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[I’m back. My summer hiatus began and ended with no notice; my apologies. Once upon a time, I had manners.]

Hot August Night

It would seem that all the blather back in June about getting braced for a sweltering summer was just a bunch of noise. Because the summer, at least here in mid-Missouri, was colossally pleasant. Until this past week. I’m feeling slightly less like a whiner now that we’ve had a series of days in the mid-to-upper 90’s. This turn of events might just redeem that Summer List. Or not.

[So which one of us even had a clue back in June that the famed “Ice Bucket Challenge” would become the quintessential antidote for an August scorcher?]

Very recently, I ended up with a three-week ear worm due to a combination of factors:

1) I’m going to go out of a limb. It may trigger some vituperous comments or even condolences from folks at the other end of the spectrum. But here’s my confession: I like Neil Diamond. Early Neil Diamond best. This fact alone was probably enough to warrant the ear worm. But…

2) It is, after all, August. And for the past week at least, we’ve had way more than just one “Hot August night…”

3) And finally, the song is reminiscent of a special childhood event…

I loved, loved, loved staying overnight with cousins when I was a kid. On this particular occasion, I was with my mom’s younger sister and family. In the middle of some rollicking play, my aunt announced we’d be going to church that evening. The idea of mid-week worship was novel to me, but hey, count me in. After all, when in Cousinland, one does as the Cousins.

Everyone got cleaned up after being outside all day, ate our dinner with dispatch, and filed out the front door behind my aunt and uncle like a goose and gander with their gaggle. We strolled down the small town street, block after block, until we found ourselves in a field, wherein was a big tent.

So, church will be conducted in a tent. Hmmm. The circus is in a tent. Maybe it’ll be like that…

My young eyes drank in everything as we made our way through the very large gathering to a row of seats in the middle, about half way towards the back. The big stage, the music, sawdust carpeting the aisles — I was fascinated by it all.

It’s way too many years later to tell you what songs the choir sang, whether the soloist was excellent, or even what the content of the evangelist’s message. What I do remember is someone passing me what seemed like a giant popsicle stick with a rounded cardboard rectangle fastened to it, an on it was the logo of a local funeral home. I observe silently for a minute or two, and then tried my hand at my own fan waving technique.

Somewhere during the the evening, I witnessed something that I would later learn was rather iconic for tent meetings such as this: individuals from the audience rose from their seats and — quite literally — walked that proverbial sawdust trail. I didn’t appreciate the significance of this particular practice, but was nonetheless intrigued. As we walked home, I remembering wishing my family could have been there, too.

Without further ado, I will share Neil Diamond performing his “country” song, Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show in which Diamond gives the back story.

Hope you enjoy!

 

 

Summertime: a list

June 5, 2014 — 1 Comment

The backyard thermometer has been inching upward the past couple of weeks, the humidity along with it. I suspect the balmy, breezy days of spring are on the way out. This can only mean…

Summer is upon us.

I recently read that the annual average temperature in the contiguous United States has warmed by 1.2 degrees since 1984, and summers inparticular were 1.6 degrees hotter(So, it wasn’t just my imagination…)

It’s time to brace myself for the inevitable.

Quick! Trick self into believing things won’t be that bad this summer. Make cheesy list of perennially “cool” summer things. Keep fingers crossed that this will work…

 

1. Garden hoses.

Never has such a simple household implement consistently delivered so much bang for the buck! Makes me want to thank the inventor. Alas, I cannot, seeing that the fellow who got creative with ox gut lived about 400 B.C. More recently — only 400 years ago — a Dutch dude made hausen out of linen, then later his countrymen switched to leather. Eventually, rubber and then vinyl would be fashioned into the bright green coils. Much better than ox gut… eew!

I loved the garden hose from the moment I could manage the spigot on the side of the house. Because hoses could be attached to sprinklers! And playing in sprinklers is one of the absolute giddiest forms of fun. In addition, quenching summertime thirst from a makeshift water fountain ranks pretty high on the fun-o-meter too. (Garden hoses have been known to occasionally tempt me to surprise attack and terrorize neighborhood boys. Had to be careful with this one, though — paybacks could be intense.

