Flood of Emotions
“The levee just burst at Hamburg!” I looked up from my romance novel as my husband Joe snapped off the 6:00 news. “You know what that means don’t ya?”
“Yeah, it means those poor folks are going to have a mess in their basements.” I marked my page with a finger and glanced over at him sprawled in his recliner.
“More than that, honey. It means we’d better be packing up our stuff too. If that levee broke, the one up here north of town may go too.”
Inwardly I groaned as I looked around. Joe and I live on the garden level of a decent apartment complex in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We’re middle aged, childless, and we had a fair amount of stuff. You know how it accumulates over the years. The two bedroom ‘suite’ (I use the term loosely) and a garage, was stuffed with our worldly possessions. Located just about five miles from the Missouri River we enjoyed the quiet area and nearby park and golf course.
My name is Kay and I teach social studies at a nearby middle school and try to forget about it in the summer. It’s not that I don’t like teaching, it’s just that, I really like my summers off. Some smart aleck once said that teaching is a great profession because the hours are short, the summers are long and there is no accountability. I groaned when I heard that but there is some truth in the statement. Anyway, I digress.
It was now June and I was just getting settled into a comfortable vacation routine. Clean house a little, read a little, and cook healthy meals for Joe and myself. We’re both trying to lose 20 pounds, (who isn’t?) and exercise more. For me that means walking our Norwich Terrier, Gracie, around the neighborhood. Joe works construction so that means his exercise consists of going up and down ladders.
We have a comfortable, somewhat detached marriage and enough friends to pull together an impromptu barbeque or pizza and movie night. We don’t have a lot of money, the construction industry is soft but with my salary, we can pay our bills. The bank account is adequate and as long as my 16 year- old Blazer and his beat-up truck keep running we don’t have a car payment. Yeah, life is pretty good; not to Hollywood standards, but to good old middle- of-America standards. And hey, since that’s where I live I had no worries. But now…
Morning arrives and Joe heads off to work after slurping down orange juice, coffee and an enormous bowl of raisin bran- the two scoop kind. I linger over my coffee at the table but my thoughts are swirling. Are we really at risk? If I pack up this stuff where do we store it? Where will we go? I turn on the morning news and see that the flood level for the Missouri is 29 feet. Currently the river is at 35.2 feet. Hunh. This is more serious than I thought. I have a bad habit of tuning out the world in the summer and don’t read the paper or watch the news very often. Yes, we’ve had a lot of rain lately and there was a lot of snow in the mountains this past winter but flooding? Really? I grab my keys and head out the door. Gracie dancing around my feet, is excited to go for a car ride.
I head up to the highest point in Council Bluffs, a tall bluff known as Lewis and Clark Landing. Two hundred plus years ago the explorers stopped here and met with local Native Americans. Now a pretty tourist and picnic site, the landing offers a view of the Missouri River and the city of Omaha. I am not the only one there. Dozens of people are milling about and speaking in hushed whispers about the swollen river. It is higher and wider than I have ever seen in my 50 years of living here.
Roads drop off into water, sandbags are being piled up and parts of Interstate 80 are closed down due to flooding. Okay, time to quit stalling. Gracie and I head home with a stop for cardboard boxes and heavy duty tape. I punch in Joe’s cell number on my own phone and happen to catch him in his truck.
“Sweetie, I was just up at Lewis and Clark and…” “I know, I think we’d better pack up the apartment and the garage.” “I’m already on it. I’ve got the Blazer crammed with boxes but what do we do with all of this stuff? Where do we go? Joe, I’m scared.” My voice shook.
Joe’s voice softened, “Honey, it’ll be okay. It’s just stuff. What’s important is that we’re gonna be safe and we’ll figure this out together. Concete’s here, gotta go”.
I heard a click and was left with a dead line. For the first time in a long time Joe was warm and caring. Talking about us, as a team. Let me point something out. We get along well, but we are like a lot of couples, we often take each other for granted and sometimes we don’t really listen to one another. But today he’d picked up on something in my voice, some hesitation, some uncertainty. A warm glow ignited in my stomach and I pulled the car into the complex parking lot.
A couple hours later I had three piles in the spare room: toss, donate, pack. I was on a mission and making progress. It felt good. By dinner time the bedroom was stripped down to everything but the bed and a few changes of clothing in the closet.
Joe dragged in and surveyed the organized chaos. He waggled an eyebrow at me.
“Guess you got a plan Stan?”
“No need to be coy, Roy”, I retorted. One thing nice about being married to someone a long time, you understand their movie and song references.
He followed me into the kitchen and I offered him a cold Bud Light. We ate a simple meal of grilled chicken and salad and bowls of cold crisp watermelon. Afterwards, as he devoured brownies with whipped topping, I outlined our plan.
