Rainy Day With Lightning

Wow. I don’t recall ever seeing lightning so bright and so close. Our back yard was lit up so bright I jumped out of my chair. This happened more than once today. The lightning part. Not the jumping out of my chair. I made sure I told our son to get off the computer and I think he might have heeded my words eventually. The thunder was cacophonous and long.

It put me in the mind of past weather events. Over 30 years ago I lived in Valley Center as as teenager with my family. There were extremely heavy rains that winter and even flash flooding. I still remember the shock at hearing that a girl named Karen had drowned in her car. She was in my grade and I had met her in 8th grade. This must have been when we were juniors. You just don’t think of that kind of thing happening to someone you know when you’re a kid. I know that lots of young people think of themselves as invincible, but this was different.

Those of us who lived in Valley Center knew that we lived out in the country. My family lived on a little over 3 acres. It wasn’t a farm or anything, but it was a lot of land compared to where we had lived near the ocean in Encinitas a few years before. And everybody in Valley Center had approximately that much land it seemed. Or more. I think there was a law passed while we lived there that allowed people to build new homes on 2.5 acres. I don’t know what the rule was before that. But that was the minimum for a long time. I think today it might still be an acre minimum.

Every once in a while you might hear of somebody dying in a car accident, but drowning in their car? That was unsettling in more than the usual way. Of course, if someone loses a family member, it probably doesn’t matter if it was a flash flood or a car crashing into another vehicle or illness. You still have lost that person.

But being bused into a larger town, Escondido, for high school meant that we weren’t all that isolated. We say more of “civilization” on a regular basis.

It was just unbelievable that someone could drown in the car because we had really heavy rain and they got caught in a wall of water or something. You’re in class with someone or you see them on campus and then they are gone basically because of mother nature. It was hard to take in.

There had been a popular boy a couple years earlier who I didn’t know at all and he died in a car mishap. I guess he and some friends were riding in the back of a pickup truck and he had been sitting on the tailgate, which was down. Then the driver decided to drive in reverse and they hit a bump and he fell out and was run over. This was tragic, but it seemed like it could have been avoided if people had used better judgement.

If you’re driving in your car and a wall of water comes along and overtakes you and the car, that’s so unavoidable. The only way would be to have not been out driving in the first place. And it’s so surreal in a way because that water is gone in a few minutes or maybe hours at the most. I don’t recall that exact part of it. It just seems like a phantom method or something. The danger comes upon you and then it’s gone.

How could this be? She was a normal person and was simply driving in the rain. We would never see her at a dance again or in math class or P.E. She was gone. And that place where she died would be dry very soon after the rainy season. It seemed so hard to believe and yet she was gone.

Our family had had something of our own problem with rain either that year or the year before. It seems like we had two very wet winters in a row in the early 1980s.

There had been some construction at the top of the hill on the end of our street, Fruitvale. This was the same end of the street where I came down on a skateboard a few years before and ended up going to the hospital with three broken fingers and needed stitches on my face. I had been lucky to not break my neck. Really. I landed on my face and right hand after hitting a pothole and flying through the air.

This year there were three or four houses built on that hill and there had been no landscaping. Keep in mind, too, that these were big lots that these houses were on. Maybe there was a tiny bit of landscaping, but it was incredibly minimal. When the rains came a whole lot of soil flowed down and into the creek that ran through our back yard right next to our house. The creek ran the length of our property and that meant that there was an enormous amount of dirt that had filled this creek. With the creek full of topsoil, the water that kept coming from the rain that kept coming down day after day started to fill our backyard to the east of the house and eventually the water got so high one day that it threatened the foundation of one of the additions on the house.

Our house had been built in the 1800’s. That’s right. The original portion was adobe and had been completed by an old woman and a Native American in the late 1800’s. Sometime around 1940 or so the southern portion had been added on. We had a swamp cooler there in the kitchen/dining room area that was wonderful during the summer and absolutely no use during this incredibly rainy season. The room was two levels with the kitchen being on the same level as the original house and the dining room about a foot below it. We had steps outside to the east leading up about four or five feet to the back door of the house.

So the flooding was quite significant to reach the back door of the house and it seems like we got a few inches of water in that room. It was pretty scary and we were simply fortunate that the rain let up at some point and then the water started to recede. There was a lot of damage and my dad ended up suing the homeowners and the builder. I remember seeing some of the paperwork. Actually, it was the transcript of some testimony that my dad had given in court. I don’t think my dad had ever sued anyone before. I don’t think he was a big fan of lawsuits. He just didn’t think he had any other choice as the people up the street didn’t think that their dirt didn’t have anything to do with our flooding.

My dad would have to help my aunt with a lawsuit a few years later after she and my uncle were hit by a public bus while they crossed the street in a crosswalk. My uncle died and my aunt was badly hurt and I’ve never been happy with the result. I would have thought that my aunt could get enough money to live in California where she lived. She was disabled and lost her husband and ended up moving to Texas where she could afford to live with the settlement money. This was a serious tragedy and truly damaged my aunt’s body. It just seemed fair that she would be able to afford to live in the town where she had lived prior to the accident which killed her husband.

That’s a story for another time.



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