I still enjoy special garden hose moments, but not so much for reasons mentioned above. I mostly prance around the yard watering flowers and herbs and vegetables. Nowadays, I tote my hose on a nifty little wheeled caddy. Once again, a thank you note to an inventor is in order. And from time to time, I might pause to fill a few water balloons. Heh heh.

 

2. Swimming pools (and other bodies of water). It didn’t matter whether it was a municipal pool, a four-foot inflatable number, or a body of water found in nature — if it accommodated the immersing of oneself while the heat was beating down, it’d do. Spent a lot of time and took a bunch of swim lessons at the city park pool, and had the prune fingers and chlorine split ends to prove it.

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Pools are still very cool, but you won’t catch me doing canon balls off the diving board any more. Lolling on inflatable rafts or noodles is more like it… oh, yeah.

 

3. Sno Cones (and their step-cousins, popsicles). So much refreshment to be gained from these icy colored-sugar-water treats! What can I say? Good to the last chunk of ice.

Admittedly, I haven’t had a snow cone in a while, since I’m more inclined to opt for a fruit smoothie to zap the heat these days. (And where is that wonderful chap who invented the blender…?)

 

4. Kool-Aid. So many flavors, so many rainbow mustaches. Stirring the Kool-Aid was perhaps the very first meal prep chore entrusted to me. It would be served up in aluminum tumblers, giving the sugary drink even more chill.

Not being into bright food coloring so much any more, I’m more likely to choose fresh-squeezed lemonade over this childhood staple. I even go as far as to chill glass mugs in the freezer beforehand to get that extra frosty effect…

 

And last*, but not least…

5. Movie theaters. Boy, o boy, how I loved sitting in air-conditioned movie theaters. Many stores and public places back in the day were proud to display their window decals, “Come In — It’s Cool Inside!”. But you could sit for at least an hour or two in a movie theater — an environment as awesome as standing in front of the frig with the door wide open (“Close the frig, young lady — you think money grows on trees?”).

Movie theaters are still calling to me. Not that I go all that often, what with the pricey ticket (I usually try to swing a twilight showing to maximize the old entertainment dollar). After all, who can resist beating the heat while being charmed by little yellow minions, et al.

Well, this has been nice.

Hey, later! I gotta go. I hear Godzilla calling my name…

___________

* A one-time event which hasn’t exactly carried over but is nevertheless worth honorable mention: When I was about 11 there was a Friday night when it didn’t seem to cool off at all, so at 10:00 p.m., it was still probably 90 degrees in our bedrooms. Trying to fall asleep in pools of perspiration was proving utterly futile, when my dad took a notice to drag our mattresses out onto our large balcony style porch, affording us r-e-l-i-e-f. Now that was cool.

 

Givers and recipients

May 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

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He didn’t really talk about it very much.

But then, neither did his peers. For reasons of their own, their memories, by and large, remained private. His tour of duty exacted a toll on the civilian life he returned to, but that’s a story for another post.

On holidays like today, reflecting on all the sacrifices made, I feel a little wistful. So much more significant than just a long weekend for barbeques and camping trips.

Gratitude emerges as the dominant sentiment… appreciating freedoms so recklessly taken for granted, our lofty national ideals, seemingly endless opportunity, a fragile security guarded by countless uniform-clad servants…

Thank you.

Thank you, all.

Dream Big

January 21, 2014 — 4 Comments

I love that this holiday celebrates Dr. King’s role in the transformation of our society. I know I’m not alone in being stirred every time I hear his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In honor of Dr. King and his legacy, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes. I would imagine he was familiar with these words and that they would have spurred him on when the dominant attitude was flinty and the prospect of change seemed bleak:

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Harriet Tubman, bronze sculpture by Jane DeDecker, Little Rock, Arkansas

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” 

~ Harriet Tubman, escaped slave, Civil War soldier and abolitionist, 1820-1913

But it’s hard to reach for stars.

