Russians can’t get here if the bridge is out.
March 10, 2014
He never knew he lived in the suburbs. He never knew anyone who didn’t. Charlie McDonald grew up on a little farmstead, not much more than a truck patch in Jacob’s Community, just down the road apiece from the Greater Pitner’s Junction Metropolitan Area.
His nearest neighbor lived a mile away, and the two houses were separated by cotton fields with a few rows of new potatoes and tomatoes thrown in because the prices of produce were high and growing higher and might reach two bits a bushel if rampant inflation didn’t slow down before the year was out.
Charlie McDonald had no idea what either rampant or inflation meant, but he heard his daddy cuss it, so he cussed it, too, and everybody in the Jacob’s Community knew that the latest tax increases and economic policies from Washington had reared their ugly heads and condemned them all to a life of poverty, which, after all, was the only kind of life that any of them had ever known or expected to know.
They all used to cuss the weather, but it had rained a month ago, so the good cussing had died away, which meant the preacher had lost one of his prime sermon topics on Sunday morning. He railed against sin. He prayed against sin. He would have cussed sin, but it wouldn’t have sounded right from the pulpit, and when he was alone and no one could eavesdrop on his personal conversations with God, he thanked the Good Lord profusely for sin, which was the only free commodity in East Texas that kept him in business twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night.
Now Charlie McDonald was listening to his neighbors as they began to worry about some new political denomination called Communism. He didn’t know what Communism was all about either, but it must be bad, because the folks around Jacob’s Community were cussing it as badly as they did Washington, the weather, and sin, which most would have voted for if anyone had ever put it on the ballot.
The Commies were coming. Everybody knew it. The newspaper headlines said they were. Edward R. Murrow said they were on radio. And the preacher had begun spending as much time pounding his Bible and railing against Communism as he did against sin, which meant that Moses must have included it somewhere in the Ten Commandments, and Charlie McDonald figured it probably had something to do with coveting and adultery.
He was sitting on the front porch, whittling a new whistle out of tree bark when the new Packard rolled into his daddy’s driveway. His father quit throwing feed to his Rhode Island Red hens long enough to wander up and meet them as they stepped out of the split yellow and spit shined fancy new automobile.
Neither man was smiling. They looked like they were on the way to a funeral. They nodded their good mornings, solemnly shook Amos McDonald’s hand, and said, without any pleasantries, which was never done in genteel society or in the South, “Sir, we are here to save your life.”
“Might be worth saving,” McDonald said. “Might not.”
“You listen to the news on the radio?” asked the tall one with the black mustache.
“You read the newspapers?”
“It’s enough to frighten any sane man,” said the shorter one, pulling the brim of his dress hat lower over his eyes. He was frowning against the sun.
“Not if you read page three, it don’t,” McDonald said.
“What’s on page three?”
“The comics.” McDonald shrugged. “The Katzenjammer Kids aren’t scared of nothing.”
“We’re talking about Russia,” said the tall one.
“They want to kill us,” said the short one. “They want to kill us all.”
“They’ve got the bomb,” said the tall one.
“They’re gonna blow us off the face of the earth,” said the short one.
“You’ve got one chance to survive,” said the tall one.
“You just need to know two words,” the short one said.
“Bomb shelter,” the tall one said.
“When the rest of the United States is lying in smoldering ruins … ,” said the tall one.
“And our population has been vaporized,” said the short one.
“You and your family will be safe,” said the tall one.
“You will be the survivors,” said the short one.
“You will make sure that life as we know it goes on.” The tall one straightened his jacket, made sure his diamond tie clip was in place, and folded his arms.
“Two words,” the short one said.
“Bomb shelter,” the tall one said.
“Only twelve thousand dollars,” the short one said.
“Solid concrete,” the tall one said. “Not much to pay for peace of mind.”
He was as sure of himself as an attorney with a slam dunk case that had just been slam dunked.
“Don’t need one,” Amos McDonald said.
“The Russians aren’t coming.”
“What makes you say that?” the tall one asked.
“Can’t find us.”
“What makes you say that?”
“We’re in the suburbs,” McDonald said.
The short one frowned and looked about at the pine forest surrounding the farm. He had never seen suburbs without a city limit sign before. “What difference does that make?” he asked.
“We changed the road sign,” McDonald said.
“Why’d you do that?”
“The bridge is out.”
Amos McDonald winked at his son, turned away, and went back to his Rhode Island Reds as the Packard rolled down the road, headed west. Forty-two seconds later, it rolled back down the road, headed east. Had to. Couldn’t go any farther.
The bridge was out.
And such was life in the suburbs of Jacob’s Community, circa 1953. I know. I was there. Charlie McDonald was the only friend I had.