10-17-2017  9:57 am      •     
survivors evacuating the Vanport flood
Laura Ann Howard
Published: 05 October 2017

I am one of the survivors of the Vanport Flood. It is with great appreciation that I am delighted to read so many articles, or attend events, that speak about a city so forgotten.

I feel that this awakening of Vanport has caused people to take a look at this lost city, wanting to be educated historically, and listen with great anticipation the stories of those that helped write the pages of history in Vanport. So I have learned that every story told is important. Every encounter shared, helps to make the puzzle complete. And that is why I share my piece willingly.

There is a passage in the Bible that helps my story be told with an understanding.  In 1 Corinthians 13:11 it says, " When I was a child, I spake as child, I understood as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  So when the flood occurred I was seven-and-a-half years of age. My family consisted of 8 siblings, and my parents.

Fortunately we were not at home when the flood happened. Upon our return, we dealt with the fact that we had no home to return to. The only thing I could think of was my doll that was somewhere in the water and the slice of chocolate cake I didn't get to eat. I had no understanding why my mother was so angry with me as I wept over my doll and the cake; after all I was only seven.

It's amazing, because a few years ago I realized that  not only were we homeless, we were abandoned in a sense from our parents. We had never separated from them, and now we are staying in three different places without our parents, and in the morning we would have to put the same clothes back on again.

I was not old enough to understand losing important documents, birth certificates, pictures, all of our belongings. All we had was each other. One thing I know for a fact is we as kids were sheltered from all the things that bought us to Vanport: the lifestyle of the city, a place that was thrown together so fast, it took  the people living there to make it a home -- even hope in the midst of fear, war, poverty, and racism. The stories at 76 years old have given me a sense of pride that at seven I just didn't comprehend.

When I think now of Vanport I am persuaded that there was a sense of pride that taught us how to move forward and not get stuck on ignorance amidst all the oppositions we encountered. I am very blessed that my eyesight of seeing things at the tender age of seven was locked into my memory, and it was not tarnished by the chaos that occurred Sunday, May 30, 1948.

Although as survivors of Vanport we don't have a color that identifies the nature of our experience, what we do have is a song in our hearts that we can all blend our voices harmoniously and sing even though the songs might be different we yet have one thing in common: We are all survivors of the Vanport Flood.

Laura Ann Howard, Portland, is one of two winners of a 2017 essay contest held by The Skanner Foundation and sponsored by The Oregon Lottery on the Lessons of Vanport. 

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