  • People will probably call you a dreamer (which would be true), but they’ll use the term pejoratively.
  • You won’t be unanimously supported, because folks often don’t appreciate those who break with the norm and defy the status quo.
  • You might have to forego comfort and security.
  • You will have to risk, and that can be scary.

But our world needs changing — in more ways than I could even list here. In 2014, why not upset your routine, think outside the box, dare to be misunderstood — to reach for that star with your name on it?

I had a friend who really wanted to be an actor. Professionally. He sort of tap danced all around the profession his whole life without ever diving into it head first. He’s not with us anymore, so there’ll be no reaching for any star with his name on it, and I (as well as the rest of the world) will never know what memorable dramatic roles he might have brought to life.

I have another friend who is amazing with horses. She has a sense that she’d really be good at helping special needs kids with equestrian therapy, but has decided to delay this pursuit until retirement. Yet the tears that well up in her eyes when she talks about doing this make me wish she’d reach for that star now — in 2014. Some very important young people really need her, and she might just need them too.

Why do you suppose it is that we ditch our dreams? Maybe we just don’t recognize that we, according to Ms. Tubman (and she would know), do have strength, patience and passion at the ready. I am pretty confident most of us exercise only a fraction of our potential strength; our patience, though meager, is something that can be cultivated and grown, especially while reaching for our dream, with its promise of bringing positive change in the world ever before us. And I submit, unless we’re engaging our passion — that which resonates deep in our hearts — we’re not fully alive.

Some say a dream has been deposited in the heart of every individual, and that each person’s dream contains the blueprint for how to live his or her life. If you survey people, these dreams are quite varied, strewn across a wide spectrum of interests and pursuits. Many are creative in an outright sense – like dance or architecture, but whenever a person is following his or her passion, creativity will necessarily be involved, even in fields in which that might seem less likely.

I believe a world in which everyone is following his or her dream would be amazing — I can only imagine.

What’s the one thing that would cause you to wake up in the morning with the thought, “I can’t believe I get to _________ today!”

  • For those who are already reaching for you star, keep on keeping on. Inspire us.
  • If you know it, but haven’t yet taken action, I urge you — pursue the dream.
  • If you can’t yet identify the dream, please explore.

Because the world needs you. It needs me. It needs us — every one. Dreaming. Being strong. Exercising patience. Engaging our passion.

Reaching for the stars and changing our world in 2014.

 

tournament-of-roses-logo-300x286I attended a small liberal arts college in Pasadena that was bordered on one side by Orange Grove Boulevard, right along the Rose Bowl Parade route. Each fall, the student leadership would gear up to capitalize on the good fortune of our prime location: they’d plan the annual fund raising blitz that involved selling parade programs, concessions, seats in bleachers erected next to the boulevard, and premium parking on campus. It was a major undertaking — I didn’t imagine preparations for the Normandy invasion being much more elaborate.

Because proceeds went to fund several annual trips for the entire student body, everyone was expected to pitch in. I don’t actually remember the duties assigned me that first year, although I do recall being excited about the prospect of working through the night that New Year’s Eve, then heading to the bleacher seats reserved for us — only a block from where the parade turns the corner onto Colorado Boulevard. I was going to get to watch the Rose Parade in person!

Some were assigned to cook (mainly hot dogs, I think) in the student center kitchen, others to shuttle food to the concession stands. Some were to hustle programs to the throngs camped out on the parade route overnight; others to deliver addition programs from the main distribution point to the sellers. There were parking crews with neon orange vests and flashlights, ticket sellers, and money runners. Whatever my lackluster assignment, I understood my role: a tiny cog in a big machine.

Until about three A.M.

