I will never forget my old wooden desk in grade school and the drills we held in order to protect us from a nuclear blast. The nuns from St. Ludwig’s Catholic School ordered us to get out of our seats and to curl up beneath the desks where we practiced the silence of Benedictine monks. Someone had pulled down the shades over the wide windows of the second-floor room and we sat for long minutes that felt like hours.
I remember the metal shelf built below the desktop and how it held books. The seat was actually attached to the desk belonging to some other student. It was one of the sturdiest chairs I ever had the pleasure of sitting at attention upon.
The desk had an indentation that was created to hold pencils and keep them from rolling over. To the far right of the desk was a hole which once held a small jar of ink for the more advanced students to dip their pens into. No, they weren’t quills, but something close to ‘em I imagine. I never saw an actual ink container in one of the holes, but I do remember using one of those good old fountain pens. Peacock blue was one of the favorite colors to write with back then.
The desk seemed to always contain at least one book. A Bible history book. I loved to read the adventures from the Old Testament, particularly the stories involving David and his battle with the Philistines and their champion Goliath. I never got grossed out from reading about the young David chopping off the giant’s head or learning how one of my other favorites – Samson – lost his sight as well as his power after his hair was cut. He brought the house down eventually and showed the bad guys that you just didn’t mess around with God-fearing people like him.
St Francis Xavier School in the nearby Fairmount section of Philadelphia held similar desks and periodic drills. Someone older than me recalled how he heard sirens outside of the school one day and the nun went to the fire escape to see what had occurred. It seemed that a prisoner for the first time ever had escaped from Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary. His name was Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks quipped “Because that is where the money is!”
Getting under the desks would do little to help us against radiation from a nuclear blast I finally came to realize. I’m glad I experienced the drills, however. At least I can commiserate with the students nowadays who have “active shooter” drills. I wished we had a world where neither exercise would be needed in our educational system.