For some reason that I no longer can recall,
I once bought a big gallon jar of mustard; this
Must have been sometime in 1993, perhaps,
Perhaps we had a big BBQ party or I bought it
For the 1993 Christmas holidays,
Or the mustard was on sale at a good price.
It had been opened and being such a big jar,
Was stored in the refrigerator in the laundry room
On Arleta Avenue.
Early one morning, on January 17, at 4:30 AM,
we were awakened by an earthquake that shook the house,
And as I stood in the doorway of my bedroom,
I could hear things falling, glass breaking.
When the shaking stopped, I called out to my brother
Who had been visiting us and was sleeping in Bob’s room
While Bob shared mine.
There was no electricity and it was before dawn
So Bob went in search of flashlights and his camping lanterns.
We began to assess the damage while my brother
Continued his preparations for a flight out of Los Angeles to
Oakland that morning.
He soon left in his rental car but would discover that
LAX was closed down until it could be inspected,
So he retrieved the rental car and drove to John Wayne Airport
Where he caught a flight to Oakland and
Was on time for a meeting.
Meantime, we discovered thousands of books
And jars of jelly had fallen in the spare bedroom
And would take hours to tidy up.
Bob brought in a trash can and we began
Sweeping up broken glass.
We were dumbstruck to discover
That none of the cookie jars had broken
With the exception of two lids
That had jumped off a bookshelf
And crashed to the floor.
It was not until much later that I opened
The door to the laundry room refrigerator
And the gallon jar of mustard (along with other things)
Fell out and landed on the floor.
The mustard fell with such force that
The lid flew off and mustard sprayed
With great velocity
All over the laundry room; the walls
And ceiling and floor were covered with mustard.
It took a great deal of time to clean it all up
But the stains on the ceiling would never come off.
In the pantry jars and cans had fallen
And anything made of glass had broken
Including jars of liqueurs I was brewing.
It was an overwhelming smell
But nothing, no nothing
Could compare with all the yellow mustard
On floor, ceiling, walls.
I have never even liked mustard
And now I liked it even less.
I never bought a gallon of mustard ever again.
–Sandra Lee Smith
Remembering January 17, 1994
Postscript: The damage from the Northridge Earthquake was widespread and entire Buildings collapsed in Northridge, about 12 miles west of us. We soon had electricity, Never lost our gas or water and for about a week, friends and friends’ children would call and ask if they could come and take a shower at my house. They would bring their own towels and soap; we had a steady parade of shower-takers until their utilities were restored. There was damage to a freeway overpass and a motorcycle policeman was killed where the overpass had separated. It had not even occurred to me or my brother that the 405 freeway might not have been safe to drive on but he continued on his way and along with other would-be travelers planning to head out of LAX, went to another airport that was unaffected by the earthquake. I was reminded of the mustard for years afterwards, until Bob finally painted the ceiling and walls to the laundry room.