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By Allie McNeil
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Allie McNeil
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDisplaced by Fate: The Move
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter." —Rachel Carson
Most People don't choose to move to a small town with a Toxic Legacy, they find their way through random events and innocent blunders often naive to the plight. We were such a family. My grandmother used to say that the road to Hell is pathed with good intentions and difficult decisions. Insight gained through the rear view mirror is an unexpected gift, often given too late to be fully appreciated.
After living and loving Seattle for many years, when my son was about 8 we decided that it was time to move within the Northwest. Seattle had changed drastically, morphing itself into a Big City, as West Coast transplants arrived in their Dot Com Caravans with bloated checkbook. The Housing Market became steroidal in it's appreciation and rents climbed to California Range, and astronomical Home Prices sent people scurrying. And we became part of the Scurried.
Suddenly Seattle did not feel Homey, it felt strangled with New Money and Dot Com Glitz. It left us scrambling trying to find rental homes that would accomodate our family. And we as nurses were trying to homeschool our son in place that was losing it's midsize town charms. When we first came to Seattle in the late Eighties, we loved that it felt like an Oasis, it was a town that had no illusions about it's size or wealth. We loved the Puget Sound, and that people that lived around the Sound appreciated it. But the cost of living increased inflated so rapidly in the 1990s' due to the surge of New Wealth, it left struggling Nurses like us as financial wallflowers.
The other aspect that happened was that Many of the Newcomers changed the aura of the City, there were now people that measured other people by Chrome and Designer Handbags. And as a homeschooling mom, it was infested in book clubs, play groups and swim classes as Trophy Moms descended. So my husband and I started looking to move to a smaller Environment, a smaller town in the Northwest. We joked that were volvo station wagon people stuck in a Lexusland pileup. So in 1998 there were Road Trips to Many small coastal towns in Oregon and Washington. The relocation research began, and there were notebooks and charts collecting the data for The Move. Desireability was measured in libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, traffic, cozy neighborhoods, trees and parks, and affordable rents.
As a family we were about trips to the beach, Pike Street market, piles of library books, swimming daily, walks to the market, and our pets. Our Family Life was never about Things ... it was about Time Spent. But as a homeschooling mom, the other reality that hit by 98 was that we were spending too much time on I5. And I5 had become jammed and choked with people that were less than patient. My son in the backseat was learning to spell and give the finger, and that mommy could cuss in five languages. I even tallied the hours in the car, and realized that we were spending physically more time in the car per week, than hours spent at the actual homeschooling activities.
After a year of charting the Pros and Cons of the inspected road trip towns, we chose to move to a small town just below the Canadian Border. The Uhaul was rented and the Adventure in Moving began even though there had been small Warning Signs clouding our excitement. I ruled it out as Moving Jitters more than substantial evidence of a questionable decision.
Time would tell ... and reveal the Truth ... The Trouble.
Chapter TwoThe Annie Oakley Omen
"There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that."
So we had chosen a little house just outside the Town, it was rustic, and wrapped with tall Cedars, overlooking the Lake. It was quiet and peaceful. We had spent many monthes attempting to decide on our new Home. We looked at buying and renting, exploring many houses and neighborhoods. Bellingham was full of special areas and sweet spots. We decided that living by the Lake was the best area. It would be nice to be away from traffic and noise. So on a sunny humid August Morning we moved into our new Home, the Cabin.
We found a little Cabin, a house built in the 70's with cedar shingles and a wrap around porch and many windows and a gas stove. It reminded us of a camp cabin in the Adirondacks. The landlord was a single mom that had moved to another area out of town. We were a bit unclear as to what her plans were with the house. But we moved in the end of August with our little herd of animals and all of our books and homeschool supplies.
My son is always in charge of Exploring, checking the rooms for left over goodies. He ran through the house checking everything. My husband and I began unpacking the Uhaul with some friends. Suddenly my son came and found me, and sure enough he had stumbled onto something that was alarming.
