Rising Floodwaters: Writing Assignment #1

For the new year, my friend and I are going to attempt 2 writing assignments a month.  I hope to write other than that as well, but life has been increasingly busy at work.  Time for work, family, house and horses.  That’s about it these days.

Assignment #1: classic exercise: Begin with the line “I remember” (or “I don’t remember”), and write for fifteen minutes.  Here goes…

I remember the summer before college, when the non-ending rains flooded the banks of the lake and creek  two houses from us, first overtaking the grass then creeping across the streets, ignoring the needle-point rain that hammered our bodies as we packed and hauled sandbags around the cul-de-sac, snaking into our driveways then pouring in torrents into the basement.

Our family of six moved quickly before the water breached our home, moving items upstairs and in from the garage as fast as we could: TV, games, laundry, photos, shoes, sporting equipment, tables, lamps, a telephone, chairs.  My sister Sharon and my collections of foreign dolls and glass animals remained on their glass covered shelves, watching us helplessly.

Our neighbors were out of town, so when done with our home we went to their home and moved similar items up from their basement.  Tired, so tired, but when we walked home we realized the waters were not going to stop at the basement in our home.  They slowly cascaded to the first floor of our house, as we rushed to carry everything yet again up another level.  We grabbed more furniture, collectibles, kitchen items, winter coats from the first floor and filled the bedrooms so they looked like a grandmother’s forgotten attic.

When would the rain stop?  Would the floodwaters top our roof?

We simply could not stay in our home.  We could not pull the cars from the garage, as they were both three-quarters filled with water.  We filled plastic bags with clothing and important phone numbers. We forced our petrified cat into a pillow case, and put everything in laundry baskets on our heads. We then walked/swam up the street to our neighbor’s house, the waterby our home over my head.

At the M’s house, the force of the water was so strong that SLAM—it bent the metal door to their basement after hovering outside, gathering force.  Twisted steel, we were so lucky that no one was in their basement as the water poured in.  Water licked the top step of their stairs, but miraculously it did not enter their first floor—where several families now gathered.

Another neighbor Nancy R. , who lived on the lake, lamented that she would lose several fur coats on her first floor. My brother Dave and I gave one look at each other and volunteered to go move them upstairs.

“What?” my mom screeched. “You can’t go back out there.”

“Mom,” I replied “I can’t stay here and do nothing.  Dave and I will just swim back and move Nancy’s coats upstairs.”

“Besides,” Dave chimed in,” someone else might need help. We can’t just sit here.”

My dad knew we would not change our minds, so he reluctantly agreed to let us go.  We promised to be smart.

We swam back to Nancy’s house, unlocked the door and moved her valuable coats upstairs, the bottoms already soggy with water.  Our darkened house was the same, but we then heard the call “HELP! Someone please help us!”

The calls were coming from the neighbors whose backyard abutted ours, a tall wooden fence between them.  We quickly swam to the fence, trying to avoid debris and lawn furniture floating in the yard.  (ok—my 15 minutes are up here, but I’m going to finish my story…)

“What’s wrong?” Dave yelled into their yard.

“We can’t get out of our home,” the owner Mike replied.  “We have two small children and the water is too deep for us to take them up the street.”

“Give us a few minutes,” Dave called back.  “We’ll get a boat from Nancy R’s house.”

Nancy’s family always had a dingy tied up to the shore.  We swam quickly to the boat, and we were forced to dive down to the boat since it was underwater.  Dave, always the prepared one, had a knife so we could cut the rope that tied it down.  On the R’s patio we were able to flip the boat over, climb in, and we found two floating boards to use as paddles.

We paddled first to Mike’s house, and we put he and his family in the boat.  Dave and I then climbed in the water and pushed them to another friend’s house closer to the main road. On the road next to her we could actually see rescue vehicles driving.

As we were headed there, we heard another family calling for help up a tiny cul de sac.  We detoured slightly to tell them we would come back for them shortly.

Mrs. B opened her door, shocked.

“Can we bring some families here,” I asked.  “They can’t get out of their homes.  Your house is perfect, since cars can get by here.  Kind of like a mini- Red Cross station?”

“Sure,” Mrs. B. said, as they carried the children inside.

“Can we bring over a few more families?” Dave asked. “We heard at least one other family needs help.”

“Of course,” Mrs. B replied.

“Do you need them to bring food or anything else?” I asked.

“Some food would be great, so we don’t run out,” Mrs. B replied as we shoved off.

We first used our makeshift paddles to stop at the M house where our parents were, to let them know we were safe and what we were doing.

“Are you sure you aren’t tired or hungry or too cold?” my mom asked us.

Our adrenaline was slowing, and we could not imagine stopping now.  She might have made a quick sandwich, but I don’t remember eating anything.

We paddled the boat first to a house on the cul-de-sac and transported  the C. family with their two girls to the B house.  They did grab some clothes and a bag of snacks, fruit and large bottles of soda to contribute to the B. larder.  A neighbor two doors down from their house yelled to us.  They had a grandfather in their home on a ventilator.  They were already running on battery back up, and they were concerned about his health.

When we dropped the C. family off at the B. house,  someone had already gone to the main road and flagged down a police car, explaining that we were bringing people to the B. house.  Dave and I asked if there were any paramedics nearby, so we could take them to the house with the ventilated man.  In a short while, an ambulance slowly drove up and stopped on the main road. We offered to take them in our boat to the house, since they clearly could not drive up the street.

One of the three looked at me, as they piled equipment in the boat.

“Do you want me to swim, and you can ride in the boat?” he asked.

“I’m already soaking and my brother and I already have a system.  We can do this. Just climb in” I saucily replied. And he did.

Scared, Ventilator Man would NOT get in the boat no matter how much coaxing he was given.  The young couple who lived there ran out of reasons, as did the fireman.

“Do you want to die?” I finally asked him, exastperated, getting tired of treading water while holding onto the boat.  My sweater was soaked through and heavy.

“No,” he replied, shocked.

“Well then get in the boat.  Otherwise you won’t be able to breathe when your battery goes out.  Who knows when the electricity will be back on. You couldn’t be safer, with paramedics in the boat with you,” I stated. Only  a sassy high schooler could get away with that line of questioning.

He finally agreed, then gingerly climbed into the boat, ventilator and all.

After we dropped off the family, ventilator, food, and the paramedics at the B. house, Dave and I agreed it was time to head back to our family, at the M. house.

It was dark, cold, and still raining when we rowed up to the M. house.  Warm showers, dry clothes and full stomachs later, we were so happy that we had been able to help some people.  Pacing in that house would have been torture for Dave and me.

The next morning, the water started to recede, but still filled our lower level, and our lovely doll cases now face down in the muddy waters. The cars forever useless.

The cleanup is a story for another day: of strangers coming by to help, of the National Guard protecting our property from looters at night with no electricity, tables in the yard of food from the church and others, throwing out dumpsters of things, piles of garbage 8-10 feet tall in front of our home, crying while pulling apart destroyed photos in our shed to salvage a few childhood memories, shuttling around to different houses until our became liveable, wondering if my parents could still afford college for me.

And yes, this is a true story, though the actual conversations might not be accurate. C

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