The evening started as a typical weeknight evening in February. The rainy season was just ending so most evenings were cool and damp. For those of us in Berkeley, CA winter was “the rainy season.” David, my boyfriend, was out for the evening at a political meeting, one of many in Berkeley in that era. Char, my six year old daughter, was sleeping and my dog Stoney was by my side. I was planning on an evening of reading and studying for my classes at UC Berkeley.
The house we were renting was an older small brown-shingle quite common to the Bay Area and a part of the area’s charm. The house was close to the center of downtown. It was near the Civic Center Park also known as Provo Park. The city library and my daughter’s school were within easy walking distance. The only drawback to the house was that it was located right across the street from the Berkeley Police Department. It was also an asset since we thought our house was less likely to be burgled. Since we were both politically active, we enjoyed the irony of living there.
In reality, it made no difference in our daily lives. The front porch was shaded and covered with vines so thick that we couldn’t see the street or the police station through the front windows even in winter.
The interior of the house was perfect in my eyes. The main room had a large bay window at one end that brought the morning light in through leaded glass windows. There was fireplace at the other end of the room to warm the evenings. Around about half of the room there was red oak wainscoting with a plate rail. There were built in bookshelves on both sides go the fireplace mantel. A worn burgundy print Persian carpet covered most of the floor. The couch which was really a daybed was covered with an orange striped Indian bedspread. Our prize possession was a worn, comfortable leather chair with an end table next to it by the fireplace. It was and ideal place to read. It was the usual orange crate casual favored by students in 1970.
That particular evening in February, I was sitting in the living room in a nightgown and robe listening to Earth, Wind and Fire and finally hoping to catch up on my reading for class. The blazing fire in the fireplace was taking the dampness out of the air. Stoney moved to the fireplace to warm her old bones and was lying there contentedly. Our two cats were roaming throughout the house. They occasionally draped themselves across the mantel to catch the warmth from the fire.
I had a cup of coffee on the end table and thought this would finally be the evening I would get all caught up o my reading. I got up to refill my coffee cup when there was an explosion so deafeningly loud that all the windows in the house rattled. Stoney jumped up and braked frantically. The cats fled towards the back of the house. I dropped my coffe cup spilling the last drops on the rug.
I stood in the middle of my refuge from the world not knowing what to do. My blood felt frozen in my veins. Everything stopped for a moment.
Next, I ran. I am not sure what possessed me, but I ran to the front door. I threw the door open and raced to the street. All the street lights were still on. The Berkeley Police Department had all its lights blazing looking pretty much as usual. I looked up and down the street and could see nothing to explain the explosion. There was no smoke or fire. I did see about six of my neighbors also out on the street and in various stages of dress. All the dogs in the neighborhood seemed to be barking or howling.
“What happened?” asked Nancy, my next door neighbor.
I came back with “I don’t know.”
Then, Barb, another neighbor, yelled, “Where and what was that?”
None of us in the middle of the block had any idea of what happened. We all began to turn to the police department as we heard shouting and yelling. We saw about fifteen Berkeley policeman racing out of the police department. They all had there guns drawn and were running every which direction, waving their guns wildly. Some ran to the front of the station; one ran towards the bushes. And one ran back inside. They all looked just as scared as the neighbors.
Then, we were all shaken by another explosion accompanied by a thunderous roar. It was so much louder this time since we were all outside. All of the neighbors who were still on the street, turned and ran back to our homes as if we were one body and slammed our doors. I still had no idea what had exploded or where it was. I could hear the sounds of activity and chaos outside. There was yelling and sirens. And I was still in the dark.
Being in the dark has never been easy for me. I remembered having seen two of my next door neighbors outside. So, I went out the back door after checking on my sleeping daughter and walked through an opening in the hedge to get to my neighbor’s house. I knocked on the door and heard a muffled squeal.
“Who’s there?” Barb asked.
“Marsha.” I said.
Barb peeked from side to side to see if anyone was with me and opened the door. We found after a short conversation that neither of us had a clue as to what had happened. I asked her if she wanted to come over. I couldn’t stay with her because of my sleeping daughter. Barb decided to stay in her home. So I crept back through the hedge to my house.
At that point, any pretense of studying or reading was out of the question. My mile was racing a mile a minute with nowhere to go. And worst of all, for me, I didn’t know what had really happened. I believed some bombs had exploded. I didn’t know if anyone had been hurt or who had done it.
I went back to check on my daughter and she was still sound asleep. I checked the clock and it was only 9:00 p.m.. I began to busy myself around the house. I picked up the coffee cup from the rug and wiped up the spill. I got another cup of coffee and it tasted terrible. I felt as if I had been up for two days. I decided to go out on the front porch to see if I could see anything through the vines. After all, curiosity only kills cats. The vines that covered the porch made it impossible to see anything. Stoney came out to survey her domain and after a brief inspection, returned to warmth of the fire.
I followed her back inside to wait for David to come home. He has planned to be home early. I began to wonder where he was. I called a couple of friends and found he was not there. The friends lived far enough away so they had not heard the explosion. We talked about the new faction of SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) called the Weathermen and the “Days of Rage” in October of 1969. A police station in Chicago was bombed. We knew they were planning on bombing government buildings and wondered if they were the ones. They seemed to think it would change things. We had discussed terrorism and knew it hadn’t ever worked. I told them I thought a couple of bombs had exploded. All I could do was wait.
Another cup of coffee didn’t appeal to me so I took the cold coffee to the kitchen and got a beer. I hoped the beer would calm me down a bit. I tried reading and couldn’t do it. I decided to turn on the TV with the hope that I could find out what had happened on the 10:00 p.m. news.
At last, I heard someone walk up the steps on the front porch. I heard a knock on the door so I knew it wasn’t David. After checking through the window, I opened the door. Two vey large cops were standing on my doorstep. One wanted to know if I had heard or seen anything before the explosion. The other asked if I had seen a stranger in the area who looked out of place. I really hadn’t. I mentally wondered what would look out of place in Berkeley… may a pinstripe suit. They were able to tell me that an explosion had blown up to police cars in the police parking lot and there were no injuries.
They told me they would be searching the yard. It scared me to think the bomber could be in my backyard or my crawlspace without me knowing about it. They noticed my reaction and told me to lock all the doors. They said the neighborhood was sealed and nobody could get in the neighborhood or out of it. With that bit of information, I know at least one possibility for David’s delay.
After the cops left, I looked out the bay window to a yard lit by moonlight and the beams of two flashlights moving around the yard. It was upsetting to think of being a prisoner in my own home.
My yard got an all clear from the cops.
Another sound on the steps andI was on my feet and checking to make sure the front door was locked. This time it was David. He had been stopped at the end of the block. Both he and the car had been searched. The cops hadn’t found anything. One did make the comment that if they really looked and they were sure they could find something. He had been held at the end of the block until the block got an all clear.
I told David about my evening and all that it happened. For the next week, everyone on the block was searched whenever we left the block or came home. They never did find the bomber and no one claimed immediate credit for it. After some time, the bombing was attributed to the Weather Underground. All I can remember is how scared I was.