The Great Fourth of July Flood and Other Tales

by cindy

Holidays. Everyone loves holidays. In this family, holidays tend to bring a unique level of chaos. I refer to certain crises as “party games” for, if nothing else, the crisis of the day later becomes fodder for entertainment and laughter. I remember a Thanksgiving years and years ago when I was just entering adulthood. It was one of the first holidays where I was allowed to work with the other women in my grandmother’s kitchen rather than being scooted off to “watch” the younger children.

The women of my family were famously good cooks and prided themselves on their ability to calmly present veritable feasts at any gathering regardless of the number of folks present. Mom-mom, my dad’s mother and the matriarch of the family, was clearly in charge of her kitchen. All the other females hovered around, responding to her orders. On this particular Thanksgiving, the turkey, the piece de resistance, was the last thing to be placed on the table. I remember standing inside the small country kitchen beside my mother, my older sister, my aunt and my cousin as Mom-mom lifted the turkey from the oven and onto the counter, placing the bird on her best large serving platter.

With a smile of pride and satisfaction, she held the loaded platter and turned around to face us, ready to march out to the dining room where the men-folk and children waited, forks in hands.

As she turned, however, the turkey…slid…off the platter…and…onto the kitchen floor. Twenty-odd pounds landed with a greasy splat.

After a second of stunned silence, she whispered, “Oh no! Dear Jesus in Heaven, now what? What are we going to do?”

When there was no immediate response from the older women in that kitchen, I gently removed the platter from my grandmother’s hands, stooped down, rested the platter on the floor, and scooped that damn turkey back onto the plate. “If we don’t tell, they’ll never know,” I declared. That Thanksgiving dinner was punctuated by mysterious giggles as the turkey, floor grit and all, was consumed by the hungry crowd. Best Turkey Ever.

While I have yet to drop a turkey, some of our holidays have been blessed by clogged sinks, broken appliances, or electrical black-outs. Party games, all. There’s a reason why I keep the wine rack and liquor cabinet fully stocked: I am ready for any and all household emergencies.

Our most recent holiday, July 4th, was a typical summer celebration. Almost all the family was in. The only persons missing from our core was Favorite Son-in-Law, who remained in Brooklyn for work and York Daughter-in-Law, who remained at home nursing a sinus infection. Neither had a clue as to the party game they were about to miss.

The afternoon had been spent in the pool. The Peanut and the Rooster loved being in the water, enveloped with loving attention from grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. Dinner was to be a simple one: corn on the cob, slaw, salads, biscuits and honey, and chicken on the grill. Dear Dave was in charge of grilling and the rest of us—the women, mostly—set the table on the porch outside. As the chicken finished, Dear Dave brought the meat into the house where we placed the pieces on my best large serving platter. I quickly took the grill grates into our laundry room, which adjoins the kitchen, and placed them into the laundry sink, adding plenty of detergent and running the hot water spigot to fill the tub. The charcoal and chicken-skin encrusted grates were in dire need of a soaking before scrubbing them clean. And that, I decided, could wait until later.

The laundry tub is fairly deep and takes several minutes to fill, so I dashed back to the kitchen to pull the biscuits from the oven. I certainly wouldn’t want the biscuits to burn, you know.

So the water ran.

And it ran.

And ran some more.

Have I ever mentioned that I am easily distracted? No? Well, I am. Dreadfully easily distracted.

Our dinner was lovely. Laughter. Chatter. Happy babies. Happy big folks. Good food. Relaxed. No rush to finish. Just a wonderful family gathering. A gathering of the Norman Rockwell variety. An ‘all is right with the world’ kind of gathering. A ‘tuck this one in your memory bank’ gathering. One of the best ever, I would say.

When the Peanut began to fret, Dear Dave, beloved Baba, was fast on his feet, taking her in his arms and walking her around. Outside. Inside. Back outside to the porch where the rest of us were continuing our feast. His words jolted me from my reverie: “Cindy! THERE’S WATER…!!!”

