PARIS — Five-year-old Kathleen Scribner had no idea when she got into the family car the morning of March 24, 1936, that she was in for the ride of her life.

The South Paris resident, who will be 84 in June, recalled the events of that fateful day from her Paris Hill Road home recently.

Her brother was 6 and her sister only 2 when they, along with their parents and uncle, set off from their Buckfield Road home for her grandmother’s house, roughly three miles away. Alongside their modest tar-papered house, which didn’t have electricity or running water, was a small brook.

“It warmed up and the ice broke up, too,” Scribner said. “Along with the high water, we were having rain. The ice cakes were like this.” Scribner gestured to indicate 2-foot-thick chunks. “It was a flood. … the water and the ice cakes started to wash us down the road.”

She said she remembers most of it well. Her uncle somehow got out of the car. She thinks he jumped onto the ice cakes and ran to the field beyond to get help. The car crashed into a tree, stopping the rest of the family from being swept downstream.

“That tree saved our life,” Scribner said.

Her father lifted her, her brother and her sister up in the tree.

“My father said to me, ‘Now put your arms around the tree and don’t let go.’ And I was so sick from the ice cakes (swirling around) and from being scared.”

Her mother wasn’t able to climb into the tree with her father and the kids, so she stood on top of the car.

“Of course, if an ice cake had hit the car, Mom would have went down the brook,” Scribner said. “The good Lord was with us that day.”

She wasn’t sure what kind of car her family had, but the faded black-and-white photograph shows chains on the tires and a torn cloth roof that was a result of the wreck. She has another photo that shows the car farther back from the tree, because the ice cakes came in and pushed it out.

The Fire Department came to their rescue. Firefighters were able to get a rope over to the tree. A chair was tied to the rope and the five members of the family were brought, one by one, across the flooded road below.

“I thought afterward, ‘Well, we were brave, weren’t we?’” Scribner said. “The little brook, when you see it, you would never think it did what it did. It would be so vicious.”

After their ordeal, they were brought to a neighbor’s house, where the children put their feet in warm water to prevent frostbite. Scribner and her family ended up staying with her grandmother for two or three days. It took that long for the water to recede enough for the ice cakes to be cleared from the road.

Everything the family had put in the car to take with them was swept down the brook. And all of her mother’s canning supplies in their house were washed away in the flood.

“The ice cakes would bang against our house in the night.  … We left that home several times in the night (because of it). I don’t know why (my father) had us staying there. He did and we made it,” Scribner said, laughing.

The date of March 24 weighs heavily on her mind. It became an unofficial curse for her family, starting with the flood. Eleven years later, on March 24, her brother was killed after being hit by a train in South Paris. Her mother-in-law died on March 24 years later. And after that, Scribner’s daughter was involved in a car accident on the same date.

“I stay at home. I feel like staying in bed that day,” she said. “You know, that’s part of life. Sometimes you think you’re bad off, then you listen to other people and you realize you’re not the only one. You got to take what’s doled out to you.”

She admits she’s worried about the spring flood this year, which happens before mud season.

The Maine River Flow Advisory Commission is worried, too. The commission said in a news release recently that rainfall is the main cause of flooding in the state, but snowpack, frozen ground and river ice increase the risk of flooding this time of year.

“Flood potential across the state remains normal through the end of March, but overall potential will increase over the next few weeks due to the lateness of the ice and snow melt,” the news release said. “The strength of the ice cover in Maine’s rivers creates vulnerability to ice jam flooding. The probability for major rainstorms and warm temperatures increases as spring progresses.”

But even with the dismal forecast, Scribner believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

“Before you know it, we’ll be complaining because we’re too hot,” she said.  

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