I turned over, burrowing in closer to my snoring husband. As I turned, my sneaker sole caught on the comforter that I had brought out from the house, and dragged it off my legs. I rolled back, too late, to correct my error, and struck the icy cold bare steel bed of my Dodge D-50. Swearing quietly, I plucked a couch cushion from the foot of my truck bed, and wedged it against the wall of my truck bed. I looked up into the cold night sky, at the dimly twinkling stars. It was a wonder that they were still there, untouched, after what we had been through that day.
Far off, down the canyon, some coyotes yowled up at the night sky. Just under my truck, my two Springer Spaniels yowled back. In some sort of weird canine communal language, they announced another aftershock.
“Hold on!” I hollered out to the others bivouacked in my front yard. The biggest quake of all of our lives, collectively, had hit that afternoon, at 5:04 p.m., lasting 15 eternal seconds. Frightened and needing to gather to share our fears, most of the residents of our little canyon, two of my sisters, (one with a newborn and a toddler) had struck an impromptu camp in front of my little house. For some odd reason, I still had a working phone. We had pulled it out onto the concrete front step, as far as it would go, in case someone was ringing us. Also, we had 15,000 gallons of water in a tank up the hill behind our house, and so we weren’t in too bad a shape. We had talked to our friend, Arn Parker, on the phone that afternoon, getting him home from San Jose via the town of Tracy, since Highway 17 had been closed due to rockslides from the quake. His cell phone had intermittent signal, and we were running CNN and KSBW and KSCO from batteries. We knew what was going on locally, and we could tell him how he might drive home.
The aftershock rolled through, causing my truck springs to squeak. Baby Alisha gave a little cry, and Clover and Watson, the two dogs, whined miserably. I looked over at the power poles that fed the forty horse power pump near my house, and wondered how much more strain the twanging wires could handle.
Unable to sleep, I hopped out of the makeshift bed in my truck, and walked over to use the outhouse on the edge of the raspberry field. As I walked back, I was astounded to hear my phone ringing.
I ran across the gopher-pocked grass, and got the phone on the fifth ring. It was my mother, calling all the way from Kalangadoo, Australia. She and my father had been enjoying a warm beer in a wayside pub, and had heard that we had endured a quake of 9.2 in our sunny central coast home.
“Are the beams down in my living room?” she asked.
“No, but if you had been enjoying your cocktail and reading your Pajaronian today, you would have been buried under the bricks from your fireplace.” I told her. Lori, my sister in law and I had jammed up to their house at the end of the road, shortly after the quake, to make sure the gas and water was off. We had stared in horror at my mother’s favorite chill out spot, buried under bricks, gray chunks of mortar, and bits of ceramic pots from her Philodendrons. If she had been on that couch, she would have been dead.
“Was it really a 9.2?” She asked, fear in her voice.
“No, honey, if it had been, I think we would have gone to hell with some of our meaner relatives. CNN and KSBW say that it’s probably about a 7.1, but they don’t know for sure. We are just supposed to brace for aftershocks, and hang on.”
Mom told me then that she had tried all the other kid’s numbers, and getting no one, had nearly panicked. By some miracle of wired telephone technology, she was able to get me right away, although with the time difference, she might have found all of us asleep. Fortunately for her comfort and security, the aftershocks had awakened all canines in the immediate vicinity, and therefore, none of us was sound asleep. I handed the phone to my sister Betsy, who had wandered over from where she had been sleeping in her Lincoln, parked next to my truck. She chatted with Mom a bit, since she was worried that Betsy’s mobile home would have split in two. Betsy assured her that her mobile home was quake braced tremendously, and had suffered little damage. Two plants, and a few glasses, that was all.
Our house, on the other hand, was a different story, as was Chris and Lori’s, and my mom and dad’s house. Our house was a mess. I had just given up on trying to finish a design plan on my Macintosh computer. I say given up because the day was so hot, and the room where I was working was so hot, that the Mac kept crashing. Three sad Macs in ten minutes, and I gave up.
