Archive for June 13, 2008

Homegrown flood perspective

A boat makes its way down a flooded street near downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 12, 2008.    How do you describe the devastation to someone not experiencing these floods?

   Journalists typically pursue the Big Story with an excited fervor, but when it happens in your hometown – to your hometown – the news feels like a crushing blow to the stomach.

   There was the Time Check neighborhood completely under water, where my son played soccer this spring. Where I had interviewed Doug Ward this week for a story about his Ellis A&W restaurant’s anniversary – the oldest drive-in in Cedar Rapids. Where we had done what little we could to help co-worker Kathy Alter evacuate from her home with her mother. I still have her knitting – dozens of items she created for charity – in the trunk of my car. Kathy said it’s practically all that’s left from her home.

   There was the Cedar Rapids Public Library, where my children regularly begged me to take them – yes, for computer games, but also for the summer reading program, research for school projects and DVDs to check out, all perhaps taken too much for granted. The first thing my younger son asked was if the Harry Potter books had survived. Could anything survive that surge of water from the Cedar River?

   There was the stately St. Wenceslaus Church, where members tried to save historic artifacts by moving them up from the basement. I had intended to take pictures of my son serving Mass at the 104-year-old church, sometime soon. It was under the flood of water, as well.

   There was Czech Village, with its landmark National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library; Polehna’s meat market with its distinctive savory scent, historic Sykora’s, the bakery everyone had been waiting on to re-open; and the restaurants and bars that have been longtime neighborhood hang-outs. All under the swell of water. There was 20-plus year Czech School teacher Bessie Dugena’s t-shirt and souvenir shop, which my sons and I had sandbagged – a futile effort, it turned out – and her house just a block away.

   And then there was the home where my mother, Dorothy Martens, still lived on Hamilton Street, just blocks from Czech Village and until Thursday, seemingly nowhere near the river. The sidewalks where we rode our bikes as kids under a canopy of trees and the wide porches where neighbors would chat on warm summer evenings, all became part of the Cedar River this week. I’m in northeast Cedar Rapids. Mom’s across the river, so I can’t easily reach her to give her a hug.  

   I did talk to her today. Like other Iowans who have lost their homes, she’s had her low moments, but calls from relatives and friends, including a cousin in California, have buoyed her spirits. As usual, her first thoughts are with others. “I keep thinking of all the rest of Cedar Rapids,” she said. “It’s a house and we had some good years in it.” Somehow we’ll carry on.

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