SATURDAY BEFORE THE 1976 FLOOD

This is the third in a series of articles reflecting on the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.

Saturday July 31, 1976 started out like any other summer evening.

Our family of six had no inkling that the events of next few hours would be engraved in heartbreak and history as the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.

We finished dinner early that night.

Two of our daughters—Claire almost 18—and Sharon—age 16—asked if they could go out with friends that evening.

Claire and a girlfriend were headed up The Buckhorn—a nearby canyon northwest of town. Sharon and a group of friends were also “going out.”

Back then, “going out” meant anything from hanging out at a friend’s house to cruising in cars, going to keggers or—they tell me—jumping on the air pumps at local gas stations.
Parents raising children in today’s world of scheduled activities, cell phones and instant messaging must view our style of parenting as neglectful, if not downright criminal.

Bill and I plead guilty on all charges. Looking back, we’re surprised we weren’t arrested.

But I plead our case by saying “This was 1976. Loveland was a small town. Things were different then.”

You might ask, “Didn’t you have any sense of responsibility? Didn’t you worry about your children?”

I’m afraid we were light on the Saturday Night Social Responsibility Scale, but we were heavy into the worrying part—especially about auto accidents.

Drunk driving and driving without seat belts were prevalent in 1976.

Bill and I breathed a sigh of relief on weekend nights when our daughters arrived home safely, came into our bedroom and kissed us goodnight—chatting briefly about their adventures.

To sum it up, parenting in our house in our house—for good or for ill—was one of benign neglect.

So Claire and her friend headed up The Buckhorn. And Sharon and her friends set out for an undetermined destination.

A trip up Thompson Canyon to Estes Park was a popular destination on Saturday night, but fortunately that was not in the cards for either group that evening.

By a stroke of luck—a thing as simple as the destination of a party or two—they escaped one of the deadly Big Thompson Flood which took almost 150 lives.

Back home, Bill, Eileen and I stayed up late and watched a Doris Day movie, and nibbled on deviled ham sandwiches that evening, while Kathy, age 8, slept.

We had no inkling of what was happening up the Canyon.

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