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Just in Case

Aug
18
2006

I could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure society as we know it won’t be collapsing within the next few days. But it’s been a little dicey lately, so I’ve been fighting the urge to lapse into survival mode.
Anyone who grew up during the Cold War and through the Cuban Missile Crisis understands this state of mind. And while my parents never resorted to building a bomb shelter, we and most of my friends had a rough kitchen, an old sofa, a snowy television set and musty bedding – in fact, complete living quarters – in our unfinished basements. The reason given to us little ones was that “it’s cooler down there in the summer.”
I don’t recall any adult talking with us about the threat of nuclear annihilation. They simply drilled us on ducking under our desks or lined up the hallways. But the TV featured all those cheesy 1950s low-budget black and white movies about the unstoppable monsters created by nuclear radiation, not to mention most of the Twilight Zone episodes.
My parents had a running argument about who was going to tuck me in and hear my prayers at night. In addition to a good little Catholic child’s minimum prayer requirements, I’d tacked on a good 15 minutes’ worth of “protect me from”s. The list included tornadoes, hurricanes, fire, the Giant Behemoth Monster, giant ants and radiation poisoning.
Most of all, though, I ended my list with the request, “don’t let me be the only one left.” This was inspired by a still-chilling movie, Five, and by the Twilight Zone episode where a far-sighted, bookish and timid Burgess Meredith is the only survivor of a nuclear blast and is given the brief joy of stumbling upon the New York Public Library. (Rod Serling ends this particular story by breaking Burgess’s reading glasses, a plot twist for which I’ve never forgiven him.)
My mother was much more communicative about going into survival mode during the 1970s oil crisis she was convinced was going to cause economic collapse and, therefore, anarchy. So she bought a lot of beans.
That we were not a particularly bean-eating family did not faze her. Come the collapse, we would be fed. Our German Shepherd Dog would also be fed since she stocked up on, inexplicably, Dinty Moore Beef Stew for him, which we all secretly conspired to steal from him as we huddled in our basement waiting for beans to soak. Our theory was that, while our neighbors might try to storm our compound in search of canned goods or powdered milk, no one wanted the beans.
Strangely, though, it wasn’t until almost ten years after my mother’s death and after we’d moved her bean stash twice, that any of us thought to throw them out. They’d become like furniture by this time.
So I’ve unwittingly taken on my mother’s survival mode tendencies, though I try not to act on it unless absolutely justified. Mostly it’s just under the surface. It’s a habit of mine that wherever we are, I look around for hiding places for every member of the family. It’s just a brief flip of a thought and I’ve never refused to stay somewhere if I couldn’t find it.
And I’ve always kept it low-key so as not to frighten the Heirs when they were little. My mother huddling in the hallway during thunderstorms hardly gave me the sense of confidence I needed to face The Amazing Colossal Man and the angry guy in the gas line who realized he was trying to get gas on an even day with an odd license plate.

I will admit to buying into the Y2K hype – apparently I’m the only one who will – but with more of a fed-up attitude than fear. There was so much bickering about it, very little assurance coming from the powers that be (even my bank would not say unequivocally that nothing was going to happen), a lot of people making a lot of money off the hype and a lot of greed manifesting itself, I wanted shed of the whole system. This mildly amused Dirtman at first and he didn’t call a halt to my ideas until I ordered the plans for a windmill.
So I didn’t do much about the recent events in the Middle East and the predictions of Armageddon. But I thought about it. Bought a bag of kidney beans and some Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
Just to be safe, I opened up my hiding place and put a spare pair of glasses in it.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:26 PM | Permalink

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