Labun Jordan: Flood Loss

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(HOST) In the midst of news reports on the hardest hit regions
post-Irene, Commentator Helen Labun Jordan is thinking of the most
common flooding experience; the loss of personal property that held
sentimental, not monetary, value.

(LABUN JORDAN) As Vermonters
tally the impact of this weekend’s flood, I’m lucky. My only list is of
the food I made with friends from a backyard harvest we collected as the storm arrived  then turned into pesto, salsa, elderberry juice and crab
apple liqueur.

I wasn’t so lucky in last spring’s flash floods.
Then I shared with my friends the common post-storm accounting of
property lost. It began like this:

"I now realize why it’s a bad
idea to make up for failed housecleaning in the moments before a party
by dumping all stray items into boxes and stashing them out of sight in
the basement. The fact of the matter is: basements flood. And sometimes
they flood before you remember to reclaim the things you’ve hidden down

Unfortunately, that basement was also filled with the
last of the unpacked boxes from my old house, the ones that held my life
in artifacts from babyhood to college.

I lost my diplomas but
not my Princeton Beer Jacket, thank goodness. I lost the little books my
mother made from cardboard & wall paper samples before I learned to
write, she’d take dictation as I told about the adventures of my teddy
bear and then I’d scribble in the illustrations. Later I became my own
scribe. I found one story labeled as written by my sister and edited by
me; based on memories from that time I have to assume the editing
process involved a great deal of hair pulling and some amount of biting.
There was the playbill from La Cebolla – a musical about onions written
and performed by a group of Newbury kids had composed and performed one
summer; a treasure box I’d filled with willow buds back when I believed
their soft shells were unicorn’s fur caught on a tree; the board game
Piggy that I’d invented after reading Interstellar Pig, neatly folded
into a game box alongside the typewritten letters I’d sent looking for a
publisher. More things than I had ever realized that I cared about were
gone underwater.

I wished I’d insured against this loss – at
least some of the papers could have been saved with a simple digital
back up. Later, a colleague who had actually made an online archive of
family mementos, warned that it’s a good instinct, but months of tedious
cataloging quickly taught him just how much more important it is to
enjoy the moment. The sad side of this truism is that there’s also no
such thing as a foolproof archive; some moments are simply gone once
they’ve happened.

My experience was with the most common flood
loss: property whose value lay in the memories it held. And I learned
that sentimental things are still just things . . . the difference is
that we replace them through creating new moments to value, even as
records of past ones disappear. Today I’m so fortunate that my memories
include being safe from the storm, plucking basil leaves at the kitchen
table while the rain fell outside.

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