Phyllis Witte


Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies
for Amber Waves of Grain…

Look Little Johnny, just beyond the waves of grain
Quick Little Johnny, duck and cover
and pledge allegiance to the flag,
Oh say can you see Little Johnny,
of thee I sing,
and of Dick and Spot and Jane
I sing
Mickey Mouse
Donald Duck
The Lone Ranger
Lassie, Tonto, Rin-Tin-Tin
Buffalo Bill   Buffalo Bob
Captain Kangaroo
Mr. Greenjeans…

Look Little Johnny, up in the sky
it’s a bird   it’s a plane—
it’s a white blinding flash of light…
Little Johnny,

My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land

of Liberty
of the A-bomb
Bomb Shelter
the Russians are coming
the Martians have landed
and the Chinese, Communists, Reds
better dead than Red
better dead than Sputnik than
Lost in Space in   The Twilight Zone
better just inside
The Outer Limits
Oh Say Can You See by the Dawn’s Early Light

Philadelphia Cream Cheese
Minute Rice
frozen French fries
Hot Dogs
Cool Whip   Redi-Whip   Jell-O
Velveeta  Cheese   My-T-Fine Pudding
Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix
Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice
Nilla Wafers   Oreo Cookies    Animal Crackers

The Rockets Red Glare, the Bombs Bursting Through Air

through Ex-Lax, Hayley’s M.O., Milk of Magnesia
Shredded Wheat
through Rice-a-Roni that San Francisco treat
through Wheaties
and Saddle Shoes and Penny Loafers and P.F. Flyers
all running through the streets
running from the Rockets and the Bombs
running from the red glare of Heinz Ketchup
running from the 57 Varieties…

Land Where My Fathers Died
I Love Lucy… and
Leave It To Beaver…

The Little Rascals
Dennis the Menace
My Mother the Car
Father Knows Best or maybe
Horse Cartwright does
or Mr. Ed, Howdy Dowdy
or just maybe Amos n’ Andy…

Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride
and Queen for a Day

From Every Mountainside Let Freedom Ring and roll like
Hoola Hoop
Pensy Pinky

Duncan Yo-Yo
Duncan Yo-Yo
Duncan Yo-Yo

for Purple  Mountains
(try Paint-by-Number, Venus Coloring Sets,
 Crayola Crayons)
for Purple Mountains’ Majesty
Above the Fruited Plains of

Fruit of the Loom
God, Shed His Grace on
Jockey Briefs

And Crown Thy Good with

Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines
and Ready-to-Serve Chocolate Icing
flowing down Breyer’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

and Crisco,
vats and vats of Crisco

From Sea to Shining Sea


             It was the time of Dick and Spot and Jane.

 Each day we sit in perfect rows, one behind the other, take turns reading aloud from our readers: See Dick run.  See Spot run.  See Jane run.  Run Jane, run.
            It was the time of the A-Bomb and the H-Bomb, and Little Johnny spotting the bright blinding flash of light in the sky.

The teacher points to the black and white newsprint photograph she is holding before us: “Does anyone know who this man is?”   No one raises their hand.  We stare on in wonder at the shriveled-looking man with a few wisps of hair.  She answers: “This is our president, President Eisenhower.  He is the president of the United States of America.”

The walls of the classroom are painted dull yellow.  The floorboards are shellacked to a high shine.  We sit at wooden deskchairs.  There is a round empty hole where an inkwell used to be, but since the advent of cartridge pens, the inkwells have long since disappeared.  The deskchairs are securely fastened to the floor so that the rows stay in perfect order.  In the front of the room, over the chalkboard, hangs the alphabet--above the alphabet, the American flag.

The teacher points to the flag.  She asks, “Do you know what the stars stand for?  Do you know what the stripes stand for?”  We stare on in wonder.

We are seated in the auditorium, we are watching a grainy black-and- white film.  The voice-over tells us, “Look it’s Little Johnny riding his bicycle.  Look Little Johnny, up in the sky, it’s a white blinding flash of light!”  Little Johnny jumps off his bike and runs to the nearest bomb shelter located not more than ten feet away.  In the background the pleasant voices sing, “Duck and cover, duck and cover.”
 Little Johnny is safe from the white blinding flash of light.

We learn facts: Columbus discovered America.  George Washington was the Father of our country.  The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to insure liberty and justice for all.  All men are created equal.  Thomas Jefferson opposed slavery.  Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery.

We learn fears: we fear Krushchev.  We fear Russia, the Reds, Sputnik.  We fear UFO’s and visitors from strange planets.  We fear our next door neighbor. We fear bombs, all kinds of bombs. 
The bomb could drop on us at anytime.

We are sitting on the floor in the gray-drab hallway of the school.  We are sitting on the hallway floor with our coats over our heads.  We are having a drill.  If the bomb drops, we know that sitting on the floor of the hallway with our coats over our heads will protect us.

            We are sitting at our deskchairs, hands folded, a yellow pencil on top of our desk.  We wait to be called to the window by the Principal.  One by one, by the light of the window, she combs through our hair with our yellow pencil looking for lice.  She must check every head of every child to see if they have lice. 
We fear the bomb, and we also fear lice.

            In the nurse’s office we are vaccinated against Polio, against TB, against Scarlet Fever.

Every afternoon in the cafeteria we open our tin lunch boxes and eat our sandwiches made of Wonderbread; Wonderbread that helps builds strong bodies twelve ways.  We had already eaten our breakfast, Wheaties, the breakfast of champions or pancakes made from Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix.

            We are seated at our desks.  The Principal stands at the front of the classroom, gives the signal, “Now!” she cries. We slide off our seats, raise the wooden chair, duck under the desk, take shelter from the bomb that could fall on us.  We wait for some time in perfect quite underneath the desks.  She gives the signal, “All Clear!”  We resume our seated positions, some classmates hitting their heads on the wooden desks on the way up.  We hear children crying. “Well,” states the Principal, “It could have been worse--it could have been the bomb.”

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