fallout shelter:LIFe

birdhouse on pole

Dear Mom,

Yesterday was December 21, 2012. The Mayan calendar ended, but the world did not.

You probably don’t remember other “doomsday warnings,” but I do. Especially my first one in 1957.

That year one of our neighbors built a fallout shelter. He also called it a bomb shelter; either way, it was his survival guarantee. In school, we practiced hiding under our desks or crouching in the hall away from windows. That was our guarantee.

Our neighbor was a successful but harsh and stingy old man (I won’t say his name because I don’t want to hurt the feelings of his children and grandchildren, in case they didn’t know this about him.)  We’ll call him “Bob,” with apologies to the kind and generous Bobs in the world.  Anyway, Bob made it clear that he had a shotgun, and when the worst happened and everyone panicked and wanted to hide in his bomb shelter, the rumor was that Bob would shoot them.

I asked you if we should dig our own shelter and stock it with food and water and everything on the list. You said no. “If there is a massive bomb, Marylin,” you said, “and you and David are at school and Daddy is at work, we won’t be together. So if I hid in our shelter, then when it was all over and I came out, you all wouldn’t be with me.”

I remember you laughed and winked at me.  “And if I came out of my shelter and Bob came out of his, and we were the only two who survived, well, I’d have to borrow his gun and shoot myself.”  This made me laugh, too, and the spell of doom was broken.

In 1956, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote the lyrics and music for a song called “Que Sera Sera” (Whatever will be, will be.) Doris Day sang it in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and whenever it came on the radio I danced around to it, singing with Doris. Later I learned “Que Sera Sera” is something to say when you’re stuck in a hopelessly unchangeable situation, but you’ve come to accept it. It’s similar to today’s “It is what it is.”

We live in a troubled world, you used to say, but it’s always been troubled and dangerous, and we live by prayer, faith, and gratitude. Your final message after our bomb shelter conversation was this: “When things get bad, you hold tight to the hands of those you love, and you get through it.”  I asked, “But what if we can’t find each other to hold hands?” and you said, “We’re always in each other’s hearts, honey. Always.”

“Que Sera Sera” is more than a song. It’s also your philosophy about life; you always did the best you could in every situation, but beyond that you waited: What will be, will be. Thank you, Mom, for teaching me that the best we can do in tough times–and always–is to pray, hold the hands and cherish the hearts of those we love, and be grateful.

Snow globe of "It's A Wonderful Life" (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Snow globe of “It’s A Wonderful Life” (all photos by Marylin Warner)



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, neighbors

76 responses to “QUE SERA SERA

  1. juliabarrett

    Beautifully expressed, Marylin. That’s all we can do. As a species we haven’t changed all that much over the centuries, have we? You know, The Simpsons ran an episode about the end of the world which reminds me of your story. I believe they sang Que Sera Sera as well.

  2. That’s a really lovely letter. In my part of England we called bomb shelters ‘fallout shelters’. The joke was ‘shell-out falter’ – when someone is slow to pick up the check when its their turn.

  3. Sadly, our children still have to practice drills in school, only now they are drills aimed at protecting them from armed crazies. Scary, isn’t it?

    Love your mom’s que sera, sera attitude. I used to love that song as well, and The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of my favorite Hitchcock movies–right up there with Dial M for Murder.

    • You know, Carrie, I loved the song and the ways Doris Day sang it, but in the movie her son had been kidnapped, and when she was singing for the guests, I couldn’t imagine how she could pull it off. THEN…there was the Hitchcock reason…
      But you’re right, now children’s drills at school are to protect them from the from armed crazies. I think C.S. Lewis was right about sorrow and fear being so much alike.

  4. this is a beautiful post! your mother expressed very grounded and wise counsel,, and her ability to inject humor at just the right time helped lighten the mood.
    i love your posts!

    • Thanks so much, really.
      Even now, clouded by the dementia, my mother pretty much remains calm and patient, just doing her best under the circumstances.
      But her comment at the time about borrowing “Bob”‘s gun and shooting herself should have really been scary since suicide was not an option. Strangely, it was the wink and the laugh that calmed my worries about fallout shelters and the “approaching doomsday.”

      • it must be difficult at times to remember the strong unique woman she was vs her more simple version now.
        feliz navidad y feliz ano.

      • Sometimes it does make me sad, remembering who she was and the difference she made in so many lives. But she continues to be comfortable and content, and now she appreciates the difference others make, especially when her great-grandchildren come to visit her. They’re very affectionate and demonstrative children. I doubt Mom remembers for more than a few seconds that these are actually her own great-grandchildren who are hugging her and singing sweet songs, but to her sweet children are such a blessing, and she’s so glad to spend time with them. Even with the dementia, my mother is still teaching me.

  5. I love this from your Mom: “And if I came out of my shelter and Bob came out of his, and we were the only two who survived, well, I’d have to borrow his gun and shoot myself.” Delightfully warped. That would break the ice.