He came and grabbed my arm and dragged me into the Kitchen, and pointed inside the drawer.
"I don't think it is a toy" he whispered with eyes so large.
I tried to reassure him saying that the Landlord was a mom with a teenage son, that I was sure it was Okay. I opened the drawer and stared at the gun. I don't know anything about guns, but I knew for sure this was NOT a toy, and was indeed a real gun. I stood breathless and thankful that my son, a boy of eight had not picked up the gun and played with it. He had never seen a gun, although we had discussed guns and gun safety, but it had never ever come to our door.
I picked it up and held it and looked at the loaded gun. I could not imagine WHY a Mom would keep such thing in the Kitchen. I was stunned. I explained to my son that we would get it out of the house and give it to the Landlord as soon as possible. He nodded, eyes huge, and very quietly nodded. I told him I was proud of him for not touching it or playing with it. He said he KNEW it was not a toy, that he just knew.
I placed the gun in a McDonalds Paper Lunch bag and put it in my car and made a phone call to the landlord and said I needed to return Something that she left in the kitchen. She called back within hours, said she was at a neighbor's having cocktails (it was 11 am). I said I would be right over. I walked to the address she gave me. They were indeed having pitchers of cocktails. I asked her to come outside so we could talk. I did not want to make a scene in front of New Neighbors (I was embarrassed for her mostly).
I handed her the McDonalds Bag with the gun inside. And I let her know I was not happy about this turn of events.
"Dodie, I am a mom, and I am not happy that my son found a loaded gun in the Kitchen, as a our landlord—you are very lucky that he did not play with this. This could have turned out very differently".
"Oh Honey, you are making a big deal out of nothing. Guns are a way of life up here. I didn't even know that this puppy was Missing. I got one in my car and one in my purse." She laughed as she casually put it in the front seat of her golden Caddie, next to her purse. She shook her Showgirl Blond hair in the summer breeze and I could smell the Aquanet and Lady Stetson and the Bloody Marys. I realized she did indeed look like a Country Singer, but she was indeed a Pistol Packing Mama.
"So you had a loaded gun in the Kitchen, are there any Problems here that we don't know about or should know about?"
She laughed again and shook her stiff teased curls, "Honey, this is the land of Cowboys and Cougars, you don't be so naive. But really nice people and good times. You need to lighten up."
I watched her swagger back to the Pitchers of Bloody Mary's and shook my head as I walked back to our New Home. I was confused and worried. My son met me at the door, and looked at me.
"Did she even know it was missing? I bet she has more ..." I nodded and told him he was indeed right ... I tried to make a joke of it.
"I guess we are renting from a Real Annie Oakley, a real gun toting, pistol packing mama."
That night when I tucked him in he said "I just hope that Annie Oakley is not a bad Omen, but I am not feeling real good about it."
I rubbed his head and told him not to worry, because that is what moms do, even when they are worried. He sighed and said "You know it isn't the first omen, not really."
I sang "This Old Man", which is what I used to do when he was worried ... and I thought about what he said, but mostly I pondered the Loaded Gun ... And that I don't care what Oscar Wilde Said ... Sometimes Destiny does hand one Omens. And an 8 year boy is wise enough to know that a Loaded Gun can be an Omen.
Chapter ThreeThe First Omen: The Explosion
Sadly the First Omen was not actually a Loaded Gun, the "Annie Oakley" Omen, abandoned in our Kitchen. The first omen was actually a much bigger omen ... An Explosion that killed three people, three Children. The Explosion happened at a Park on June 10,1999 on a beautiful sunny afternoon changing the future of a beautiful small Northwest Town Forever.
The Spring of 1999 we had narrowed our Home Search to three Locations, Whitbey Island, Olympia and Bellingham. I had created lists as to what was best for our family and was within our budget. These Three were the top Contenders. Every Thursday was Road Trip Day, my son and the dogs would pile into the car and go exploring these three areas. Lunches were packed, and extra play clothes. Our Favorite Destination became Bellingham. There were great bookstores and libraries and coffee shops. There was a wonderful Lake and a Park not far from the wonderful Lake. There was barely any traffic, and the people seemed very nice. And the Homeshool Opportunities were huge.
