Teens in 1950's, Sputnik and Russian Scientists
October 14th,1957 I was a thirteen year old girl waiting at the bus stop.
I glanced at the newspaper stand and saw a strange headline. There was a fuzzy picture of a conical shaped machine and the words:” SPUTNIK CIRCLES THE EARTH” The newspaper said the USSR had just sent Sputnik into space, but I didn't believe it. This was impossible. Weren't the USSR Russians dumb cruel Communists?
I knew the Russians followed Karl Marx
I knew though they followed Karl Marx they were not brilliant altruistic socialists like the Israeli Kibbutz nicks? How could the Dirty Commies send up a space ship before us? Then I started getting scared. Sputnik could be above Canada this very moment. The Russians could drop an atom bomb on us from Sputnik. The Atomic radiation would kill all of us. When the Americans dropped the A Bomb in Hiroshima, people’s skin peeled right off of their arms and they died horribly. Radiation could penetrate walls. You weren't safe anywhere, not even at home.
I found a Pamphlet
I found a pamphlet in the library called “How to survive an atom bomb.” It said we were supposed to go down into your bomb shelter with water and food for a week. But my family didn’t have a bomb shelter, and at school my classmates said: “All the people who have bomb shelters have loaded guns to keep their neighbors out.”
The pamphlet said that if you don’t have a bomb shelter, take blankets down into your root cellarand survive on roots saved down there and food you have canned. But we didn’t have a root cellar and my mom didn’t can food she bought it at the store. There was a cartoon in the “How to survive…” pamphlet. It showed a farmer in his work clothes lying face down between the rows of dirt in his plowed field. He had his face down and held his arms folded up to protect his head. The instructions said 3 feet of dirt would stop the radiation from killing you. Our house had a basement that was below ground on three sides and open to the lane on the fourth side. Maybe we could get dirt from our garden and pile up three feet of dirt on the open lane side. That might save us, though I couldn't picture my mom and dad wrecking our back yard and shoveling dirt. Did we even have shovels in the basement? I didn't think praying to God would help much since it didn't help Jews in the death camps.
The Kids at School discuss Sputnik
The next day kids at my Junior High School argued about Sputnik:
“Aw, its just trick photography.”
“Are we going to have A bomb drills like fire drills?”
“The Baker family have a bomb shelter under their swimming pool.”
I imagined the Baker kids crouched in their concrete bunker under their swimming pool. Did they have a gun? Had they all learned how to shoot it? If me or other neighbours tried to get in would they really shoot us?
Someone said we should start learning Russian. I looked at some Russian words in the newspaper -but they were in a strange alphabet.
The space race was on. We were encouraged to work hard at school and study science so that the Russians would not beat us into space. But really they had already beat us with that little Sputnick. I tried studying all the science I could the next few years at highschool: Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. But I didn't have the focus or discipline to become a scientist.
And thank goodness the end of civilization nuclear war did not happen.