Sunday, August 6, 2017

Still Life with Robin: Orders from School

Dog tags (photo by James Paris
via Creative Commons)
by Peggy Robin

John Kelly’s Washington Post column today is about schoolkids and dog tags – see A few weeks ago he asked if anyone who had been a schoolchild during the days of “duck and cover” drills can remember being issued dog tags. In his column today, he quotes a few locals who tell their stories, and he also quotes one DC resident who grew up elsewhere, recalling the handout she received in school to order dog tags from a private company. That was me. As Kelly had room in his column for just a short snippet of my dog-tag tale, I thought I’d tell the whole of it here:

When I was a kid in the Atlanta public school system in the early ‘60s, they did try to get our parents to order dog tags for us to wear in the event of a nuclear holocaust, so our little bodies could be identified. (Not sure why they thought the dog tags wouldn’t be incinerated along with the rest of us.) But as I recall, it wasn’t a giveaway; the offer came from a for-profit enterprise that was allowed to market to schoolchildren through in-school handouts and application forms.

I received many of these things in school, and I presume the companies paid the Atlanta public school system for the privilege. I can recall some of them: studio photography sessions for children’s portraits or family photo shoots; children’s life insurance; after-school etiquette classes; and a monthly solicitation to order kids’ books from Scholastic Inc. I’m sure there were many others that I can’t recall.

I can also remember some of the freebies we received – most notably from the Coca Cola Corporation. Twice a year – once before the Christmas break and again at the end of the school year – every child received a pencil embossed with the child’s name on one side and Coca Cola (in the famous script lettering) on the other, along with a Coca Cola logo spiral notebook.

The most memorable freebie, though, was a Bible (New and Old Testaments) given to every public school child. I’m fairly sure this occurred AFTER the Supreme Court’s ban on school-sponsored prayer. I believe it was paid for by some sort of Bible Society. At the time, my mother was the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, and when she saw that the school system had sent me home with a free Christian bible, she hit the roof. The worst part, from the point of view of a rather timid ten-year-old (as I was at the time) – is that she made me bring it back! My teacher already viewed me as the spawn of Satanic Yankees (my parents were both New Yorkers), and so this action amply confirmed what she already thought.

Of course my parents never ever bought the life insurance or the dog tags and they certainly did not sign me up for any etiquette classes that would teach me how to become a gracious Southern lady!

I do know that some of my friends’ parents did order dog tags through the program. And I remember one friend telling me, rather proudly, I think, that if there was an all-out nuclear war, Atlanta would definitely be targeted, because it was the most important city in the South!

Of course, moving to DC – which we did in 1969 – really put me in the prime target zone. Nowadays, seems like I’m getting that old Cold War feeling once again. Could be it’s time to order that long-delayed set of dog tags!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on weekends.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your story. I grew up in Atlanta too but earlier- graduated from high school in 1960. I remember my dog tag from about 1952 or 53 but am positive we neither ordered nor paid for it. My father hit the ceiling when I brought mine home, embossed with the letter J. It was not quite a yellow star but seemed so to my parents.

    I had to return the Bible, too.