We had been looking at homes near the Lake, as it was quiet and peaceful and restful. That spring we noticed that it was lush and green, full of huge trees. My son and I joked it was like going to camp. We did look throughout the County though. We had a few favorite spots, Birch Bay, Fairhaven, Blaine, and Lake Whatcom. We also liked Bellingham. Bellingham Thursdays were special. We would stop and get chowder at one of the local shops or we would go to The Park by the lake and have a packed lunch or we would drive to Birch Bay if it was warm. The Park in Bellingham was our First park that my son ever hiked in, he loved it, and he loved standing on the Bridge and admiring the Falls and listening to them hit the rocks. It was special.
That Thursday morning I got up early and packed lunches and walked dogs and was ready to go. At Noon my son said nope—he did not want to go. I said what ? He said he just did not want to go, he could not explain it, but he did not want to go. Something "Felt Wrong". I was puzzled it was a beautiful sunny day. I tried to persuade him that the Park would be there, and the Ice Cream Lady always came at 3pm. We usually would hop in the car, look at a few houses and then be to the park by 3pm. He shook his head.
I thought it was odd, but I unloaded the car. I knew that he would still want to go swimming at the Complex Pool and watch Arthur C. Clarke, that we would still have a Day. When one Homeschools, everything is in flux, but everything is a learning experience. I called our Realtor that we were supposed to meet and told her my son was not up to the trip and she nicely said that was fine. I told her we would see her next Thursday.
As the afternoon plotted on, we swam, did orgami and fed his animals, and I made cookies, and at 3pm we turned on the TV to get ready to watch Aruthur C. Clarke. At a little after 3:30 PM there was Breaking News, there was aerial footage on news station of a large explosion and Fire. In that instant my son and I both recognized the Area, and took a deep breath. I don't know How we knew, but we knew it was Bellingham and we knew it was Whatcom Falls Park, "our" park. We watched silently as they showed the huge mushroom cloud and all angles showed it was a huge fire. I had chills as I realized that my son had kept us away from Something so awful I was grateful.
And yet at that moment, I did not realize the Explosion for what it was ... I just felt sadness for this lovely little Northwest Town. I called our realtor and checked on her and asked if she was okay. She said the Smoke was bad, and that things were confusing, and that she did not know what was going to happen. I asked her if they were evacuating. She said no, she did not think so. My heart was tugged there to the town on fire, and I realized that I cared about this little town in a way that was inexplicable. This Explosion should have been looked at as an Omen, a Sign, a Warning. Yet I did not see it, I was too worried about the Little Town.
And oddly enough over the next three years my path would be accidentally interwoven to the Tale of the Explosion and the Victims and their families ... and the enormity of the Explosion was to be only fully understood later. Much Later.
Chapter FourThe Beautiful Mysterious Lake
So the move was completed that August. We spent time settling in to our new surroundings. We lived near mostly older folks that had early cocktails and went to bed early. There were books to unpack and coffee shops and bookstores to explore. The animals were settling in, the guinea pigs, the hamsters, the dogs, the Parakeet, and the rabbit. There was much to do as a Homeschooler, there was a Shakespearean Youth Theater, there were piano lessons, and art classes, there was a chess club, there were Homeschool groups for his age. And my son was hooked on the XFiles and All Science Shows on Discovery and TLC. We were reading Harry Potter and there was of course school work to do. Once we moved he cut down on swimming and also horseback riding. But Settling in is hard work, and we had spent many years in Seattle so there was much to explore.
