The Flood, Then and Now
"Everything we had in the world was in that little trailer," my mother told me last night. At the time of the flood my father had been back from Vietnam about five years and worked as a mechanic in a local gas station. My mother was a part-time assembler at the refrigerator factory in the next town over. They worked all the time. I have very few memories of them being still.
Our trailer sat snugly between the rise of the L&N railroad track and the normally placid waters of the Little Laurel River, which was now becoming swollen and violent. In other words, there was no chance we'd make it through fourteen days of continuous rain. They watched as the water crept across the yard, easing to the edges of our home, and rose all the way to their front door. "And then one morning, it rained so hard it looked like it was raining backwards," my mother tells me now. "We knew that we had to get out." By the time they got together a few things--most importantly she plucked up my baby book and a framed photograph of their wedding day--the water was up to the windows of our trailer. Their truck couldn't make it out as the water was already too high.
My mother waded through the waist-deep water with me on her hip. At some point I dropped the stuffed animal I was clutching into the floodwaters. Nobody remembers if he was a teddy bear, a dog, or what kind of creature, but we all recall that he was called Harry. I must have been so frozen I couldn't even call out because my mother didn't realize I had lost him until she made it to dry land.
That afternoon my parents, aunts, uncles, and some neighbors took johnboats to salvage as much as they could from our trailer there between the railroad tracks and the Little Laurel River. Just about everything was ruined. We lived for two weeks with my granny in her four room house down the road, situated on a ridge above the flood. When the water receded enough my parents went back to see what could be salvaged. They had to completely replace the floors and spent many days scrubbing the mud and muck from the walls but they couldn't afford a new house and eventually we moved back in. My parents had been married five years and my mother says that is the first time she saw my father shed tears.
I don't remember any of this. I had heard bits of pieces of this story but hadn't heard it all until yesterday, when the disastrous floods in Texas caused my mother to talk about it at length. I had always thought that I had escaped in one of the boats, not on my mother's hip as she waded through the waters. I had always imagined Harry falling from my arms and being swept away in the flood and no one being able to reach him from our perch in the boat.
Now I know that across the state from us, the Mississippi hit its highest flood stage in two centuries. Now I know that 26 people died in the floods that spring. I suppose it is a blessing that I don't remember because today I grieve for that young mother who had to leave nearly everything behind, not knowing if she'd see any of it again. I grieve for my father, staying behind to fight it as long as he could. I think of how hard they both worked, how they had to start over from scratch, how discouraged and tired they must have been in those days and weeks afterward. But my mother says that the obstacle just made them stronger. The flood gave them even more determination to keep working hard, to keep going forward.
Always when it was mentioned to me as a child there was the sentiment that it had been expected that things like this happened first and worst to the poorest folks. And that it was not expected that anyone would help us except ourselves. Our expectations were that our neighbors, friends, and family would be there for us no matter what. Our expectation was that my people had always done for themselves and would keep right on doing that.Seems like things haven't changed too much in all these years since. I'm thinking of all the people in Texas impacted by these disastrous floods and of all those who are helping them. And I'm especially thinking of those who aren't helping because it's their job, or because they've been ordered to, but because they know it's the right thing to do.