Lorena Fleissig was a young mother who made hats for a hobby. She had been to a class where a lady showed how to steam and shape felt hats and how to make hats out of straw. She had just laid her hats carefully on her bed when they disappeared under an avalanche of bricks and dust coming through the ceiling.
Meanwhile as Lorena's husband finished feeding their two-year old son Conrad, he heard a noise 'like 4-by-4s jumping up and down under the house," accompanied by the "weirdest feeling."
Unstrapping Conrad and jerking him out of his highchair, he cried, "Earthquake! Get out!" But two large tubs on the back porch had shifted and were blocking the door.
Lorena's father, who lived with them, had just taken a shower and was sitting in his robe listening to the radio. He got up and walked toward the front door and as he reached it the door flew open, hitting him on the arm.
"His blue eyes were as big as saucers," reports Lorena.
"We were all outside for days," she says. "We got to know our neighbors better than before or afterward. Father made a stove with the fallen bricks and heated it with coke supplied by the Navy. A neighbor would bring over some stew. Tenants hung around. We heated water for dishes and washed out diapers outside.
"It was March and cold at night. We all slept in our overcoats in a row on the living room floor with the front door wide open in case we had to dash out. At first we put Conrad in his crib in a corner but he wouldn't sleep. He kept whimpering. So we pushed his crib between his Daddy and me. I remember how he kept looking down at us, bundled up as we were in our overcoats.
"We kept the radio on, listening to Clarence Crary sing all night. When an aftershock hit, his voice would quaver but he kept right on singing.
"Father and I had to keep busy because we were nervous. There had been a huge bottle of cod liver oil on a top shelf of the pantry--you know in those days we thought it cured everything--with the waffle iron and Aunt Mary's homemade fig wine (it was during prohibition but the wine was supposed to be medicinal) and it had fallen off and broken. We took a mop and broom and cleaned it all up.
Driving past a school on Hill Street they saw the roof fall in and dust spiral up from the crash.
"We were nervous for days because the shocks kept coming. Then after they were over there was an explosion on Signal Hill while I was ironing. The dish-shaped lamp on our bedroom ceiling crashed to the floor. The air was filled with dust. I thought it was the end of the world."
Connie Rencoret (later Shaver), who had been immobilized by the first shock, learned as the aftershocks continued to take earthquakes in stride.
"We used to put our ears to the walls and say we could hear them coming," she says. "You know how kids are. It got to be a game."
Marie Hastings agrees. "Other earthquakes since then have been nothing. The 1971 quake [centered] in Sylmar seemed like nothing."
Perhaps surprisingly, almost every person interviewed still lives in or near Long Beach.
Joy Elliott may be speaking for most of the survivors when she says, "I wouldn't take a million dollars for my experience but I wouldn't want it again. That quake was a doozy!"
Written in 1983
Today I am thankful for Earl Grey tea.