God's Comfort in the Midst of Despair
With their beloved home ravaged by Hurricane Irene, a couple's faith is put to the test.
I pushed against the back door of our house again, hard. No luck. It wouldn’t budge. The humidity from the flood had swollen the wood. My husband, Vince, had gone in through the front. As I waited, I told myself, Maybe it won’t be that bad. It was half hope and half prayer. Something told me, though, it was going to be bad. Real bad.
Two days earlier, on August 28, we’d evacuated Schoharie, our village of 1,000 in central New York, fleeing Hurricane Irene, which had swept up the East Coast, transforming streams into raging rivers.
The village was like a war zone. Shops wrecked, houses crumpled, nearly every one owned by someone we knew. Lampposts uprooted. An oil tank lay on its side. Debris everywhere.
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Still I hoped we’d been spared. We didn’t live in the flood plain. The Schoharie Creek, usually a gentle, flowing stream, runs three-quarters of a mile from us. The last flood, in ’96, left a foot of water in our basement. That we could deal with.
“Let me get that for you,” a voice said. My neighbor. He came up the steps, turned the knob and threw his weight into the door. It opened.
I stepped through the doorway and froze. This can’t be my kitchen! My eyes darted from the floor to the countertops. Everything covered with a rank brown ooze. My legs buckled. I grabbed for the door, steadied myself. Covering my mouth and nose, I walked inside. My sneakers slipped in the muck.
What happened to the fridge? I spotted it, leaning over, blocking the way into the dining room. Vince peeked over the top of it. He was ashen.
“We lost everything on the first floor,” he said. “The water must’ve been at least five feet deep here.” Vince pushed the refrigerator over with his foot. It landed with a thud.
“Everything?” I said. I stared blankly around the room in...what was it? Shock? Utter disbelief?
“There’s mud everywhere,” he said. “My organ’s ruined, all my sheet music, your sewing machines, the fabric, your quilting books...”
“But...” It just didn’t seem possible. This house had stood since the 1850s. We had bought it not long after we married and we built our lives here—raised our daughters, Jenny and Stephanie, filled the place with memories.
I felt sick. Vince is the organist at church, his reed organ in the living room a treasured antique. I loved listening to him play while I quilted. All the things I’d collected over the years—the handcrafted wooden baskets, the beautiful felt angels in the corner cabinet, my autographed children’s books from teaching first grade.
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We’d never be able to replace them. We didn’t have flood insurance. We lived simply on our teachers’ pensions—Vince had taught elementary school band and choir—and Social Security.
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
“We’ll start over,” Vince said. I wondered if he believed it. Did I?
This wasn’t how I’d imagined our retirement, with next to nothing to call our own.
“You work on emptying the kitchen and I’ll start in the living room,” Vincesaid. “I don’t want you coming out here. It’s too dangerous.”
By late afternoon the back deck was piled with plates and glasses, crockery, my mixer and waffle iron (the wiring ruined by the water), baking tins, table and chairs, garbage bags stuffed with food from the fridge. It was nearly dark when we finished, right before the 8:00 P.M. public safety curfew.