Tales from the Non-Tour Credible Threat Trail

First off, thanks to all of the fans who broke out of quarantine long enough to buy books, Credible Threat made it to # 40 on the USA list. We may have missed the NYTimes list, but so what? Win some/lose some. So thank you one and all.

I’ve been home again all this week, responding to emails, trying to get the next book to come to order, and mostly just waiting out lockdown. As of tomorrow, I will finally have my first mani-pedi since February. Hooray for Big Apple Red, and I’m so glad Andy’s Nails in Bellevue is finally open again!

But I’ve also been corresponding with my family email group and, as it happens this week has brought to light a happy/sad anniversary of some forty-eight years standing.

When our folks pulled up stakes and moved us lock, stock, and barrel from South Dakota to Arizona, we didn’t really look back. We returned there for visits, of course—summer vacations, funerals, and weddings. Most of the rest of the relatives stayed put in northeastern South Dakota—around Summit, Marvin, and Watertown, while some migrated to Rapid City in the western part of the state while others went so far out of bounds as to move all the way to … well … Minnesota. Two of my mother’s sisters, my aunts Alice and Helen (aka Toots) and their families settled in Rapid where Alice opened a pancake house on the banks of Rapid Creek, the Little Red Hen, and Toots and her husband, Clarence owned the Lake Park Motel nearby.

In June of 1972, my mother and younger sister, Janie, traveled to South Dakota to Milbank for my cousin’s wedding which was scheduled for June 10. I was working a twelve-month contract on the reservation in 1972, so my going wasn’t an option, but my mother and my younger sister, Janie went. So did Alice and Toots, my aunties from Rapid City—Alice as a guest and Toots as the officially appointed wedding singer.

The weather in northeastern South Dakota was fine. The weather in the western part, and most especially in the Black Hills, was not. There it had been raining for days. A new storm hit the area on Friday afternoon, and over the course of several hours it dumped fifteen inches of rain over the watershed that drained into Rapid Creek. Flash flood warnings were issued, but I don’t think anyone had the slightest notion of how bad it would be. Early in the evening and with Toots out of town, Clarence and their eleven-year-old son, Steve, drove by the motel to check things out. With everything seemingly fine, they drove back home and went to bed.

Shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose when the Canyon Dam upstream collapsed under the fifteen-inch onslaught that fell between 5 PM and 9. A huge wall of water came crashing down Rapid Creek. Clarence woke up, looked out the bedroom window, and saw houses with lights in them seemingly floating by. It took him a moment to realize that if they still had electricity, their house was the one that was floating. He got Steve up and dressed. Pithing minutes they were treading water in the kitchen. They tried climbing onto the floating fridge, but that was too precarious. At some point, Steve’s right arm and head were trapped between the fridge and wall. Clarence managed to use a two-by-four to pry him loose. A few moments later, something hit Clarence and temporarily knocked the breath out of him. His sudden silence terrified Steve, but he came around and, in the dark, they were able to locate each other in the dark by waving their arms. Eventually they were able to find the door to the attic and climb up into that. They were dry up there but still not safe. Afraid they might be trapped inside and crushed if the house slammed into a bridge, they fought their way through the roof and climbed out. At some point the house caught in some tree branches long enough for someone to hear Clarence’s whistle and come rescue them. Only later did Clarence discover that their house had never been properly bolted to the foundation.

Meanwhile, Alice’s son Stan, his wife, and their newborn who lived in a neighboring trailer park were also in mortal danger. They somehow escaped their floating trailer and clambered up onto the roof. They made their way to safety by jumping from roof to roof. Other people who remained trapped in their floating trailers ended up being crushed to death by waves of debris piling up against bridges.

By five o’clock the next morning, the water draining from Canyon Lake had passed through, and Rapid Creek was back inside its banks. The Little Red Hen was gone. The Lake Park Motel was gone, taking with it Toots’s and Clarence’s plans for early retirement, but thankfully no one in our family had perished.

Naturally there was no phone service. More than three hundred miles away, Alice and Toots heard about what was going on, but as Mary and Kevin’s wedding day dawned, they had no way of knowing whether or not their loved ones had survived. Together they made the decision not to tell Mary about the situation until after the wedding although I believe my sister, Jane, who had stayed over with Mary the night before actually spilled the beans. Toots is remembered to have said, “Since I can’t do anything about it, I could just as well sing.” And she did.

According to the National Geographic, the Black Hills Flood of 1972 in which 238 people died counts as the worst flooding disaster in the US in the last hundred years. The flood happened on June 9. The wedding happened on June 10. On Wednesday of this week, Mary and Kevin celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary, a happy and sad one both.

But here’s the thing. I believe my Aunt Toots was right. When things are tough and you really can’t do anything about them, you could just as well sing.

27 thoughts on “Tales from the Non-Tour Credible Threat Trail

  1. Great story and a reminder that life goes on. 1927 must have been a real rain maker of a year. In November, Vermont was deluged and had major flooding in many areas of the state. Stories of that flooding were family conversations many times. Your family apparently stayed close even after moving to other states. Thanks for continuing to share your family with us. Congratulations on the success of Credible Threat. I truly enjoyed being back with Ali and B again.

  2. Wow…what a scary time for them. My husband and I traveled through the area and read the story of the flood.
    I agree, if I can’t change what is happening…I’ll sing, though you might not want to hear it…lol.
    Stay safe, stay healthy, enjoy life.

