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Mount St. Helens memories: Special occasions

Editor’s note: Readers submitted these stories about special occasions interrupted by the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.

Better than flowers and a card

Mount St. Helens blew one day before our first wedding anniversary.

My wife said I didn’t have to do anything that big ever again for our anniversary. Staying indoors for a few days just added to the festivities.

It must have made quite the impression because we are still married after 31 years!

Sam Richart

Celebration picnic cut short

It was my mother’s 70th birthday. We had a huge family picnic at Thorton Murphy Park that day. About 45 to 50 of us had gone to the park early, so no one knew that Mount St. Helens had erupted.

Around noon my Aunt Loretta (mom’s sister) came and she was trying to tell all of us about the mountain. No one paid any attention to her until about 3 p.m. when the world went dark and we began to feel the ash fall.

We scrambled to find the little children and pack up our picnic and drive home through all that dust powder. What a mess.

The picture is of my husband Leroy, who had a great sense of humor and put the sign on our front gate on the South Hill.

Joyce Deitz

Here’s ash in your eye

We were expecting company from California and Oregon for our daughter’s wedding on Saturday. The parents of the groom got in before Saturday, but we had to find a place for after the wedding – as it had been planned as a garden party. The bride got ash in her eye and had it covered all week.

It was eerie when it got dark in the middle of the afternoon. My evening barbecue was scratched.

Myrna Kerr, Spokane

Barely making the plane

I was packing for a trip to Florida to attend my daughter’s graduation from Navy boot camp in Orlando. My flight was scheduled for the next day. We didn’t have the TV on.

My son had left early that morning to return to the University of Idaho in Moscow. 

I remember how dark it got in the early afternoon. I had all the lights on. I thought there was a big storm coming. My son later told us he felt like a big black cloud followed him on his trip.

When we looked out the window it was snowing gray ash. We turned on the TV and couldn’t believe this was happening in Spokane. As the afternoon wore on, the ash accumulated on the lawn. The birds stopped singing, and we found a sparrow huddled under a deck chair on the patio. We brought him in, and put him in an old bird cage. He was very quiet, but survived, and we let him go two days later. I wonder how many birds did not survive.

The airport was closed the next day, and the next. The morning of the 21st, I heard that one flight was leaving for Seattle. My husband loaded me in the car, and we took off for the airport. We were stopped by the Washington State Patrol on the freeway. We convinced the officer that this was indeed an emergency, and he graciously let us proceed.

I made the flight. When I tried to find a place to stay for the night, I met two wonderful people who also had flights the following day. We shared accommodations in Seattle, and they bought me a drink at dinner — it was my birthday.

The rest of the trip went smoothly. I saw my daughter graduate, and we spent three great days together.

Arlene Mork, Spokane

A rush home, a sprint to leave

My daughter Suzanne and I were shopping at Nordstrom when there came over the intercom a message stating that the store would be closing because of the ash cloud heading toward Spokane. While we were driving up Grand with the windshield wipers going full blast, I could only hope that we would make it home safe.

In the meantime, my husband Bill and other daughter Stacy were trying to get the horses and our two steers in the barn. The horses came with no problems, but the steers did not want to cooperate and stayed outside. We finally made it home safe and watched out the picture windows as the countryside turned an ash white.

Of course the airlines shut down and we were due to fly out to Chicago to attend our son’s wedding in Elkhart, Ind. on May 24.  I was a nervous wreck as I paced the floor. On May 21st, I heard on the TV that a plane was leaving for the East. In less than 2 hours, I had suitcases packed, arranged for our animals to be taken care of, our hay cut and bailed and we were off to the airport.

My husband called his boss and told him that he was taking two extra days off.  His boss’s reply was: “Bill, you have a certain responsibility to the company.” My husband’s reply was: “George, you don’t understand, my primary obligation is getting to my son’s wedding and everything else is secondary.”  This little confrontation went up and down the pipeline.

We missed the first flight out of Spokane by 10 minutes and we camped out. The next flight was about four hours later. When we were in the air looking down, the scene reminded me of a science fiction movie – all gray for miles around.

