I was in fourth grade in the spring of 1980. Mount St. Helens was the big story. My class followed the volcanic rumblings in the pages of the Weekly Reader, but – frankly – that wasn’t enough. Things were happening very fast. My teacher – Miss Lewis – said we should all watch the news on television so we could discuss Mount St. Helens in class.
I sat with my dad in the family room and watched the reports from ABC News. Two things stuck in my brain. I remember the scientists studying the mountain weren’t dressed like scientists. They didn’t wear white coats, just T-shirts and shorts and tennis shoes. As the area around Mount St. Helens was evacuated, some people refused to leave. I remember one old guy who didn’t go was named Harry Truman (no, not that Harry Truman; he was a different one).
The volcano exploded May 18th and it was a lot more serious than anyone had predicted. I remember the film report on ABC News that night. There was nothing to see; the film was almost pitch black. All I could hear was the reporter whispering “I’m dead” over and over again. The local weatherman said weather satellites could see the eruption from space. The next issue of the Weekly Reader showed the cloud of ash rising miles into the sky. I remember one of the scientists was killed along with Harry Truman. I never met either of them, but I felt like I knew them after seeing them on television so much.
We had a new student in my fifth grade class when we went back in the fall. Her name was Wendy. She was from Oregon. We had “Show and Tell” the first week of school. Wendy passed around a glass peanut butter jar. It was full of something dark and muddy, but it wasn’t dirt. It was volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens. I was very impressed; it was like having an autograph from someone famous.
“It’s no big deal,” said Wendy. “We lived in Portland and just wiped it off our car.”