When this fellow band member — an upperclassman with a walkie talkie — bumped into me and asked me what I was up to. He was assigned to assist the study body officer overseeing the entire food delivery operation. Apparently he didn’t think what I reported doing was all that important: he asked my supervisor if he could “borrow” me. This meant I could ride shotgun as he tooled up and down sidewalks and driveways in a golf cart, answering his walkie talkie, then racing to extinguish the “brush fires” of the concession business. It didn’t take long to see that this guy had everything under control and didn’t really need my help. I felt a little guilty about ditching my crew, but not too much. I was having a blast.

We kept it up until 7 or 8 a.m., when parade goers’ attention shifted to the commencement of the parade and our work was done. When we returned for the last time to the kitchen and parked the cart in its designated spot, the mood among the students we encountered was high — our collective efforts had raked in some hefty proceeds, according to preliminary reports. I was pleased to have been one of the troops who had proverbially “stormed the beaches” and pulled off a successful fundraiser.

Then I made a big mistake.

I sat down on a student center sofa. And died. All interest in grabbing a parade program from one of boxes of leftovers and heading up the hill to watch those floats vanished instantly. At that point my sole focus was making a beeline to the dorm, wherein was my bed. I had my first and last opportunity to view the iconic Rose Parade first hand — and I slept right through it!

I just checked on those 1970 parade programs: still available online, for a mere $8.00, plus shipping. Despite missing out on the main media event that day, though, I didn’t miss out on a couple of other valuable objectives:

  • I experienced being part of a large, successful campaign and felt the satisfaction of knowing I was a contributor (at least until I hopped on the golf cart..)
  • I demonstrated to that guy I could provide good companionship (a more worthwhile endeavor than you might suspect, at first glance…)

He and I ended up riding off into the sunset together on the Grand Golf Cart of Life.

AND THE WINNER IS…

November 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

Zero to Sixty in Five is pleased to announce the winner of Friday’s drawing for a VISA gift card:Giveaway-Visa-Gift-Card

SARAH, whose favorite story was Dr. King, Square Dancing and Judgment.

Congratulations, Sarah!!

The three runner’s up who will receive an autographed copy of poetry by my buddy Mark Stratton, Tender Mercies:

  1. Mary Anne, who liked Lovin’ That Man in Uniform.519lMVmH8uL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_
  2. Brianna, who liked Dr. King, Square Dancing and Judgment.
  3. Heather, who liked 10 Awesome Things About Being a Kid.

Congratulations, winners!!

And a big THANK YOU to everyone who entered the drawing!!

ALSO, I want to say THANK YOU to all of you who have been dropping in to read my stuff these past ten weeks. Your interest has been very fortifying-supportive-encouraging-motivating.

…And to satisfy curiosity as to which posts were trending in the drawing, the following posts received multiple hits…

[I promise to try to figure out how to have comments show while hiding email addresses by the time I do this again so people can see the comments as they come in.]

We’re celebrating!!

Exactly why, you ask?

Zero to Sixty in Five went from 0 posts to 60, in just 12 weeks!

Fireworks Show

To commemorate reaching this milestone, management is pulling out all the stops and hosting a…

GIVEAWAY!!!!

Giveaway-Visa-Gift-Card

Who’s eligible to enter the drawing to win this $60 VISA gift card?

All you wonderful peeps!…

Family, friends, coworkers,

groupies, my birth mother,

Manfred Mann – (Do Wah Diddy!)

my skydiving coach (just kidding),

and any other followers of Zero to Sixty in Five.

Those not eligible to enter the giveaway:

The guy who made the U-turn in the middle of the block last week and nearly T-boned me,

people who leave the lid off the toothpaste,

shoppers who think they’re exempt from returning their carts to the corral,

minions I hire to visit Zero to Sixty in Five and inflate the stats,

and (this one is serious) persons under 18 years of age.

HOW TO ENTER THE DRAWING FOR THE GIVEAWAY:

Fill out the Contact Form at the bottom of this page,

including your name, email address, and website (optional).

(One entry per person, please.)

In the comment section, share the topic of your favorite Zero to Sixty in Five post.

