For several years I have had an emergency bag. You know, the kind for impending natural disasters, gloves, flashlight all the stuff you think you may need in such an event. It’s morphed over the years; the kids have grown up moved on and hopefully have their own bags now. I used to recheck it every now and then, but that hasn’t happened in several years. However, I know exactly where it is and that it has what I will need in it.
So recently as we all awoke to the quake that went on and on, I jumped out of bed knowing the emergency siren will go off. You could just feel it in the shaking. As I dressed I began to plan on what would need to be done to move my elderly parents in the middle of the night to higher ground. As I stepped out the door I prayed that this was going to be just a practice run and all would be safe and sound, back in their beds soon. But, would mom cooperate? Will she understand what is happening?
You see my mom has dementia Alzheimer’s, late stage. As I crossed the road a vehicle pulled up to me with a young man and his elder mom. “Where do we go?” they hollered. “To the Mush Building,” I responded. The “Mush building” was originally a building that my mom applied for when she was the village chief here in Port Graham. As the lead health aide at the time she had the foresight to see a need for elderly housing, and although it hasn’t been used for the elderly, it is used for many other things.
On my way in I started their Suzuki so it would warm up. I grabbed a couple of cloth grocery bags and started putting the things Mom would need into them and made my way to her room. She excitedly started talking about the earthquake and how scary it was. In a calm voice I told her and my dad that we need to move to higher ground.
Dad said no, he will stay, but he was getting dressed and putting his prosthetic leg on. So I said that if Mom wants to come with me we will go. She loves to go in the car; most of the time it’s to look for home, that one she lived in with her mom and dad. So I got her dressed and into her wheelchair and we headed out the door. Along the way I grabbed some fruit, sardines and crackers. My grandson, 5-year-old Levi, would find these and laugh about it later.
Again I asked my dad to come but he said, no, he will stay. As we were making our way to the car my son Matthew and Father James our Orthodox priest showed up to help. Soon we were loaded and on our way. In less than 10 minutes we were in front of the Mush Building. There were already lots of people there. As I scanned the area I saw the fire truck, the ambulance and our very nice VPSO, Daniel. Names were being written down to keep track of who was there and also to see who hadn’t shown up so that maybe the EMS could go and knock on their doors to see if they needed assistance in moving to higher ground.
For the most part everyone was calm and orderly. As far as I can recall this was the first real tsunami warning, where we were urged to go to higher ground. In 1964 the people that chose to move up higher out of the way of a tsunami had to climb up on the mountain behind the village. I was a whole 2-years-old at the time and living in my dad’s home state of Iowa. I do remember my mom crying, and saying that the newscaster said the entire Kenai Peninsula was gone, washed away by a tsunami. Mom thought all of her family had perished, but within a day discovered that was not so.
And now 54 years later I stood in front of the door window peering in and wondering if Mom could handle being around all these people, even if they are all relatives. She used to be such a people person; she loved to visit! But now it takes everything in her to hold a conversation. And it exhausts her trying to remember names, places, current events, but she tries. Then, as if they are reading my mind, Matthew and Father James are suddenly beside me again, suggesting we take Mom over to the parish house which is right next door; their families are there.
Thankfully we head over to Father’s house. We get Mom inside where it’s warm and comforting. As I sit down and listen to my grandsons and the other adults chattering, I realized I forgot my emergency bag. It was still sitting in the same spot that it has occupied for many years. Oh well, hopefully it will stay in that spot for many years to come!
Deborah McMullen is a longtime resident of Port Graham and the former owner of the Variety Store.