When The Flood Waters Recede
"Are you upset, little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don't worry… I'm here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you."
-- Charlie Brown to Snoopy, "Peanuts"
"Not much survived the flood," says Grandmom, looking back at me as we trundle down the creaky stairs. Her lips are thin and pursed. "The thing burst while we weren't home. By the time we got back, pretty much everything on the floor was gone."
In the basement the cement floor is mostly dry, but I can still discern a faint, toxic damp lingering in the air. Plastic toys, vintage upholstery and paintings have been upended, heaped together like towering, abstract sculptures. Against the walls lean stained cardboard boxes, brimming with wallpaper scraps, old shampoo bottles, nativity ornaments, half-used paper towel rolls. The piles stretch back into the darkness.
"Most of this is trash. But I did manage to save a few things," she says, smirking faintly.
I think back to cleaning out George's childhood home after it had been slammed by Katrina: the mounds of warped wood and soggy cardboard; the faded line on the wall, two feet high. In comparison, a flooded basement seems downright restrained—polite, even. But I'm not looking forward to the clean-up, or that terrible question: Can this be saved?
"What all did you lose?" I say, idly fingering some water-stained fabric bolts. A nativity scene? We're Jewish. Why did she even have that?
"Oh, some of your great grandmother's things," she mumbles, meandering between the piles. "But she always kept too much stuff anyway. Some old newspapers. Cleaning supplies. Some of my sewing stuff. We did lose your stuffed animals," she says with a frown. "You know, the ones you kept in the garbage can."
I remember the garbage can, and those Friday nights so long ago, right after my mom left, when my father would drop me off for long weekends with my grandparents. Every Friday, the ritual was the same: After dinner, I'd run down to the basement, and turn on the Nintendo ever-so-gently, so that the screen wouldn't blink. Blow into the cartridges, as I'd seen my new stepbrothers do. Dig out the stuffed animals from their sleep in the giant garbage can, and carefully line them up along the bookshelves. Our audience. Then Grandmom, Grandpop and I, huddling under crocheted blankets, would crowd around the ancient TV and play.
My strongest memories of those weekends were digital ones: watching Grandpop beat Second Quest Ganon; mapping the secret corridors of Zebes with my crayons. Staring in awe as Grandmom discovered Warp Zones—I thought she was the smartest woman in the world.
I chuckle, slightly embarrassed. "Those old things? God, they must be twenty, twenty-five years old. I can't believe you even still had them. Why didn't you get rid of them when you moved here?"
She pauses, confused. "Because you liked them," she says, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I don't really have anything to say to that.
"It's not all bad, though," she continues, wiping her forehead. She surveys the piles disapprovingly. "It's really given me the kick I needed to clean all this garbage up. I can't believe we'd accumulated so much stuff over the years. So much crap," she sighs. She stops, glancing back at me, slightly scandalized by her own vulgarity, and turns back to the piles. "Guess your grandfather's right—I really am a hopeless packrat."
I smile, remaining silent.
"Oh, but I did find something of yours," she says suddenly, disappearing behind a pile.
"Oh, um—Grandmom," I say, thinking of more stuffed animals and garbage cans. "That's okay. Really, you didn't need to—"
"Nonsense," she mutters. She re-emerges, holding something proudly, like a hunter dragging a shot deer. She shoves it in my hands. "Here."
It's a wide, flat box stuffed with paper scraps and torn notebook pages, some scribbled in marker, others in crayon. I can make out blocky, clumsy letters and awkward doodles: dots on a grid, nonsense phrases, strings of ciphers and codes. "Bombs on triceratopses." "Shield, spear, hammer". QKKKKKKKKKKK. JUSTIN BAILEY ------- -------.
Eyes wide, I shift the paper around like packing peanuts. Deeper inside is a dog-eared book, ripped into three parts, and a torn cover, "NINTEN… GAMES SECR…" . A construction paper scribble of a Hyrulian shield, copied off the game box. And further down: dusty, gray cartridges, still in their flimsy plastic protectors.
And at the bottom is my favorite grey console, the familiar friend around which Grandmom, Grandpop and I spent so many Friday nights, cheered on by stuffed animals.
This can't be.
"You—you kept this?"
"Of course," she smiles.
"Because you liked it."
I can't find the right words, so I grab my grandmother and hug her tightly, slightly smushing the box.
She pats my back indulgently. "C'mon," she says in a satisfied tone. "Let's go upstairs and hook it up."
I bound up the stairs, cradling the box against my chest. For the moment, the piles downstairs are forgotten. Right now, it's time to revisit, not save, the past.
"You know," she calls after me lightly, warmly, "I'm sure your cousins have some stuffed animals you can borrow." I can hear her laughter follow me up the stairs, and beyond.