I went into my kitchen, and put my soufflé in the oven—heated to 350 degrees, so that also helped the house temperature. I walked down to the end of our driveway, accompanied by my two Springers. I got my Pajaronian, and headed back up the driveway. I opened the door, walked in, flopped on my couch, unfurled the paper, then felt the whole house shift to the left. Wow. Then I looked up, to see my giant stitchery swaying on the wall. As if in slow motion, I watched my china cabinet flop open its doors, and the contents march out, crashing. Looking beyond it, my open shelves in the kitchen were marching my wedding china—(Wedgwood, service for 30!) onto the floor. I leapt up, and ran for the front door. As I ran, my bookcase disgorged its contents onto the floor, and I slipped on one of my flipped open photo albums, it’s slick pages sliding across the carpet. Pulling myself up from full, unintentional splits, I raced out the front door, just in time for all the gravel from my tar and gravel roof to shimmy down the back of my neck, into my shirt, which was tucked into my pants. I shoved the dogs back from the house with my knees, yelling at them to get out of my way. They were desperate to try to get “in” to the house. I was desperate to get “out” of there as quickly as possible.
I ran down the steps out into the center of the oval lawn, and was greeted by my neighbor, Tom Halderman. He was pointing excitedly at the grass, and saying “Look, can you believe it, it’s amazing, total liquefaction!” I got that loud and clear. Our entire canyon floor was an old creek bed, mostly sand, and not very stable at all.
I pulled my shirt tail out of my pants, and about 8 pounds of gravel fell down around my feet.
“Why would you have gravel inside your shirt?” Tom asked me, looking at me in a very strange way.
“I always keep it there!” I quipped. The quake seemed to have passed, but the power lines above us were still thwacking back and forth.
“How big do you think that was? “ I asked Tom. He is one of the most well read people I have ever met, and I fully expected him to know exactly what and where and when on almost anything.
“Well, San Francisco’s was an 8 point something, so this has to be pretty darn near that, I would say, but where it was epicentered, well, I just don’t even know. Gotta go!” he said, sprinting for his house.
“Where you going?” I asked fearfully, thinking, where is my family? Don’t leave me here alone! I had watched my grandma have a stroke after a big quake in 1967, and I was scared enough to have one too, right then.
“Well, I reckon that there have to be some pretty hurt people out there, so I suppose I will just jam down to the Watsonville Hospital, and help’em out.”
Tom was a paramedic, studying to become a physician’s assistant at that time, so it was only natural that he would step up medically after a natural disaster. Later I found out that he had been the one to pull Clint Rider from the pile of apple bins that had fallen from the side of Rider’s packing shed where they had been stacked. I seem to remember Clint’s leg had been broken in three places as a result. When Tom came home three days later, he told me of doing an appendectomy on the helicopter pad, and when a chopper came in, pulling the surgical drape over the wound, so decorative bark from the landscaping wouldn’t fly into the wound. Odd humor, but possible, after all. Tom had done this many times, during his surgical duty in Viet Nam.
“Do you think I should go back in and shut off my oven?” I asked him, thinking of the ruined soufflé, and the ruined kitchen.
“Yep, not a bad idea, that one. Power is probably out already though. “ he said, and went into his house, retrieving his keys, and his ready bag. He climbed into his Toyota 4 Runner, and cruised on down the driveway, leaving me alone and scared.
Not two minutes later, Lori, my sister in law, came thundering in my yard, in her totally cool old Volkswagen bus. She clutched the engine, cut the key, and hopped out.
“Jesus H. Christ! Are you okay? Can you believe this?!” She said, storming around the grass, lit cigarette making smoke curls as she gestured wildly with her hands. “My fish aquarium is history, the bookcase is toast, my woodstove, my fireplace, holy crap, what a mess! What the hell do you think happened?”
Just then, Kelly, my little sister arrived, bawling her eyes out. She lived across the canyon from a senior citizen’s mobile home park, and had just witnessed three homes exploding into flames right as she looked out her window. Her baby boy, Jamesie, had narrowly escaped injury as a result of some object falling into his crib. She, too, was alone and shaking—nearly in shock. Baby Alisha hopped out onto the grass, clutching her oatmeal can full of “guys” little rubber Sesame Street™ figures. She was rather unfazed, it seemed. We all stood there, circling around, wondering what would happen next.
By Marsha Marani, Aptos
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