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Going to Hell in a Hand Basket
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From the time I was in Kindergarten, I heard about the big earthquake that would hit San Francisco again, even worse than the 1906 Earthquake which destroyed half of the city. It was inevitable, and San Francisco would most likely end up under water.

So, one night when I was around eight years old I sat in my “office,” which really just was a tiny corner of the den. My blackboard easel folded down and created a desk where I could color and my dollhouse sat alongside me. I’d write down stories in my head, practicing my letters still to write in the correct direction instead of backwards. I’d finally figured out how to read because stories were such a big deal to me, in spite of my vision impairment and dyslexia.

And, all of a sudden, I noticed my tiny china doll dishes hanging in a tiny cabinet shake. Then the walls shook and Mom shouted, “Run to a doorway!” in her loud, dramatic voice.

I was so scared that I couldn’t even get up off my chair.

“Mary!” Mom shouted. “Doorway!” She stood in the doorway between the kitchen and den with Michael and jenny huddled next to her. No room for me, so I ran to another doorway until the shaking stopped. Apparently, you were safer in doorways, which didn’t make much sense to me. At school when we had an earthquake drill, we all had to hide under our desks.

I noticed that the crack on the wall by the front door got a little bigger every time there was a small earthquake. What would happen when the big one hit? I tried not to think about that too much.

Miss Evans, our music teacher, came in with her guitar and taught us a song about the earthquake when I was in third grade. Miss Evans was my idol, my hero, and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She had long blonde hair and wore those long, colorful skirts like the women did in Golden Gate Park who twirled to the Grateful Dead music. She was nice and funny, and she always played her guitar when she sang. From the time I was a toddler, I’d memorize songs I’d hear on TV, all the commercial jingles, songs Mom played for me on records such as from musicals, all the songs from the musical Peter Pan, and when I was older and Mom and I became Beatles freaks, I learned all the Beatles songs I heard. I had trouble learning to read, but I could sing any song I heard just once or twice.

So, yes, I loved Miss Evans and wanted to be just like her. I remember one day a kid in the class yelled something about a date for the major earthquake that would hit San Francisco. Psychics were always coming up with dates, and even if our parents didn’t tell us, we heard. We knew. We were scared, but there wasn’t much we could do about it.

“Well, there’s a song about that!” Miss Evans said. She had our attention. And next thing you know, we were all singing along at the tops of our lungs while Miss Evans led us and strummed on her guitar.

“Day after day, more people go to LA
Sssshhh, don’t you tell anybody the whole place slippin’ away.
Where can you go when there’s no San Francisco?
You’d better get ready to tie up da boat in Idaho!!”

Once we had that part down, she taught us the rest. I will never forget this song as long as I live.

“Do you know how to swim? You’d better learn quick Jim.
If you don’t know how to swim, you’d better sing da hymn…

We loved the song so much we begged to sing it again until we knew it by heart. I sang it with the kids in the neighborhood and they learned it too. And that night, I sang the song for my Mom.

Mom listened to me sing while smoking a cigarette, and after I was done, she said, “We’re all going to hell in a handbasket!” Then she laughed.

And she sang along.


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