ALL ENTRIES MUST BE RECEIVED BY 6:00 P.M., EST, NOVEMBER 10, 2013.

Zero to Sixty in Five will announce the winner on November 11th.

If you win, Ed McMahon will show up at your door with a check and a big grin on his face. Not really.

The winner will receive an email containing instructions on how to obtain the prize: a $60 VISA e-gift card!

In addition, three runners-up will each receive an autographed copy of…

Tender Mercies, by mark Stratton

(you know, the guy in my original post, “Hey, Mark…“)

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Take a peek inside here (then scroll down to view).

 

Oh say, can you sing?

September 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’m not one to rue the passing of the olden days: I love power windows and locks, personal electronic devices, luggage with wheels, no iron fabrics, contact lenses, AC… the list goes on. Often times, in my opinion, when things change, they change for the better. But there’s a flip side: some developments aren’t progress at all, but, in fact, set us back. Because they morph so gradually, we don’t realize the implications until they’ve already changed us. One such development during the last couple of decades is the high jacking of our national anthem.

Once upon a time, when an emcee or announcer in an auditorium or stadium asked everyone to stand for the singing of the national anthem, the entire assembly would rise to their feet, place hands over their hearts and beginning doing something that has more recently become socially taboo: they would open their mouths and sing. It was tacitly understood that when the song got to the “rockets’ red glare” part, voices would get thin and maybe even a little sharp or flat, but that wasn’t the point: it was our song, the anthem of a people, and it was our birthright to sing it wholeheartedly*.

As I began witnessing the subtle trend away from actually singing aloud, I held my ground, continuing to stage my little protests by persisting in singing along with the band at sporting events or graduations. For quite a long time, there would be a handful of other people singing with me, we lone guardians of a fading tradition. Over time, bands (and other modes of accompaniment) gave way to the song being sung as a solo by pop artists who added more embellishments to it than lights on the Times Square Christmas tree. It frustrates me that this mode effectively shuts down any prospect of singing along.

Just this evening, the family was discussing the loss of this cultural tradition. My son remarked that people nowadays, in general, are much more interested in being entertained than doing: for instance, we spend oodles of time watching shows about cooking rather than actually cooking. Activity has been supplanted by mere observation of other peoples’ activity. I suspect this shift distracts us from our underlying issues, but that’s another topic for another day. This penchant for being entertained explains why audiences don’t, nor have any expectation that they would, actually sing The Star Spangled Banner in public anymore. They no longer engage with the song; they merely listen and are entertained (to one degree or another).

A few years back I had a chance to visit Fort McHenry in Baltimore. At the conclusion of the National Park Service orientation film in the visitors center, the Marine Corps choir began singing Francis Scott Key’s beautiful lyrics a capella. During the first few measures of the song, a motor opened drapes that hid a large picture window on the side of the theater, revealing a forty-foot United States flag waving in the breeze, not far from the “ramparts” behind which American soldiers defended against the all-night assault by the British ships in Chesapeake Bay. Our family happened to be the only visitors in the small theater that day, so I was free…

You see, I believe that when we let our bodies agree with and express what’s in our minds and in our hearts, something very positive happens to us: we become more integrated, more centered, more sure of what we’re all about — more alive. And that’s a good thing. As I stood there singing with all my heart, tears welled up and ran down my cheeks. In that moment, being an American had come to mean something a little deeper, a little richer. But I was also sad to experience the moment in isolation and not with hundreds, or even thousands, of fellow Americans — lifting voices as one, in celebration of our shared past and collective futures.

I fear it’s a losing proposition, but can we, the people, somehow take back our song?

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The original Star-Spangled Banner, the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

 

* And yes, once upon a time I thought the first phrase was, “Jose, can you see…” But I was just a little kid.

I wrote yesterday about three major floods that wracked the city of Johnstown in less than a century, 1889-1977, and how I had moved there just in time for the flood of 1977. You might think this is the extent of flood-related drama in my life, but such is not the case.

