I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of rain pounding the roof and was glad Stan had fixed the leak last month. I looked to the clock on my nightstand, but its face was dark.
“Stan,” I whispered. “I think the power is —”
I stopped myself and closed my eyes, took a long breath and turned toward his pillow, empty and undisturbed. I rolled over and placed my hand on it, ran my fingers over the soft cotton. I listened to the rain in the darkness and sighed.
In the morning, the sun shone through the bedroom window, and I could hear the birds, probably out pecking at the wet grass after last night’s heavy rainfall. The clock-face was still dark. I rose from the bed and put on my robe and slippers.
Halfway down the hall, I saw the water.
“No,” I said. “Oh, no-no-no-no-no.”
I stopped above the two steps at the end of the hall. Magazines and newspapers floated atop two inches of standing water. I carefully stepped down into it and went to the basement door in the kitchen and paused with my hand on the doorknob, knowing what I would find, wishing it wouldn’t be so.
“I pulled open the door and confirmed my fears—the basement was flooded.”
Staring into the deep, dark water, my mind flashed to everything stored down there: Stan’s workshop and tools; boxes with a lifetime of keepsakes and photos; financial records and files; the shoebox of letters he’d written to me from his time in Vietnam, professing his love, promising to marry me when he returned from the war. All likely damaged or destroyed.
After he’d fixed the leaky roof, Stan was planning to tackle the busted sump pump in the basement, and it had become one of those things I’d forgotten about.
I went to the kitchen table and sat down, barely aware of my feet soaking in the standing water. I stared at a picture of us on the refrigerator door. It was only three weeks since Stan had passed. As I sat there looking at our photo, I thought about the last month, all that had happened. So much of my world taken away.
“What now, Stan?” I said to the photo as my grief swelled.
My phone was on my dresser, and I tried to think of who I could call. On the refrigerator beside the picture was a magnet advertising Ottawa County’s 2-1-1 service. I stood and waded back toward the hallway, praying that the phone still had battery life.
It wasn’t long before the volunteers dispatched by 2-1-1 arrived to help with flood cleanup. They told me that the City of Port Clinton had declared a state of emergency overnight after the heavy rainfall closed down roads and flooded businesses and homes.
In the days that followed, I tried not to dwell on all that had been “washed away” or ruined.
Some could be replaced, like the refrigerator and many of my other appliances. Others, not so much. After the water was removed from the basement and main floor, they were able to go down and survey the damage. Most everything in the basement was destroyed. So many keepsakes and memories of the life Stan and I had lived—gone.
I sat at the kitchen table as volunteers carried items outside to the curb for the city’s free garbage pick-up.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” a voice called to me.
One of the volunteers was standing at the basement door. He was holding something wrapped in a plastic bag. “I just talked to my friend at United Way. Don’t worry about the appliances. They have an emergency disaster fund that will help you with that.”
As he spoke, I kept looking at the bag in his hands and realized what it was. For a moment, I lost my breath. He walked toward me and placed the bag on the table.
“And, these seem to be okay,” he said. “The shoebox they were in is ruined, but these letters were sealed and dry.”
I ran my hand over the bag, then reached out and took the young man’s hand.
“Thank you,” I said, catching my breath. “Thank you for saving these.” Touching the dry envelopes I smiled for the first time in days as the memories of Stan came flooding back.
*This blog post is based on a true story / success narrative from United Way of Ottawa County. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s successes and struggles.