Cathy Adams, Contributor
Two thousand was a big year for apocalyptic believers, but since we’re nearly twenty years past it I don’t have to point out that nothing happened. It seems that each time we start off a new year there is someone or some group who is convinced that this is the year it will happen – the year that the end times come. This was what my father concluded at the close of 1969. We had screwed things up, and now God was fed up with us and was going to give someone or something else a chance, like roaches or bacteria maybe.
Looking back I can see why my father had come to this conclusion. We were embroiled in a war we couldn’t win. All kinds of people like women and Blacks wanted ridiculously unreasonable things like equal pay for equal work and the freedom to vote without being harassed. People were trying their darndest to jump out of the roles the ruling class had spent centuries establishing for them. No wonder there was so much societal turmoil. Folks just did not know their place, and they had this silly idea that they had to right to decide for themselves what it should be. Or at least this is how my dad saw it, and he determined that 1970 was the year the end would happen. Probably around midnight.
Just before Christmas one night over dinner, he got all wound up about it and started waving his fork in the air. “It’s just like in that movie, ‘Planet of the Dirty Apes.’” (He didn’t actually see the movie because we didn’t go to the picture show, as it was still called by my family in the sixties. He only heard about it at church, and the title didn’t quite get translated correctly.)
“In the movie,” he says, “The planet’s been taken over by apes, gorillas and monkeys, and orangutans because the people just let everything go to pot. It’s just like now with young people growing their hair long and smarting off to authority. When people act like monkeys,” he said, with his fork pointing from face to face, “It just goes to show you what can happen.”
Only my dad could make a causal connection between my brothers and sisters and me smarting off too many times and monkeys taking over the planet. And the phrase “go to pot” could mean anything from letting the yard get grown up too tall with grass, to a dirty floor at the supermarket, to my mother’s lamentation that she had gained some weight. Whatever it was that was out of control in any way whatsoever had “gone to pot.”
Even my mom got in on the act when she stood in the yard with our neighbor one afternoon, reading in the newspaper that the newly crowned Miss Alabama had won with a ventriloquist act, a marginal talent that my mother said just proved that the Miss Alabama pageant system had, you guessed it, “gone to pot.”
“I heard a girl in Mississippi won with a roller skating act,” our neighbor said with a sigh.
My mother shook her head and pursed her lips. “I guess the next one will be playing an accordion with a monkey holding out its hat.”
I think their perceived deterioration of the Miss Alabama pageant actually bothered my parents more than the war in Vietnam. War was war. It could be defined. It wasn’t something trying to jump out of its place half way around the world and become something different from the ugliness it had always been. After having served as a pilot in World War II, my father could understand war, horrible as it was. But there were some things that you imagined would always hold on to some standards of decency. When the Miss Alabama pageant could not be depended on to turn out flaming baton twirlers, tap dancers, and singers of patriotic songs who waved tiny flags, it was obvious that things had gone to pot.
Three days before the year 1969 ended, my father announced to the family that he thought this was likely IT. That’s a capital I-T, meaning he had been pondering the state of affairs in our world and he felt confident that this could indeed be the end of our days. My oldest brother packed his car and said he was heading for Tampa for some serious partying, something that made him and Dad nearly come to blows in the driveway.
“Do you really want to be sitting poolside drinking beer and ogling half-naked girls when the end times come?”
My brother replied that he couldn’t think of a better way to spend his last moments. As with most fights, my dad was the victor. He shamed his victim, my brother, into doing things his way, and we all went back into the house.
On New Year’s Eve, I packed my H.R. Puff ’N Stuff lunchbox with a plastic tiara and a clean pair of underwear, and we waited. Dad made us turn off the TV because he said when the Lord came to take us away he did not want us all to be sitting there watching the tube. He read the Bible to us for a while, and then when we got sleepy someone suggested we play cards. In our house cards had always been suspected as the devil’s calling cards, so we were rarely allowed to play with them. Mom jumped in with the suggestion that we play Go Fish. Surely there couldn’t be any harm in that, she said. Dad consented, and we got up a lively game of Go Fish which I won three times in a row. My oldest brother, still smarting from his thwarted flesh and booze trip to Florida, insisted I must have been cheating because I never won at cards, and I reminded him that since it was the end of the world that it was about darn time I won at cards. Everyone seemed to have momentarily forgotten about the end of the world, and my bringing it up in a loud voice ruined the frivolity of the game. I’m not sure what they played after that because I smacked my cards down, grabbed my lunchbox, and lay down on the sofa with my head in my mother’s lap. I guess I fell asleep because the next morning I awoke in my bed. My lunchbox was back on the kitchen shelf, my underwear was folded in my drawer, and my tiara was on my bedside table. Things quieted down after that, and my father never mentioned the end of the world again. I think the next Miss Alabama won for singing opera, and it took a couple of years for Hollywood to make a sequel to “The Planet of the Apes.” But I guess in some ways we are still going to pot. In Alabama, anyway. That is why I keep my lunchbox packed with clean underwear every New Year’s Eve, just in case.
Cathy Adams’ latest novel, A Body’s Just as Dead, was published by SFK Press. Her short stories have been published in Utne, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Tincture, A River and Sound Review, Crack the Spine, Portland Review, and over forty others internationally. She now lives and writes in Shenyang, China, with her husband, photographer, Julian J. Jackson.