Orange Sherbert

The shiverest shiver of all came from orange sherbert at the Offutt Air Force Base Officer’s Club. My brother and I would sit in back of the car on the way home and shiver while my dad would say, “Knock it off, kids.”

When we first moved to Nebraska from Colorado in 1960, we stayed at the Visiting Officer’s Motel on base and got to eat at the Officer’s Club a lot.

Offutt Air Force Base Visitors Officers' Quarters Motel

Offutt Air Force Base Visitors Officers’ Quarters Motel

The Officer’s Club was our favorite restaurant largely because of the carpet which was deep purple, magenta and white with a design of space — Saturn, stars, galaxies, planets. It was the 1960s and space WAS the final frontier. A Minuteman Missile stood in front of the main headquarters of this most secret of America’s military establishments outside the Pentagon.

Between our house and this simple, blonde brick building, where my dad went to work every day,  were hundreds of silver B-52’s, their tails gleaming in the sunlight on the crisp fall mornings as we walked to school.



Offutt Mug on Top of a Coding Sheet

The Cold War made a lot of people shiver in fear, but for us it was just a daily fact of life. At school, we had bomb drills weekly, strange and futile exercises because we WERE the target. This finally hit home to me when I was 10 after watching “On the Beach,” and rather than being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the B52’s cleaning their jets, I lay in bed terrified that we’d be the last people on earth waiting for the fallout to drift our way and kill us slowly. My dad, when I told him all this, said, “Honey, there’s nothing to worry about. The bomb, if it comes, will land HERE. We’ll be instantly vaporized. We’ll just go out in the front yard and watch it come. Think of how few people have seen that! And we’ll get to see it!”

Since I’d seen the crater at Alamagordo numerous times and had grown up with this mathematician physicist guy with MS, I guess I had a slightly unusual view of both death and atomic weapons. The only movie I ever saw on base was “Dr. Strangelove.”

When I watch movies about the 50s and 60s made today, I get very angry. I wonder where young people today get the qualifications to make their sweeping summary judgments about times they have never known? Then I remember; I write historical fiction. Maybe I’m doing that, too.

The thought makes me shiver.

9 thoughts on “Orange Sherbert

  1. I sort of remember those days. Now we just have a laugh at seeing school kids in the states ducking under the desk, but no, it is not funny. I saw the film On the Beach and some years later read the book, which of course was much better. I seemed strange to think that Australia would be the last place on earth to survive. There are always maniacs in the world, I just hope that the future maniac will not get a chance to prove he is one. Why is it the good ones are always assisinated and the bad ones survive?

  2. “We’ll be instantly vaporized. We’ll just go out in the front yard and watch it come.” What a dad! What a childhood you experienced – so different than the majority of us… except that we too were able to see Dr. Strangelove, what a classic.

  3. I was — even as a very small child — cynical, skeptical, and underwhelmed — by duck and cover drills. I knew enough (even then) to believe my desk at P.S. 35 was NOT going to keep me from being vaporized. I said so to the teachers who promptly sent me to the art room where I wouldn’t annoy everyone by say inconvenient things. I think I spent half my elementary school years in the art room. Alone. With the paints. And the glue. I loved it. Even if I never learned math and totally lost fractions, turned out I didn’t need them anyway.

    When I saw your title, I thought this was going to be about “he who cannot be named.”

  4. This morning, I ran across an article concerning the release of On the Beach: A search of Word Press, using the term “On the Beach”, led me to your blog. I was in high school when On the Beach was released. It epitomized what we all feared and lived through on a daily basis; however, we rarely spoke about it. Your comments about what your father told you ring true to that time, “ . . . we’ll get to see it.” I fear that we are headed back into those dark times.

    I remember the Offutt Air Force Base Visitors Officers’ Quarters Motel and eating at the Officer’s Club. I don’t remember having orange sherbet, but I do remember the steaks. I was never there in any time but winter, and I remember the cold winds . . . . As you do, “I wonder where young people today get the qualifications to make their sweeping summary judgments about times they have never known?” Then I remember that most of their professors were probably born in the mid-60s at the earliest.

    • You are right. I only retired from university teaching 3 years ago, but I think even if kids learned history from older folks, they learned ABOUT it which is not the same as learning FROM it.

      The wind. Yep. It didn’t bother my brother and me because we were kids. Walking home as the snow blew straight at us, we imagined we were in space and the flakes were stars and planets passing by us. My mom, however, found Nebraska winter to be a new kind of hell — and she was from Montana!!! Thanks for visiting!

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