I love my children for many reasons. One reason, however, stands above the rest: my children have a connection with me that transcends words. All they need to see is a certain look on my face or a certain movement from my body, and they spring into action. No questions asked. No words exchanged. A ready response to what others would call a crisis. In our case, a crisis may well be another Party Game. And this game involved water. Lots of it.

There was water E V E R Y W H E R E.

Yes. I had forgotten the laundry tub. The water had continued to run for well over an hour. The laundry room was flooded. The kitchen too. The basement below was virtually a pool which turned out to be a blessing because that pool could easily have flowed through the kitchen and and into family room. The bulk of the water had managed to seep through whatever crevice was cut for the dryer exhaust. That alone helped keep the water from reaching the family room, sending it down below instead.

My kids—and in that I am including my Chicago daughter-in-law who is still trying to adapt to our particular brand of chaos—sprang into action. The freezer, washer, and dryer were pulled from the wall. Towels appeared from every part of the house. Water was sopped up, squeezed out, and squeegeed with urgent efficiency. Even the Rooster lent a hand. Energized by the call to action, he located a “fwashwight” in the pantry. “Guys, guys!! HEY GUYS!! I found a fwashwight and it works and I’m wooking for more water!” And off he scampered to all the unaffected rooms in the house. He even went into the front living room where Dear Dave, still gripping the Peanut, was trying to decide whether to kill me or not. The man was not at all happy.

This telepathic connection I share with my children has presented itself often over the years. Most memorable, however, is the Screen Door Disaster. We used to own a very small, shoe-box sized ocean front condo. It became more work than its worth over time, but before we tired of it, we spent winter weekends there when we could and summer vacation as well.

It was a bit of a battle—well, pretty much a constant battle—to keep the sliding screen door that separated the interior from the balcony closed. Dear Dave, in particular, was frustrated when any of us failed to close the screen behind us. “You’re letting the flies in, dammit!” And it would be fair to say that we tended to forget to close it more often than not.

It was this tendency to forget the door that made the evening of the Screen Door Disaster so memorable. Having cleaned and packed our stuff in preparation for departure in the morning, we took some time to savor our last night at the beach. The ocean breeze was gentle and cool. The sky was lit up with diamond-like stars. The waves gently rolled in and out. One by one, we ventured onto the little balcony for a last look, trying to soak up all the sounds and sights and smells that accompany the ocean. I still sigh at the memory of standing there, quietly with Dear Dave and our three children. Happy. Relaxed. Grateful. Norman Rockwell.

To this day, I do not know which child had been the last one out onto the balcony but I do know that Dear Dave was the first to go in.

And the last child to have come out had, for once, dutifully pulled the screen across the entrance.

The screen that Dave walked right into.

The thin aluminum frame popped out of its track. When the kids and I heard the crash—and no doubt some very special language too—we whipped around to see Dave tangled up inside the screening, the metal frame still bouncing on the floor, the wheels at the bottom still spinning wildly. And we knew instinctively not to laugh. Yet.

Without a word to each other, we burst into the apartment, over the tangle of metal, mesh and man, scrambling to make it to the rear bedroom before bursting out in hysteria. As we fled the scene, we could hear Dave yelling, “@$#&*@)!! IT’S NOT FUNNY!! $@#&!! DON’T YOU DARE LAUGH!! DAMMIT! #$$%&@&#!!!

So we closed the bedroom door first.

I might add that once we could safely face the mess without resuming our giggles—and it took a while—we found that, other than his pride, Dave was unhurt. His profile, however—face and belly—was indelibly stamped in the screen mesh. For some reason, he did not want to keep it as a momento. Odd.

It makes one wonder what is in store for the next holiday, doesn’t it? As for the flood, all is well. We kept the fans running to dry the area overnight. Fortunately the wood floors did not buckle or bend. It took me two days to finish laundering all the towels. And Dear Dave? Well, his sense of humor is returning slowly. I might wait a few weeks before letting him read this post. To my children and children-in-law, thank you. From the bottom of my soggy socks, I thank you for your eager and efficient help and grins and giggles that made the work bearable. I do so love you all.