It’s so cliche’ but I really do remember the day like it was yesterday.
May 18th, 1980.
We had gone back over the mountains to Yakima to visit my new in-laws. It was a Sunday morning and the established routine was to get up, go for one more swim in their pool and then head back to Seattle.
I got up, grabbed some coffee and then looked outside and saw some dark clouds in the distance. “Crap,” I thought, “that pretty much kills the morning swim.”
Just moments later, those darker-than-usual clouds seemed a lot closer…and appeared to be closing in fast. “Man, this is going to be a heck of a storm.”
It wasn’t a storm. It was the ash cloud from a just-erupted Mount Saint Helens. We were too far away to have heard the actual eruption, but we didn’t miss any of the ash. We were dead-center in the ash cloud’s path. From the in-laws hilltop home, I remember looking out over the valley as it moved in, street lights turning on, then disappearing in the cloud. It was like a giant dust storm….except this was ash and a lot of it.
As you can imagine, things were just not right. At one point, a giant spark of electricity came into the house and went through the kitchen light fixture. It wasn’t lightning, but thinking about it later, must have been some kind of static electricity charge in the air.
I remember I fed news reports to KOMO radio, my new employer. Eventually I went out side to get a first-hand look at the ash, it was like a fine, powdery sand. I scooped up several coffee cans worth of the stuff to save as a souvenir, which I still have to this day. Somewhere around here.
We ended up being stranded there for four days before the news broadcasts felt it was safe to travel in the stuff. Even then, we drove south and came up through Portland due to the fact I-90 was closed due to ash.
It took a long time for the ash to go away. Over the next year or two, I remember huge piles of it here and there throughout the valley, as if it was snowdrifts. I drove a Plymouth Horizon at the time and for all the years I continued to drive it, every time I turned on the heater, a little ash would come shooting out.
I wrote down my experiences and sent them off to my hometown newspaper, The Daily Breeze, down in Torrance, California. They even published my account. Guess I’ll need to dig that out and see what else I’m forgetting.
I remember growing up and hearing my folks talk about “the war years” and thinking they were talking about ancient history. But they were reflecting back to events 30 years ago in their lives.
It’s taken me a lifetime, but I guess now I can understand how things that long ago can seem like they happened just yesterday.
Happy Eruption Day!