Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Suburban Man: A Perfect Storm

By Rick Kaempfer

It was the worst storm to hit my home town in more than 40 years.

We were lucky. We only lost our power for 48 hours and our phone service for 72 hours. We didn’t get flooded, and we didn’t lose any trees.

My mom’s house, about two miles south of us, was not nearly as lucky. Her 50-year-old maple tree snapped like a twig, shooting branches onto her roof, her phone lines, her fence, and her neighbor’s yard.

If you ever wanted to see the effects of a tornado-like windstorm, my mom’s neighborhood is like a living weather laboratory. As you drive down the east-west street and look down each of the north-south streets, you can see a perfect line of fallen trees, mid-block, block after block after block. It looks like God was playing tree dominoes.

Unfortunately for my mom, her house was also mid-block.

Her power went out (and is still out five days later), which caused the sump pumps to fail, and caused the basement to flood. By the time she could pump out the basement, the sewer system couldn’t handle all the water at once, and backed up into her toilets—which then flooded her first floor too.

It was a nasty mess. We spent most of the weekend there helping her clean up inside and outside her home.

And you know what? It was kind of fun.

A funny thing happens to a neighborhood when everyone doesn’t have power for several days. It brings out your sense of community.

After that first night of no power, one of her neighbors lent her an extra generator. My mom, in turn, let her other neighbor hook up their sump pump to the generator too, and soon all three of them were able to pump out their basements.

Once the generators had pumped out the basements, a neighbor hooked up a chainsaw to start chopping up the huge chunks of her tree. The branches had come down with such force, that some of them were buried a foot deep in her lawn. People from up and down the street showed up to help us pull the branches out of the ground, chop them up, and carry them across the street into the park (where the village told us to put the fallen trees).

Once we had cleared off the lawn, I climbed onto Mom’s roof with a hand saw and cut the branch that had fallen onto the roof into small enough pieces that could also be lifted and carried across the street.

It took the better part of five hours to clean everything up, but without the help of a dozen or so neighbors, we would still be at it five days later.

That was the fun part.

There’s a certain amount of comfort that comes from knowing that when the going gets tough, your neighbors will be there—just as they know that you will be there for them. It’s what makes it a neighborhood.

And it’s why I don’t worry so much about my widowed mother living by herself anymore.

She’s far from alone.