Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Falling Up 6, Falling Down

The story gets harder. I could fiddle around with endless stories of my childhood; the joys, heartaches, terrors, and confusion. But as inevitably as a child grows, there is always a point when you have to move to the next step.

Winter in California is the unpredictable rainy season. That year, the end of January, the beginning of February, it rained all week. I could go look up the exact date, but I need to just get it told. It was the slow time of my dad's work year, and he had driven to North Carolina to visit family and see how they were wintering. My Brother was living on his own, so it was just me and my mom at home. 

Now, this was the time of the draft for Vietnam. My brother had been going back every 6 months for another physical because of ingrown toenails. Then his toenails actually started to bother him and a Dr. did a little minor surgery, so the next time he went in for the physical, he passed. That Thursday, he received his notice to report.

My mom called my dad that night, to be sure he returned before my brother had to leave. She mentioned how much it had been raining and he said "If the house starts to slide down the hill, for heaven's sake, bail out!" What he knew and hadn't told us was that when the road had been repaved the previous summer. a lot of the drain pipes had been blocked. My dad had made the workmen clear the one at the lower corner of our driveway, so all the water from quite a way up the hill was finding it's only outlet past the lower side of our house on the side of the hill.

Friday night was a peaceful end to the week. The fire was blazing and Star Trek was on. I slept well that night.

I was startled out of sleep in the morning by my mom pounding on my bedroom door, "Paula! Get up and get dressed now! We have to get out of here!" 

My first sleepy thought was that we had overslept, then I realized it was Saturday. "Why?" I asked.

"Look out the window and come on!"

I threw on some clothes and looked out the back door window, just outside my bedroom door. Half our backyard was just gone. My mom had been awaken by the sound of our trash can tumbling down the hill. Our house on the side of the hill was now hanging over into space. 

We went across the street and got our neighbors out of bed. Power and phones were out. Luckily, like us, their stove was propane and the heat was a fire place. We were safe, warm and fed, if very shaken.

Neighbors began checking on each other up and down the hill. The mud that had slid from our house now blocked the road where it looped around below us. If that had not been true, though, we wouldn't have been much better off. There had been 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. Slides and creek flooding had blocked the main road through Topanga toward the beach and also both ways through to the valley. Seven people lost their lives that night. 

We all tended to keep well stocked pantries, and a neighbor up the street with a thawing deep freeze full of meat went up and down the street giving it away. We pulled together. It is hard to explain the feeling of walking around in shock and fear, but at the same time knowing that there were so many people going above and beyond to take care of each other and help where we could. 

After a few days, when we still were not seeing any help come, we took shovels down to try to dig through the mud enough to get a car out. While we were working, a helicopter flew overhead and soon a bulldozer showed up and just like that, we were free. We learned that there was now limited access from the coast. It would be a week before we had power and phones restored.

The following weekend, my brother had made his way up to us, bringing a big roll of plastic. "I called dad and he said to get up here and throw some plastic over it." His shocked eyes looked over the slide, and he asked "Throw some plastic over what?"

This was the thing, the big thing, that altered my life. This was the beginning of the year that changed everything. Call this the end of part one, and part two will begin to tell that journey.

But let me tie up two loose ends, before I close this chapter.

My brother took leave from his job, gave up his apartment, and put his jeep and motorcycle into storage. He went to report as ordered, but his toenails had grown in again and they sent him home. This was not long after Alice's Restaurant had come out. I have heard a story that was supposed to be kept secret from me that my brother got arrested that day for trying to incite a riot. He told them "Please, go ahead and take me." and some other guys thought he was doing that part of Arlo's story and joined in. Before he went back for his next physical 6 months later, he had a note from a Dr. about his bad knee from a car accident a few years before. They finally looked past his toenails and was declared unfit to serve.

The house never moved until it was torn down. But we were never able to live in it again.

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