What Our Flood Did

On New Year’s Day 2015, our whole family got totally sloshed. We arrived home late at night after a daylong drive at the end of a week away on holiday when Claire, our daughter, the first to enter the house, stepped into water. Waded into water. Lots of it.

“Dad?! Mom!? Uh . . . guys?!”

And that’s what I mean by sloshed.

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For hours, we bucketed and mopped, ShopVac’ed and mopped again. We hauled waterlogged area rugs into the garage, tried to heft saturated sofas and cupboards, and found mulchy rot-slime climbing the walls. We found all the doors and their frames bent and splintered, bloated with brine. We cracked off frayed floorboards already separating from the walls. We tipped over furniture and found the undersides upholstered with a limey flounce of mildew fur.

A major chunk of our living space was decomposing. Where was the internal source for the flood? There were no bath or laundry lines gone haywire. So we slopped, flashlights in hand, into the dark front yard. Er, swamp. There, we saw on the side of the house a distinct dark shadow – a water line – at the height of our knees. The house was soaked through from the outside like a sponge.

As the story goes, a garden water distributor (part of a defunct sprinkler system we weren’t even aware of in this house we’d been renting for just four months) had gone amok, and in our absence, liters of water had gushed, unabated, for days. Although neighbors had seen rivulets streaming into the street, and had hopped the wall to shut off the water source, no one had tried to contact us in our absence and alert us to any problem. So our sponge-house marinated nicely, awaiting our return.

“In a couple of weeks, once we’ve taken care of all this,” I recall yawning, forcing soggy optimism that night, “I’ll write a piece about baptisms. New starts. New Years.” Today, over 8 months since that moment and after two additional and significant leaks, I haven’t written about baptisms. In fact, I’ve scarcely written about anything.

Why? Because all I’ve been doing since The Flood is fixing it.

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Fixing it, and thinking about it. I’ve thought and growled and thought (as one does in postdiluvian mode) while overseeing 70+ different workmen — you think I haven’t tallied their names?– who have traipsed in and out of this house. They’ve been schlepping off the furniture, jackhammering apart stone floors, crowbarring out wooden ones, setting up industrial fans to run 24/7 for months straight, measuring moisture in rotted walls, tearing out the bathroom, stacking the toilet and shower in the garage, drilling holes through the cement screed, suctioning water out from under the foundation, ripping out the screed and dumping it, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, in a giant dumpster in front of the garage. Re-painting, reflooring, rewiring, redooring, replumbing, retiling, reeverything …

A Gesamtkunstwerk, I tell you. Only with a couple of whiney sympathy dehumidifiers instead of a symphony orchestra.

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On the day our newlyweds* arrived to unpack in the ground level of our home, it was finally — finally! — habitable. Tide was out. Walls were up. Floors were down. They moved in.

So now that it’s all done, what have we learned?

I’ve learned that the flood itself was not the thing. The thing—the swift ground level current and secret underground leaks, the destruction, the mess, damage, headache, loss, cost, labor—the thing, readers, was the metaphor.

It was all a metaphor, custom made for anyone like myself whose primary investment is put into strengthening their family. In today’s morally swampy, flood-prone world, with its potent and even toxic tides streaming nonstop through every digital device you can (and cannot yet) imagine, you need a strategy. The start of strategy is defense, as in thick walls and sound construction. But when even that fails, you need tips from friends fighting the same flood.

So I’ll be back on the following points:

  • Watertight? Think again.
  • Floods hit quickly.
  • Or they don’t.
  • Be there.
  • Block or bail. Or both.
  • It takes a crew.
  • Don’t paint over rot.
  • Rebuild, reinforce, repeat.

Please join the discussion here and invite your friends. I’d love a flood of comments.

*Right. There was a multicultural/multicontinentnal/multilingual wedding, too. More on that later.

22 thoughts on “What Our Flood Did

  1. That sounds awful! Can’t imagine why you didn’t move out if it was a rental. Who are the newlyweds moving in? I hope all is well otherwise. Elizabeth is getting married the 24th of October and lives in Charlotte. Mark graduated from Georgia Tech in 2012 and lives in Charlotte too. Frank is still working for Electrolux. I’m busy with volunteering, bible study, water color painting, and as usual keeping the house running. Good to hear from you again!

    • Carrie–Oh, darlin’, yes, I was out looking for other rental houses as of Flood Day One. But.. beyond the fact that the rental market in the Frankfurt area is skimpy, was the niggling detail of an impending summer wedding. Which answers your question: our Claire married her Alessandro in an Italian civil ceremony, then a Swiss sacred ceremony, then a Utah ranch reception, then a western states family honeymoon. We had our agendas full, and I know what another house moved entails. By the time the second leak set our reconstruction back another four months, we were too far into wedding planning to manage packing up and moving again. (I had JUST finished getting functional in this house when the flood gates ruptured. [So to speak.]) And Claire and Ale had planned to moved in with us here in Germany while prepping for further university studies in the US. We needed a place that could accommodate all of us…Short version: it was quite a year. 🙂 More stories to follow!! (And it sounds as if your family is doing beautifully, which I’ll share with Claire. So wonderful to be in touch again, friend!)

  2. I love that you’re trying to make something positive out of a very difficult experience. I love your metaphor. It takes a lot of work. But I will add to your list: Don’t rip out something that’s still good. No reason to demo the house just because it needs a few repairs. Love you, lady!

