Saturday, June 14, 2008

Decluttering by Flood - Part Two

Here are some pictures of the storage unit, the first taken when I opened the door, others after we'd cleared it out some:

This plastic box was lying on the floor right in front. I was amazed that it was dry inside, so right away I knew that I had at least whatever is in here saved:
Two similar plastic boxes did not fare well.

Roy (Roy is one of Patrick's best friends and has been working for me on and off as my 'personal assistant) worked tirelessly to help me save what could be saved. I am so very grateful to him for the way he worked, putting up graciously with the moments when I just had to show him something and tell him a story evoked by the object - that happened most often when it was something that had to be tossed. It was a way of honoring the thing that would be lost, and maybe a way of preserving it by passing on its story to another.

It took us about three hours to get to the point where it was obvious that everything left in the unit was soaked through with the nasty flood water. At that point, we decided to take a break, get something to eat. Then it would be time to tackle my other storage unit.

First we decided to just take a look at it. It was one of those roll-up doors and it was very hard to move. Roy did get it open about 2 feet -- many things were pressing up against it, soaked books tumbled out...

I decided right then that I was finished. We pulled down that door and walked away. I signed off on the units, preferring to just let go of what was in mine. It was mostly books and art magazines - not my better stock, or I wouldn't have kept it in this sort of storage unit. I also had a few personal things in there, but I don't remember exactly what. It's better that I don't.

I'm going to close this entry with a journal entry I wrote the next day.

June 12, 2008 10:30 AM
This morning the tag on my teabag says:

“I make the most of all that comes. And the least of all that goes.” Sara Teasdale 1884-1933

(ST was one of my mother’s favorites.)

In any case, that little quote is quite pertinent to my life right now and I will do well to remember it.

Yesterday I spent 3 grueling hours in the hot sun, clearing out my mother’s storage unit. It had been filled with 3-4 feet of water. It was a terrible mess and much was lost, but that makes the items saved more precious. I wound up being able to save a wee bit more than I expected. I had just assumed that the only items that might be safe were in the two huge plastic garbage cans at the back of the unit, marked “family history.” Those indeed were dry (several dozen plastic bags in each, filled with papers, though I think it is not the “best” family history stuff.)

I was also able to retrieve a handful of other papers,that were in a plastic bag and had not gotten wet inside. In that was:
a copy of my mother’s birth certificate, a 1952 letter from my Great Aunt Anna May (Auntie) to my grandmother saying all sorts of nice things about the months-old me, a charming letter from Mom to Dad in 1962 detailing her perennial difficulty with housework, a sweet and poignant 1944 letter from Dad pleading with Mom to let him know for sure where he stood with her....

And I also found the small photograph of my grandfather as a young man and a little booklet of his poetry that I had found when we were beginning to sort at the unit last week before the flood.

In addition, there was a box of scrapbooks and notebooks Mom had been compiling. At first, I nearly tossed the whole box - it was soaked. But I pulled out the scrapbooks and only the edges of them seemed damp. So I set them out in the sun while we worked.

I am so glad - they are books filled with my mother’s earliest published writings, my parents’ wedding album, a notebook of Mom’s correspondence, the album started when Dad died. I also managed to save a few very old pictures, of my great-grandfather (in a wheelchair in what I believe was the conservatory of their villa in Nice circa 1890), my Aunt Suzanne (Hooty), Aunt Nell, my grandmother and her sister Eleanora (who died in 1904.) Ah, just an amazing jumbled-up assortment of family memorabilia.

I could pretend the flood jumbled it all up, but the truth is that no one ever organized these papers (though my mother made some efforts here and there) and a hundred-plus years and a few interstate moves acted like one of those giant tumblers used to mix up entries in contests.

All is well.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Decluttering by Flood-Part One

With that title, I don't want to make light of losses by flood - we were in one in 1993, in which we waded out of our apartment and never went back there to live. In comparison to the devastating losses I'm seeing in our community right now, our material losses were minimal. But the experience was traumatic enough for me to be able to feel that I have a pretty good idea of what one feels when the water rises inexorably and goes where it wants to go and takes away what it wants to take.

We had 7 inches of rain here in Terre Haute last Friday night/Saturday morning. I awoke to a reverse 911 call telling me the county was in a State of Emergency, all roads closed, and that we were to stay home. I went to look down in the basement and saw the damp sheen of a layer of water on the floor, headed towards the drain/sump pump.

It was never anything measurable in my basement. I spent some five hours on and off with a 5 gallon shop vac, filling and emptying it some 10 times. As the rain stopped, the results of my efforts began to show as spots here and there stayed dry. This wasn't flood water in my basement. This was an incursion of rain water through the ground and foundation, something that happened when rain was particularly heavy, though it happened much less once we replaced our gutters with extra-wide ones. There were certain vulnerable spots where I keep spill pillows - 4 foot snake-like tubes filled with a material that will absorb a gallon of water.

This event, however, overcame the gutters, the snakes, and left me with a very cluttered basement to dry - a task I'm doing with Roy, and my de-humidifier, bleach water and Lysol. Luckily, most shelving and bins are up on small blocks of 2X4's.

Sometime during the day on Saturday I realized that I was going to face a bigger problem. I was hearing that the whole area was heavily flooded where I have two storage units. One was full of books and a few personal things. The other was the unit where everything was stored of my mother's from her home in Florida and trailer in North Carolina.

I had just been out there the week before, beginning the task of sorting through. There was a stunning amount of paper - family history items going back to the 1800s, photographs, letters, documents, and a vast amount of my mother's files and writing. The trilogy of novels which my father was writing were also in there.

It was Monday before was able to get through to the road the storage facility was on. The road was clear, but....

....this is as close as I could get to the units:

I thought I could see that the whole door to Mom's unit was visible, but watermarks on the buildings showed that it had been 3-4 feet high along the walls.

I went back home, to work on the basement. As we moved things and cleaned, I began to fill boxes with things to go to Freecycle or Goodwill. I kept trying not to think of the losses in the storage units, but trying to find a way to think about it that would create a positive result.

The week before, I had been truly stressed at the volume of Stuff that I was going to have to deal with. I did not want to bring it to my home for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the respiratory problems that old paper gives me. All this was stored improperly for decades, in a garage in South Florida. It was laden with the leavings of a variety of paper-munching insects.

The task of sorting and properly perserving this treasure trove of family history seemed a monumental task which I wasn't sure I even wanted to try. And certainly, I'd need to find a place to do it. There was no way I could work through the summer heat right at the storage unit.

Well, one thing the flood had done was to give me the answer to that dilemma. Right after I took the picture above, I went to rent another storage unit. I knew that I'd need some place to take anything I could salvage. This unit is indoors, climate-controlled. It's where I have Patrick's things stored. It stayed dry and safe during this flood.

Roy and I were able to get into the units yesterday. And that will be Part Two of this saga.