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Taking time for thinking about time passing by

The clock tower in Hilo with the clock frozen at the moment on May 23, 1960, when a devastating tsunami struck.
The clock tower in Hilo with the clock frozen at the moment on May 23, 1960, when a devastating tsunami struck. Del Norte Triplicate / Michele Thomas
 “Some things happen fast, like rainstorms in November.” That’s the opening line to a poem I wrote in college. I was living in San Francisco at the time, duly impressed by skies that, without warning, could open up and let loose with a vengeance.

An email arrived one morning not long ago inviting me to take advantage of a “special limited time offer.” Instead of deleting it, I read it again. Rick received the same message and read it too. At breakfast we discussed how frivolous and self-indulgent it would be to respond.

Some things happen fast. Three days later we paid our deposit and dug out our luggage. Soon we would board a ship in San Francisco for a 15-day round-trip cruise to Hawaii. And we’d be leaving right before the holiday. We were about to abandon our children and celebrate Thanksgiving at sea with strangers, without my pumpkin pies, homemade cranberry sauce and 3-year-old granddaughter.

It took courage to make the decision and more to break the news to the kids. They thought I was kidding. They thought it was a joke. They couldn’t believe it. For the last 35 years I’ve roasted the turkey, made my grandmother’s pork sausage stuffing, mashed 10 pounds of potatoes and melted marshmallows over yams. This year I was cruising, not cooking.

We left Crescent City the morning after the big storm began. At the airport we were rushed onto the plane and warned to prepare for a bumpy ride. Above the clouds the sky was blue, no turbulence. In San Francisco we walked around North Beach and Union Square without coats or umbrellas.

And the following day our ship glided beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk under clear skies. The sea would be calm and the weather warm and dry for the next 15 days.

Our first port was Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Hilo, like Crescent City, has a history of tsunamis. We set out to find the tsunami memorial I’d read about: a clock tower with the time frozen on the exact minute when the May 23, 1960, tsunami destroyed an entire neighborhood and part of Hilo’s business district.

I’d been told the morning we began our cruise that the bench memorializing Dustin Weber, the sole victim of Crescent City’s March 11, 2011, tsunami, would be placed on Whalers Island the day after Thanksgiving. I had been working with Jon Weber, Dustin’s father, as well as Harbormaster Richard Young and contractor Tim Haban to complete this project before winter set in. Mr. Weber needed to see the bench in place to experience some closure, and so did I.

In Hilo the clock now serves as a memorial survived the deadly tsunami of 1946 that struck at 6:54 a.m. killing 96 locals and a total of 159 people island-wide. Hilo’s 1960 tsunami, caused by an undersea earthquake near Chile, produced 35-foot. waves and caused $23 million in damages.  A 20-foot wave hit the area where the clock memorial is.

Bad timing had me over 2,000 miles away when Crescent City’s newest tsunami memorial was installed. So I paid my respects to Dustin and his family at the memorial in Hilo. Unlike Dustin’s bench, which is situated in a peaceful, scenic location, inviting visitors to reflect on the mystery of the sea and the forces of nature, the Hilo clock stands near a noisy highway on the edge of a public golf course.

Dodging traffic, I ran across the highway and stood beneath the clock that does not move with time and thought, “Some things really do happen fast. Sixty-one innocent lives were lost in Hilo when that tsunami struck at 1:04 a.m. They had no warning, no idea it was their last minute. Same with Dustin. A random violent wave struck him down and carried him away.

I was reminded once again, under the sun that afternoon in Hilo, that my time on this earth is fleeting. What better way to give thanks for all that time has given me than to spend it with the man I love?

Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate’s publisher, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.    

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