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Life's Lessons of What NOT To Do: Part 2
I was a neurotic child. Not so much neurotic as an intensely worried little person. My mom often tells me that I was shy and introverted. I never offered any information that was not requested at least twice. Today I can honestly say it was not so much shyness as the awareness that there was so much to think about, so much to worry about.
Why did everyone go about like nothing was wrong when death is clearly looming? Don’t they realize we live 250 miles from a dormant volcano, which at any moment could send ash and lava spewing into the air – quickly swirling its way down the mountains, across the miles into our homes? Come on! What about fire? Our homes are inundated with electrical wiring. What is the chance that some little thing may go wrong and our homes will suddenly burst into all-consuming flames? Anyone? Let’s try to think clearly here folks!
Alas, no one shared my fears. They were often tossed aside like a crusty, dried-out rubber chicken. “Jen, you’re such a worry wart.” (This was often accompanied by a chuck of the chin, or pinch of the cheek.) “Honey, I don’t know why you worry about such things. That is never going to happen. Now go outside and play in the leaves.” Sure, the leaves. First, they are so dry that they crumble and nest within my panties while they skillfully make their way into my lungs when I inhale. Second, I will not be playing – my brother will be catapulting me carelessly into the leaves. Third, it’s cold outside and I may catch my death. Lastly, who can tell what unknown danger is cleverly hidden within the leaves? Could be spiders, rocks, a forgotten rake or shovel – you just don’t know.
Mt. St. Helens
It was 1980 and I was coming up upon my 9th birthday. My parents, grandparents, brother and I were enjoying a wholesome trip around several states including California, Oregon and Washington. I was not a fan of Washington, with its dormant volcano and all, but was assured that it was indeed dormant and “nothing will happen”. My grandparents tripped along the weathered road in their restored motor home, while we rocketed across the pavement in our RV with my wild-eyed dad at the wheel.
Days were filled with sightseeing (an unidentifiable blur out of the side window), hiking (answering my dad’s call of, “Hey guys…get me a beer!”), swimming in tide pools (dipping my body in and screaming that there were “things in here!”) and cooking meals over a campfire (hot dogs), most of which I enjoyed from a safe distance.
We had just pulled into a roadside rest stop for a much needed break from the wheels-a-turning, when we caught a glimpse of a most spectacular sight. A giant, fluffy, white plume of “something” was not so gracefully whooshing into the blue sky off to my left. I say whooshing because spurting, shooting or flying just does not capture the proper intensity. My Dad, ever alert to my neuroses, calmly explains, “I’m sure that is just a factory, uh…working overtime.” My Mom states, “I’m sure Dad’s right”. Mimi (my grandma) says, “Sure, that’s it.” Papa, (my grandpa) says, “It could be a forest fire.” Oops. He corrects, “No, I’m sure it’s just a factory.”
I was standing there beside myself with fear. I was but 8 years-old, why couldn’t these adults understand that it could not possibly be a factory? The trajectory of the plume was way off, it was clearly miles across or we would not be able to see it from that incredible distance, and there was an orange glow at the base of the plume. Through my haze of terror I heard my Dad say, “Okay guys….saddle up! Jen, you’re such a worry wart. Calm down. It’s nothing to worry about, I promise. Just relax.” My brother was unabashedly laughing at me, while my mom and grandparents were making every attempt to stifle their titters
I scrambled into the motor home and headed directly to rear where my bed and blankie were waiting. I repeated to myself, “Turn the other way, turn the other way, turn the other way”, as my Dad began turning onto the highway. Unfortunately he was turning the wrong way - toward the plume! He slyly looks back at me and says, “Here we go babies! We’re headed THIS way!” I screamed, “NOOOOO, Dad! NOOOO! I’m sure it’s a volcano! We cannot go that way!” He continued, “I’m tuuuurrrrrr…nnnniiinnngggg” with all of the drama he could muster. “NOOOO AHHHH….” as I crumpled into hysterical sobs. “Stop it Al, we’re going the other way, quit teasing her”, mom snickers. “Quit worrying, Jen. It’s no big deal. It’s just some smoke, I promise.”
I cannot recall much after that. My nerves were a-jangle and my muscles were so taught I could barely raise my hand to wipe my running nose. As the hours passed, I tried to convince myself that I was just a “worry wart” like everyone had said. How ridiculous to make such a scene, what a wimp.
My Dad then tuned to a different station on the radio, “Alert – this is an alert. Mt. St. Helens, a volcano that has lain dormant for over 123 years, has just violently and unexpectedly erupted into a haze of smoke, ashes and lava. Evacuations are in progress. All those in the area are instructed to evacuate immediately. There is great danger – all precautions must be taken.”
A 4.2 earthquake had preceded the blast, along with hundreds of other earthquakes, as well as dozens of explosions – a horrific event to last over two months, creating a gigantic crater and immeasurable damage and loss.
The volcano has never returned to a completely quiet state and neither have I.
When someone tells you there is nothing to worry about: There is.