If I could make days last forever
If words could make wishes come true
I'd save every day like a treasure and then
Again, I would spend them with you.
~Jim Croce, Time in a Bottle
“We should write down all our information,” I told my cousin. “Just in case …”
“What information? And who’s going to read it if …”
In 1952 we were two years into the Cold War. When McCarthyism denounced Communism, Russian dominance took command of the news and scared the dickens out of us.
Better Dead Than Red, became a battle cry. Repent Now, the churches preached. The end is near!
Our public schools showed the Civil Defense film, Duck and Cover to teach us what to do when (not if) the A-bomb dropped. Duck and cover your head under your desk! Do not look up!
Scared out of our minds, my cousin and I cowered under our desks in mortal fear of the dreaded mushroom cloud. In bed at night, we held tight to our teddy bears for comfort.
Joe McCarthy easily convinced Americans that impending doom was a certainty if the country did not purge itself of Communists. His obsession was contagious and served to usher in the Cold War along with cold fear that spread like cancer throughout the body of our country.
Some people in our town built Fallout Shelters for protection. With no shelter in either of our backyards, my cousin and I figured we would no doubt be nuked into kingdom come. The Civil Defense films we had been shown in school gave us no reason to believe otherwise.
“Future generations, if there are any,” I told her in what I thought was an analytical declaration, “should know that the two of us lived and breathed.” We were so naïve but we were only twelve-years-old.
So we scribbled out our names on Blue Horse notebook paper, included what we liked to eat and the fun things we liked to do. We also wrote down our favorite movies. (Duck and Cover was not one of them.)
We wrapped our life story in tin foil because we figured radiation would not penetrate metal. Then we stuffed it inside a loose brick in my cousin’s house and there it remains to this day. When I drive through our old neighborhood, long since vacated by both our families, I always wonder if what we hid inside a brick that day was ever found. If so, did it make the finder laugh?
Our fears of gamma rays, isotopes, and alpha and beta particles occurred during a time when the A-Bomb monster threatened to put an end to all living things. In today's world, another fear eclipses the one that haunted us in the Fifties. It, too, begins with the letter A. It doesn’t break bones; it breaks hearts. It doesn’t kill people; it kills brains.
Thank God my cousin and I never experienced the first A-bomb, but a few years ago she became a victim of the other A-bomb: Alzheimer’s. When she became bedridden she seldom spoke but she clung to pieces of her past while embracing a teddy bear for comfort.
I don’t know where she went when she retreated to that solitary place in her mind, but I’d like to think she went back to a time when we were kids having fun. If she passed by her old house in her mind, I hope she remembered to laugh about the day we sealed our lives within the folds of a double thickness of tin foil before shoving it behind a loose brick on the side of her house.
Not unlike the A-Bomb, Alzheimer’s takes no prisoners. Its victims are not only the ones diagnosed, but also the families who pray for a moment or two of clarity with a loved one. That few seconds of light may be only a blip on the mind’s radar screen, but it has the power to call up the sweetest, most precious memories.
Our days are made up of events, good, bad and so-so, many of which remain locked inside our minds. Experiences become footprints and in the end eulogies verifying the fact that we stood on this earth and we mattered.
My cousin hugged her teddy bear one last time this week before leaving us for a better existence.
If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to doIs to save every day 'til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you.