  3. You perk up my days more often than you’ll ever know, which really doesn’t matter I guess. My point being to thank you. Your stories remind me to remember my own stories. Your family has such a rich narrative legacy from you. I always say I’m going to write them down after I read your family tales. I think this morning I might begin. Since I don’t comment very often, I also want to thank you for the reminders about exercising and walking.

  4. I had lots of family there on a camping / family reunion. The campground on Rapid Creek was full so they had do go elsewhere or all would be gone. My husband was raised there so he also had a lot of family there. Fortunately none were killed. The next day we called his uncle’s house and they were shocked as it was the first time the phone had rung. They were all okay also thank God. When we lived in Rapid my husband worked for the parks department and helped build Story Book Island. That was totally destroyed.

  5. A reminder of so many things. Glad it worked out for your relatives. My book should be arriving today. I look forward to it. A preferred DTR, my daughter ordered me a kindle when our libraries closed. Between the kindle and Amazon, i have not been without “books”. Benefit of a kindle is the ability to change font size. After 80, the print seems smaller.

    Your community has been flooded recently as well. Stay safe.

  6. Glad no one died. Here in Colorado the deadly flood of 1976 is remembered each year.

    Floods are terrible things. A cousin of my mom was caught in a flood ( Yuba River in CA, I think ) and was stranded on tree for a day or so. Mom said ‘ He was never right after that ‘

  7. Terrible flood.
    Think 1889 Jonestown flood was worst ever. Recently read a book about that.
    Really criminal cause.
    Lived at Ellsworth AFB (Rapid City) one year, teaching. Great school and job but hated being so far from everything, as so it seemed.

  8. After reading your story today I have decided to stop worrying about the upcoming wedding of my grandson on 9/1 and forget all the hoopla about the Corona Virus. It will all come out in the wash.

    Thanks for all the great reading you provide.

    • My mother and her sisters had a very resilient attitude toward life, and it seems to me they have passed it along on their DNA

  9. My life goes on in endless song
    Above earth´s lamentations,
    I hear the real, though far-off hymn
    That hails a new creation.
    Through all the tumult and the strife
    I hear its music ringing,
    It sounds an echo in my soul.
    How can I keep from singing?
    While though the tempest loudly roars,
    I hear the truth, it liveth.
    And though the darkness ’round me close,
    Songs in the night it giveth.
    No storm can shake my inmost calm,
    While to that rock I´m clinging.
    Since love is lord of heaven and earth
    How can I keep from singing?
    When tyrants tremble in their fear
    And hear their death knell ringing,
    When friends rejoice both far and near
    How can I keep from singing?
    In prison cell and dungeon vile
    Our thoughts to them are winging,
    When friends by shame are undefiled
    How can I keep from singing?

  10. What a horrible fantastic story. Having lived through a few of these myself I can picture it. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thanks for sharing another great story…I will never stop enjoying and keep eagerly awaiting the next one….glad you were able you finally get your mani-pedi….it’s the little things we appreciate so much. Got my copy of Credible Threat last week and loved reading it..k

  12. Another wonderful story. I did not know about this flood but yet another reason to be thankful for all that I have and what little misgivings I’ve had to deal with. P.S. I love the nail color! Going to the salon for hair or nails is relaxing for some reason. Thankful for that and my hair stylist who is also a dear friend.

  13. That truly is a horrible experience. I am glad the family came out okay.

    It reminded me of an experience I had 35 years ago.

    I was on vacation and decided to visit friends in Gridley, California. When I got to their house, they asked how I got there since all the roads were closed. I told them that I just drove the normal route and never saw any police or barricades.

    They showed me the TV. On the screen was the national broadcast system. It said:

    “This is not a test. This is an actual emergency… and advised Oreville Dam was about to burst and suggested people get a change of clothing and get on their roof.”

    For some reason I was not scared, my big thought was “but…but MY CAR!”.

    The dam managed to stay intact but they had to release a lot of water into the Yuba River. This put the river well about safe levels and people patrolled the river looking for breaches in the levies. They of course were looking for week spots BUT one of their main jobs was to look for people purposely causing a breach in an area that would save their home. There was a breach or two but they got on them pretty quick, and I believe they were natural breaches. I don’t know how many homes were lost but I do remember one two story mall had the lower floor completely under water.

  14. Such a wonderful sentiment. They were made of tougher stuff and grit. God bless them and thank you for the inspirational story.

  15. You are an inspirational story teller.
    Your words bring back memories of being at school in 1955, when the Maitland floods hit New South Wales (Australia). While there was the usual collection of clothing and blankets etc., there was one special, each boy and girl at my Primary school was asked to donate a toy, for the children who had lost so much.
    For the inquiring the flood basin was the size of England and Wales, together.

  16. I don’t know what is going on, but there are times when I click to read your posts and I get an unsecured message. It it possible someone is hacking your site? I have also noticed that people are asking you why the multiple post of the same thing? Just wondering if you were aware of this.

  17. I just finished Credable Threat! OMG I think it was the best ever.
    I lived in the Phoenix area for 23 yrs. I hiked Squaw Peak many times.before change of name
    .I could follow along on the streets in my mind.
    Not that I want to go back, but you bring everything alive to the pages.
    Can’t wait for the next book.

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