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PrimeTime: Earthquake brings back memories of 1933

California has experienced another quake. Hearing about that takes me back to 1933.

My father had died the previous summer, and Mother wanted a getaway for the winter. Southern California was about as away as you could get and still be in the United States.

As a fifth-grader, I was a little apprehensive about leaving my friends but excited for the new experience. I was living a winter that seemed like summer for the first time in my life. I was a northern Illinois kid, and we didn't go to school in short sleeves in January as we did in Hollywood.

We moved into a fourth-floor apartment just a block from the only people we knew there - Mother's dance partner from her performing days and his mother. A cousin of father lived in another Los Angeles suburb, Pasadena. He and my dad grew up like brothers, and he now had two kids, the younger one a daughter my age.

It should have been an ideal situation, but unfortunately, my mother found it hard to be with that family because my "uncle" not only resembled my dad, he also talked like him.

I was able to walk to school from our apartment. I didn't have a lot in common with most of my classmates. Many were hoping to break into show business and thought nothing of missing school to go to a tryout. But I just kept taking dance classes and joining my mother in activities. I took lessons from her former dancing partner, who taught Buddy Ebsen and other well-known movie stars. When I took part in one of his major recitals, it was a big deal. I was taken to the nearby city of Compton to be measured and fitted with elaborate costumes by a lady whose customers included famous performers of the day.

We gradually reached the point of feeling quite at home and enjoyed special activities when my brother came and spent his college Christmas vacation with us. But it seemed really weird to go swimming in the ocean on Christmas Day.

As we returned from the grocery store one day, I realized something new was happening. The blacktop pavement seemed to be going in waves. The four-story buildings on either side of the street were nodding at us and people were wildly running up the street to where the buildings were not as tall. We stood by the car holding our sacks.

Mother said, "Take a good look at this, Alice. You may never see anything like it again."

Being totally inexperienced in dealing with earthquakes, we promptly headed up the elevator to our fourth-floor apartment to assess the damage. A few things had fallen off the mantle or other shelves, but there was noting too serious. We had no idea what to expect, so the more than 100 aftershocks that occurred that night made for a totally sleepless night for us. We ended up going to a nearby first-floor apartment of our friends and staying awake all night.

We had learned fast that it had been a mistake to return so quickly to our fourth-floor apartment. In a very short time, the first aftershock came, and we rushed down the back stairway.

On the second floor, a man standing in his doorway commanded us firmly, "Stop!" He had been in earthquakes in Japan and various places and told us running out into the street is the worst thing to do.

"Take notice," he said. "If you look at a building that has been hit by an earthquake, if there is anything left standing, it is the doorways."

You can imagine that for the next few months that we were there, this 9-year-old kid was never far from a doorway.