The night of the Martian invasion, our parents were taking Rumba lessons from Velez and Yolanda at the Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson, Arizona.
They had left us with Lou Edith, who was graduating from high school in May. Arlene was 11 and I was 9, and though we chaffed under supervision we aspired to be like Lou Edith: Tangee lipstick, plastic eyeglass frames, and menstrual cramps. We didn’t use the word then, but she was cool.
When “we interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast” came on the radio, Lou Edith stopped chewing gum and told us to “shut up and listen.” A deep voice resonating with authority said Martians had landed on Manhattan Island and were proceeding to our nation’s capital.
We screamed until Lou Edith, squaring her shoulders, starting barking orders. She ticked off a list of emergency supplies straight from the Girl Scout Handbook: flashlight, candles, matches, water, blankets, “and we’ll take the radio.”
Someone hammered on our front door and we hollered though it “Whoever you are, we’ve got guns!” It was Marty Knudsen, a kid from down the block and he did have a gun.
“I’m patrolling the neighborhood,” he said winking at Lou Edith. “You babysitting these brats? Watch this,” and he shot out the street light with his BB gun. “Quit showing off,” my sister said, “there’s a full moon, you gonna shoot that out?”
“I’m going house to house checking on women and children,” he said, scrawny in his father’s hunting jacket. “Keep your lights out and stay in your basement.”
“Where are they?” Lou Edith asked, her voice tremulous. “Our men will stop them at the Mississippi,” Marty said, with the supreme assurance only ignorance can bestow. By now searchlights from downtown Tucson and the air force base were sweeping the sky in synchronicity like giant windshield wipers.
So down to the basement and our father’s Prohibition-be-damned-fully-stocked-bar. We settled in and decided to fortify ourselves with Shirley Temples, créme de menthe, Kahlua and apricot brandy. When our parents found us we were snockered. They let us sleep it off, requiring only that we clean up our encampment the next day.
We found out that the man on the radio with the resonate voice, and the same last name as an Englishman who wrote a book on a Martian invasion, didn’t get off as easily. He was fired.