I read in the paper on Monday about the 57th anniversary of the August 17, 1959 Hebgen Earthquake that created Earthquake Lake in Montana, just west of Yellowstone National Park. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake was the second strongest quake in the lower 48 states in the 20th century, according to the United States Forest Service, killing 28 people, including five people in one Idaho Falls family who were entombed in the ensuing landslide, and are still there to this day. I was only three years old when that quake occurred, so I wouldn’t remember it, nor am I aware that it was felt in Casper, Wyoming, where we live, although it might have been felt there too. Still, I doubt I would have remembered it.
What I do remember, is the trip our family took when I was a child, that included Earthquake Lake. I don’t recall whether I was told about the 28 people who died there, or the ones they never found, but I rather doubt it, because things like that tend to be something that sticks with me…even really bothering me when I was younger, because I almost felt like I was a trespasser on their graves. These days, I realize that being near someone’s grave, whether in a cemetery or a natural grave such as Earthquake Lake became, is still nothing more than a final resting place. What impresses me more now is the sadness of the loss. That family was on vacation, and suddenly their lives were gone…over in an instant. Along with the loss of life, there was the damage to roads, making it even harder to bring help in to the people who were trapped, although I’m not sure it would have made much difference.
I remember feeling the enormity of the catastrophic event that took place that day a number of years earlier. I was impressed by the ability of an earthquake to change the face of the landscape around it. What had been the Madison River, was blocked by a massive landslide creating Earthquake Lake. The deaths were random. A couple, Edgar and Ethel Stryker were killed by a boulder that crushed them, while their three young sons, sleeping in a nearby tent, were unhurt. Irene Bennett and her son Phil were saved, but her husband Purley and their three other children were killed. Myrtle Painter died of her injuries, while her 16 year old daughter Carole survived. That was the story of the event, this one died, and that one lived. I think that while I probably didn’t know about all those deaths, that I still felt the sadness of that place, because it is a place I have never forgotten. An earthquake that happens in a rural area seems to make us think that it was simple a change of the landscape, but that is rarely the case. It seems that there are almost always a few people in the area, and that means a loss of life. A very sad event indeed.
My great aunt, Mina Schumacher Spare really was a remarkable person. I wish I could say that I knew that first hand, but while she was still alive when I was born, I don’t recall if I ever met her. Nevertheless, from her sister, Bertha’s writings, I feel as though I knew her well. Mina was a woman who could see that the world was changing. She knew that women would soon have more of an active role in business, and so she decided that her training should be more that just a teaching certificate, and she encouraged her two younger sisters, Bertha and Elsa to get the same education, which they did. Her wisdom in the choice of training she should have, was what landed her jobs that men had usually held, and she was better at it than they were. Of course, Mina was a smart girl, and that was a rarity at that time. Or perhaps there were other smart girls, but they didn’t let anyone know about it. In many ways, I find that sad. I am not a feminist, and I don’t agree with most of what they do, but I’d think a woman who is smart should be allowed to use her abilities in whatever way she chooses.
Mina’s first position was as a Steno-bookkeeper, and she worked office jobs from that time until her retirement with the possible exception of the years when her little daughter, Pauline was born, and then until she went to school. Mina finally retired in 1956, at her husband, John’s insistence. She fought him on the idea of retirement, but once she actually retired, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Her husband, John joined her in retirement in 1963, and they moved to Boulder, Colorado to be closer to their daughter, Pauline (Paula) and her family. Their retired freedom was now ahead of them, but in reality, the time for blissful freedom would be short. Like her mother, Mina had Rheumatoid Arthritis. Mina passed away September 30, 1970, just seven short years after John retired.
After Mina’s passing, Bertha and Elsa had also moved to Boulder, and actually lived right next door to John, but years later, when John spoke of the anguish he felt after Mina’s passing, they were shocked. These were things John had kept to himself all that time. When he finally spoke of it, John said, “I would never have amounted to a ‘darn’ if it hadn’t been for Min.” And years later, in 1981, he said, “For the first four years after she was gone, I thought sometimes I couldn’t stand it. I would stay down stairs, where there were no memories. Upstairs I would see her everywhere.” You see, Mina was unable to navigate the stairs the last two years of her life. All her things were upstairs in the end. John’s heart was so in tuned to Mina’s, that he felt like he was left just half a man without her presence. I know many people feel like they almost can’t take it when their spouse passes away, but somehow, for John, it seemed more truth that just a feeling. Nevertheless, John knew that Mina wouldn’t have wanted him to just lay down and die, so he went on to live a full life. He passed away in 1986, and went to join his beloved Min. On their grave are these fitting words, Together Forever.
I have been intently watching the flooding this past week in Colorado, and especially Boulder, which is very near where my cousin Tim and his family live. Rain has poured into the state, and the flooding rivals the July 31, 1976 Big Thompson flood in many areas. In that flood, 12 to 14 inches of rain fell in 4 hours, flooding the canyon…144 people lost their lives, and 150 were injured. So far in this flood, only 4 people have died, thankfully, and hopefully that will be all, but only time will tell. Roads have been washed out, and I-25 is under water in some areas, causing it’s closure along with the closure of many other roads. Neighbors have stepped up to help save the homes of other people, some of whom they don’t even know, and often working for hours without even being asked. It has been a real show of the human spirit and its ability to care for those in need. Outside help is probably scarce, because no one can get there, leaving them somewhat isolated, except for helicopters that have been able to come in from other areas. Schools are closed, and many people have been told not to attempt to go to work. Two people were stranded in the mountains in whiteout conditions, because rescue resources were limited. They were rescued after 48 hours in the storm. Tim told me that the barrel they have in their back yard, to measure the rain, shows 10 inches over 3 days, with most of it coming over a 12 hour period. The huge snow storm in the mountains could cause continuing problems if it begins to melt.
This flood also reminded me of an old photograph in my grandmother’s album. I’m not sure where this taken, but it does appear that they had quite a bit of water. Sadly, in those days, homes weren’t sealed as well, and so I’m sure there was extensive damage. Add to that, the fact that they didn’t have some of the clean up tools and chemicals to prevent mold, and you have a recipe for a big mess. They also didn’t have warning systems to tell them of the possiblity of a flash flood, and there were may people who lost their lives in those situations. The things that have not changed over the years are the incredible human spirit and peoples’ will to survive. Neighbors will continue to help their neighbors, and people will fight to survive and rebuild their lives after each new disaster hits them. Floods are one of the most dangerous situations people can be in, and I am thankful that we have resources today to help more and more of them survive that danger. I will continue to pray for all those people who’s lives have been touched by the 2013 Colorado floods.