“We can store our stuff in my sister’s garage in west Omaha. She’s well away from any threat. I figure we’ll stay here with just the bare minimum. The bed, some clothes, the portable black and white…”
He groaned, but said nothing.
“Now Joe, you can live without your big screen T.V. for a couple of months.”
“Yeah, what about you and all those romance books and history books you’re always buried in? And all that cross-stitch stuff you’ve always fooling with. I mean, creating with.”
“Well, I made a big mound of books to donate to Goodwill and I know I’m never going to finish all those projects so they’re in the ‘pitch pile’. I can get by with my Kindle and one project. Actually it’s kind of a relief to get rid of all this stuff. Doesn’t the place look larger already?”
Joe glanced around and grinned. “I suppose you think I’m gonna do the same thing?”
“You are and right now.” I shoved a large cardboard carton in his hands and pointed to the front door.
“You get the joy of sorting through the garage and all your tools.”
“But I need them for work,” he protested.
“Then cram as much as you can in your truck tool boxes and store the rest.” I turned back to the kitchen to clean up the dinner dishes and feed Gracie. I heard the door shut behind him.
That night as we lay in bed Joe pulled me close. Something he hadn’t done in a long time. I snuggled against his broad chest and sighed softly.
“Kay, this could be a good thing. I’ve been thinking. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a vacation, a long time since we’ve had time together. Let’s take a few days, after we get packed up and go somewhere. Work is slow, I can get away. If we’re not extravagant we could go to Kansas City or Chicago and have a real vacation. Or we could go camping…”
“Camping,” I chortled, “Honey we’ll be camping here in this apartment.”
“Well then, we’ll just get away. What do you say to a few days in K.C.?”
“I say, yes!”
That night we were closer than we’d been in a long time and in a very good way. Blessings sometimes come disguised as problems. We woke the next day tangled in our sheets and grinning like naughty teenagers. Breakfast was late too.
After pushing Joe out the front door I resumed my cleaning, clearing and packing. Coming across odds and ends of stuff I didn’t even know I had made me wonder why I’d kept the stuff. Tacky souvenirs from Yellowstone, old chipped plates, scraps of ribbons that I guess would be turned in to something crafty , were gleefully added to the toss pile. I was feeling lighter already.
While I worked the drone of the television kept me company. Okay , so call me weird but I love old westerns. No actor today can hold a candle to John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart and I never get enough of those old movies. The plots were the same and the good guys wore white but at least you know who a good guy was because the bad guy was always Bruce Dern. But again, I digress.
At noon I switched to the local news to get a weather and flood update. The reports were not good. From what I could tell the water flow was being managed in South Dakota at Gavins Point Dam and the Army Corps of Engineers was not sure if levees up and down the river would hold. Never in the history of these structures had so much water flowed. They didn’t know what would happen and the situation would be this way all summer and into early fall.
I finished my peanut butter sandwich, washing it down with about a gallon of iced tea (did I mention I’m an iced tea addict) and scarfed the last brownie. Hey, I burned off a lot of calories packing, thank you. I went back to the task at hand and after another run for cardboard boxes, finished packing up our lives.
When Joe came home we ate a quick dinner of chef salads, crusty rolls and ice tea. He slurped a popsicle for dessert and we loaded up the truck and my Blazer. After three trips our stuff was safely stashed in my sister’s garage and we came home to a strangely quiet, yet clutter- free apartment.
“Hey, honey,” Joe said as he looked around. “Remind you of anything?”
I wiped a smudge of dirt off my face with a wrist and smiled. “Yes. It looks like our first apartment. Remember we had practically nothing, but man were we happy.”
“Yeah, we were, come here.” Joe pulled me close and Gracie jumped at our legs wanting some of the attention too. We turned slowly and surveyed the living room. It now contained two folding lawn chairs, a portable black and white T.V. on a milk crate and a slightly worn dog bed.
“All the comforts of home, I guess.”
Joe patted my back. “It’s just temporary Kay, by fall the threat will be over and God willing we won’t have suffered any damage. And hopefully no lives will be lost. Think of the thousands of others this is affecting. I think we’re getting off pretty easy.”
I just nodded in agreement. In the giant scheme of things this was nothing. In fact it just might be a new beginning for a lot of people. I know it is for us.
That night as I lay awake next to my gently snoring guy I was overcome with a flood of emotions. I was sad to think of the destruction that would come, the turmoil of people’s lives, and the inevitable lost of property and possessions but I was also glad of the changes for Joe and me. We had found each other again and, along with Gracie we were a family. Nothing else matters.
Authors Note: The summer of 2011 saw flooding along the Missouri River so significant that thousands of people were displaced and damages to home and property was well into millions of dollars.