Did I Ever Tell You About…The Time I Should Have Died?

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This week is is the 125 anniversary of the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. For most people that doesn’t mean much. For the people of Johnstown it means a lot. It was the first of three floods that threatened to destroy the town. Generations of my family have lived in the Johnstown area for all of them. I was around for the last flood in 1977. Did I ever tell you about…the time I should have died?

I was only four, so I don’t really remember things well. It’s more like pictures or snippets of memories. But I remember the storm. It rained so hard and the thunder and lightning were so bad I thought I was never going to see my mom again (she’d gone shopping with my grandmother and had trouble getting home because of the storm). By the time it was over nearly 11 inches had fallen in less than a day —  a once in a 1000 year storm the weather people called it.

Officially, the rain overwhelmed everything. Johnstown made a number of flood safety improvements over the years. But that much water in such a small amount of time and all bets are off. Several dams eventually broke or spilled over. 85 lives were lost. Thousands of properties were destroyed or damaged. Ten of thousands of lives were turned upside down. I fall into the last two categories.

We lived outside Johnstown and were out of the path of the flooding that hit town. We should have been safe. We weren’t. We should have died that night. Miraculously we didn’t.

Bricks bracing up a house where the foundation used to be.

Our house a few days later being braced up where the foundation used had been.

Our house was part way down a hill. The water running down the hill and against the foundation wall that, which unbeknownst to us had a structural problem. During the night the wall failed. I remember being woken up by a crashing sound and my dad running past my bedroom door and down the basement steps. I remember racing after him to see what the excitement was. I think he screamed for me to stop. My mom was right behind me and grabbed me. I remember him saying, “Get the kids out! The wall fell in!”

The next few minutes are a series of pictures in my mind. I remember being in the bedroom with the lights on changing out of pajamas. I remember seeing someone coming out of the bathroom (the water was on and working). It was sort of frantic calm. I don’t remember feeling the house shake or that we were in danger. I imagine my mom and dad grabbed some clothes and things, but mostly it was about getting out.

I remember all of us sitting in the car and it raining so hard we could barely see the house. I remember the sound of lightning cutting through the atmosphere and deafening thunder. I remember the car radio wasn’t playing music, just a voice repeating over and over that there was flooding everywhere and people needed to get to higher ground immediately. I remember one of us asking my parents why we were just sitting there and my mom saying, “We’re waiting for the house to fall in.” That must have been when we realized it was bad because that’s when we started to cry.

Mud filled basement

This is where the water heater and all the electric for the house had been.

You see, the wall that collapsed was one of the walls that ran the length of the house. It was the wall where all the water and electricity came in to the house. When my dad ran down the stairs and into the basement the water and muck was already around his ankles, the circuit box and wires were in it too. He probably should have been electrocuted, or gotten a serious shock, but he was fine. Sparks should have been flying as live wires were torn and a fire should have started when paper and insulation fell on the mess. But none of those things happened.

The house was stable the whole time we were in it that night. I don’t remember it shaking or creaking. By morning light only one person could be inside before it would shudder and shake. We had lights and water. By morning there was no power and no water. It was just as dangerous under the house, so bracing it up to stabilize it was a slow process.

Back yard filled with debris

My parents spent weeks cleaning out the mud and salvaging what she could.

The weeks that followed are a blur. We stayed with different relatives. We didn’t see much of our parents while they dug the mud out of the basement and tried to save what they could. I remember drinking water in Pepsi cans because the water wasn’t always safe to drink and the local Pepsi bottling plant jumped in to clean, filtered water. I remember government cheese (it was kind of like Velveeta). I remember a strange fear in the pit of my stomach every time stormed that lasted for years.

House braced up with bricks.

The foundation washed away, but somehow we made it through.

