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'Every day you find something new. I don't think it has all really sunk in.' : Quaking Has Stopped, but Life for Family Hasn't Settled Down

Earthquake Diary. A Sierra Madre family recovers. First in an occasional series

July 14, 1991|BERKLEY HUDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one was terribly hurt at the gray, two-story, turn-of-the-century house on Baldwin Avenue. But, since the morning of June 28, life has forever changed for the Doyles of Sierra Madre.

Each day, a shift seems to occur in the family's mythology.

They amend what they say and know about themselves. And they try to make sense of precisely what happened when a 5.8 earthquake rumbled from eight miles to the north, deep in the San Gabriel Mountains, and mightily shook this suburban town, so tiny it doesn't have even one stoplight.

For instance, Bart Doyle, a 41-year-old lawyer, said a running debate has now been settled between him and his wife, Sharon, 43, a television script writer.

Cleaning up books and papers thrown from everywhere, Bart found the birth certificate of their daughter, Felicity, who is 5. The record says she was born at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena on April 5, not April 7, when Sharon, confused over family birth dates, held the party this year.

"Every day you find something new. I don't think it has all really sunk in," said Sharon, a transplanted East Coast native who after seven years in California is not yet used to quakes.

She just found out Tuesday, she said, that one son had run through the kitchen and cut his hand, and that an heirloom Chinese vase narrowly missed hitting him.

The earthquake also left behind more readily visible signs, not subject to the vagaries of memory and communication.

A stone fireplace nearly fell apart. Granite bases on the front porch columns crumbled. Workers sent by an insurance company have constructed a flying buttress of 2-by-4s to shore up a sagging, concrete-block fence.

The other morning, a contractor found a big crack in the house's foundation. Jagged scars mar walls and ceilings, upstairs and down.

Emotionally, there were fissures, too. Members of the family were apart when the disaster struck and have struggled for togetherness since.

Bart, general counsel of the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, was in San Francisco preparing to give a speech on environmental issues at a builders' convention.

Sharon wasn't at home, either. She and Felicity were in Washington, D.C., for the 50th wedding anniversary of Sharon's parents.

But Andrew, 10, and brother Nick, 8, were home. Barely awake, they dodged broken and flying glass with their housekeeper and baby-sitter, 33-year-old Elizabeth Menendez. Against the wisdom of duck-and-cover, and motivated by terror, the boys and Menendez bolted outside barefoot.

They spent the day in the back yard, after scurrying in to fetch shoes and stock up on supplies from the kitchen and bathroom, where shelves, drawers, cabinets and even the refrigerator spilled contents willy-nilly.

"I have hugged them and apologized for not being here," Sharon said. Still, her sons can't quite bring themselves to resume sleeping in their upstairs room. Although not openly speaking of anxiety, the boys instead gravitate toward downstairs couches.

Before returning from Washington, Felicity said a mealtime grace thanking God "for the terrible earthquake." Her parents still don't know quite what to make of that.

Pets suffered, too.

A goldfish died the day after the quake. Something apparently had fallen in its bowl, despite Andrew's efforts to rescue the fish and its partner. Trotsky, the roly-poly golden retriever, wouldn't sleep in the house for three nights. Mitten, a homebody of a cat, has been sleeping outside and is uncharacteristically absent for hours.

"We didn't have time to have an earthquake. I have another version of a script to get in," said Sharon, explaining that every day there is an array of quake-repair phone calls to make or another visit from an insurance agent or contractor.

The Doyles, active in the community of 10,762 residents, have not been isolated.

Bart, who gave his speech and rushed home, returned to find "a parade of people coming by. It was very reassuring. There was a sense of shared hardship."

Unfortunately, though, he said, Sierra Madre also became a magnet for "weirdos passing out religious tracts" and gawkers from who knows where. "These are the kind of people that used to show up in the square when witches were burned 300 years ago. They were ghoulish."

Overall, though, Bart and Sharon consider themselves among the fortunate, citing those who suffered worse and must live in motels or with relatives.

The Doyles' neighbors--on the other side of the now-sagging concrete fence--had to move out. A van took away their belongings last week. Their front door and windows are boarded.

"It's a very odd feeling," Sharon said. "We can live in our house." And miraculously, a grand piano they bought less than two weeks before the quake was spared from the chunks of granite falling from the living room fireplace inches away.

Still, they struggle with a measure of personal loss, and the lingering questions: How much will repairs cost? $40,000? $60,000? How will they afford it? Bank loans? State loans? Federal loans?

Is there asbestos in the plaster? Will the walls and ceilings have to come down under the hands of workers in protective suits? How much longer will the Sierra Madre quake overshadow life in the gray house on Baldwin Avenue?

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