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Duck and Cover - A Nuclear Family - cover

Duck and Cover - A Nuclear Family

Kathie Farnell

Publisher: University of South Carolina Press

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Summary

Duck and Cover is a wry, laconic memoir penned by Kathie Farnell, based on her perspective as a smart-mouthed, unreasonably optimistic white girl growing up in Cloverdale, a genteel and neatly landscaped neighborhood of Montgomery, Alabama, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During those decades Montgomery's social order was slowly—very slowly—changing. The bus boycott was over if not forgotten, Normandale Shopping Center had a display of the latest fallout shelters, and integration was on the horizon, though many still thought the water in the white and colored drinking fountains came from separate tanks.

Farnell’s household, more like the Addams family than the Cleavers of Leave it to Beaver, included socially ambitious parents who were lawyers, two younger brothers, a live-in grandmother, and Libby, the family maid. Her father was a one-armed rageaholic given to strange business deals such as the one resulting in the family unintentionally owning a bakery. Mama, the quintessential attorney, could strike a jury but was hopeless at making Jello. Granny, a curmudgeon who kept a chamber pot under her bed, was always at odds with Libby, who had been in a bad mood since the bus boycott began.

Farnell deftly recounts tales of aluminum Christmas trees, the Hula-Hoop craze, road trips in the family’s un-air-conditioned black Bel Air, show-and-tell involving a human skeleton, belatedly learning to swear, and even the pet chicken she didn’t know she had. Her well-crafted prose reveals quirky and compelling characters in stories that don’t ignore the dark side of the segregated South, as told from the wide-eyed perspective of a girl who is sometimes oblivious to and often mystified by its byzantine rules. Little did she know that the Age of Aquarius was just around the corner.

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