Chocolate Chip Missile Crisis

When I was in fifth grade, I was consumed with fear that the Soviets were on the verge of destroying us in a nuclear attack. I’m sure I’m not the only almost-forty-something who remembers being afraid like that. It was the early eighties, the final tense years of the Cold War. I remember hearing about the death of Yuri Andropov, the Soviet premiere, and wondering – Does this make war less likely, or more? (Remember the joke about Yuri? What did Reagan say to him before he died? “Go to a cliff, Yuri, and drop off!” Ha. Well, not really.) I prayed every night that nuclear war might somehow be averted.

At some point during that school year, I attended, with a group of other students, a series of weekend enrichment workshops at a nearby college. We were taught rudimentary pottery skills by a middle-aged man with a ponytail, who may very well have been the first man with a ponytail I’d ever met. One Saturday he mentioned that the next night’s episode of 60 Minutes was going to feature Pantex, a nuclear plant near Amarillo. “You know about Pantex, right?” he said to us all. “If that place goes up, everyone in Texas will die just like that,” and he snapped his fingers.

I hadn’t known about Pantex, in fact, and I can tell you that learning about Pantex did nothing for my anxiety level. And for some reason – and I guess the only reason I need to mention is that I was ten – I got it into my brain that Pantex was going to “go up” simply because it was going to be on 60 Minutes – as if the act of filming it was going to trigger a terrible reaction that would end in catastrophe. (I guess I also thought that 60 Minutes was filmed live.) Which meant, I surmised, that Pantex was going to blow tomorrow night, and we all had just over 24 hours to live.

I prayed very hard that night, and I prayed very hard at church the next morning, and I moped around all day, bracing for the explosion. My sister Jana suggested that we make chocolate chip cookies, as we were wont to do on a Sunday afternoon, and I listlessly agreed. I remember thinking, though, as I cracked the eggs, as I spooned the dough – What’s the point? What’s the point of these cookies? Tomorrow, we will all be dead.

I don’t know why I didn’t take my fears to my parents, who would have done all they could to assuage my fears. (I think it’s quite possible that, along with being terrified, I was also a tiny bit interested in the drama I was creating in my head.) That night, my dad, as usual, vetoed my little brother and sister’s request to watch the Wonderful World of Disney and turned on 60 Minutes. I went out the front yard and sat. And waited. The sun set, and my mom called me inside. The show was over, and we were still alive. Somehow, the crisis had been averted.

And the cookies were delicious.


Chris said...

I just remember watching the TV movie "The Day After" on ABC and being terrified for weeks afterwards. It came on cable recently and I was embarrased by how cheesy it was. I can't believe those awful effects and bad writing scared me so badly, but I remember being convinced we were all going to be instantly evaporated by a nuclear blast at any time. Ah, the Eighties.

Anonymous said...

Gracious, Krista! Who knew about all the drama that you created in your very fertile imagination?


aimee said...

Wow. I am just impressed that you knew about current events in 5th grade. I don't remember paying attention to anything like that. Maybe because dad did let us watch the Wonderful World of Disney a few times.

MomofK9s said...

I had all the same fears! I remember waking up in the middle of the night and wondering if this would be that last time I would be alive in my house. I also remember sleeping with my rosary wrapped around my hand like that was going to help me...