To a ten year old, words could not be found to describe what I was seeing.

It was about 8:30 in the morning in Yakima, Washington when we left McDonald’s and made our way to a gas station to fill up for the drive home.

Upon leaving McDonald’s, a dark sky like that I had never seen before was now fast approaching us from the west.

While at the gas station, I remember the middle aged man who was pumping our gas say that he heard a real bad storm was coming our way.

He(we) had no idea.

Racing out of town and back home to Portland, I was fixated on the looming dark skies now bringing with it lightning strikes all around.

With no seatbelt to be found (because that’s how it was back then), I just sat there in the backseat as we raced along staring out the back window.

To a ten year old, it was like being in a movie as we tried to out run pending doom. Be it Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park, the car couldn’t drive fast enough.

Arriving at the first opening to catch a glimpse, we pulled over on the highway just outside of Goldendale. Now just south of this dark storm which was violently heading east, we were approached with a couple people selling shirts.

How random, I thought.

It was then that we full realized what was happening. The shirts read, “I’m a lava lover. Mt St. Helens May 18th, 1980.”

Thinking back, I am still amazed that they could have shirts ready to go at what must have been only an hour or so after the mountain blew.

Of course we bought a couple.

Driving down the Gorge that day was mesmerizing. The awe, shock, amazement, fear, and everything in between filled my mind and gave reason for my beating heart.

Racing west as this larger than life plume raced east is a site I will take with me until my beating heart beats no more.

Even as I write this all these years later, I don’t even have to close my eyes to visualize that day or to return to the feelings I carried inside as we raced home.

Oddly enough, these memories are mostly in black and white. I don’t recall much color that day but for the red and yellow of the Golden Arches and the green grass of the farmlands just outside of Goldendale from which we stood and caught our breath.

Maybe there’s something to this gold theme, I ponder. But I digress.

After the Gorge, my memory fades and just returns to this auto repeat of a plume as far as the eye can see, the Gorge, and the Columbia river.

Has it only been 37 years? Where were you?

Thinking now of all those who lost their lives that day and their loved ones. We watched from afar, yet had no idea or could comprehend the sheer horror found within its immediate path. I can only imagine.

Will you join me?

Photo via @OregonLive

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