Stuffed Animals and Earthquake Dresses

Laura Wilson

I was five years old and living in Newark when the earthquake hit. My eleven year-old sister was watching me while my dad cut firewood in the side yard, and in order to distract me from bugging her while she did homework, she allowed me to play with her stuffed animals I rarely got permission to enjoy. I had them set up in a circle around me when the earth started shaking. My sister yelled at me to run to the door jamb, and we both did.

As soon as the shaking stopped, we walked through the house looking for damage. We found a plant that had fallen, spilling dirt all over the ground. We saw that one of my dad’s golfing trophies had fallen and broke. We were in the playroom picking up my Sesame Street books that had fallen when an aftershock hit. It was so quick that it had ended before we even got to the closest door jamb, and that was when my dad entered the house, telling us he could see the telephone poles swaying from where he had been in the side yard.

I remember waiting what felt like forever for my mom to get home from where she worked in Hayward. It was probably a couple hours at the most realistically. I don’t remember what I was wearing that day, but my mom always referred to the dress she had on as her “earthquake dress”, so I still remember what it looked like to this day.

The scariest part, to me, was not having electricity that night. I had never had to live by candlelight, and I didn’t like it. My sister and I went to her friend’s house that lived down the street. I remember playing with her American Girl doll by flashlight while she and my sister talked about the bay bridge collapsing, scared out of my mind.

The next morning I didn’t want to go to school. I had only been in kindergarten a little over a month, and I didn’t want another earthquake to hit when I was away from my mom. My teacher started a collection of earthquake snacks in a big garbage can, and my mom contributed some of my favorite foods to it. I remember wanting to eat the food but NOT wanting another earthquake, especially not at school. Now that I’m a kindergarten teacher myself, I still hope for the sake of my students that there is not an earthquake when we’re at school. I wouldn’t want them to experience an earthquake without their moms like I did.

For the longest time after the quake, I wouldn’t play with my sister’s stuffed animals. When my mom tried to donate them to charity when I was a teenager, though, I refused to let her do it. They were my earthquake buddies, and I insisted on keeping them.

Dumbarton Bridge

Michael Tebow

I was young during the Loma Prieta Quake. Turned 7 that year. My family lived in Newark, in the East Bay towards the south end of the bay. There was 6 of us total, mom and dad, my older sister, older brother, me and then my younger sister. All us siblings were two years apart, so you can imagine the crap my mother had to deal with. My mother grew up in Palo Alto, so most of our time was spent there, including doctors and dentists appointments. That day was a Tuesday; we were all headed back to Newark from the dentist. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, so a day spent with all of us was very stressful.

We were on 101 almost to the exit to get into 84 and make our way across the Dumbarton Bridge and head back to Newark. My mom was upset about the noise we were making and then felt her car shake. She cursed and pulled over and at the same time noticing a motorcyclist and other motorists pulling over as well. I think she all at once realized what was happening. As a California/Bay Area native she had felt earthquakes before, and having seen no damage in our immediate area, she pulled back onto the freeway and we continued home.

Not long after we got over the bridge did my mother realize how large and potentially deadly this earthquake had been for her four children. The KGO transmission towers that were a symbol to us kids as “we’re almost home” had been heavily damaged. My mother’s first thought was that she just took her four young kids over a bridge that might had been damaged as well. She later realized that the bridge was closed to traffic soon after we made it across. Mostly because of the severe damage to the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge.

We made it home without a scratch and realized the full destructive power of the earthquake. Our house was fine except for some cracked sheetrock and a few pictures that had fallen. Watching the news, we knew that we were extremely lucky.

KGO towers 1989