    I also remember practicing those drills. “Get under your desks, cover your head.” (Then, I woke up to the realization of how fruitless that would be.)

    • I know, Judy! And if your desks were like ours, they gave about as much protection as a cardboard box. I remember looking up and seeing all the pieces of old gum stuck on the underside of my desk and worrying that it would get in my hair and have to be cut out.
      At first, we took these drills very seriously. Then we started writing notes to each other or, if the drill was before lunch, we’d take our sack lunches and quietly made trades with each other.

  6. This is really lovely and I laughed out loud at your mom’s response to your question about whether you should build a shelter. I love that you have mastered in your writing such a wistful but not sentimental voice.

  7. Your post brought back many of my own memories about hiding under our desks in school, bomb shelters and “crazies” who built them in southern Indiana. Thank you for bringing back those memories but most of all thank you for sharing your mother’s wisdom at a time when it fills our hearts to hear it. Thank you, Marylin, for remind us that the best we can do in tough times–and always–is to pray, hold the hands and cherish the hearts of those we love, and be grateful.

    • Southeastern Kansas/Southern Indiana…the protective practice of hiding under desks ruled. But look how well we turned out in spite of it! On behalf of my mom, I thank you for your kind words, Nancy.

  8. I like the song, all we must do is to live, whatever will be, will be

    • The way Doris Day sang it, at least the way I heard it over the radio, made it sound like a clever, happy song. And then I finally saw THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH many years later and realized she was singing for an audience, pretending to be calm as she waited to know if her kidnapped son had been found.
      There are so many things that are completely out of our control, and truly, what will be, will be.

      • I didn’t know she was singing to an audience. I just know she has an awesome voice

      • I think Doris Day made the debut of “Que Sera Sera” on the Hitchcock movie, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. She sang the song as entertainment for a program, and she had to remain calm as her husband, Jimmy Steward, frantically searched for their kidnapped son. After the movie, the singles of Doris Day singing the song really took off.

  9. Great song as the score for memories of home. Sometimes when fear is pressing its nose against the window and making faces to scare you, that threat brings out the best and worst in people. You are blessed to know your mom…she’s in that “Best” category. But Bob…well…he shoulda had a mom like yours. Maybe then things woulda been different for him. (Was he related to the gal on the bike that took Toto? Just sayin’…)

    • You are so right, K., and without my mother’s calm certainty, the fear pressing its nose against the window (wonderful expression!), things would have been very different. You’re also right about “Bill”–he should have had a mom like mine.

  10. Aren’t people now calling them panic rooms? I’m not sure where that name originated, but it doesn’t sound comforting. At least “shelter” has a bit of calm to it.

    I love your mother’s ability to always bring it back to the heart.

    • So true, Darla! Shelter does have a different sound, but preceded by the word Fallout or Bomb it’s not much calmer than the words Panic Room. Kids have vivid imaginations anyway, and if I hadn’t noticed the wads of dried gum stuck under the desk top–and that preoccupied my thinking for awhile–hiding under the desk would have been much more scary.

  11. Don

    So deeply wise. Wonderfully expressed – thank you.

  12. Oh Marilyn what a beautiful, beautiful post. And your mother was so very wise. All we can do is pray, hold our loved one’s hands, and cherish the joy they bring us.

    • Even now, shadowed by the dementia–and also, during the years she was losing my dad to Alzheimer’s–my mom has been blessed with a soft patience, a calm and certain trust, and she blessed us with her faith.

  13. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Good reminders of what we can control and what we can’t, Marylin. Especially in light of recent tragedies. The last time I had to spend the night in the hospital, after parting ways with a horse on a trail (still don’t know if he threw me or I fell off), my roommate was an older woman who spontaneously started singing “Que Sera, Sera” off and on during the night. A good message then and now!

    • Now THAT is a blog topic, Nancy. What a wonderful scene you created. The few times I’ve been in the hospital, having a roommate sing “Que Sera Sera” from the other side of the curtain, would probably have been very nice…depending on how she sang it, I guess.

  14. petit4chocolatier

    Beautiful post. I have seen The Man that Knew too much several times. I still get goosebumps when Doris Day sings out Que Sera Sera whatever will be will be.

  15. Love this post. Look forward to many more wonderful discoveries here.Thanks for visiting mine. Best wishes, Robert

  16. Beautiful post , Merry Christmas Marylin 🙂

  17. Molly

    Absolutely lovely!!! This is SOOOOOOOOO my Grandma…..I love it!! Love her! AND I LOVE YOU!!!!

  18. That’s a great approach to life, in my estimation! 🙂 We can do our best, but we surely can’t control much of what else happens!