    • Michelle—Wise counsel. Don’t demolish (or even pack it in and move to what one hopes are better structures) if there’s potential for repair. In the heat of exasperation (or insult, or pain, or fear, or…), the temptation’s real to do the above. Let’s dig into this when we hit that last point: repair, reinforce, repeat. Come back for that, bitte!

    • And Lovin’ Language, how happy I am to see your glowing avatar here. Been thinking of you and your excellent blog, especially as our Germany experiences a significant cultural/linguistic shift with the recent Syrian crisis. I might need to learn Arabic from you. 🙂 All the best, always.

      • Learning Arabic sounds like a great idea! I was in Greece over the summer. On a long train ride from Athens to Thessaloniki I sat across the aisle from a family of Kurdish refugees from Syria. Fortunately I speak Arabic, and I got to learn a lot about their personal situation–both before and after the war.

    • Leslie-As always, so much to write, so little time. But now that our literal walls are sound (can’t always say the same about our figurative ones), I do have a bit more bandwidth at my disposal. Glad you’re here.

      (And given a global perspective, a house flood’s no more than a drizzle, right?) 🙂

  3. “In today’s morally swampy, flood-prone world, with its potent and even toxic tides streaming nonstop through every digital device you can (and cannot yet) imagine, you need a strategy. The start of strategy is defense, as in thick walls and sound construction. But when even that fails, you need tips from friends fighting the same flood.”

    Oh, yes.

    So looking forward to this discussion.

  4. You are the only person I know that can take something positive out of such a situation and turn it into a learning experience for all of us. I read all your posts avidly. Keep them coming. Its wonderful to have a consistently uplifting presence online. No longer Lauren loves you guys so.

  5. Dear Melissa, Impressed with all the technical language you picked up. It would be fun to hear it all in German. We are relieved mightily that you now have a house you can live in! Love you all, D&D Let us know how things were worked out with the landowner.

    • Hi, D&D-
      So honored to have you here. Yes, you’re right, I learned an entire guidebook to German construction terms– things I don’t even know in English — for this undertaking. Ready for my coming career as a Bauarbeiter, Baumeister, or Bauingenieur. 🙂 Yes, we now have a fully functional home, the newlyweds are installed in their space, and the landowner has been compliant and pleasantly supportive. (One supposes it helped relations that we stayed here throughout and oversaw the mayhem.)

  6. Pingback: Watertight? Swimming in Today’s Digital Ocean | Melissa Writes of Passage

  7. Pingback: Floods Hit Quickly: Digital Safety in a High Speed World | Melissa Writes of Passage

  8. Oh Melissa, I’m so sorry to see your news. You know, as huge a fan of yours that I am I had checked several times to see if somehow I had missed notification of your wonderfully engaging posts here. I have been dealing with preoccupation of my own on many levels in recent months and am terribly late engaging in your news here.

    I fully empathize with you and your family Melissa. Life has so many great challenges for us as you very well know. I was thirty years in the real property administration field, managing anything from single detached houses to forty-storey highrise towers and at any given time, as the property management professional engaged by the property owners, I was first in line for emergency phone notifications followed by endless telephone follow-ups and on-site meetings with residents, restoration contractors and subtrades, countless insurance adjusters and eventually the remediation contractors who would fully reconstruct to preexisting condition.

    Not to detract from your own situation but I dealt with the most horrid and devastating situations. One of the most difficult aspects of water or fire damage is not so much the physical property damage, though that in itself is incredibly stressful, rather, it is the imminent loss of our most treasured personal belongings that is particularly heartbreaking…not so much the couches and other furnishings, chattels and material belongings but the priceless, irreplaceable and deeply personal family possessions and keepsakes, framed photographs, artworks of close personal significance, journals/diaries of our lives as they have unfolded, gifted treasures we cherish…items that can never be restored or replaced…simply gone in a rush of water or rage of uncontrollable flames.

    And in the immediacy of the horrific event comes the sadness of the loss that humans have to come to terms with as the reality of those losses gradually engage our conscious awareness. We stand cautiously amid the soggy ruins not having a clue where to possibly begin, wandering aimlessly in shock and disbelief, displaced, disassociated and totally bewildered that tragedy can strike…and again.

    As a career property and facility management professional I saw the greatest of tragedy, including loss of life, and one of my greatest challenges through it all was not in the exhaustive process I was faced with from a first responder and logisitical perspective, rather, it was in helping our clients cope with the immediate tragedy of loss through all the various stages of mitigation, salvage and restorative processes…and ultimately seeing them through to the first moments they returned home to turn their key in the front door lock and pass through to the next dimension, albeit resumption, of their lives, surrealistically in a way as though the incident had not occurred at all.

    Of course, the realty is there and we live and learn through error, omission, oversight, and yes, even through no apparent fault of our own at a time when we were physically somewhere distant and fully unaware of imminent danger or destruction. In a way, perhaps your absence was something of a blessing.

    You are incredibly strong Melissa, resilient to the point of inspired reflection as we read and absorb your words. May ‘normalcy’ in its coming be your comfort and savior. Take good care of yourself and your family…the rest goes without saying.

    Warmest regards and heartfelt best wishes.

    Don

    • Don—hello again 🙂 you know, we could have certainly used someone with you expertise and background to slog through all of this with us. It was protracted (and I haven’t even gotten yet to the post I’m writing about the internal leaks we discovered….!), and all happened when no one had surplus energy or time for reconstruction. But, but, but…We learn. We stretch our perspective. We develop patience. We catch ourselves feeling entitled (and quit it.) And we rebuild. Life: It’s persistent.

      Warmth to you, Don!

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