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Wednesday, 13 February 2013


By Marcy Belson

The first earthquake I remember was when I was almost five years old,

We were spending the weekend fishing at a lake in the mountains. My mother had left the goldfish bowl in the kitchen sink with the water barely dripping. It was summer and the house would have been hot.

The earthquake broke the bowl and my goldfish was dead in the sink when we returned.

In later years, I saw photos of the downtown area - most of the large windows in stores were shattered. I don't think they used safety glass in 1941. The windows were covered in plywood panels and there were so many, I'm sure it took days for some of the businesses to get new glass installed.

I know a lot of people slept outside after that quake, as there were constant small tremors for weeks. We never did that and the reason was that my parents, before my birth, lived in the country and did sleep outside in the summer.

One night, a man found them sleeping and was going through my dad's pants looking for money. My mom awoke, screamed, the man ran and my folks moved their bed back inside the house.

No matter the heat, they were on the path used by the illegal transients from Mexico. They soon moved into town.

We had the usual drills in school: get under your desk and line up and march out of the school when the nun gave the order. I don't remember ever doing that. I think we just sat there and waited for the shaking to stop. A shaker came without notice and usually ended within seconds. You did become complacent.

We were at the drive-in movie one night when the car began shaking and I really thought someone we knew had jumped up on the back bumper to scare us. No, it was an earthquake.

After I married Gordon, we had a pool built in our backyard. It and a brick patio filled the yard. When the earthquake hit, we were downstairs and heard a swishing noise. Ah yes, it was the water, as in a bathtub.

That pool was undulating, back and forth, it had splashed out of the pool, across the brickwork and entered the open slider door to the den area. Full of water, that room took hours of mopping to get it all out.

As a matter of fact, our two story home had a large eucalyptus tree near the front porch. Long after we had purchased the house, our neighbor told us the tree was planted to hide the fact that the entire house "leaned" from an earthquake. It was built on pilings; there was no concrete foundation.

Thirteen years later, we moved across town into a newer one story home. It had a huge backyard with a variety of fruit trees and a wrap-around, covered patio area.

When the "big one" hit, I was home in the bedroom napping. Our Dalmatian dog, Penny, jumped on the bed and got as close as she could to me. Almost immediately, it started shaking. I know the dog felt it right before it happened.

I jumped up and stood in the doorway with the dog leaning against me. I could see the backyard. It was a moving sea of grass and trees, up and down, up and down.

I was really afraid the roof would collapse on top of me and I headed through the house and out the front door thinking I would sit on the curb. It was still shaking hard. The street was also moving up and down.

In the meantime, my husband was at work and the radio station was on the fourth floor. He said when the shaking started, he had taken his shoes off, put his feet on his desk and didn't think about anything but getting his staff out of that building.

So he led them down a staircase to the parking lot. When he got there, he realized, he had no shoes. He came home that way to check on me.

We were lucky - our damage was confined to a few figurines and small items. But downtown, a new county building collapsed and there was a death. Other people were trapped for hours, unable to open doors and windows.

Gordon told me that when he was a teenager, his family had out of town guests staying overnight. A quake hit during the night hours and they arose, dressed and drove out of town.

Locals didn't do that. If you grew up with a moving landscape, you just figured it was better than a tornado and shrugged your shoulders.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Marcy, I liked the detailed recollection of the earthquake your family experience long ago. I'm curious where this happened. California? Washington state? Some other state?

Just wondering because I've lived much of my life in Seattle and have experience some powerful earthquakes, the most recent being the Nisqually Quake in 2001.

Great piece, I got chills just reading it...I had no idea there were quakes around Seattle...my baby sister lived there for years and years..she moved to Idaho, but I will quiz her for sure...guess I will take the crime ridden big city anyday...choice between earthquake and tornado was a nice touch....thanks for another little slice of life I would never know about if not for this column....

I look at www.iris.edu/seismon
every morning, and it is just amazing how many quakes there are in our earth. Good story Marcy.

This story was part of our 50 years in the Imperial Valley,
Southern Calif. We perched on the San Andreas Fault.

Wonderful stories. I would much rather put up with blizzards and an occasional tornado warning. At least those are handleable. But a shaking earth? Yuck!

At least we get sufficient warning for our hurricanes. But the tornadoes that often accompany them are another story!

I remember a big quake in Seattle when I was attending the U of W. A student friend was standing next to me talking. He'd recently broken his leg skiing, and because of the sensitivity of it all, he said "we are having an earthquake". I looked at him and around and didn't feel a thing until about 15 seconds later I felt it and saw the stones falling from old Parrington Hall.Now I wonder when we'll get the next one.

Great story. I am terrified of earthquakes! I'm originally from California, where they are pretty common. I experienced a few but nothing greater than a 5.9. When I moved to Washington State 44 years ago, I thought I was leaving "earthquake country" behind. HAH! It seems like every other day our Seattle-area media warn us how urgent it is to be prepared for the "Big One".

HOW, I ask. How can older people, especially, realistically "prepare" for an 8.0+ magnitude earthquake that will probably liquify the soil, totally destroy roads and communication systems and collapse our modest abode into rubble? We've put aside emergency food, water, a 1st Aid Kit, spare clothing and other supplies. Somehow, though, I'm not sure such preparations will help much if we do indeed have the "Big One". Even if we escape injury, trying to survive in a tent with no running water or electricity is NOT appealing. So. . .at 83 and 76, my husband and I hope Ma Nature will hold it in abeyance for another 20 years or so--by then we're unlikely to be worried about it.

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