Monday, January 9, 2012

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

 Have you ever been married to someone, gone through a divorce, and then found yourself attracted to the same person later, having forgotten the "down side" of the relationship? We had been living up in the hills for three years after leaving our first home on the Meramec River after the flood of 1982 did us in, when I ran into my dad at his house on the river which had been setting empty since my parents left it too, after the '82 flood. Our attempt at purchasing their place in the spring of 1983 didn't go so well, so I was surprised when my dad announced to me that he was getting ready to sell the place to a complete stranger for what I had offered to buy it for three years earlier. Not only that, we had sunk a good chunk of money and labor into our new place and didn't have much hope of recouping our expenses in such a short time. However, the prospect of ditching a 12% mortgage on our High Ridge home and paying cash for my parents home appealed to us, and once my dad realized he could sell the place and still have access to the river and the property as he desired, a deal was struck, albeit at a loss to us on the sale of our place in the hills of High Ridge, MO.
 Round two of our life on the banks of the Meramec began then, in the spring of 1986. The river house at 92 Opps Lane had stood clean, but unimproved, since sustaining the flood damage of 1982, but we stuck a few bucks into it and made it our own. River life was idyllic for several years for us. After our initial move back to the river we bought a tournament ski boat, then another cuddy cabin boat, and were on our third tournament ski boat in July of 1993 when the "big one" came.
 When you live on a tributary to a larger body of water, floods come in a couple different forms. When the water shed of the river you live on experiences an abnormal amount of rain, you have floods which consist of "head water". If the river that the river you live on empties into has a flood, the water in the river you live on "backs up", as it cannot escape and you have a back water flood. If the two happen at the same time, you are in a world of trouble. But in the July of '93, we were in "backwater" conditions. The Meramec was backed up due to high water on the Mississippi, the sediment had dropped out as the current was non-existent, and the boating was as good as it ever gets on the Meramec. We were water skiing late in the day one weekend when the Missouri Water Patrol stopped us and informed us that the river was to be closed to all boating traffic due to the river level. The Mississippi River had been rising rapidly and was fore casted to reach record levels.

 Backwaters rise rather slowly, so we had plenty of time to prepare. Typically, river dwellers incrementally keep moving their belongings to higher ground, either outside of the house, or inside, as the river rises. Once you commit to leaving your furniture inside, you are stuck with your decision, as then the only way out with your belongings is by boat, as we had done with some or our furniture in 1982. The picture above shows our Jon boat, our method of transportation to and from our home for what was to be for over 45 days. The extension ladder next to the deck had to be climbed to get inside. I remember having to carry Rosie up the ladder fireman style, after she had to have some planned minor surgery. What is surprising was not in my ability to carry her in the first place, but in the fact that she was not dropped into the drink due to the amount of laughing during the process.

 I remember it was a Sunday, August 1st, 1993, and we had been boating in and out of our home for a couple of weeks, the backwater was clear and I actually enjoyed jumping off the roof of the house, swimming around in the back yard, and having the river much to ourselves in the Jon boat, but the river level kept inching up. We had everything on the second floor of our house stacked up on counter tops and saw horses, the river was licking at the first floor roof rafters, only inches from the second floor, and we were as prepared as we could be for the inevitable.
 Columbia, Illinois, sits on the opposite side of the Mississippi, just downriver from the mouth of the Meramec River. We were watching the news that Sunday morning and saw the collapsing of the Columbia levee, along with the inundation of Valmeyer, Illinois. Rosie and I sat in awe as the wall of water washed away everything in its path. Even with the pickle we were in, we felt fortunate not to be in the path of a levee break or turbulent headwaters. Counting our blessings, as it were, we packed a cooler and headed over to the Meramec Marina just across from our house.
 Nero fiddled as Rome burned, as they say, and we spent the afternoon drinking beer and catching rays with the marina owner, John Aulbach, and some other River Rats, when I noticed that some floating debris out in the channel had begun to move with a river current that hadn't been evident for weeks. I jumped into the Jon boat and went over to check on our house and noticed from the water line on the house that the river level had dropped a good two feet, something we couldn't notice in the marina harbor. The levee break that had destroyed several towns and hundreds of acres in southern Illinois had spared our home as the water was sucked out of the Meramec to fill all of that farmland! Actually causing the levee break would have produced some insurmountable guilt, but in this case we could only naturally rejoice in our good fortune.
 When the water finally fell within the banks of the Meramec once again in September, the first floor of our home was trashed, all of the grass and vegetation smaller than the biggest trees were dead, and once again the bureaucracy of another flood insurance claim and remodeling our grounds and first floor became the order of the day for several months.
 The picture below shows our boat dock with the lawn furniture stowed away on it, during the backwater flood of 1993.

The people in the house raising business had a banner year in 1994 as many of the homes along the Mississippi were raised to levels exceeding the '93 flood. We spent a good deal of money ourselves on an architect, making plans to raise our home and flood proof the lower levels. As time moved on, and we got things back to normal, eventually we decided to abolish plans for a major renovation, along with several hundred thousand dollars in expense, and went with a more traditional repair.
 We were back to a pleasant river life experience by the time 1995 came around. A big party for my 40th birthday, held on the grounds of our river home, was to be our last party gathering there for many months. The welcomed high backwater for our party became threatening as an all night rain brought the Meramec into our yard by the next day, and another evacuation of our belongings began.

If you compare the previous picture of our dock in the backwater of the '93 flood with the picture of our dock during the height of the head water of the '95 flood, you can get some idea of violent nature of a head water flood. In this photo, our dock is setting "upside down", as somehow it had jammed against a tree and the current flipped it. Here the river is a good twenty-five feet above normal level.
 The complete story about this flood will be in my next post.

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