Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Skating to Rupert

This was written by my grandmother Ruth Fedder about twenty years ago. I want to keep her memory alive so I have begun to go through some of her writings. I miss her sooo much, but this helps me to remember her vividly!
On warm spring evenings it was pleasant to sit on the front stoop by the fairgrounds in Bloomsburg, and talk to friends and passersby. Mr. Eunson, a friend, was in his eighties and full of stories. My children’s favorite was “How he skated to Rupert” from our house.

Our house was on the corner of 4th st and Scott Ave. On the other side of the avenue was the fairground, which stretched south almost to town limits, Fishing creek, a good two miles.

“It must have been in ‘03 or ‘07” he would say. “I was in my teens then. I sat right down on the front porch on the far side of the house and put my skates on and skated all the way to Rupert to have Sunday dinner with my grandmother”

“You have to understand that there were fields here then and the fairground was so small, it was actually inside the racetrack. The big exhibition buildings hadn’t been built yet. There were no fences. It was just open land.

It happened in February. We had had a hard winter with more than the usual amount of snow and the temperature was far below normal for a long period of time.

Everyone was happy when a nice warm spell came. It melted snow and ice very fast, too fast. The creek and the river began to fill faster than it could drain away, creating flood conditions. Then the worst thing happened.

Ice flows gathered around the piers of the Catawissa bridge and stopped up the river’s flow almost completely. With nowhere for the melt off to drain, water backed up in both Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek. Bloomsburg got flooded from two directions at once. This whole lower end of town was under water. There was water all around this house.

I was young and daring in those days and so that Sunday after church, I came down here with my skaters to see how far I could go. Everything was frozen solid enough for me to skate to Rupert. Even the creek itself was solid enough to skate across.”

My children always laughed at such a fairy tale and I never said much about it one way or the other. I just kept my judgment to myself.

In late June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes passed though our area, but Bloomsburg only got the outer edge and was still drenched. Whets more the river and the creek were drainage trough for the area that got a lot more rain than we did. As ,outer waters began to cover low lying areas, we listened to the radio and heard the stories about rescue workers getting people our of their homes along the banks of Fishing Creek across from town. I wasn’t worried.

My oldest children worked at summer jobs provided by the school district and paid by Federal Youth Employment. That morning Pauline went to the junior high, up on the hill and Jacob went down to the senior high, which was about a block from the river. By nine o’clock Jacob had come into the house and told me a flood was coming and I should take the kids to the Red Cross Shelter at the junior high.

I told him that was silly. After all we were more than a mile from the river and definitely uphill from it. I wasn’t worried.

Jacob went to work at the junior high. The four younger children found amusement in the basement. There had been enough rain for surface water to put about two or three feet of water in the cellar using an old washtub, they were having a wonderful time playing rowboat.

By ten o’clock fire trucks with bullhorns were warning residents to vacate the neighborhood, because the creek was about to flood it’s banks on the Bloomsburg side. I knew that the rescue work reported on the radio had been from Fernville, the other of the creek. Everybody knew that the Fernville side of the creek was much lower than the Bloomsburg side. I still wasn’t worried.

My neighbor Hazel came knocking on my door. “Do you think we need to leave here?” she asked “I don’t see any sense in it.” I replied.

By eleven o’clock sandy, muddy water began boiling up out of the drainage grating at the curb by the house. It contrasted with the clear water that had gathered from the light showers we were having.

Shortly after, I went upstairs to the bathroom window, which overlooked the fairground and some of the houses close to it. Looking south it was two miles to the creek, but the creek was only a half mile from us to the west. I stood there for perhaps fifteen minutes, watching as the brown water swept into yards less than tow blocks away. The fire trucks came though again. This time firemen knocked on the doors, begging people to leave. I went over to Hazel’s.

“I’m packing the kids up. I’m going up to the junior high. Want to come along?” I asked

Hazel was peeling potatoes. “No I’m getting dinner for Jim to go to work” she answered.

A few minutes later as I was leaving , so were Hazel and Jim.

Two days later I came like many other curious people. Standing on the hill above my house, I would only stare at the brown backwash that covered my little garden, and my grass and my rosebushes.

Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Eunson WAS telling the truth.