Family stories

Again with the Calamity

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“to talk of many things:
of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
of cabbages—and kings—
and why the sea is boiling hot—
and whether pigs have wings.”
Lewis Carroll

That pretty much sums up this week. I had planned to write today about the guided wildflower hike in the woods in the mud last week, and explore memories of hiking with my mother. There’s also the peas, broccoli, and potatoes coming up in the garden and maybe spring is finally here. And my first four Airbnb guests are in the book. And my mother’s book is out! (Well, the book she is in, which you can order here. Wisdom from women born before suffrage. She is very proud of it.) There was also the rare compliment she gave me this week: that she is proud of me.


But calamity—which, along with talking about sealing wax, never makes any sense—has struck again, and it’s hard to ignore. It’s my sister’s story, not mine; but perhaps when catastrophe strikes the one, it strikes the whole. And that seems to be the case.

She called me at 1:09am, sobbing. Of course I thought our mother was gone. A stroke? A fall? Died? I couldn’t understand what she was saying. She had to say it three times.

“I can’t understand,” I said, hating that she had to say it over and over. She took a breath and slowed down.

A car ran into my building!” That time I got it.

“What?! Oh my God!” I shouted, later hoping I didn’t wake my house guests in the room below me. “Do you need me to come down there?”Stupid question, of course she did. “I’m coming,” I said, self-correcting. “I’ll be right there.”

Throwing on clothes, grabbing keys, thinking not to slam the front door, racing for the car. Thinking, how bad could it be, as I drove down the hill watching for deer (we didn’t need another catastrophe). It’s a brick building. Unless it went in through the front door…

Three minutes from my house on the hill to her home in the back of her shop, where she had been sleeping upstairs. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulance; lights flashing red blue red blue; street blocked, turning down an alley a block away, parking in back, can’t see what happened. No one in the apartment, running into the store and through to the front door.

Why didn’t I assume she was out front in the first place? Stupid again. Front door unlocked—she had gone that way too, not understanding what had happened—but wouldn’t open. Blocked. By bricks. The window framing. Glass. A car. Racing back out the back door to the parking lot, heading through her garden next to the building.

“Ma’am! Stay away from the building!” an officer shouted, motioning me to the cross street sidewalk. Or maybe just holding up his hands.

I see Rebecca then, in her bathrobe, walking to meet me at the corner.

The corner of the triple thick brick wall is gone from the ground halfway to the roof, a gaping hole. The car is where one of the two big display windows had been. I put my arms around my shaking, stunned sister.

I stand there with her, in the cold (grateful it isn’t raining), for two hours. They haul the car out with no front end and no front tires, scraping the sidewalk metal on cement. The first responders tell Rebecca again and again how sorry they are, as they take care of business, calling people to get the building secured and barricades to keep people away in case more bricks fall, getting the gas turned off, trying to get an engineer or inspector out of bed to assess the safety of the rest of the building.

And then there is nothing more to do until morning. She sleeps at my house, though neither of us sleep.


But what I really want to tell here is the amazing outpouring of love and generosity by my sister’s community of friends, beginning with the fire department crew. The fire station is just behind the store, and Rebecca made friends with them early on in the twelve plus years she has owned the 106-year-old building. Standing with them I saw for myself the bond they have forged. They weren’t just doing their job, they were helping their friend.

The downtown business owners reached out, several offering her space in their shops for a HUBBUB pop up shop; her many friends rallied around her, both local and across the country. Facebook posts were shared and shared and shared again. (The original one has “reached”—whatever that means—over 32,000.) One of the Seattle TV stations came down and did a beautiful story. (Warning: story includes surveillance camera footage that may be difficult to watch.)

This is small town America at its best. Maybe I didn’t appreciate that.

And my sister is amazing. She is determined, as one of her friends has said, to make some really good lemonade. The cyclone fence is already decorated in HUBBUB style and a pop-up shop is opening down the street in a tiny donated space four days after the bricks fell. Customers have filled Facebook with promises to show their support for her and her “colorful iconic corner of Centralia” by shopping through her website.


And do you know where my sister was on Sunday? With a downtown shop owners’ work crew cleaning up sidewalks and awnings several blocks from her store. Generosity begets generosity.

Wednesday I’m heading to Michigan before dawn (hence the early post) and my father’s family’s farm, to say goodnight to the last of his siblings. It will be a remembrance shadowed by the death of my cousin’s son too soon and the calamity of my sister’s shop. But we will be together. Family. And the world will come back right again.


6 thoughts on “Again with the Calamity”

  1. I first saw the accident in a tiny picture on my phone without the car and thought “storm?” Then learned about the car. My reaction was nicely summed up by you. “when catastrophe strikes the one, it strikes the whole.” I am grateful that it wasn’t much worse and that Rebecca was ok. OH, also nice to note the compliment from your mom 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Went to a wedding in Joshua Tree, CA when the accident occurred. Was shocked to see what happened when we got home, but do understand the strength of your sister, you, and your family and this amazing community of generous people. I don’t need to say stay strong…I know you are!!!


  3. A story for the ages (at least for family and community), and beautifully told. Learning and relearning that goodness is deep within all of us is always a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

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