P.O. Basement for a day and a half. It was crowded in that Basement. Did I mention claustrophobia?

After the Person in Charge took attendance, they started rolling out cots for the overnight “sleep.” Shortly afterward, a bang on the door, brought in a den of 8-year-old cub scouts (with their nervous den leader.) They must have rehearsed – we’re starving – no one will take us in – we’ll be good. .

Would you turn away children or would you make room for them in the humid crowded, sweaty space. We couldn’t say no. Did I say we were nuns? Yes, in that black and white outfit, people WOULD talk.

Our snack before lights out contained 100 year old crackers (or so it seemed) which probably had originally been graham crackers, several hard candies, and a cup of filtered water. Someone led the “Guardian Angel Prayer”  which children seem to like.

We had to sleep head to toe, two of us on a cot. For modesty’s sake, and lack of pajamas, we stayed fully dressed. Attendance was taken first thing in the morning and we were “all there” or should I say no one had disappeared.

Breakfast was the same as supper, and yes, we dunked (hard candy into water), sang (someone had brought a guitar), and tried to wash up a bit. We spent the time collecting the linens, stuffing them into a barrel, lining up the cots. We sent the scouts on their way… We played cards. Some people slept. We moved slowly. One of the air vents was blocked, so it was a bit stuffy.

In the late afternoon, the attendance was taken, and happily, no one had been abducted by ETs. The Person in Charge opened the door. The rush of cool air was lovely. We stumbled out into the evening and walked home. We were exhausted. That was the first time I had participated in hysterical laughter.

Home again. Supper of tea and toast. Shower!!!!! Bed. Oh yes, I still have my certificate for successful completion of the safety program. May we never have to do this again.

About @LatelaMary

Author of 14 self-help books, five still available: Prepare Him Room, Ten Steps to Peace, Healing the Abusive Family, Moments for Mothers. Breaking the Boxes: critique of institutions vs. individuals. Work-in-progress: Memoir (Sorting out Secrets)
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