The Gift that Restored Her Connection to the Father She Barely Knew

A massive flood had ruined the precious books that belonged to her late father. How could the irreplacable be replaced?

by
- Posted on Oct 24, 2017

Sharon treasures this book, her only volume from her late father’s library.

I left my purse and keys on the counter and headed to the computer. I needed to make dinner, but I’d just gotten home from work and wanted a breather. I logged onto Facebook and noticed I had one unread message. It was from Harold McKee, a friend from my college days at Indiana University.

“Hey, Sharon,” Harold wrote. “I was cleaning my attic and found something I borrowed from you when we lived in Willkie Quad. I know you and Mike lost a lot of stuff in the flood of ’08, so you’ll be happy to get this back. I put it in the mail a couple days ago.”

I wondered what Harold had found. Maybe it was my Beatles’ White Album, which had mysteriously disappeared from my dorm room all those years ago. I suspected someone had made off with it. Well, at least I’d have one of my old records back. The rest of my collection of albums from the late ’60s had met a watery demise.

I logged off Facebook and went to the kitchen. My husband, Mike, and I had lost our home and most of our personal possessions in the worst recorded flood in Indiana history. News reports that summer had called it a once-in-500-years event. I just hoped it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Sometimes it felt as if we were still recovering.

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The morning after the flood had been hot and humid. Mike and I hadn’t slept. We’d spent the night at his mother’s. Luckily, her house sat on higher ground. The sound of helicopters and sirens had kept us awake. Cable was out. Phones didn’t work. No paper delivery. What would we find at home? By the time we picked up some bottled water and walked back to our house, the sun was high and the stench of the flood was heavy in the air. Mike was waylaid by neighbors. I headed to our back patio to assess the damage.

It was unbelievable. Our terraced backyard was totally underwater. Several inches of murky water still covered our upper patio. The once peaceful lagoon—the centerpiece of our quiet neighborhood—was now a muddy lake, at least 10 feet higher than normal. Our storage shed, thrown off its foundation, bobbled like a child’s toy in the floodwater.

I wiped sweat from my forehead and leaned down to pluck a book out of the mess. Half the pages fell off, spiraling back into the muck on the patio. I examined what was left and realized it was one of my late father’s books. I took a sharp breath and tiptoed to the edge of the patio to check out our lower level. The doors of our walkout basement were gone, torn off their hinges by the force of the flood. Water was up to the ceiling in our family room. Our library? Destroyed.

Nausea swept over me. The loss of a lifetime collection of books was bad enough, but the realization that all my father’s books were gone was devastating. My father had died suddenly when I was a toddler. I had few memories of him, but he’d left behind a massive library I hungrily explored. Reading his books was how I got to know him.

He’d had everything from classic literature to hard-boiled detective novels. And they weren’t flimsy paperbacks but cloth- or leather-bound treasures. My mother moved around quite a bit while we were growing up, and once my siblings and I moved out, she told me she couldn’t cart around Daddy’s library anymore. I took six or so books, and the rest of them were divided up among family, friends and donations. The books in my library had been all I had left of my father. Now there was nothing to tie us together.

I turned to God in anger. “Why, Lord?” I asked. “Why?” I felt hands on my shoulders. It was Mike. I collapsed into his arms, his chin resting on top of my head.

“Mike, our books are gone. All of them. Daddy’s, too.”

He sighed. “We’ll get through this,” he said.

I didn’t see how. Most of our books could be replaced but not Daddy’s.

It was a long, difficult summer, but good things happened too. The Red Cross brought in meals. Contractors and other suppliers gave generous discounts to flood victims. Our church family rallied around us, helping us clean and pack what was left of our belongings. My book discussion group gave me a “book shower,” to help replenish our library.

Seven months after the flood, Mike and I moved back home. Our rebuilt house looked beautiful. We had much to be thankful for. We’d made it through a tough year. We stood in our living room that January morning, admiring the new bookcases filled with volumes given to us by friends and family. Mike pulled me close. “We made it,” he said. I nodded but didn’t say a word. Mike seemed to be coping fine. I was happy to be home, but I still grieved over Daddy’s lost books, as if my connection to him had receded along with the floodwaters.

Friends said we were lucky to be alive, that we could get new “stuff.” How could I tell them that some things were too precious to ever be replaced? How could I restore the bond I once felt with my father?

Just then the doorbell rang, pulling me back to the present and the dinner I should be making. I wiped my hands and headed to the front door. It was the package from Harold. No, not a record album. The size wasn’t right. I shook the package. No noise. I ripped it open and caught my breath. It was a novel by H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure. I remembered reading it in high school, but I didn’t remember lending it to Harold.

I opened the clothbound book carefully. On the first page was my father’s bookplate, “From the Library of Herman Drach.” I sat down on the front steps, overwhelmed with emotion.

I stayed there for a long while, leafing through the book, luxuriating in the fragrance of the old pages. Then I carried Daddy’s book into the house, to our living room and our new bookcases. I slid the book gently onto a shelf, feeling a wave of peace. To someone else, it might be just “stuff.” To me it was a symbol of hope, a reminder that nothing is ever truly lost.

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