Alice Sidlow, Spokane

Erupting anniversary

That day was the 50th wedding anniversary reception for our parents, Everett and Pauline Coleman. It was held at Fowler Methodist Church. The ash was beginning to fall as we carried a three-tier wedding cake and bouquets of yellow roses into the church.  As family and friends gathered, the sky began to darken and people worried about the effects of the ash.  We later joked that not everyone gets to have a volcano erupt for their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Dolores Engle, Mary Ann Holloway, Karen Stone


Bundled-up rescuers

I was living in Ellensburg and looking forward to celebrating my one-year anniversary with my husband. The morning was beautiful and my daughter, Alisha, and I headed out for church. My son, Dustin, was sick so dad, Clif, stayed home with him.

We were enjoying the sermon but the church just kept getting darker and darker. I figured a storm was coming. After about 15 or 20 minutes, two officers from the city police department entered the church. Pastor Bill looked up as they said we needed to end the service and go directly home. Before they could get the words out, some of the elder parish members were uttering phrases regarding the end of the world.

Pastor Bill told us Mount St. Helens had erupted and no one knew for sure what was contained in the ash so we should hurry home. We were told to breathe in as little as possible, don’t use your air conditioners in your cars, etc. So my daughter and I left the church as quickly as everyone else. The ash was so thick on my windshield I couldn’t see so I used my wipers.  Later I realized I should have wiped the window with a rag or something.

Clif had been listening to the news and became worried about Alisha and me, so as we were leaving the church, he and Dustin were getting ready to rescue us. Even though it was hot outside they dressed for action in snowsuits, hats, goggles, snow boots and face masks. Because of the news, Clif had panicked a little. As Alisha and I drove up to our house, out of my back door came two very odd-looking guys. They were very happy to see us and we were very amused by them.

The eruption was not an omen. Clif and I celebrate 31 years together on May 18.

Tanya Jones, Spokane

Out into the ash

It was our sixth wedding anniversary and our daughter was 19 months old the same day. We had arranged for babysitter and dinner out.

I saw a dark cloud coming from the direction of Portland and figured I better mow the lawn before the rain came. About the time I was finished, the cloud was overhead. It was the strangest cloud I’d ever seen. It was lumpy on the bottom rather than relatively flat. I could see the disk of the sun through the cloud. I could see that it was trouble.

I went inside and turned on the TV news to find out what was going on. That’s when I found out that Mount St. Helens erupted.

Our babysitter had canceled and I called the restaurant to cancel our reservation – no need since they were closing anyhow. By then the ash was falling. We were not going to let a little thing like a disaster spoil our anniversary. So I put on my jacket and cowboy hat and walked up to Rosauers for some champagne. When I got home I had to undress in the garage since I was covered with ash. We had a nice dinner, although my wife had no more than a sip of the champagne because she was pregnant.

The next morning I got ready for work. Although the sheriff wanted everyone to stay home, I had to go. I was an electrical engineer for Bonneville Power Administration, working in system protection maintenance at their maintenance headquarters at Mead.  BPA is the backbone of the Northwest’s electrical transmission system and it was essential to find out what effect the ash might have on it. 

Everything was a uniform shade of gray and it was very quiet. There were no animal sounds, no insect sounds and no traffic sounds. I live just a couple blocks northwest of the North Division Y. I’d never seen Division so deserted. There were practically no tire tracks in the ash.

Our tests showed the ash would have no electrical effects on the system; it was just ground-up sand. It was, however, abrasive and could damage mechanical parts. Our crews went out and used compressed air to blow the ash off the equipment all over the system.

Since I had to work, our neighbors helped clean up our place. We’d wash down everything with water, scoop the goop, and till it into gardens to keep it from blowing around. The goop was a little like caulking so we put pine-needle barriers around the storm drains to catch the ash and keep it out of the drains, so the storm drains worked when the rain came.

A darker ash fell first, then lighter ash. One could see little trails in the ash, each ending in a dead bug.

Mike Storms, Spokane

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