My Flood Disaster is Almost Over–I Hope

Bookshelves in progress, accompanied by a “Sex and the City” marathon.

I now have new respect and sympathy for people whose entire houses get flooded by hurricanes, overflowing rivers, tsunamis, burst dams or whatever. I only had one room get soaked, and it has taken almost two months to begin to recover. I never saw this coming.

I woke up on Aug. 20 to discover water all over my laundry room. My 12-year-old water heater had died in the night, and water was pouring out the bottom. Phooey. But the laundry room, formerly part of the garage, was never completely finished. Once I mopped the water off the concrete floor and got a new water heater, I figured my troubles were over.

But no. The next night, I was on the phone with a friend when I happened to walk barefoot through my den, also formerly part of the garage. The carpet was soaked. Major curse words flew out of my mouth. I have already blogged about the details of all this ad nauseum. The short version: I spent a day trying to sop up the water with minimal success as the stench of wet carpet padding, wood and sheetrock permeated the house. The next day, I followed my father’s advice and called the insurance company. Water damage workers tried to dry things out, then removed my entire carpet and my four six-foot tall bookshelves. They also chopped a soggy section out of my wall. Over the weeks that followed, I had many visits from various professionals, interspersed with long periods of waiting.

Everything from that room, including hundreds of books, all of my clothes and a host of photos and knick-knacks, is spread through the rest of the house. But now it’s almost over. The wall is patched and painted, I finished putting together the last bookshelf last night, and the carpet is due to be installed on Wednesday. Emerald cut, rust-colored Spanish tile instead of the silly white Berber that used to be there. It will all turn out to be an expensive blessing, I’m sure.

Having been surrounded by my possessions all this time, I’m not so fond of them anymore. And I realize that when the flood hits, everything that gets wet becomes worthless. I will reconsider every item that I put back in that room. Do I really need so much stuff? Don’t answer that. I know what you’ll say.

Meanwhile, yesterday I noticed the roof is leaking in the laundry room. Just a little.

When is a Garage Not a Garage?

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What is a garage? In modern American houses, it’s supposed to be a place to store the car, although in many homes it’s too full of other stuff for the car ever to fit inside. Tools, Christmas decorations, washer and drier, suitcases, garden equipment, stuff you plan to give to charity someday, and stuff you just plain don’t know what to do with live in the garage. At my house, it’s also where I store: pellets for the pellet stove and kindling for the wood stove, a spare tire, tire chains I have never used but must carry in the winter, my husband’s old bike that he never used, two dollies, three ladders, an umbrella for the patio table that fell apart ages ago, a Shop Vac, an American flag hanging above a Christmas tree stand, a few dozen empty boxes, two bags of Styrofoam “popcorn,” a file cabinet that didn’t fit in the house, and a nearly lifesize image of my late husband signed by all the folks at one of his many retirement parties. We call it Styrofoam Fred. But yes, I do get the car in. Thank God it’s small.

My single-car garage is very garage-ish. Cobwebs in the single-paned window, bare-wood walls, electric-powered door that rattles in the wind, bugs traveling freely through, mouse droppings in the corners, cold, stained concrete floor. When the door is open, everything is exposed to the world. It’s not the kind of room you’d like to live in—unless you’re a mouse.
But here’s the thing. The current garage is an add-on. The original two-car garage is now my den. In the wake of the great water heater flood of 2013 (see earlier posts), the bookshelves and carpet were ruined. For the last three weeks, I have been living with a den that more and more feels like a garage. Yes, it’s got sheetrock which I lovingly repainted two years ago. It’s got curtains, carefully matched furniture, and closets all along one end. I was so proud of that room, the one room I felt I had finished. But you know what? It’s still a garage. Behind the soggy sheetrock is bare wood. Behind the wall-hanging I made of felt and crochet hangs the fuse box. Under the Berber carpet was concrete, stained, pitted, cold and hard. Ants travel the edge of the southern wall like it’s a freeway. My sofa and TV sit like islands in a hard gray sea.
The former owners turned the garage into a den in 1990, eight years before Fred and I bought the house. They had four kids, a dog and a parrot; they needed the space. I don’t. I have often thought I’d rather have the house a little more compact and use the garage as a garage, but it’s too late for that. Unless the gradual westward settling of our land here eventually sends it into the ocean.
Post-flood, my beautiful den/library has been mired in insurance-hired service providers. Three guys came out and dried the old carpet for several days, then ripped it out. They tossed my bookshelves into the front yard. Last weekend, my neighbor got tired of looking at them and burned them in his fire pit, causing another neighbor to complain about the smoke. I have new bookshelves ordered and I’m waiting for a sample of my old carpet to be analyzed Back East so I can find out how much State Farm will pay for new carpet so I can finally order it and get it installed. Meanwhile, today, guys are supposed to come out and patch the hole the first guys chopped out of my wall. And then they will paint it. But the drywall will have to dry first, won’t it? And I don’t have any more matching paint.
It’s a slow process. I currently have mountains of clothing from the closets and approximately 600 books all over my house. I had no idea that room, that garage-turned-part-of-the-house, held so much stuff. I don’t plan to put a single thing back without reconsidering whether I need it.
Meanwhile my guest room bed is buried in clothing, books and musical instruments, but you’re welcome to sleep in the garage.

