Glenna Silvan – Palmer and Wasilla

I am sending what I remember from the great quake. I lived between Palmer and Wasilla on a farm. There were 7 children but my two older sisters had grown and gone. I was 12 years old. My father had just gotten home from work. He worked for the ‘Road Commission’ which had the responsibility to keep all the roads in and around Palmer clear of snow and ice. Often he would work through the night. My mother was a registered nurse.

We were all getting ready to head to a church potluck, when it began. Just before the quake began I was on my way to the outdoor clothesline. The days had begun to get longer and dusk was just starting. It was all of a sudden when all the animals (we raised cows, had dogs, and cats galore) and birds were silent. The sky seemed to intensify and become darker in a single moment. I made my way back into the house with the frozen solid shirt when the quake first began.

As things started flying from our open shelves, my father told us all to get outside. We had 180 acres, with a 13 acre field in front of our house. We had an old trailer that was in our front area also. The cleared pasture was surrounded by very tall pine trees, upward of 80 feet and more. As we crowded out of the house trying to stand in a small circle, we kept falling. The trailer pitched to and fro like a child on a trampoline, and the trees surrounding the property were stooping to the ground as the earth heaved and rolled in waves.

We looked to our father, who was standing in the doorway of our home, unable to stand even with both shoulders and arms braced against the framing. The noise was incredible. The bouncing trailer, creeks and groans from our frame built home, and odd sounds from our car as it lurched and rocked back and forth, along with a deep under earth roar.

When the seemingly eternal quake ended, we surveyed the damage. The trees were back upright in the forest. Some of the larger field equipment had shifted several feet in the machinery park. We had a concrete floor in our milking barn, and a crack had formed right under the bulk tank that held the dairies milk each day. We dropped a stone and never heard it hit anything. There were cracks in the stucco covered home, and the root cellar that was built into a hill had disgorged the years food supply off its shelves onto the middle of the floor. There was a 3 foot high pile of home canned salmon, green beans, berries, stew and canned caribou and moose meat, and every kind of homemade jam imaginable.

Every year my mother would painstakingly raise a quarter acre garden and we would spend the spring and fall catching salmon, and canning almost everything. The exceptions would be put into the freezer where we had the seasons end of home grown strawberries, raspberries and green peas along with an array of frozen game that our father had shot that year.

The dishes in our cupboards were all on our floor, the food in piles on top of the dishes, except for the flour and sugar which occupied large barrels in 200 lb quantities.

Our property edged on a quiet lake, surrounded by rolling meadows. This time of year the ice was about 4 to 5 feet thick. We would ice skate and drive our truck on it and make donuts for fun. The ice in the center of the lake had ruptured and an abstract trophy-like pile of ice reached 12 feet or more, with mud from the lake bottom covering it like a hot fudge sundae.

The livestock were standing in a circle, away from the trees and near a pasture. It was as if they had sensed what was coming, or heard the groan deep beneath the earth that we could not hear. They had congregated and stayed there for several minutes after. They would be put in their stantions with fresh straw that evening, but the milk production dropped dramatically for a few days. The storage of our hay, in the barn had been violently pitched as if a mad man had been there, with no order in sight, everything jumbled together. The hay for the livestock was mixed in with broken bales of straw used for bedding the animals. It took a long time to right the mess.

We never made it to the church potluck. My father had to report to his work as soon as he could. The snow would still fall, and the quake had made many roads impassable. He was gone for what seemed like days, and when he returned he gave us reports of horrendous scenes of devastation to property, roads and houses. Still when we made it to church a week and a few days later, a list was hung in the foyer. On one side the heading was We Need and the other side

Heading was We Have. Under the ‘we need’ side there were no names. Under the we have side, there was list upon list of items members were willing to share. Everyone was just happy to be alive. But our small community banded together and things that needed to be rebuilt were rebuilt, and things that needed to be torn down, were torn down. Bales of hay were sorted and stacked in barns across the Matanuska Valley, and life continued.

The continued aftershocks would shake and rattle nerves every time they happened. And to this day when I am involved in an earthquake, small or large, I am not able to stand up, and end up in a fetal position crying. I even went to a mental therapist and told him when we were living in Seattle and had a 5 quake, what my reaction was. He said it was normal and while you can learn to overcome other fears, like flying or swimming, it would be pretty hard to conjure up an earthquake for a therapy session. My sister who is a few years younger and lives near me now tells me her reaction is the same.

We didn’t remain in Alaska long after the quake. We moved a little over a year later to Hawaii. My father sold his farm, cattle, equipment and buildings for $18,000, a pittance even then. I have not been back.

We are supposed to have a “Big One” here anytime. I hate thinking about it.

Glenna Silvan- Magna UT

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