Ten or dozen people were taking the short cut across a small park wedged between two main streets in a small industrial town in the Midlands of England.
It was around 11 o’clock in the morning. Overnight rain had drifted away to the west but the broken cloud held threat of more to come.
It was quiet in the park, the quiet often felt in the early years of World War Two in the hours after German Luftwaffe bombers had gone home and the anti-aircraft guns that had tried to blow them from the sky had fallen silent.
I was one of the dozen people crossing the park when we all paused for the briefest of seconds, then hit the ground, legs tight up against the chest, hands and arms covering head and shoulders. Waiting.
Waiting for a high explosive bomb to increase the intensity of its scream as it plunged earthward from far above the clouds.
But no intensity of scream followed. All we heard was the sound of a heavy duty, heavily loaded, truck dropping into a low gear to whine its way down one of the main streets. Enough to sound like the first whine of the terror that flew by night. Enough to send a dozen people, nerves rattled by nightly air raid alerts, seeking cover where there was no cover – and none needed.
As we had gone to ground together, so we rose, embarrassed – but happy to know we were not alone in our fearful, triggered, response to an imagined threat. We looked at each other as we struggled to our feet, grinned a little foolishly, someone gave a thumbs up and we went on our separate ways.
I hadn’t thought about that long ago incident for 70-years until just a few weeks back when I read about the terror of the great March 22 mudslide that roared the small community of Oso in Washington State taking “at least” 41 people to eternity. One story quoted a survivor, Amanda Skorjanc, and her continuing struggle to shake off the memory even while safe in hospital.
She told reporters:“If the wind blows too hard. If someone pushing a bed past me and it rumbles the floor a bit it brings back the same sight, over and over again.”
Time will quietly put some of Amanda’s memories to rest. Life will again become normal. But there will always be occasions when the wind blows too hard and the rumble of a passing truck will trigger flashback reaction. Many of us have walked with memories we would rather shuck.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing if we come to understand that being able to remember is a cause for giving thanks.