Remembering the Loma Prieta Earthquake

Monarch Butterflies at Pacific Grove, California :: Andre Gunther Photography
When we lived in Los Gatos during the 1980s, I took my daughter one day to the beach in an area which was known to be a wonderful spot from which to observe the annual migration of Monarch Butterflies. As I sat on a rock and one-year-old Adeline played in the sand at my feet, I marveled at the beautiful day and I felt a deep sense of belonging there. I realized how much I loved my life in California while I also pondered the fact that my husband was in the midst of negotiations which might result in us moving back to New York. Much as I had, in earlier years, mourned leaving my East Coast roots, I now had very mixed feelings about leaving my West Coast home.

Did one of these
save my daughter?
(photo :: K. Tempest Bradford)
Adeline and I arrived home in the late afternoon and I started dinner while she watched Sesame Street in the family room, which was more or less next to the kitchen. When the food was under control, she and I made a quick run to the delightful little toy store in a nearby shopping area for the purpose of buying a Koosh Ball I had promised her. We were driving, slowly, through the parking lot when the car began to rock.

Earthquakes are funny; funny strange, not funny ha-ha. They take you completely by surprise, you need a second or two to realize what's happening, and by the time you've made the logical leap to Earthquake!, it's already winding down or even completely over.

That day in the car, the earthquake didn't wind down. It got stronger. The car was rocking back and forth as if we were the victims of an unruly mob. The large windows of the stores were ballooning out as if they were made of bubble juice. The trees were whipping back and forth, bending nearly to the ground. As I sat there, wondering if this was The Big One, everything settled down and it was over. Some cowboy in the bed of a pick-up truck was gleefully yelling Yahoo! A man's head appeared at my car window, asking if I was all right. No I wasn't; at least I wasn't as alright as that cowboy.  I kind of wished I would take his more devil may care approach but, no, I chose to be shell-shocked instead.

A Los Gatos house (photo :: GSDS)
I turned on the car radio to find out the location of the epicenter. If the epicenter was under my car, then Wow!  But if the epicenter was miles and miles away, as was the usual case, then Holy Shit! It's The Big One!  The creepiest thing was that the radio was just static. Every single station was just static. I wondered, how bad is this if I can't even get a radio signal?

We slept on our lawn that night. All night long the air was filled with the sounds of sirens and helicopters. I thought, this must be what it sounds like in a war zone. As the darkness started to lift with that wonderful early light of dawn, I heard a Thwamp! on my driveway. It was the sound of our newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News. How odd it seemed, to be receiving our newspaper after such a night; but, as a former newspaper photographer, I knew it was the ethos of the newsroom to get that newspaper printed and delivered, come hell or high water.

The approach to the Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed,
killing 42 people. (photo :: GSDS)
The six foot tall bookshelves in the family room had crashed to the floor where Adeline was standing just minutes before the quake hit and books were strewn all over the room .  Cupboard doors were hanging open and broken glass and china carpeted the floor, although fragile glass vases on the living room mantle were undisturbed. Aftershocks were as alarming and strong as earthquakes in themselves and they happened for days.

Ironically, Doug had been in his office when the earthquake hit, talking on the phone with the airline, booking us a flight to New York to check out the housing market and decide if we wanted to make the move. He interrupted the conversation by saying, "I think we're having an earthquake. I'll call you back later."  Hah! My reaction was, Who needs an exploratory visit? I'm ready to move now!  I regret that I wasn't more of a trooper.

Book Cover (image :: NPR)
These memories visited me today as a result of an author interview at the NPR website. The author is William Leach and the book is Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World.  It's a lovely interview and you can listen to it by clicking HERE. You can read an excerpt from the book by clicking HERE.

I apologize if I've stretched your patience too thin. I know there is nothing here about sewing, jewelry making, or crafting of any sort. Just some old memories of the quake that we ended up calling The Pretty Big One.

Next time, I'll share with you a special necklace I made for my friend, Tricia.

I leave you with this amusing bit of wisdom:  "I used to sleep nude - until the earthquake."  (Alyssa Milano)