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I was a few weeks shy of my first birthday when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  I remember a few duck and cover drills held in elementary school.  My hometown,Holyoke, Mass. was on the approach route of B-52 bombers landing at Westover AFB, in Chicopee, Mass.  Understandably, the bombers were  enormous  instruments of war that terrified me as they roared over our house. Subsequently, Sputnik seemed to launch the arms race when I began high school. As a college student, I lived in Coral Gables, Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I seriously considered flying home to be with my parents as nuclear armageddon seemed imminent and the idea of being with my parents provided me with some comfort.  My husband -to- be talked me out of it! Tanks were in the streets in South Florida at one point.  My fantasies all seemed very real and possible.

No world leader had a bigger place in the history of the late 20th century than Mikhail Gorbachev, for the pivotal role he played in the peaceful end of the Cold War,  The free world will be forever grateful to him, even if many of his fellow citizens are not.

James Baker III,NY Times, Sept 7, 2022. p. A22

                                                                                                                            Tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev

The front page of the NY Times lay face up on my breakfast table. I noticed, with shock, it contained the obituary for Mikhail Gorbachev.  It marked the end of an era.  An era of significance in my life during the 20th century.

For the most part, Gorbachev’s name had receded into the past tense for me many years ago.  However, it wasn’t THAT many year ago when his name evoked possibility.  The height of the Cold War between Russia and the USA was an unsettling time that played a critical role in my psychological development.  The question of Who was winning the missile war was always up for debate.  The Missile Race folly(my term) was given prominence in important periodicals; I remember seeing long  lists of weapons owned by the USA compared with those of the USSR.  All were weapons of ultimate destruction designed to destroy the enemy and most likely, anyone else nearby. To my hyper vigilant, sensitized and youngish mind, each new weapons system brought us one step closer to MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), the Mother of all nightmare 1950’s scenarios.

mutual assured destruction

Alternate titles: MAD, mutually assured destruction

nuclear weapon

mutual assured destruction, principle of deterrence founded on the notion that a nuclear attack by one superpower would be met with an overwhelming nuclear counterattack such that both the attacker and the defender would be annihilated.


The post apocalyptic film On The Beach crashed into my heightened Cold War awareness during this time.  The film was a realistic portrayal, (at least to my tender mind), of people in Australia facing impending nuclear doom with the approach of a toxic nuclear cloud detonated by a far away nuclear war.  The doomed population were provided with suicide pills to provide them a more humane death that that offered by the nuclear cloud.  It was terrifying and riveting.  I might have identified a little too strongly! The catchy theme song of the movie, Waltzing Matilda. became an ear worm. On the Beach (2000 film) - WikipediaMy close friend and I endlessly discussed this film and its relevance to us.  I wish those conversations could have been recorded.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

A few months after graduating from college, I lived in Miami, Fla.  The Cuban Missile Crisis burst into awareness with an unexpected urgency.  Each day meant tracking the advance of s Russian ship possibly intending to challenge the USA blockade of Cuba, thereby leading to war.   Each day brought us possibly one day closer to the end of the world as we knew it.  Life in S. Florida strangely and unreally went on, but I was glued to the headlines.  They gave us some measurement of where we were in the precarious equilibrium.  In between, I taught 4th grade and pretended all was normal.

The crisis was eventually resolved after many hairraising days.  Nothing was ever quite the same after that.  I understood that our lives hung by a thin thread, the strength of which, I had no control of.  A lesson to be learned and relearned.

In summary

These reminicenses were recalled to show the role Gorbie played in my young life.  He was a dazzling sign of HOPE.  If he existed, change was possible.  Maybe we weren’t facing doomsday.  Maybe we could live together without killing each other.  A long delayed, THANK-YOU to Mikhail Gorbachev for ushering in the end of the Cold War and all it contained . I don’t know if he was aware of the deep appreciation many foreigners felt for him.  His tenure allowed a ray of sunshine to penetrate the dark nuclear shadows that had overcast my life heretofore.

Soviet ldr. Mikhail Gorbachev poised outside, speaking during summit arrival ceremony at WH.

Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.

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