It is a surreal experience to watch helplessly as a river slowly rises encroaching upon your home. That’s exactly what happened to us in 1998, one of the wettest years on record for South Texas. The ground was still saturated from the rain that originated from Tropical Storm Charlie in late August. The humidity was as thick as pancake syrup. As soon as you left the indoor air conditioning you immediately became a perspiring mess. To make matters worse, we lived out in the country where swarms of mosquitoes would also be outside to greet you, the little vampires sucking your blood leaving itchy red bumps irritating your already aggravated mood in the sultry, stifling thick atmosphere. We lived in a lower lying area surrounded by hulking old oak trees that blocked the wind thus exacerbating the problem.
In late October, a hybrid storm system developed dumping torrential rains over South Texas. Widespread deadly flooding occurred. The network news showed constant updates about the major rivers’ movements. The most damage originated from the Guadalupe river which runs through San Antonio, passing through many smaller towns in its route to the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, our little river, the Tres Palacios, was no making the news reports. But that didn’t stop it from swelling over its banks in a slow, constant rise. In the past we had watched the river engulf the houses that sat on stilts beside it. That was a common occurrence after long, hard rains and a known hazard when you coincided next to the river.
We were surprised to see its continued swelling though. When the river waters began to touch the road in front of our house, a sense of foreboding overcame us. The water had never gone this far before. My husband had been through a flash flood when he was younger. He could still vividly remember having to wade out of his home in muddy water fleeing for safety beside angry floating fire ant beds and writhing snakes. He didn’t want a repeat performance so we packed some bags with enough clothes to last a week and drove our children to Grandma’s house for safekeeping on higher ground. We then went back to pack other items that we didn’t want to lose. Picture albums, irreplaceable mementos and other valuables were gathered with trepidation.
My brother-in-law, James arrived with his girlfriend and offers of assistance. When they walked up the steps of our porch I tried to lighten the somber scene by offering them some cold beer, “Hey y’all! Welcome to our flood party!” Chuckles and jokes about impending doom sprang forth as we surveyed our drenched property.
“We came dressed ready for ya to put us to work,” said James, pointing to their boots. “You trying to make some kind of fashion statement there?” James laughed at me because I was wearing boots with shorts and a tank top. He was of the opinion that you only wear boots with jeans.
“Hey, it’s hot here. I would prefer to keep my body cool rather than look cool.”
“Obviously,” James snickered.
They helped us carry our belongings as we all slogged through the rain soaked, muddy back yard to our truck. We had to park it on the road behind our house now because the river had already swallowed the road in front, and that included our driveway.
We prepared the inside of our house for the possibility of flooding. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was out but the river still steadily inched toward our house. Once we had completed our tasks, we took a break outside on our front deck. The river was now in our front yard only a few feet away from us. We attempted to squelch our anticipation and dread with another beer.
My husband put his arm around my shoulder and gently brushed a wet tendril of curly red hair from my face. I looked up at him and smiled, patting his chest with my hand, “Well, hey Babe, we always said we’d like to live right on the river. Now we do!” I’d rather laugh than cry.
We clinked beers as he grinned and replied, “I’ll drink to that.”
(For this assignment we were supposed to write a non-fiction piece about something that made the news and how it affected us by bringing our mental photograph of the moment to words. I had to think hard to find where something newsworthy actually touched me in such a way that I could bring it to life and more than just a few sentences! )