Help, my books are loose and taking over!

Books, books, everywhere books. History books. Writing books. Creative nonfiction. Novels. Poetry. Books I wrote. Books my friends wrote. Books I wish I wrote. When they’re all stuffed in the shelves, it’s not so bad, but I had a little disaster last week. My water heater gave out. I woke up Tuesday morning to find water all over my laundry room, leaking across the concrete floor and under the dog crate, the recycle bin, the cabinet and the refrigerator. I waited most of the day for a plumber, who declared the water heater dead and replaced it with a new one.
I thought: okay, end of story. I didn’t realize until Wednesday night when I happened to walk barefoot in the den that the carpet was wet and squishy. You see, the laundry room and den used to be the garage. A former owner converted it into living space. Right now I’m kind of wishing he hadn’t done that. The water had leaked under the wall from the laundry room into the den, mostly along the wall lined with book shelves. Four five-shelf units, each six feet tall, 30 inches wide and full of books. Stuffed is a better word. And those are just the ones I’ve read.
In order to get to the carpet, I had to move the bookshelves. In order to move the bookshelves, I had to unload them. Unshelved, the books expanded like rice in boiling water. So now I have books in every room of my house, including the bathrooms. I have no place to sit in the living room except the dog’s chair or the floor. The soggy den is completely off limits, full of wet carpets and big dryers.
I spent Thursday moving books and blotting the carpet with towels. Washed and dried said towels five times then realized this didn’t help the padding underneath at all. Called the insurance company. Waited all day Friday for return calls. Their crew came out Saturday. First thing they did was declare the bookshelves dead. Made of pressboard, they were soaked on the bottom. Pieces of soggy pressboard fell off as two hefty guys carried them to the front yard and left them to await a trip to the dump. The insurance company will reimburse me for new bookshelves of comparable value. But it’s going to be a while before the room can be occupied again.
Meanwhile, I’m drowning in books. A quick estimate tells me at least 500 books are left homeless. That doesn’t count the ones that live in other shelves or boxes or drawers. Every time I’ve moved, my friends and relatives have complained about the books. “Jeez, how many books do you need?” they ask.
In the house where I grew up, there weren’t many books. One little shelf in the living room held a couple Bibles, cookbooks, knitting books, and a set of encyclopedias acquired one at a time at the grocery store back in the 1960s. It’s not that we didn’t read. We read constantly, but we got our books at the library. On the rare occasion when a book was purchased or received as a gift, we passed one copy around the family. Now I probably buy three or four books a month, and I keep all the ones I like, so they add up quickly. I have been meaning to go back and reread the books on the shelves to see if I still want them, but never had time. Now I’m forced to cull my collection.
I’m looking at these homeless books on my couch, my floor, my washing machine, every flat surface, and thinking maybe I should give all of them away. How often do I actually look at them? They’re weighing me down. Is this a home or a library?
I have quite a few e-books on my Kindle. With e-readers, there’s no need for bookshelves. I can store hundreds of books on something that fits in my purse. And if something happens to my Kindle, will magically transfer all my books to my new e-reading device. But it’s not the same. You can’t smell an e-book, can’t autograph it, can’t read it in the bathtub. And I don’t think my e-books will be around decades from now like many of the books on my shelves.
Meanwhile, I have books all over my house. The Lick library. If you want to borrow one or two or a dozen, come on over. My rates are incredibly cheap, and I’ll even give you a homemade chocolate chip cookie as a bonus.
What do you think? How many books do you own? How many books does a person need?