The first flood happened when I was in third grade. We were living in the little brick house my parents built on the outskirts of Indianapolis. The architectural plans for this house included a driveway that sloped down to a basement garage. One day heavy rains dumped a small deluge on the area and our basement began to fill. In fact, it filled to the point of becoming a lake. The newly installed sump pump was being put to the test, a test which, unfortunately, it failed miserably. As the water level inched higher and higher, my mom gave me permission to open the basement door to take a look. It seemed like half the staircase was submerged; tilting cardboard boxes were swirling atop the muddy water, and for a brief moment I wished I had a boat. But the scene was also a little bit scary, so I closed the door fairly quickly and sought refuge in my (still dry) bedroom.

Okay, so technically this wasn’t a real flood. But to my juvenile sensibilities it approached Noachian proportions. And the devastation in my world was equally grave: my mother’s carefully stored wedding dress was utterly ruined. She grieved the loss of the dress as well as the loss of any opportunity to pass it on to her daughters.

The next high water encounter was, as mentioned before, our experience with the Johnstown flood of ’77. Then, sixteen years later, in the summer of 1993, we were face to face with another one. And once again, my husband had been assigned to a new position — this time in Columbia, Missouri. As we prepared for our move from New Jersey to the Heartland, we nervously watched TV news reports on the status of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, which were worsening day by day.

It all started with a wetter than normal autumn in 1992 in the Missouri and Upper Mississippi River basins. Following this, heavy winter snowfall and spring rains completely saturated the soil in these regions by June 1st. At this point, additional rainfall merely ran off, spilling into streams and tributaries of these two great rivers. Many areas received 400–750% above normal rainfall between April 1st and August 31st, 1993, with one area of east central Iowa receiving a whopping 48 inches!

The very day we moved into our new home — July 31st, I believe — the bridge on US Highway 63 that crosses the Missouri River, connecting Jefferson City (and points south) to the northern part of the state, was closed; flood waters had completely submerged the lanes of highway that crossed the floodplain leading to the bridge. Only days later, rising water threatened to close I-70, severing the western half of the state from the eastern half. The prospect of being trapped in one place by rising water, and not being able to travel if I would like to, gave me an eerie feeling. Fortunately, massive sandbagging efforts managed to stay ahead of the water, and the bridge across the Missouri River at Rocheport remained open.

The weeks that ensued were nail biters. In St. Louis, the Mississippi rose to nearly twenty feet above flood stage and came within two feet of the top of the 52-foot flood wall. Had the river overflowed this wall, downtown St. Louis would have been submerged. My parents home, about 7 miles across the river from the Arch, was in jeopardy of being flooded; they decided to move their furniture and valuables to a safer location. Eventually the rivers crested and the threat of further flooding abated and residents of the affected areas would exhale. Waters subsided and flooded communities embarked on the gargantuan chore of cleaning up and rebuilding. Approximately 100,000 homes were destroyed and 15 million acres of farmland was inundated. The flooding cost 32 lives officially (but perhaps upwards of 50), and an estimated $15-20 billion in damages.

ll this to say…

If you get word that my husband has accepted a position in your locale and we are making plans to move there, head for higher ground.

Ramona Drive

The driveway and garage door in question

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Flooding near St. Louis, summer 1993

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Alton, Illinois

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Missouri Capitol Building overlooking the flooded Missouri River at Jefferson City

A flood of memory

September 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

I own two antique books.

I discovered the first little treasure buried in a box of quilting supplies that were passed on to me after my husband’s Grandma Fleagle died. The little cloth-bound book is a mere two inches wide, three inches tall, with the title: Daily Texts, With Verses of Hymns: Adapted for General Use, and Suited for Every Year, published by the American Tract Society. There’s no copyright year inside, but the pen and ink inscription inside the back cover reads, “Presented to Ralph Fleagle by his Great Aunt Anne Knox, March 24th, 1886.” Ralph, my husband’s great uncle, would have been a young boy at the time. The book is more than 120 years old, but in excellent condition.

