All this water we’ve endured recently has had me thinking about one of those watery childhood memories that ebbs and flows in the corners of my mind. You know the kind: a bit hazy and not nearly significant enough to have earned its station in the archives, and yet decidedly stationed there it stays, popping up whenever anything remotely related stirs it to the surface.
I talked to Mom and Dad about the story to see if they could think of any details I have forgotten that might warrant the remembrance, but they couldn’t think of anything. They do remember it similarly, but with a few details more clearly than I.
I thought I was younger, but we determined I was around 9 or 10 when it occurred. That means that while I thought we were visiting Mama Edith and Daddy Jack, we were actually visiting Daddy Jack and Ida. Mom’s mother, Edith Royston, died of a sudden and massive heart attack in the driveway when I was around 8. I thought I was 6 when that happened, so I am clearly off my timeline in my memories.
That very sudden loss was devastating to all of us, but most of all to Daddy Jack. He had lost his voice box to throat cancer several years before and the loss of his wife and caretaker was quite significant. Ida was a close friend of theirs who immediately jumped in and helped take care of him, so it was no surprise when they decided to marry not long after. Ida was a wonderful, saucy and loving addition to our family at a time that we were feeling great loss. Mom’s sister, Regina, later married Ida’s son, Del, further solidifying the entwining of our families.
Life, like water, can take some completely unpredictable turns sometimes, can it not?
So, we were visiting Daddy Jack and Ida on a rainy afternoon. I don’t remember the exact details of the rain event. Who really does recall those details of number of days of rain and number of inches per day once a big rain event is over? Okay, I know there are people who do, but I am not a detail rememberer, so I am usually recalling in general terms, rather than detailed facts. As a child I’m sure I wasn’t really paying attention anyway, but I do remember that while it was raining a lot, we were shocked by what we encountered.
When we visited them, we could go the direct way or the back way. The direct way home took us on main roads where we ended in sight of Stone Mountain before turning to head towards downtown Tucker. The back way took us down a dirt road at the back of their neighborhood along a low pasture with a creek through the middle before turning through one of the nicer developments, past my principal’s home and later connecting with the road to Tucker. Obviously, I much preferred the back way, and I think Dad did, too.
On this particular evening, it was pouring down rain and dark when we left their house, and Dad headed out the back way, as was our habit. I’m sure that Mom and Dad noticed it, but I in the back seat was oblivious to the huge amount of water pouring through the pasture below us. The dirt road carried us lower and lower toward the main road which crossed the pasture over a large culvert. It had obviously come up a flood there before, because the culvert was huge in my memory, the kind a person could walk through, and that always struck me because the creek itself was fairly small.
That culvert bridge was not far from our left-hand turn to traverse it, so it was pretty quick that Dad had to come to a stop as we discovered before us gushing water just at the road level and on the other side, a stopped car with their lights on and a man waving his hands in the air, cautioning us to stop. Much to our disbelief, that culvert bridge had been completely washed out by the flooding creek! It was raining so hard that we could easily have not seen the water or the lights or the guy and driven straight into the flood and who knows what might have happened. It could not have been a very wide area, but in my memory he was far, far away, and his lights were dim in the rain-veiled distance.
This story could have had a terribly tragic or harrowingly heroic ending, but it just has an ending. We turned around and drove home the other way, and probably spent a little time talking about how lucky it was that Dad was able to see well enough to react in time and trust that the guy across the way knew what he was talking about. I think one reason it sticks in my head and comes up when it floods in Rome is the nerve-tingling danger that we all sense when the waters rise. We head to the levee and take pictures and video to post to social media and share with our out-of-town friends and family, imagining the what-ifs of the whole situation.
Lucky for us modern day residents, Rome long ago harnessed the devastating potential of our beloved rivers. We can imagine the possibilities, but we are mostly safe up to very high levels of water from any catastrophic outcomes. That washed-out culvert and our flooding rivers are another one of those opportunities to quote John Prine, “They don’t know how lucky they are…” We could have run into that creek…
Thank goodness we are all on the other side of our terrifying brush with watery danger, but trust me, it could have been a lot worse.