Story #12: Paying attention after a ho-hum attitude

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Beth Cross’ husband and a neighbor try to clean ash off their street. (Beth Cross)
By Beth Cross

We didn’t even know the mountain erupted until almost four hours later! We could have seen it from the kitchen window of our home in Vancouver if we had just looked.

May 18, 1980, was like any other Sunday in our house. We awoke after 8 a.m. and fixed breakfast for the three of us. Then we decided to visit out friends in Washougal.

We packed up the car with everything we thought a 23-month old child would need for the day. We headed east along 18th Street, never looking north toward the mountain.

We had developed a ho-hum attitude toward the mountain and her activity. There had been so many occasions of rising steam puffs in the last few months, we seldom looked when we heard the news.

Hubby drove south on 164th toward Highway 14, never looking in his rear-view mirror. We were still oblivious to the events happening around us.

Our friends never said anything about the mountain when we arrived at their house. We didn’t become aware of the eruption until the noon news came on – and then only because the newscaster mentioned Yakima, where hubby’s grandmother lived. The newscaster mentioned how dark the skies were in Yakima because the ash cloud had obscured the sun.

We packed up the car and headed home, where we would try for hours to reach Gram.

Now we were paying attention! As we headed north on 164th, we were astounded at the size and motion of the ash cloud spewing from the volcano. It was hard to decipher what we were witnessing.

Later that night, when we finally were able to talk with Gram, we were told she had gone to a friend’s house. The two little old ladies were scared. They didn’t know exactly what was going on but wondered if the world was coming to an end!

As Yakima dealt with an estimated 600,000 tons of ash, Gram collected some in an old pickle jar. We still have the jar of ash sitting on a shelf in our home.

The mountain continued to have steam puffs, ash clouds and other activity. A few months after the May 18 event, ash blanketed our neighborhood. The cleanup wasn’t easy. I have a couple pictures of hubby and neighbor trying to get the ash off the driveway and street.

Beth Cross’ husband and a neighbor try to clean ash off their street. (Beth Cross)


In 1982, Mount St. Helens produced another steam puff. I was watching that time and captured the event on film.

Nowadays, I can’t see the mountain from our house. Our trees, and the trees across 18th Street have grown too tall for any viewing.

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Now & then here and now…

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