The sun shone in a way unusual for October. It was 1962 and low lying clouds filtered the rays of light into a hazy, suffocating veil. Indian summer had settled in; the warm breeze swirling around the few leaves that had fallen from the trees. An unfamiliar feeling of foreboding was in the air and Hillhurst Elementary School was buzzing.
Katie sat with her spine erect against the back of her wooden desk. Like the good little girl she was, her hands were folded and clasped before her, just as Miss Simpson had requested. All her books were put away in a neat and tidy pile. Katie’s gaze flashed around the classroom at the other 36 students. Were they scared? Did they understand what was happening? The principal’s voice, Mr. Dibble, blared heavy through the intercom, and landed with a jolt in Katie’s heart. In one beat, Mr. Dibble’s words turned Katie’s world upside down. “Children”, he proclaimed, “we are asking all of you to walk home for lunch today, but do not run”. “It is very important that you walk quickly, without stopping or speaking with anyone on the street”. “Do not linger at the playground or stop to pet a puppy”. “We want you all to walk home as quickly as you can and stay home with your family this afternoon”.
Katie felt her cheeks on fire; uncertainty pulsing through her body like a wave of nausea. She rushed to the back of her grade one classroom, put on her outdoor shoes and pink summery sweater and made her way out the back of the school, through the door marked “GIRLS”.
Cutting across the school yard, Katie heard the noon bells of St. Barnabas Church. Swallowing a sob, her small fists clenched tightly, she willed her legs to move forward. Past Riley Park and down 12th Street she put one foot in front of the other. There were no school patrols today to monitor the 5th Avenue crosswalk, but she waited for traffic to subside and away she went.
On the sidewalk by Brian’s Grocery, her Dad’s Ford country squire with the plastic seat covers pulled up beside her. He was smiling! Didn’t he know that something terrible was happening? Dad straining, leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window. “Katie”, he called “hop in”. “I’ll drive you the rest of the way home”. Hearing the strength in his voice, Katie could no longer hold back her tears and they spilled freely down her crimson cheeks. “Daddy, my principal told me I had to walk home by myself today”. “I can’t ride with you”.
Katie’s Dad knew something his young daughter did not. Thirteen days of confrontation between neighbouring United States and the Soviet Union was causing a ripple of panic and uncertainty throughout the Western world. Lives were at risk. Could the end result be a missile launched from Cuba?
Dad smiled at his earnest little girl’s face, her braids dangling down her back. “Don’t worry Katie”, he whispered so reassuringly, “I’ll see you at home”.
Waiting at the front door, Dad bear-hugged his girl and wiped the sadness from her face. “Come Katie”, he said, “let’s see what your Mom has made us for lunch”.