I couldn’t believe what I was looking at when I drove up the steep, winding hill and caught sight of my childhood home. The hill brought back so many memories — lazy summer days toiling up the arduous, dusty road, tendrils of hair dampened from the lake water or sweat, it was hard to tell; short, dark days where we tumbled down the snowy slopes in a pile of sledges, snow suits and cold, red faces. Autumn leaves carpeted the knoll three months of the year and although the four of us were chivvied out to rake the red-gold leaves, I doubt more than a third ever made it into the black bags.
Oh yes. Those were the days, but we all grew up and moved out. Mom and Dad stayed of course. The house had been in Mom’s family for four generations; soon it would be passed onto my oldest brother. It was an unspoken rule that no matter who owned the home, it was to always remain ‘home’ for the siblings and their children.
I didn’t even knock on the stained-glass front door, but walked right in, then abruptly halted. Memories that layered the walls were now covered in a slick, browny-green soup of mud, sludge and detritus of a river gone mad. The same lazy river I’d spent countless hours on and in had ripped its banks, shot through the town and homes leaving a swath of slime in its angry path.
“Mom?” My voice faltered. When she’d called me to tell me the home had flooded I thought of the times my father had dealt with a leaking water heater in the basement, not this widespread accrual of silt, sediment and slush. If someone had taken a dumpster truck and tipped a ton of dirt into the house they could have done less damage than what lay before me.
“I’m in here,” Mom’s voice was unchanged. Cheery, unfazed, as though the flood and resultant desecration was no more than a minor inconvenience in her busy day. Wending my way past generations-old furniture that we now would have to pay someone to haul away, I was struck again by how far-reaching the damage was. Mud covered half the stairs and crept up three-quarters of the walls. Would the house ever be the same again?
Mom was standing on a chair in the enormous kitchen, built back in the day when the lady of the house fed all the farmhands at one large table. Not much had changed since those days except Dad bought a Mom a new range, and installed granite counter-tops. The worn flagstones were at least clean. Mom had obviously set to work cleaning what for her was the most important room in the house. She turned as she heard me enter, the ‘nightingale’ hardwood floors leading to the kitchen ‘singing’ as I walked. We’d nicknamed them that as kids as there was no sneaking around possible in this home!
“You’re here!” she exclaimed. Elbow-length kitchen gloves protected her worn hands as she immersed them in sudsy water. “Good. You can help me.”
Helplessly I looked around. What could we possibly do that would clean this up? Mom was humming to herself as she wiped a wall. Did she even realize the severity, the gravity of the situation?
“Oh. I talked to the insurance company this morning and they said unfortunately this house is not covered for floods.”
“Mom. That’s not right? Surely it is?”
“No. Apparently we are not in a flood plain. The river has never flooded, so the company refused to offer it, even though your father asked for it.”
“What are we going to do?” I asked, horrified as I thought about the furnishings in the house, the antiques, all gone in one merciless stream.
“It’s just stuff,” Mom said. “We can probably restore some, and we can buy more. I know your brother didn’t like most of the furniture here anyway. I bet, secretly he’s happy to see most of it go.” She laughed lightly, although I could see the pain in her eyes.
“Anyway. I’ve been thinking of repainting the walls. Here, help me wipe them down, Perhaps we can go for a café au lait look — what do you think?”
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