For some reason that I no longer can recall,

I once bought a big gallon plastic jar of mustard; this

must have been sometime in 1993, perhaps we

had a big BBQ party or I bought it for the 1993

Christmas holidays–or the mustard was on sale

for a good price. It had been opened and being

such a big jar, it was stored in the laundry room

refrigerator in our Arleta home.

Early one morning on January 17, at 4:30 a.m.

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


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 Los Angeles

Airport was closed down until it could be inspected

for damage, so Jim–my brother–retrieved his rental

car and drove to John Wayne airport, where he caught

a flight to Oakland and was on time for a business meeting.

Meantime, we discovered that thousands of books and

jars of jelly had fallen in the spare bedroom and would

take hours to clean up.  Bob brought in a trash can and

we began sweeping up broken glass.

We were dumbstruck to discover that none of my cookie

jars had broken–with the exception of two cookie jar 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 to the mustard flew off and

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 (which adjoined the laundry

room) jars and cans had fallen.  Anything made of

glass had broken, including jars of liqueurs I was

brewing–it was an overwhelming smell

but nothing–no nothing could compared with

yellow mustard on floor, ceiling, and walls.

I have never even liked mustard very much

but now I liked it even less.  I never bought

a gallon of mustard ever again


Sandra Lee Smith

Remembering January 17, 1994

Updated October 5, 2018

Sandra’s footnote: 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 and water and for about a week, friends and friends’ adult children would call to ask if they could take a shower at my place. They would bring their own soap and towels and we had a steady parade of shower-takers until their own 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 fly 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 repainted the ceiling and  walls to the laundry room.


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