Staff Columnist

June 2018: A flood of memories

Artificial flowers in a glass jar are coated with silt on Monday, June 16, 2008, after the floodwater receded from Czech Village in Southwest Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Artificial flowers in a glass jar are coated with silt on Monday, June 16, 2008, after the floodwater receded from Czech Village in Southwest Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Heavy-duty, knee-high rubber boots still sit in my basement. While they no longer hold the odors of the 2008 floods, my mind recreates the stench each time I see them. It’s a combination of gasoline, fetid earth and black mold that prompts my stomach to recoil and roll.

While wearing those boots 10 years ago, I helped friends muck out properties, primarily in Czech Village. Only one still stands today.

A decade ago, waterlogged and silt-coated furniture, appliances and all other manner of household goods was strewn curbside. Photographs and other irreplaceable mementos were positioned upon the trash heaps; one final place of honor among the ruined remains. Tears were one of the earliest and final ingredients added to the unwelcome stew.

What followed were months of clean up and frustration. Businesses were lost, neighborhoods changed. People left. Bits of history and character receded with the river.

Not even on this day, when the Red Cedar topped a previously unfathomable 31 feet, am I supposed to voice my grief for what was lost. Instead, I’m to celebrate what’s been gained, regardless of cost.

A family death eight months after the flood sent my oldest daughter and me on an unexpected road trip to the Gulf Coast. An ice storm across the Plains forced us to drive farther to the east — through Illinois and down to Louisiana. Upon our return, I wrote about the damage still present in New Orleans, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Katrina about three years earlier.

“While outsiders can often identify poorer sections of a city, there is no mistaking the poverty-line boundaries in New Orleans. Neighborhoods with money have rebuilt. Poverty-stricken areas sit abandoned like ghost towns while life buzzes around them. …

“I had been searching the Gulf Coast for hope. I wanted to carry its recovery back with me to Iowa. Instead, I found the same story of social class divisions and sadness that has already emerged back home.”

The daughter who accompanied me on that trip recently returned to Cedar Rapids for her sister’s graduation. It marked the first time in more than six years that she had seen the area.

We visited the once again charming house boat area at Ellis, and she was glad to know the uniqueness of that area survived.

As we made our way into Time Check, she gazed across the green space. “It’s all gone,” she quietly said.

We drove around some more, taking in the changes in downtown, Czech Village and New Bohemia.

“Those families that lost their homes, were they given preference in all these new housing developments?” she asked, pointing toward mixed-use towers on the west side of the Cedar. I sidestepped the question, telling her that housing remains an issue throughout the city.

“It’s pretty,” she said, motioning again to the new development, “but it looks really expensive.”

On a quiet morning following all the graduation hubbub, I descended the steps into the basement and considered the rubber boots from across the room. Then I flicked off the light and climbed back up.

Maybe, after another decade, I’ll be willing to let the boots go.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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