We had only been a couple for just a few months. The Boy Friend (decades away from being The Husband) and I were living in our first apartment. It was a breathtaking find, the top floor of a late 19th century mansion in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood of Spokane. Our living room was the vast former ballroom with a large balcony, and the rest of our digs were the former servants quarters, a warren of small rooms tucked under the eaves. This section of the apartment ended with a large screened in summer porch. We paid an unheard of $200 a month to live in this luxury. Our friends thought we were nutty to spend so much on a place to live.
We wanted friends to see our unusual, exclusive penthouse, and so we invited another gay couple to brunch on a beautiful, warm spring Sunday morning. I think they were impressed with our living quarters and the meal. As we walked them to their automobile and hugged goodbye (we used to hug in those days, we looked at the western horizon. In the distance, the sky was a curtain of an uncommon grey and green. We remarked at the weird weather coming our way.
We would soon learn that at 8:33am, Mount Saint Helens had blown its top in an unprecedented (in modern times) eruption of an active volcano in the Pacific Northwest. Within an hour, the city‘s street lights had come on. At noon it looked like midnight. At 3pm the ash was mid-calf deep and it covered everything. We were getting conflicting directives from emergency authorities: don’t drive, wear a mask or protection- it will get in your lungs, you don’t need a mask, don’t sweep it, don’t get it wet, hose it down, sweep it into piles, don’t panic, it can kill you. The fire stations issued masks. We were quick to get to the store to stock up on wine and pizza.
We spent three days quarantined in our place, listening to music, drinking wine, and making love. The ash would eventually permeate everything. It got into my considerably large album collection, including all my obscure original cast recordings of Broadway and West End Musicals. The ash got into the sleeves of the LPs and scratched the vinyl. The volcano’s spewing laid waste to my music and ruined my future husband’s work computer (which was the size of a large room).
We could spot drifts of the ash on the side of roads in Eastern Washington for decades. The only good news: the ash was the perfect compound for pottery making, and an entire Mount St. Helens ashtray industry was born.
The eruption was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the USA. 57 people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, 185 miles of highway were destroyed. The eruption caused a massive debris avalanche, reducing the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 feet to 8,365 feet and replacing it with a mile-wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The ash was carried east all the way to Europe. It made for spectacular sunsets around the globe for more than a year.
That night on May 18, 1980, when we went to bed and physically expressed our love for each other, my future husband, bit my ear gently and whispered: ”Did the earth move for you, baby?”
We currently have a peek-a-boo view of the Mount Saint Helens from our place in Portland. We spy it often while driving around town. Occasionally it will send up a plume of steam. Mount Hood, also an active volcano, is even closer to Portland. It is one of five active volcanoes within a hundred miles of our house. Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood have both been rumbling this year. It most likely will blow again in my lifetime, which is more than I can say for myself.
Where were you on May 18, 1980?