WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? Nemeses – Marty Kafka

NEMESES

By Martin Kafka

It’s been a long time since we were children, and for many of us, including myself, I look back on that part of my life  during the early 1950’s with an unrequited longing and a micro-filtered recall of positive memories. So, from the vantage point of my current moment, it took a while to recall that our generation did face some very serious common nemeses.

Two related nemeses quickly came to mind: Communism and the threat of an atomic bomb.  Communism was an abstract concept for me as a 6-year-old. I was unaware of it as a formidable menace. As for nuclear war, I do remember air raid sirens and bomb shelter drills in school at P.S. 197 In Brooklyn.  I recognized even then, however, that hiding under my kindergarten table was not going to make any difference when the Bomb struck.

There was a third nemesis that I recall more personally, a threat posed by an invisible monstrosity that sought out children. It was a threat we all feared, and it must have been especially terrifying for our parents. It was an invisible menace that lurked amongst us like something out of the Steven King’s horror novel “It.” “It” was mostly dormant, patient, hidden, waiting for the right circumstances to strike. “It” had its preferences for warm weather, crowded spaces, and most especially, for defenseless children. “It” was an amorphous, pervasive, and alien creature that, if it could speak in a single voice, would likely malevolently growl, “Give me your children.”

Think summer camps, for example. When “It” struck, “It” could kill, but “It” was more likely to maim or cripple “Its” victims sadistically, as if “It” were engaged  in a vengeful war with us and wanted to slowly suffocate children to death.

I remember being a kid with my parents at a summer bungalow colony in New Jersey.  “It” struck one of the kids at summer camp. I don’t remember who, as he was not a particular friend of mine, but “It” showed no mercy. After “It” `struck and he died, we cowered in our bungalow, or my brother and I sheepishly played outside on our cabin’s front porch. We didn’t socialize with other kids or adults for several weeks. There was a foreboding silence amongst us, a cloud of fear that crippled our colony’s sense of community. Was there anything we could do? Would “It” strike again? Who might be “Its” next victims?

In 1952, an epidemic year, there were 58,000 new cases of “It” reported in the United States, and more than 3,000 died. It wasn’t until 1955, when I was an eight-year old kid, that I would anxiously look forward to a vaccination shot in my left arm.

Thank God for Jonas Salk.  This time, it was American science beckoning to us “Give me your children”– and we did.

BOLLI Matters contributor and member of the Writers Guild, Marty Kafka
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano. 
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.

4 thoughts on “WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? Nemeses – Marty Kafka”

  1. In 1948, a few days after my 6th birthday, my father, an internist, was treating children with polio. He contracted a severe case and was immediately put in an iron lung, but died the next day. Because it was a kind of man-bites-dog story, my grandmother half way across the country, learned of his death on the radio. I learned later that, in circumstances eerily like those of today, my mother was unable to say goodbye to him because we all, plus neighbors, were immediately quarantined. Twenty years later when I returned to visit the former neighbor, I found a quarantine sign that had been posted on our doors and I was immediately drawn back to that time.

  2. Celia

    Although many years have passed, I am so sorry for the loss of your father, a man who, these days, would likely be helping those afflicted by the Coronavirus.

  3. I remember those days of panic and fear so clearly. I too was at summer camp and my parents were terrified. We had a few minor cases but everyone recovered without any residual damage. For me, as for you, this pandemic brings these memories back. Let’s pray another Jonas Salk is working on the solution.

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