We met some of the kids at the Community where we lived, but many of them hung out at the Community Center to wait for piano lessons. I noticed there and at the Bus Stop down the hill from our House that many of these kids were taking ADD and ADHD medicine. The moms would bring the meds with a snack to their children, almost like they were merely handing out gum. They were nonchalant about it, laughing about it. Frankly it worried me a little, mostly that it was just considered so normal. The kids did also definitely have ADD, they were very restless, and frantic and frenetic. My son was puzzled by them for the most part, he spent alot of time observing them, and quietly holding back. We also
I worked hard to make the little house homey. There was painting and curtains to hang, and much to unpack. We would take long walks, especially down to the Lake. The Lake was beautiful it was in many ways mysterious. It was pretty clear, and there were no bugs or frogs, which with an 8 year old boy you need. I was puzzled by that. I would also take the dogs to the dog park down by the Lake, and I noticed that the water level would fluctuate, it would actually look higher sometimes. So I asked one of the other dog owners about it, and he said, "Oh, yeah, they fill it, flush it every now and then." I stood confused, I thought for certain he must be joking.
I asked him to explain, he laughed, said he didn't understand it but that he thought there was a big pipe that flushed it. I said, "Oh, did they do that after the Explosion?". He said No, they had always done it. I asked if they had taken any precautions after the Explosion. I did not think they had, as my son and I had been up during the summer, and people swam and played at the Lake as usual, there were NO Signs. He said "I guess they fill it so we have enough to drink". I stopped and looked at him, "You mean this is OUR drinking water?" He nodded.
I was puzzled, I had never lived near a Drinking Water Lake, that had people swimming in it, Boats, and was even near a Dog park and a golf Course. He tried to reassure me, "It's been like this for years." I nodded numbly. "I mean they clean it ya' know". I nodded again.
I also was very puzzled about my Basset, she would not go near the Lake or drink from it, and that was not like her at all. In Seattle I noticed that she drank even from muddy puddles. Our Scottie was very sick, with prostate cancer, so I had placed him on a special diet and bottled water. But Abby my lovely old Basset even stopped drinking from the Toilet. I was puzzled WHY now she would suddenly have manners. And I started giving her Bottled water like the Scottie, since she kept drinking his water.
Excerpted from Silent Fallout by Allie McNeil Copyright © 2012 by Allie McNeil. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsDedication And Gratitude....................ix
Letter to the Reader....................xi
Chapter One Displaced by Fate: The Move....................1
Chapter Two The Annie Oakley Omen....................3
Chapter Three The First Omen: The Explosion....................7
Chapter Four The Beautiful Mysterious Lake....................11
Chapter Five The Cougars come to Visit....................13
Chapter Six Midnight Dumping....................19
Chapter Seven Moving Into Town....................25
Chapter Eight Messages From the Past....................29
Chapter Nine Corporate Lessons....................35
Chapter Ten In the Spring: Ashes on the Deck, Red Rain, and the Stripping of "The Mystery"....................39
Chapter Eleven The Whale on the Beach and the Troubled Waters....................43
Chapter Twelve Surveying the Damage....................53
Chapter Thirteen Summer 2000, about The Air and the Ash that Fell Like Snow....................73
Chapter Fourteen The Air Battles Begin to Connect the Dots ... Summer 2000....................93
Chapter Fifteen FOIA's, Widows and Brown Envelopes....................107
Chapter Sixteen The Story of the Water, The Air Hotline ... and Serving Cookies to a Sniper....................117
Chapter Seventeen Meetings and how to hold Government Officials Accountable....................129
Chapter Eighteen Sept 11, 2001 ... Thoughts, Reflections, Perspective....................139
Chapter Nineteen Harrassment, Threats and What Whisteblowers Really Endure....................147
Chapter Twenty The Mayor's Hubris, Arrested Citizens, The Quake and More....................153
Chapter Twenty-One Hidden History: The Coal Mines ... (USGS, Fault Lines and other wonders)....................183
Chapter Twenty-Two The Reckoning ... Poison....................189
Chapter Twenty-Three Lessons Learned and Shared....................207
Chapter Twenty-Four Final Thoughts....................215
Epilogue ... More Questions than Answers....................221