Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Come a Tide

One of my favorite children's books is Kentucky author George Ella Lyon's Come a Tide. Not only does the characters' Appalachian dialect take me back home, but I can totally relate to the chaos and anxiety surrounding a flood.

The people of one of my many former hometowns, Falmouth, Kentucky, have been keeping a wary eye on the Licking River the last few days. While we did not see as much rain as those in Tennessee and southern Kentucky, we saw enough this weekend to make creeks rise and the "mighty" Licking, the tributary of the Ohio which runs up from our south, start to overrun its banks.

Falmouth residents have good reason to worry. It's only been 13 years since the big one, the flood that destroyed many of the homes in town and displaced most of the residents for weeks.

I should know; Jason was one of them.

The day they let us back into town after over 10 inches of rainfall caused waters to rise so fast that residents had to be evacuated from second floor windows by boat, I saw things I never want to see again. A house swept off its foundation and plopped whole, Wizard of Oz-style, in the middle of a street. A National Guardman calmly directed us around it; it was not the worst thing he had seen that day. White plastic grocery bags and other recognizable garbage items strewn in the top limbs of trees like a crazy person's Christmas tree decorations. And mud--everywhere the mud. Mud so thick it sucked the shoes off your feet and covered the grass like heavy snow and made the whole world brown.

We didn't think the town could ever get through it. No way could all that dirt be pushed out, swept up, re-absorbed by the saturated earth. No way could that many homes be torn out, gutted out, rebuilt.

But life goes on.

The last time we were there in Falmouth, making our almost-annual pilgrimage to the Wool Fest with our good friends (friends who should have been visiting Jason the weekend of the flood in 1997, but by the grace of God rescheduled their visit for the weekend before), the town looked beautiful. For the first time, there were no obvious signs that a flood had ripped a path of destruction across the main highway. If you were looking for it, you could see the high-water mark drawn on the blue bridge across the Licking that took us to the fairgrounds.

There if you looked for it; unremarkable, probably, to the casual tourists and Wool-Fest visitors who crossed the bridge that day. Unremarkable to those who didn't live through those horrible days and weeks when Falmouth's residents could be counted in the dozens and not the thousands and only those like Jason with second-floor apartments or houses set high on a hill could try to start living there again.

Jason and I sometimes talk about the year we spent together in Falmouth and the months he spent there by himself. Whether it's nostalgia talking or whether we were just young and naive at the time, we say that those were some of the best times of our lives. I think to myself after every Wool Fest that it might be nice to retire there in classic small-town America where life is quiet and moves just a hair slower than it does everywhere else.

But then the rains come, and like the folks who still live there, I feel an anxiety fueled by memories of rushing water and mud.

"Children, it'll come a tide."

I never want to go through that again. And my heart aches today for all those to our far south who are watching rising waters destroy their homes, their possessions, and their tangible memories.

To anyone who has ever gone through a flood or is watching the rivers today: God bless.

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