Graeme Decarie recalls arriving at MCHS the day of the October 1962 Missile Crisis

The following text is an excerpt from a post that Graeme Decarie wrote on Aug. 10, 2015 at his website, where he has his blog, now called The Decarie Report:

August 10: A day to remember.

Certainly, I shall never forget it. And it often comes to mind as I write these blogs. It was a day in October of 1962. I was a teacher at Malcolm Campbell High School in Montreal. As I went to school that day, I felt my heart tightening. The steps to the school were packed with students waiting for the bell to ring. And as I walked through them, we were all there together, but each of us quite alone. And quite frightened. Then a girl’s voice broke the silence with a wail of despair, “but we haven’t even had a chance to get married yet.”

It seemed comic in that terrible moment. But it’s the moment of that time I best remember.

Oct. 1962 was when the Soviet Union sent nuclear missiles by ship to Cuba. President Kennedy warned him to call the shipment off. We were within days, perhaps hours, of a nuclear war. Kruschev of the Soviet Union backed off. And President Kennedy became the hero of the hour. (I was always puzzled by that. Kennedy was the one who had bombed, set up an invasion of Cuba, and tried many times to murder Castro for his “terrorism” in kicking out a murderous dictator who ruled and looted that tiny nation for billionaires like Kennedy. That’s why Castro gave permission for the nuclear missiles. He knew the U.S. planned to invade. About then years later, while sailing in the Florida Keys, I saw many, many short-range missiles – obviously for Cuba, a tiny country with no capacity to attack the U.S.)

We are now closer to a nuclear war than we were then – and a much bigger one. But who’s worrying? Certainly nobody at the Irving press. There is a huge difference between now and 1962. In 1962, we were living in a world brought alive by a world war, and a sudden possibility of better lives. Adults and, certainly, teens were aware to the new opportunities – and that was reflected in popular music that mixed optimism with a very critical look at obstacles — as in the Pete Seeger Song “Where have all the flowers gone?”

But almost all of that has gone. We have become trivial, escapist, goalless – much of that due to news and entertainment propaganda and trivia that have created a vast, intellectual stupor.

[End of excerpt]

Comment

I hadn’t read Graeme’s email of Aug. 10, 2015 until recently. During the summer, I took a break from reading and sending emails for a while, and some of the August 2015 messages I have not read until recently.

I remember those days, in October 1962. I remember Howard High told a joke, maybe in the hallway at MCHS during a break between classes, a joke that he had heard somewhere, during those days when the the end of the world appeared imminent, thanks to the 1962 Missile Crisis.

Howard’s joke, the one he had heard somewhere, describes the preparations that you as a student would be required to make, when you’re hiding under your desk in your classroom, waiting for the end. I don’t know if Howard remembers the joke, or the punchline. I don’t remember all that many things from those days, but the joke I remember well, because it placed all matters of the day into a suitable perspective.

From my perspective, based on my own family history, my view of the 1962 Missile Crisis may be slightly different from your own, whatever your view might be. A person’s own life experiences have an impact on how we view topics such as the Cold War, and the significance of that time in history.

Looking back at things is an interesting process. Some of my MCHS classmates have a near-photographic memory of events that happened at the school and outside of it. They can remember details about people and events that I would have no recollection of; whenever they describe an incident, in vivid detail, the story comes alive for me, as though I were watching a gripping movie. Whether or not the details match the reality, one never knows of course, given that memories are malleable and subject to being stretched and shaped into whatever form makes the most sense to us now, from the perspective of having a coherent storyline to carry with us. As well, we know that given how memory works, each of our stories about the past changes in subtle ways, with each retelling of it.

A review of the evidence related to the malleability of memory – I’m thinking especially of my own memories of days past – is available at a Feb. 11, 2015 blog post entitled:

Memories are malleable – capable of being stretched or bent into different shapes

What I remember from those days are not the memory snapshots of things; I do not possess a near-photographic memory; instead, given that each person’s memory works in a way that is unique to that individual, I tend to remember my awareness, in this days, of how the power structure of a high school is set up. I tended to tune into such things: Who wields the power in the school, what channels does the power flow through, how are conflicts handled, what narratives are used to define situations dealing with who stands where, in the power structure.

I like to think that every student, who ran for whatever office was available, in a high school setting, would be aware of these kinds of things, at one level or another. I learned things then, that have served me in good stead ever since, even though at the time I was not aware of what it was that I was learning.

In my case, I ran for the presidency of the student council at my high school, and managed to get elected. I remember, after the election, I came home and smoked a cigarillo in the backyard patio of our house on Lavigne Street. That’s one of the ways that people tended to celebrate in the 1960s: Sit down, smoke a cigar, think about the day.

I haven’t smoked a cigar, or a cigarette, for many. many years.

 

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