In 1961 the world was safe and comfortable for a second grade girl. A place where I could make a quick 5˘ by showing Doug Reeves my underpants, where you'd duck and cover to survive an atomic attack; stop, drop, and roll when you spontaneously broke into flame; and you ran when a stranger offered you candy – a plan that was always iffy because I'm not sure I could pass up a Snickers. Life was dangerous for young girls with the will power of a dog in a Snausage factory.
But all that comfort ended on May 25, 1961 when President Kennedy said this about the Cold War:
Finally, our greatest asset … is the American people . . . to strive for excellence in their schools, in their cities and in their physical fitness and that of their children.
5,787 words and what does he burden kids with – physical fitness.
The gates of hell opened that day – a day that will live in infamy for me and my kind. It was the beginning of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness – a diabolical plot to torture the overweight, uncoordinated, and lethargic children of America for watching too much television, eating too many Twinkies, and having parents who voted for Nixon.
Kennedy inspired Meredith Wilson and Robert Preston to team up and create “Chicken Fat,” a song cajoling listeners to do push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and other calisthenics in an effort to "give that chicken fat back to the chickens." A six-minute ditty that had a good beat, was easy to dance to, and would have made the Third Reich proud.
Better-Dead-Than-Red madness took over the school gymnasium with the most diabolical government program ever – the President’s National Physical Fitness Test. (This title has since been usurped by FEMA and the new Social Security prescription drug plan.) A place that had once been filled with tether ball and square dancing was now the first defense against Moscow.
The President’s National Physical Fitness Test involved running, jumping, throwing and a bunch of other active verbs. You couldn’t just sit, you had to sit-up. And, if you met the "standards," you would earn a patch, preserve democracy, and laugh in the face of Khrushchev.
There was the 50-yard dash – apparently Communist kids were always dashing 50 yards so we had to keep up with them; the ball toss, presumably preparing us to hurl propaganda over the Berlin Wall; and the rope climb, where I learned that standing on the big knot at the bottom of the rope while pounding on your chest and doing Tarzan yells will make your friends laugh, but it is not a skill that will get us to the moon before Russia.
In the end I did not earn the President's patch, but I did find out that making people laugh is cool. I'll bet less than 1% of those physically fit kids still have their patch, but I still have my sense of humor. In your face Khrushchev.