My mom said that someone was watching out for us and that she knew that night that her kids were meant for great things because we made it out alive. The house should have collapsed, with us in it, when the wall caved in. It should have caught on fire. We could have been hit by lightning while we sat in the car. We could have been caught in flood water trying to get to my grandparents if a police officer ahead of us on the road hadn’t turned on his lights warning us to turn around. It was one of those nights where if any one thing had been different, a minute one way or the other, could have made all the difference in the five us surviving the night.

I probably should have died that night. Yet, here I am. Sure, like a lot of people I’ve wondered why from time-to-time. Every time I have, I tried to remind myself of that night. I survived on a night when a lot of people didn’t and I really need to make the most of it.

What about you? Do you have a story where a few minutes made all the difference? I’d love to hear it! Share in the comments below or post a link to where we can find the story.

Next week’s story is a lot shorter, a lot more fun, and involves a giant pickle! Don’t miss it!

Summer Memories of Andy Griffith

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Publicity photo of Andy Griffith.

My earliest memories of Andy Griffith aren’t of the great sheriff and single dad in Mayberry. They aren’t of my grandparent’s favorite attorney. My earliest memories of Andy Griffith are warm summer days and my dad’s 78’s.

When I was a girl my little sister and I would convince our parents to let us drag our little record player outside so we could listen to music during a family get-together. We’d play whatever music we were listening to (Shaun Cassidy was a favorite). Eventually my dad would pull out some of his records. We’d play through a bunch of 45’s and then he’d pull out his Andy Griffith 78’s (yes, real 78’s they were rare and strange even in the 70’s and 80’s).

We’d listen to “What It Was, Was Football” and “Romeo and Juliet” and occasionally the one about a stay in the hospital, but there was something about that one my mom didn’t like so we didn’t hear that one often. Three generations would sit on  the back porch and listen to this man weave stories that would have all of us laughing. We were all football fans (Steelers fans by birth) and would laugh every time we listened to this young man without much world experience talk about watching football. We’d be rolling by the time he started talking about those two kids Romeo and Juliet.

Andy Griffith had a way of telling stories. He saw the humor and a fresh perspective in things we took for granted. He never made you feel that someone was stupid, just inexperienced. The story lines on all of his shows were simple, pure, positive and very entertaining. Best of all, the stories stand the test of time.

This week we say goodbye to another amazing storyteller. Andy may be gone, but his stories live on. Take a little time and listen to one of his recordings. You’ll be glad you did.

Telling Your Story

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Memory (1896). Olin Warner (completed by Herbe...

Image via Wikipedia

Think back to when you were a child, and some of the most important lessons you learned. Chances are there was a story involved in teaching you that lesson. Now think about some of your favorite memories and how you would share that memory with me. You’d probably tell me a story about something that happened. The things that we learn the most from and remember the best usually involve a story, so why don’t we do that when we’re trying to reach people?

So much of the marketing I see and the videos I watch are trying to sell me something. Or influence me. Message after message directed towards me and talking at me. Sure the idea might be new or creative, but they aren’t sharing a story with me.

I believe strongly in power of storytelling. Whether it’s in a video or a pieces of instruction, or a marketing campaign, there is a story there. Everything we record, teach or sell is part of a story, and if we want to reach the deepest parts of a person’s being we need to connect with. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It’s our jobs as the creators of content to decide what the story is and the best way to tell it. Should it be an article?  A press release? A video? An in-class exercise? A Tweet? There are lots of ways to tell a story, but the most important part is to actually tell the story.  If you don’t you run the risk of alienating your audience. They could feeling that they’re missing the inside joke, or even worse, that they can’t connect with what you’re saying and lose interest.

Before you do anything else, figure out what the story is you’re trying to tell is and make sure that everyone on your team is in agreement. When everyone is agreement everyone involved can make sure that whatever they are saying is part of the greater message. Every presentation slide, every tweet and every post to your organization’s blog will be part of the story you’re telling.

Keeping your story in the forefront might just be the thing that sets you messaging apart and creates a memory for your target audience.