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September 7, 2011

Page 2


The pasture was now layers of sand where a large swath of gravel led eerily toward the creek, visible for the first time ever from the house, the protective berm gone. Odd things from upstream were strewn about: an oxygen tank, soccer goal, lawn roller, outdoor grill, ladders, metal barrels, golf balls, what might have been a watering trough. Broken limbs, upturned trees—the lilacs and northern spy apple we planted for my mother when she died. Outside the kitchen door by the large pine tree, a dead chicken, its feet straight up. It took a while to go into the house.

Inside, the water had reached around two feet. Everything below that was coated in red clay. Those who have been through a flood know what that means: every closet, every kitchen drawer, every piece of furniture, every book. It was getting dark and the mud was thick and slippery. My parents’ old wedding album had lain (since their funerals) on the coffee table; it was low—below the water line—but the table had floated and the photos were dry. Mom felt very near.

The next morning all of us started cleaning. We were excruciatingly inefficient and not just because there was no water or electricity. We carried couches to the curb, rugs and furniture to the front yard, laid wet photos across the porch. We squeegeed inches of sticky, oily mud. After our parents died, we hadn’t cleaned out or dispersed one item—the home we had grown up in remained a shrine. Now we needed a crowbar to wrest the swollen books from their shelves. We cut out the records with a sawzall. Carol and I kept yelling back and forth: “Look, Mom’s notes from the historical society,” “Her thank you cards,” “Dad’s slides from Africa.”

We conferred with our neighbors, a half day ahead of us. One had a generator. One gave us a case of disinfectant. One told us to use a putty knife to scrape up the mud—it doesn’t scratch wood floors. A few friends arrived, our first volunteers. They set up a system: scrape, then brush, then sweep, then wipe. One carried away the dead chicken.

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