From the Desk of Dora DePaoli: A whole lotta shakin' going' on

February 15, 2002

The recent earthquakes around the state reminded me of some of the temblors of the past.

My first experience with an earthquake was in 1940. I was 5 years old. We lived in a small wooden frame house north of Holtville. Daddy was out in the field irrigating when the initial quake hit. He said the first jolt knocked him to the ground. When he stood up he stuck his shovel deep into the ditch bank and hung on. Mama was home with my sisters and brother and I. A few things fell out of cupboards, water sloshed out of the tall water tank used to clean the ditch water we used and I was scared to death.

We had less severe quakes throughout the night. I stuck to Mama like glue in her twin bed. She probably didn't get any sleep the rest of the night.

My husband said he was sitting on the stairs of his parents' movie theater when the 1940 quake hit. He was watching a movie about a typhoon in the South Seas. I think it was something with John Wayne and Gail Russell. With all the action on the screen the movie patrons didn't realize at first that an earthquake was in progress. When it dawned on them what was happening they stormed out of the theater. My husband's mother charged through the crowd and snatched him up and headed for the exit. He remembered losing his shoes in the process.


In the first few weeks following the quake people stayed away from the movies. His father shut down the theater for a couple weeks and took the family on their one and only vacation. They traveled to Oregon.

The next big one I remember happened in 1978 or '79. Mama and I and my daughter Gina were on our way home from El Centro. We had gone to Central Union High School to check on my daughter Debbie, a member of the Holtville High School tennis team. Gina, who was about 16 at the time, was our chauffeur. About halfway between El Centro and Holtville, Gina told us there was something wrong with the car.

Here is where our memories differ. When the strange vibrations started I believe I calmly told her to "just slow down and keep driving."

Gina's version of what I said, (hollered): "Put both hands on the wheel! I think we've had a blowout!"

When we drove a little farther down the road we saw several cars pulled over, and a few field workers were down on their knees and appeared to be praying. It finally dawned on us that we were having an earthquake.

When we got home my daughter Mary told us she narrowly missed being squashed when our heavy cherry wood china cabinet fell over. After that crash I didn't have to wonder how I would divide up the crystal among the kids. About 95 percent of it bit the dust.

Being a dutiful daughter, Mary had already begun sweeping up everything. Lots of stuff tumbled off the shelves in the pantry, too.

When Debbie got home from the tennis match she told us CUHS tennis coach Emma Jones yelled, "Hit the dirt!" when the tremors began. Because Emma is Emma, everyone did exactly as they were told.

During one of the recent quakes the young son of a friend refused to come out from under the dining room table. When he finally fell asleep his mother carried him to his bed.

The wrought iron light fixture over our dining room table is our in-house seismograph. It only swings during earthquakes.

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