• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Thursday, October 14, 2010


14 October 2010, my parents will have been married
for 62 years.

They expect to remain together forever,
through life and after death - through all eternity.

I have one outstanding, wonderful memory of my parents from 1980. It is from the day their house burned to the ground. I remember my father putting his arms gently around my sobbing mother and beginning to sing softly in her ear:

"Hey, hey, good lookin'
Wa-what-cha got cookin' ..."

And then they laughed, so did all the firefighters, neighbors and family helplessly standing by.

I don't even know if that memory is real.  Was I there? or did I only hear someone describe it? I was somewhere: I just honestly don't know where at that exact moment - doesn't matter, really.  It is as alive and real in my memory as if I were there. I can still smell the smoke and see the glowing red of our burning house as piece by piece it fell into the basement pit that would glow for days.

1980 - sigh - too many memories there, but this one memory of my parents I sift from the others and cherish.

May 19, 1980 dawned beautifully sunny in Southern Alberta.  As we ate breakfast, sent the children out to play, and began a typical 'small-farm-Monday-in-the-spring' busy day we did not know of an event that had occurred in Washington State that would impact our own lives. At 8:32 a.m. PDT on Sunday, 18 May 2010 Mount St. Helens catastrophically erupted.

Television signals did not really reach under the hill to the small rural property, in the quiet valley we called home, and news on the radio usually consisted of hearing the latest prices for wheat, rye or alfalfa hay, and cattle or hogs. That day, and the next, were not different - the radio had no unusual news.

New home on same site

About 10 a.m. MDT that Monday morning a strange murky white haze appeared in the SW over the mountains. As I stood looking out the west kitchen window, watching some of my children and several of their cousins playing outside, the haze quickly became a cloud and suddenly the day became oddly overcast - not dark, not cloudy. It did not feel or smell like rain.

Soon an extremely fine, powdery, grayish white dust began to be visible on dark woodwork. We puzzled and thought and discussed what it might be. We gathered into the house and closed off doors and windows but in that old farmhouse it made little difference.  The dust continued to filter in.

Was there a disaster?
A bomb?
Was the world as we knew it ending? changing?
WHAT? Especially the dust!
Was it dangerous?

My mother continued to work outside planting and then watering some poplars near my brother's across the valley. She said it wasn't making her cough or affecting her in any noticeable way so until she was told otherwise she had work to do.  She did agree the children should be sheltered and suggested calling the local radio or TV station.

Noon became as dark as most evenings at dusk.

Local media knew nothing. Signals originated from approximately one hour north in a larger city and the day there was still clear and sunny. Even later in the afternoon they still had no news except what people in our area were calling to tell them.  Although we stayed indoors for the remainder of that day no answers could be found. There was no Internet, no Google, no Ask.

Eventually we learned about the volcano.
Was the dust safe to touch? inhale? No one knew.
The skies cleared, the sun returned.
We dusted and life went on as always.

Until June.

Several rural families in the immediate area (at least 4) lost their homes to fire without apparent cause that spring.  One insurance agent speculated that volcanic dust had settled into everything and may have shorted out ancient electrical wiring.  My parents home of 30+ years was one.

THAT was a strange day.  The baby was already down for a nap when my mother called up the stairs and asked me to accompany her to town.  I was reading my 4 year old our usual pre-nap story. I told mom, "no, too much trouble etc. etc." She went to the truck, and then returned to the house and called to me again.  She just 'felt' like she needed me to come. I finally loaded up the baby, and a very 'happy-to-skip-a-nap' preschooler, to go to town - a 15 minute drive.

Later on, while we did business and errands, a man walking down the street said to my mother in passing, "Jean, was that your house that burned in Kimball today?"

In my heart I knew it was.  I think she did too. We went immediately home. We could see the column of smoke away and over the foothills as soon as we left town. My mother drove. My father was many hours away at work. He often worked out of town and returned on weekends or even only once a month.

There was little water from their shallow wells. Everyone did all possible - it was as nothing in quelling the roaring orange and yellow swirling flames.

Late afternoon had not quite given way to early evening when my father arrived.  Most of my 10 siblings had come quickly. The one that lived across the valley was there from the onset. His wife helped care for the children. I remember I stayed there with her mostly, but otherwise we stood around at a distance not really knowing what to do or say.  The neighbors stayed too, and came and went - so many people! So much coming and going - and already they were bringing whatever they thought we might need.  (Meals were provided around the clock for several days, at first to all the family  and firemen, and then to all helping hands.)

We knew dad was on his way.  Kind friends had tracked him down and called.  His boss owned a small plane and flew to the nearest airport.  I suppose we just waited.

My father and mother often sang; as they worked, as they drove to and from here or there, and especially as they relaxed.  An evening bonfire gathering was always an occasion for song, we knew many, our family often sang. My father used quotes and songs on all occasions. He loved to tease and sang many teasing love songs to mother.

His heavy cowboy boots drug into the gravel before the truck halted completely.  He went directly to mother and wrapped his arms around her from behind before she even knew he was there.  He was just shy of 6 feet, she was barely 5'2" - the top of her head did not even clear his shoulder.

As he began to softly sing, at first we could hardly hear. Then, as she turned to him, we heard his voice as she laughed - "Hey, hey good lookin', wha-whatcha gotta-cookin" - we all laughed. We still laugh.  That song has become an 'inside' joke ... a 'time-of-trouble' comfort to fall back on - it is an easy and answerable question - "Hey good lookin' - whatya got cookin'?

I have been born of choice 'goodly' parents.

Their powerful examples of faith and fortitude have continued.  With good cheer and determination they have overcome many, many difficulties. October 14, 2010 they will have been married 62 years. In trouble they seemed to turn to each other and to Heavenly Father instead of away.

What a bonfire that was.

 Hey Good Lookin’  Hank Williams 1951

Say hey, good lookin’. Wha-wacha got cookin? 
Hows about cooking somethin’ up with me?
Hey hey, sweet baby, do-o-on’t you think maybe, 
We can find us a brand new recipe?

I got a hot rod Ford, and a two dollar bill; 
And I know a spot right over the hill.
There’s soda pop and the dancing’s free, 
So if you wanna have fun, come along with me.

Hey hey, good lookin’, wha-wacha ya got cookin? 
Hows about cooking somethin’ up with me?

I’m free and I’m ready, so we can go steady,
   Hows about saving all your time for me?
No more lookin’, I know I been cookin”,
 Hows about keepin’ steady company?

I’m gonna throw my date book over the fence, 
And buy me one for five or ten cents
I’ll keep it till it’s covered with age, 
cause I’m writin’ your name down on every page.

So hey, good lookin’, wha-aat ya got cookin’? 
Hows about cooking somethin’ up with me?