The other was a gift from my dad about ten years ago — probably one of his Goodwill finds. This 500+ page book is from the same period as the little devotional. Its title: Johnstown Horror — Valley of Death, copyright 1989, published within months of the historic flood. Dad knew I was interested in the topic because I had lived in the area around Johnstown for nine years.

On May 31st, 1889, the residents of Johnstown were already moving their belongings to the second floor of their homes and businesses, as heavy rainfall filled the streets. They were accustomed to frequent flooding during heavy rains or rapidly melting snow, since their town was situated down in a valley at the fork of the Conemaugh and Stoneycreek Rivers. But the impact of this particular flood would far surpass anything they’d previously experienced: human neglect would compound the devastation and destruction.

The South Fork Dam, a man-made structure built fourteen miles upstream, created Lake Conemaugh, a two-mile by one-mile pleasure lake belonging to an elite fishing and hunting club. This earthen dam gave way that day because three cast iron discharge pipes that previously allowed a controlled release of water had been removed by a previous owner. The dam’s collapse unleashed a wall of water that cascaded down the valley toward the town, 450 feet below. Engineers have compared the force of hat wall of water to Niagra Falls; the volume of water rushing toward the city was temporarily equivalent to the Mississippi River. In the narrower parts of the valley, the wave rose to a staggering sixty feet high. It sped along at forty miles per hour and swept away trees, houses, buildings, vehicles, animals and people; several 8.5 ton locomotives were even moved nearly a mile by the raging water.

The Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 was the worst in our nation’s history and caused the greatest loss of American life in a single day (2,209) prior to September 11. It would be a major test of Clara Barton’s newly formed Red Cross. The city wouldn’t recover for five years. Then less than fifty years later, in 1936, Johnstown would experience another significant flood, caused by heavy run-off from melting snow and three days of rain. The water rose to fourteen feet in some areas, destroying 77 buildings and severely damaging over 3,000 more. Two dozen lives were lost. Then, again in 1977, a third major flood would hit the area.

My husband and I had just arrived in Pennsylvania on July 20th. He was going to start a new position, so we checked into a motel about 45 minutes away; we planned to house hunt the next day. We heard thunder and heavy rain during the night but had no idea what was transpired overmight. The next morning’s front page was shocking.

The storm that stalled over Johnstown and its neighboring communities dropped an incredible 11.82″ within a ten-hour period. According to the National Weather Service, it would only take a rainfall of 7.32″ to precipitate a ‘once in a thousand years’ flood; but nearly 12″ is enough to cause a ‘once in five to ten thousand years’ flood! Six dams along along the converging rivers failed because they couldn’t handle the overflow; nor could the sewer systems in the affected communities. Once again, with over a hundred million gallons of water crashing down the valley, flood waters rose more than a story high in the center of town. This time the death toll reached 85, and property damage topped $300 million.

During the nine years we lived in the Johnstown area, we retraced the 1889 flood route, driving in our car from the point where the dam broke, all the way down the valley to the heart of town, where thirty acres of debris lodged against the stone arches of the railroad bridge and caught fire. We even had the opportunity to have dinner with an elderly man who had survived the 1889 flood as a baby. We would take visiting guests to see the Johnstown Flood Museum, where many amazing survivor stories from all three floods are recounted.

Again and again I would attempt to imagine what it would have been like to be a resident in 1889 or 1977, trying to survive a catastrophe of such massive proportions. The book is very aptly titled, in my opinion: it is indeed a horror, the likes of which my mind cannot actually fathom. I seem to be hardwired to cling desperately to the notion that I can somehow control of my fate, manage all the variables, thus averting unwanted discombobulation. Events of this intensity, unfortunately, prove otherwise.

I suppose the folks in Colorado could attest to this reality.

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The gift book from my dad

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Debris piles up at the railroad bridge, 1889 flood

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1889 flood

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1889 flood

1936 flood

Exchange Johnstown Flood of 1977

1977 flood

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1977 flood