Disaster at Lost River, 1952: Part lll – Meeting a Hero

(Continued from Part 2…)

It was Sunday, October 8, 2023. Andrew and I were in the Bethany Cemetery at Lost River. I had just found all my ancestors that cemetery holds, and stopped for a snack, guessing that soon Marlene would soon arrive.

Me dining in the cemetery. Andrew thought he should document it.

Have I told you about Marlene? She is my mother’s double second cousin, if I am remembering accurately. My aunt Hilda who had often driven my grandparents back to Lost River for a great many reunions over the years, had put me in touch with Marlene with the instruction that meeting her would be helpful to me in my quest.

She also recommended that I speak with Clarence.

All the names were swimming in my head (I truly am the worst amateur historian) and I was hesitant to add to the information in my brain. I often just want to get to a site and take it for what it is.

But I did immediately begin texting with Marlene, and arranged to meet in the cemetery.

Now it was happening. I had just completed my snack when Marlene and her husband Bill arrived. Soon we were in the backseat of their truck, bouncing over the backroads of Lost River.

Friends… telling me things is perhaps a bit pointless sometimes because I do not remember details accurately. I remember feelings and impressions. I tend to not be wrong about these things. But specific details escape me. I am easily lost. So I don’t know that I could bring you back to Lost River and show you everything Marlene showed me, and repeat to you all the details. I thought I was taking accurate notes but no. I did not.

Nevertheless, I will forge ahead here.

Marlene and Bill were able to show us where several of my ancestors had lived. Sometimes they were not longer entirely sure. At one point I definitely trespassed to get a picture of a decomposing log cabin, visible from the road, which may or may not have housed someone I’m descended from. At any rate, whomever lived there had likely known my family well as they lived in the midst of them. Unless I’m getting my timelines confused. We’re talking about things that happened a century ago at this point. And I suppose it’s also entirely possible that the kind of log cabins my ancestors lived in, were like this one.

(In my imagination, I had found where my great-greats had lived. And I could not stop my delight… which led to the trespassing.)

And then, once I was back in the truck… Marlene mentioned that it would be helpful to see Clarence.

There was that name again. Even though I’m shy in these situations, I said yes, let’s go.

We didn’t have far to go. Clarence lives on the site of the family farm, which, being family, is all in the midst of where my family had lived. Let’s see, I think Clarence is my grandpa’s first cousin.

He is 96 years old and lives in a little cabin that his children built for him near their house. He is very content and bright-eyed.

No sooner had we sat down in his living room, than Andrew asked him if he knew about the flood of ’52.

“I was there!” he exclaimed.

Our jaws dropped.

While we were still in shock, Clarence continued.

“A man was on the roof of a barn, floating there, and I took a raft to rescue him.”

Our jaws dropped further.

“We just read that story in Search for Yesteryears!” I declared. “We read about YOU!”

“Yes,” he chuckled. “That man was over 200 pounds… I mean, brother-in-law was 100 pounds so, there’s quite a difference. There was no chance. So when I took that big guy, I put him kind of in the center of the raft, to keep him above the water. I had to sit at the back, and I was already sitting to my belt in the water.”

My eyes were wide.

“How long did it take you to make the raft?” queried Andrew.

“It didn’t take very long,” replied Clarence. “We had quite a few guys there looking for dry trees… but it was minimum size, it was maybe 3 feet wide and 12 feet long. And they had to rope it together. It was a good thing they had a lot of rope along. Yeah, that’s one thing I will never forget.”

Before we left, Clarence showed me one of the photographs on the wall.

“This will probably interest you. That’s your grandpa there.”

I believe my grandpa is second from left, the tallest boy. I think Clarence is the youngest one in the picture. They were first cousins (also third cousins on the other side). I should have asked questions about this sawmill!

Later when Marlene and Bill dropped us off at our car, I quickly opened Search for Yesteryears and turned to the pages documenting the disaster of 1952. Sure enough, there it mentioned Clarence. The hero!

Andrew and I looked at each other, me with the book open on my lap.

“Wow,” we said quietly to each other.

(Feature photo: Clarence Ens, me, Marlene Gamble)