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News / Life / Clark County Life

Everybody Has a Story: Columbus Day storm blew errand off track

By TIM LUKE, Carter Park
Published: October 7, 2023, 6:15am

It was a fall day in October. I was 13. My mother picked me up after school to go into downtown Vancouver to buy a new pair of shoes at Kessler’s shoe store on Main Street. She had to stop at my dad’s store, Besserman & Vel Radio and TV at 15th and Washington, to get some money.

Dad came out of the store to give mom some cash. As he bent down to the window of our 1959 Ford Ranch station wagon, Dad started running backwards. I thought that was bizarre. He worked his way back to the car and said it was quite a powerful wind. Then all sudden he was running backwards again. He struggled back to the car and said he did not know what was happening, but we should head for home right away instead of buying shoes.

It was October 12, 1962, the day of “The Columbus Day Storm.”

We lived on Lakeshore Avenue by Vancouver Lake. Mom drove to Columbia Street to head north. As we traveled up Columbia we saw several trees, telephone poles and power lines down. Limbs and branches flew through the air. The wind rocked the car every which way. Mom drove slowly but surely to avoid it all.

I looked at Mom and shouted, “Grandma!”

Grandma Marshall lived in a tiny house at 24th Street and Kauffman Avenue. Her little home was surrounded by umpteen trees. Mom navigated around all the debris on West 26th Street (now West Fourth Plain Boulevard). She turned onto Kauffman and found the street impassable. Mom managed to traverse the car to Grandma’s backyard through a small alleyway behind her house.

Mom told me to run into the house and get Grandma while she was maneuvering the car to leave again. The tempest howled and the giant trees swayed violently as I ran to the back door.

I barged in and yelled to Grandma that we had to leave right away because the wind was extremely dangerous. Grandma said OK, but she needed to get a few things to take with her. The savage wind continued and the tiny house trembled. It seemed to me that Grandma was taking a severe amount of time. I kept telling her to hurry. I was scared the house might fly away, like Dorothy’s house in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Time was precious, and after several minutes Mom finally came in the house and yelled to Grandma we had to leave “NOW!”

Grandma said, “I can’t find my lipstick, Helen. Do you have any lipstick I could borrow?”

This was the day I learned my mother knew how to swear! With a stern look on her face and eyes like daggers, Mom howled at Grandma: “I do not give a blankety-blank-blank about your blankety-blank lipstick so get into the blankety-blank-blank car now!”

My jaw dropped and I just stood there with my mouth agape, not knowing what to do. Grandmother Marshall, a very prim and proper gentlewoman, glared at my mother sternly and said in a firm voice, “Helen, I raised you better than to use that kind of language.”

Mom looked somewhat demurred and quietly asked, “Can we just go?” Grandma said she was ready and we left.

We safely managed to get home, where Dad was just about to go search for us. Our house on the lake did receive some damage when a huge tree fell on it and wiped out our deck. The house lost countless cedar shakes, but we were all OK.

About three days later, when power was restored, we took Grandma to her tiny little home on Kauffman Avenue. There it stood proudly, without even a shingle out of place.

Of course, I should not have been shocked when Mom used those words. After all, at one time or another her father and three older brothers had all been loggers.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.