Friday, July 18, 2014

What Fathers Do

When our house flooded back in 1979, my sister was newly home from the hospital. She'd been a premmie like me and spent her first two and a half months at the NICU.   We'd been watching the rain all afternoon.  The sky was black and the ground was saturated.  Then I walked into my room and my carpet squished. 

For some reason, I'd thought the water would come through the front door. I'd been watching the water outside and seen it creeping towards us, but it was still a good five feet from our entrance.  But that was it. The water was coming in.  As kids, we were both delighted and annoyingly loud.  "We're flooding! We're FLOODING!" Our eyes were wide as we'd get way too close into each other's faces and state the obvious with an odd mixture of joy and panic, "We're flooding!" 

Thus began the odd exodus as we were instructed to put everything on top of our beds or on top of tables.  Shoes, stuffed animals, clothes, anything we wanted to keep.  It was fun and felt important to be stacking things.  We soon learned that we had an awful lot of things on the floor.  Books.  Socks.  Games. Dolls.  Things. Things. Things. Things.  Every table groaned.  Every bed was covered.   The block was flooded.  We wouldn't be able to get away via car.

My father loaded all of us, including our dog (we kids thought this was heroic), onto the john boat.  A john boat for the uninitiated, is a metal boat used in duck hunting. It lacks style or coolness but it's light, sturdy, strong and was very effective.  My mom held an umbrella over herself and my new little sister.  Scrambling inot the boat, one of my brothers lost his shoe.  We huddled under another umbrella and were told to be on the look out for debris and snakes. 

My dad had put on his waders and pulled the john boat with all of us in it through the black water in the pouring rain down the street to our neighbor's house.  They had a two story home, which made them ecentric by our standards.  Most homes were long ramblers and built out, not up or down.  Upon arrival, we (the kids) were completely delighted to experience the novelty of another person's home.
We would have 18 inches of water inside our own house by the time the flood crested, but to show you how little kids get it, we kept asking, "So, do you think we'll have school tomorrow?" My dad smiled and said, "We'll see."  I suspect he kept the answer vague to keep us from rioting with joy, for we were now four adults and six kids and a dog crammed into an upstairs watching the water in the streets.

Dad just did what needed to be done.  In retrospect, it was scary and even heroic, but he didn't let us know he was scared and it never occurred to us to be so as a result. 

The next day when the rains had stopped, we begged to go intertubing on the street. (We were told no).  Mom and Dad ferried us out to friend's homes where we wouldn't see the level of devastation done to our home.  We never quite saw it.  Instead of having memories of everything we ever loved being washed away, we had the story of our neighbor's cat that refused to go upstairs and sat on the island in the kitchen watching the water which was only two inches up in their home.  It was decidedly perplexed by the tadpoles or fish that were swimming across the kitchen floor.  This was the memory. 

Mom and Dad deliberately worked hard to keep the harder sharper edges of that experience, the snakes, the thrown away toys and books and like from being taken in and to a large extent, it worked.  They couldn't blunt everything but they did enough such that when we flooded again the next year, none of us felt tramatized, instead we thought, eh, we've done this before. Let's go pile up everything on top of the beds. 

Recovery from the floods was slow. We spent six months I think, eating casaroles and complaining about the hard cold floor.  The day our house was completely repaired, we sat down to dinner in the dining room for the first time and the faithful table that had held so many things for so many months while repairs were going on, collapsed under the weight of a normal table setting for six.  It was both comic and iconic, because I remember everyone's surprised faces as the thing fell. 

We still felt like everything was home because the things which made it home had been preserved. Somehow Dad's 1000 plus books and the record collection that seemed to never get bigger but always had things we loved listening to, his guitar, my little wooden chair from when I was  toddler, the copper wash basin that was my mom's mom's and possibly her mom's, a pale china blue statue of the Blessed Mother and child, the crystal candle sticks that I always tried to take apart to pretend that the crystals were diamond earrings, and the lazy susan on the table survived.  All of these little things that made up the feel as much as the sights and sounds and smells of our home.

We never worried what might happen.  This was part of the core of what I think Dads do.

Mom and Dad made it such that no matter what happened, it was okay.  It was still home.  It was still safe even if everything had been destroyed.

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