God with Skin On

You Just Never Know.

Like the rest of the country, I’ve been watching the news in horror as fires consume parts of California wine country and thousands of people’s homes. And all this after the summer wildfires hit Oregon/Washington/Montana, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and the Las Vegas shooter hit concertgoers.

Several times I’ve started to respond to my California friends’ Facebook evacuation posts with a statement like, “I have a spare room in Florida if anyone wants to evacuate from California.”

But then I remember — I don’t have a home either.

Exactly one month ago, on 9/11, I got the phone call from my landlady. My home had been lost to Hurricane Irma’s flooding during the night. (I had evacuated to stay with my Dad and his wife in West Virginia. I left my home with three flats of bottled water, some clothing, and my passport, my kids’ birth certificates, and other important papers.) It was hard for my landlady and her manfriend to get into the neighborhood because of all the downed trees and power lines, but they came in to survey the damage, and found a foot of water in the house.

Trouble is, it wasn’t hurricane rain water or blown water — it was sewage.

A month ago, I’d never heard of a lift station, but since then, I’ve learned that the County operates 170 of them in our tiny city (Ocala, FL), and the City operates another 131. Lift stations lift sewage from local neighborhoods and pump it to the main sewage stations. Turns out that City Lift Station #129 up the street, like most of the mini-stations citywide, was without power for several hours during the storm. #129 overflowed, as the City expected it would, and flooded my home and at least three of my neighbors’ homes. A “sewer force main break” occurred nearby as well and probably contributed to the flood.

I collected a sample of the sludge-water in my home and had it tested. The fecal count was 2,000 parts per 100ml. (To put it into perspective, 100ml is a fraction, about 1/5th, of a 16.9-ounce soft drink.) One of my neighbor’s samples tested at a whopping 37,000, but their house has a slightly lower elevation than mine — I guess shit stinks AND sinks.

After the 12-hour drive home, then came the renting of storage space — and the instant move-out of my salvageable stuff while I was still in shock — and moving into a friend’s spare room, and filling his living room with my artwork and boxes of my must-access things.

Although I lost $80,000 worth of belongings, from valuable homeopathic medicines to big, heavy, expensive reference books to Oriental rugs to furniture to musical instruments, I was able to save many things, and that is one of the differences between my loss and my California friends’ fire losses — they lost everything. Another difference is that I got to say good-bye. I photographed each rug, my pastel paintings that melted in the sludge, the pedals on my late mother’s grand piano that were destroyed — and I cried every day over something, particularly the drenched-with-shit tote bag full of photographs from my children’s younger years. Some things are irreplaceable. But at least I got to say good-bye.

On to the friends and people part, speaking of irreplaceable.

One of my four children set up a GoFundMe account on my behalf, and Facebook friends contributed, even a few people I wasn’t “friends” with — and most of them I haven’t met in person. I’m floored by this.

I’m staying with a dear friend and have been here for a month, since returning from my evacuation in the wee hours of late Wednesday night/Thursday morning, 9/13-14. I have a big bed, two kitties, and good people here. I’ve been helping out some around the house and have been paying my share toward rent and expenses.

Being a human being is a wild ride. You just never know what is going to happen. Never in my craziest dreams did I ever think my home would be flooded with a foot of sewage. I’m sure that none of those concertgoers ever imagined they would be faced with machine gun fire or have to leap over bloody bodies to get out of there — and I am sure my friends who are winemakers, grape growers, and winery workers and writers never thought they would ever have to evacuate, let alone lose everything to fires. Making wine is already not for the faint of heart with the expenses of property, equipment, employees, and licenses and taxes — and the risks of pests, diseases, weather, cultural fads (you saw the film “Sideways,” yes?), and economic and legal changes and challenges.

Most of us pray for help from God, but I swear that my friends, whether personally known or never met, are indeed God incarnate, “God with skin on.” When my children were growing up, I told them, never be afraid to ask for help, accept a hug, or accept a prayer — and never be afraid to offer same. In my vulnerable condition, I’m very thankful for my family and friends and hopefully I’ve sufficiently shared my appreciation with them. Be a friend, accept and cherish your friendships, and drink good wine, together.

SONG PAIRING: With a Little Help from My Friends, The Beatles

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3 Responses to God with Skin On

  1. RD Blakeslee says:

    Heartfelt and well written, Carolyn (as usual, with you).

    Know you will recover to higher ground, in every way.


  2. Thank you, Dad! Love to you and Tatj.


  3. Update. Regarding the California fires, a friend of mine who lives there wrote, “I keep trying to correct people’s misconceptions of what a wild fire is in this particular context. They don’t get that the fire is as tall as a 10-story building and moving at freeway speed. You can be what would normally be considered a perfectly safe distance from a distant fire that is burning out of control 100 miles away. And you can still die because after you went to bed and fell asleep that night, it comes at freeway speed with the wind, and it burned right over you. You don’t even have a chance to flee unless you are awake and you can get in a vehicle and there is a road you can still drive out on, a road not itself on fire, and that leads out of the flames.”

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