Flooded with empathy

Our family has been blessed to have enjoyed the frequent and extended use of a cozy vacation home up in the breathtaking setting of Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras.  When my parents originally bought this second home, 312 miles north of here, it was surrounded by empty lots on a street that backs up to National Forest land and only a shuttle stop away from one of Mammoth Mountain’s major ski lodges.  Today, most of those empty lots are now filled property-line to property-line with huge, multi-story “Mountain Mansions” that effectively dwarf our family’s small, two-story log home.
Nevertheless, over the years, we’ve enjoyed so many weekends and vacations and holidays up there, in our small home, that we take each new, massively-overbuilt development in stride and are grateful when they only fell one or two trees to build the monstrosities.
And yet, all of our memories of Mammoth are not happy ones. Tragedy came to visit our high-altitude home-away-from-home only this past winter. One of our sons drove up late on a Friday night in early February with some friends to enjoy a snowboarding weekend and one of the deepest snowpacks in years.
In the darkness, he unlocked and opened the front door to the family home expecting to walk into a cold, slightly musty, but very familiar and welcoming living room. Instead, he stepped onto several inches of standing water and a saturated carpet.  There was a waterfall dripping from the main overhead beam dividing the living room and kitchen, and all the cabinets in the kitchen had warped doors and soggy contents.  Appliances and furniture were completely saturated – and that was just the downstairs.
Upstairs, where a copper pipe-joint inside a wall had failed (not due to the cold as happens so often in severe winter climates – but rather simply time and faulty materials or workmanship) in one of the bathrooms, the damage continued. The floors in two bedrooms were warping and soggy. Furniture sat in water. Interior walls throughout the house were like cardboard that had been left in the rain. Wiring had shorted out.
When our son called home in a panic upon discovering the devastation, I could hear in his voice the pain and anguish at the loss to our family. The sound of his despair – and the frustration I felt at being 300 miles away and unable to help – is something I will never forget.
Thankfully, the home had decent insurance. Although the process has taken the better part of the year, plus yeoman’s work and an extensive investment of personal time on my sister’s part in being the family’s point-person to deal with contractors and all the frustrations that come with that responsibility, as of now, the house is finally, at long last, back to livable, useable condition.
Furniture has been replaced.  The kitchen and all bathrooms were rebuilt from the 2×4 studs out. New wiring and lighting were installed, along with all new appliances.  Even the downstairs windows had to be replaced because water had seeped between the double panes, staining the wood and glass beyond repair.
New flooring and carpeting was put down. Walls were rebuilt and painted. In short, almost everything except the outside log walls had to be either repaired or replaced.
During the months of construction and decision-making and second-guessing and cost-overruns and material delays and contractor snafus and Murphy’s Law events I often thought about what our Crescenta Valley neighbors must have gone through during last winter’s rainstorms and flooding. I mean, it’s one thing to sit in your dry, warm living room watching TV footage of water running through someone else’s home and thinking “that’s too bad.” It’s another thing entirely to have that water running through your own home leaving mud, mold and mayhem in its wake.
Even though our disaster “only” involved a vacation home hundreds of miles away, I, for one, will never take a dry carpet for granted again.
I’ll see you ‘round town.

Jim Chase is an award-winning advertising copywriter and lifetime CV resident. Find him online at www.wordchaser.com.