Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We Had a Flood Once

In the summer of 1977, my friend Mary and I had a routine. We would walk to the local playground with our tennis rackets, hoping that the court would be taken so that we could just bounce our tennis balls off the side of the building. We called it practicing, but posturing would've been a more accurate description of what we did. Neither of us could play tennis for shit. But we sure looked good carrying a tennis racket in our white shorts. She had a sun-bleached ponytail that was almost white. I had the sort of tan you got back in the days when SPF was just a random combination of letters that might show up in your Alpha-Bits. We liked pretending not to notice people noticing us with our tennis rackets propped casually on our shoulders. We didn't particularly like tennis.

When we 'gave up' on getting the court, we would sigh, gather up the neon yellow balls we'd left littered along the wall, and head to Dairy Queen - where anyone could clearly see that we deserved a treat after our workout.

I never said it was an exciting routine, but it was a routine.

July 19, 1997 did not start out to be an exception.

We walked to the playground and found the tennis court to be uncharacteristically free. We attempted to get a little volley started, but I wasn't lying or even exaggerating when I said we weren't very good. One of us would serve; the other would chase the ball. Poetry in motion, I tells ya. The sky started turning dark and we decided it might be best to skip Dairy Queen and head directly home. As we started walking, it began to rain. When it became a downpour, we began to run. By the time we reached my home - less than a mile from the playground - the water was running over the curbs.

Mary only lived about a block from me, but she didn't want to walk it alone. I didn't blame her. The sky was black now, and the thunder and lightening were magnificent. We lived on a street that backs up on a wooded area, and we were hearing trees and branches fall. I told her to just come in and call her parents to let them know she was safe.

My house was dark.

We went in to find my sister - alone and pretty spooked. She is not easily frightened, so this was quite a testimony to the sheer scariness of the storm. My parents had gone out and hadn't made it back yet. The power had gone out. Mary was unable to call home - the phones were out. I imagine her parents were worried sick. The three of us huddled together and waited. We waited for my parents to come home, for the world to end, for power to be restored, for STRANGERS to come into the house - we didn't know what the hell we were waiting for - we were just waiting. We were pumped so full of adrenaline that every little sound sent us reaching for each other and squealing. I mentioned that it was a pretty bad storm, right? There were LOTS of little sounds.

My parents eventually came home, as the storm was beginning to subside. They drove Mary home and teased all three of us for being so silly.

Band camp was canceled the next day, which I thought was dumb - but I figured maybe the power was still out at the school or something. I took advantage of this by dragging my old white lounge into the side yard, slathering on the baby oil, and cranking up the AM radio. WCRO, the music you grew up with. I had barely gotten myself situated for optimal sun exposure when my sister came running out of the house. "You've got to see this!"

I didn't want to leave the promise of sun, and my mom never liked it when I came in the house when I was oiled up, but my sister knew all of this and still seemed pretty adamant. She waved me in to the family room, where I stood (hello? baby oil?) and watched this:

I threw shorts on over my bathing suit and my sister and I jumped on our bikes and headed to the top on the Inclined Plane - a great view of the city. We watched cars floating by in what had just yesterday been a river flowing through our downtown area. We freaked out a little bit when we saw what we thought was an arm, but realized was just a piece of a mannequin from a department store. Up on the hill - where we lived - it was just a morning after a bad storm. Down in the city it was devastation.

The people of our town jumped into action immediately. I have never felt a sense of community like I did after that flood. Popular slogans popped up: We Will Rebuild Together and Johnstown 3, Floods 0. Recovery was not easy and it was not quick, but it always moved with a forward momentum.

Mary and I continued to go to the playground and the Dairy Queen - things were the same, but different.

For years after that, if people cocked their heads when I told them where I was from, my stock answer was, "We had a flood, once..."

I know there have been much more devastating events recently - on a much grander scale - but this is the perspective from which I have viewed them.

It was yesterday, it was a million years ago.

It was thirty-three years ago.


InspiredDreamer said...

Wow. You're right there have been more and larger events since 1997, but homage must be paid to any event which takes life and changes lives forever. Very glad you and your family and friend were ok.

Unknown said...

Flash flooding comes so quick and leaves devastaion in it's wake. I am glad you all were safe..

Liz Mays said...

And your parents thought you were overreacting! You had a sixth sense that something was not right. That's wild!

Unknown said...

wow, glad you were safe!

Claudya Martinez said...

Wow, wow, wow!

Badass Geek said...

That line about SPF and Alphabits was great!