  19. Well, Bob was quite nasty, wasn’t he? I have a few neighbors on my street that could be named Bob too. 🙂

    My kids do not only fire drills but also lockdown drills at school every month. They did go under lockdown last year, because of a mountain lion sighting close to the school. My heart just sank when I saw the email title (school under lockdown). Scary times we live in.

    Merry Christmas!

  20. Scary times, indeed. But every generation faces scary times and very real dangers, don’t you think? They’re just different dangers and fears. Maybe, in the long run, these are the things that make us strong…and compassionate? I hope so.
    Merry Christmas to you, too, and your family.

  21. A very sweet post.
    I remember that time too as well as the questions what if only half of our family will survive? Horrible questions.
    I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a happy 2013 for you, and a blissful 2013 for your dear mum.

  22. For many years, if our family was going to fly somewhere, my dad thought we should split up, two of us flying in one flight, two in another flight. My mom refused, saying we were all in this together, and to have a little faith.
    Thank you, Paula, and best wishes for 2013 to you and your family, too.

  23. Karen Keim

    Your mother was terrific at finding a way to reassure you and help you feel like you would always be together.That little twist of humor regarding Bob is so precious! Perhaps her being in the middle of the Hoover family (third-born) made it easier for her to have that kind of perspective. (I have tons of stuff to get ready for our move, but I just couldn’t resist commenting.) Merry Christmas!

    • She really surprised me with her answer, Karen, but it came with a laugh and a wink, so it worked to cheer me up.
      I think you’re right about her being the middle child. With a brother and a sister on either side, Mom kind of just rolled with the punches and took things in stride.
      Merry Christmas to you, too. Soon you’ll belong to the great southwest!

  24. You mum really was and is one special lady.

  25. Marylin, in Woking in Surrey visiting Mollie, Shannon and Lacey Mae, and we have just had Boxing Day Christmas Dinner… If the end of the world comes it will be the smiles on all my grand children’s faces that will always remind me that there was good things in life, that we should always be grateful for having. Lovely words my sweet

    Ah well, back to ‘Twister’ oh me hips, oh me knees, someone save me for the love of ………

    • Ah, Twister, the game that makes us laugh today and ache tomorrow! I hope someone is taking pictures, Tom. We’d all love to see them on your blog!
      You’re right about our kids and grandkids (and spouses, too). Whatever happens, we know we’ve had the best in life.
      Happy New Year to you and your wonderful family, Tom!

  26. nancy Gibbs

    Simply lovely!

  27. Oh my goodnes…my favorite movie and I really must find a snow globe like this! Very sweet!

    • It’s our favorite movie, too, Victoria. A friend gave us the snow globe for Christmas years ago, and it’s still our favorite decoration for Christmas…in fact, we leave it out or a table or the piano top for most of the year.

  28. poppytump

    I think you are two very special Ladies – Mum and Daughter .

  29. That was so nice, Marylin. Hold hands of the ones you love… a beautiful image, no matter what day it is and whenever the world might end – which I anticipate not being for a very, very, very long time! 🙂

    • It is a beautiful image, Pamela, and one I know you share. Your little guys will always this affection from you, just as I always knew it from my mom. Happy New Year of holding the hands of those you love!

  30. You certainly hit me over the head with memories! Our next door neighbour put in one of those shelters. No doubt, it is still there.
    Now I live near Bugarach were many expected to find the portal to the next world last week.

    • There’s always a segment that prepares for the worst, even though the worst usually has no avoidance. It sounds like we had similar neighbors; I hope yours would have helped you if necessary. If the rumors were true, ours would have loaded his rifle…against anyone needing help.

  31. Your mother’s reply to building a bomb shelter request is the best. She had a great sense of humor. Those were some crazy times, just as these are. WE all need to proceed with a sense of humor.

    • She had a wonderful sense of humor. It’s one of the things I miss most that the dementia has changed. Now when she laughs it’s confused and disoriented, TRYING to find the humor but not figuring it out. You’re right, we all need to proceed through difficult times with a sense of humor.

  32. You are telling stories right out of my childhood!! 🙂

  33. Reminds me of old times. 🙂

  34. Pingback: Best Moment Award | busygirlhealth

  35. Hi Marilyn ! I found this post inspiring and I really love your blog. I also love this song. When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to dance with me around the living room singing this song. She still has that Doris Day CD and while she can’t dance anymore, she still sings that song to me 🙂

    Also, I have nominated you as one of my top 15 bloggers for the Best Moment Award! You can go to http://busygirlhealth.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/best-moment-award/?preview=true for more instructions. Thanks for your great posts and I hope you have a beautiful day!

  36. Pingback: BEST MOMENT AWARD | Things I Want To Tell My Mother

  37. Pingback: Best Moment Award | THE BEST CHAPTER

  38. Shame on me, I obviously didn’t read this wonderful. Glad I did today.
    Your mom’s response was priceless. 🙂 No wonder you received an award for this post, Marylin! 🙂

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