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.

"But why?"

"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.


That is immensely sweet. I remember me and my brother used to play the NES religiously when we were at my dad's cabin.

Good times.

Thank you for sharing this. It is really nice.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some dust in my eyes that I need to get out...

Wow, you couldn't have written this article at a better time as far as I'm concerned. I just spent the evening last night going through all my things, tossing what I no longer need. My Nintendo and Super Nintendo made the cut and are packed safely away in a Tupperware bin. It is so amazing what some old things will do for you. What memories the start to bring up. I was tossing out game instruction manuals that were tattered and I know I would not need or use ever again. I stared at a quick key reference guide for Baldur's Gate for 5 minutes, thinking about all the hours I spent building my party on the Sword Coast. It was actually hard for me to let some of those things end up in the goodbye pile. It was good to at least get the choice to say goodbye to those memories as I move on to a point in my life where I know I won't need those few things. I just hope that I never have to say goodbye to such nostalgic mementos on terms that are not mine.


Thanks for bringing back memories of playing my NES with my parents. Good times...My dad helping me go through Dragon Warrior. Me and my Mom taking turns at Tetris...I look back fondly at those days.

That was a great story and much like mudbunny I am also allergic to dust. Your stories and the podcast are one of the main reasons I keep coming back to the GWJ site.

My memories of visits to the grandparents' (before they moved to Florida) inevitably involve one of three things: their above-ground pool, their huge bag of plastic medieval soldier miniatures, and the Atari 2600 on which countless games of Raiders of the Lost Ark were played. Truly a WTF game when examined too closely; nevertheless, there were so many hours spent running past thieves and parachuting by the stupid tree limb.

I hope you can scan and post some of those old notebook pages. Nothing better than childhood memories of the NES, and scribbling all sorts of things (and pictures) about it.

Great article. It made some great memories from my childhood, my grandparents and my Nintendo that I hadn't thought of in a while come to the surface. Thanks.

The memories of my brother and I staying up all night trying to master landings in Top Gun or learning those turn sequences in Zelda are some of my most cherished memories.

Thanks for sharing this!

Very sweet... A little different than my memory of smashing my Atari to bits after a marathon session of E.T.

My wife and I recently moved into her grandparents' old house. Growing up, she spent a lot of time over there playing Atari with her grandmother. When they moved out, they left a lot of their old things behind, including their Atari 2600. It's been really neat to hear her stories about playing with her grandma, and it's great to hear your story as well.

It makes me jealous, actually. My parents were never interested in playing video games with us kids, so unless I could sucker my older brother into playing Sonic the Hedgehog with me, gaming was always a very solitary activity.

Lovely story.

Now that is pretty awesome.

You're grandma sounds pretty amazing.

blah! I hate the back button on a mouse!

Great article - insert my comments here.

Wow. Great article.

As soon as I saw the Nintendo picture on the front page it brought up memories of playing Zelda, and Faxandu, and Dragon Warrior with my parents on the sofa behind me giving advice and cheering me on. Then you follow it up with such a great article relating the same experience.

...Excuse me a minute... I just need to get something out of my eye...I'm fine. Really.

Rob_Anybody wrote:


Best game nobody's ever heard of. Awesome little side-scroller.

That's so awesome


What a great article. I remember my grandpa had an Atari 2600, me and my Dad would play the tank game from Combat 2 on it when we went to their house.

My grandparents couldn't manage to jump over the first goomba. For whatever reason, they could work one hand on the controller at a time, and more than that was coordination they didn't need. They did have every Peanuts compilation ever put together, though, and I spent a lot of time reading through them, one after another, in that little room downstairs.

What I'm trying to say here is I hate you for using a Peanuts quote in your article about grandparents. Excuse me a moment.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Rob_Anybody wrote:


Best game nobody's ever heard of. Awesome little side-scroller.

Except I've heard of it, played it, and hated it. I think I was too young for the game or something. I just couldn't get into it, and neither could my friend. ...Isn't there a thread around here about games that were too much for our once young minds?

Great article Kat.

We recently cleaned out my grandparents house and sure enough I found a box of 'things I liked' waiting for me in the attic. it was great, but sadly I could not share it with my grandparents.

I have also lived the basement flood scenario you describe. The giant what if scenario... Keep or toss, can you get the mold out. I was lucky, no consoles were in the mire that my basement became.

My cousin always had better games than me, hence I loved visiting his house (approx 2 hour drive away). My clearest memory was him smashing a joystick to pieces against the floor after playing Aztec Challenge on the C64...

"Because you liked it."

That has just matched "As you wish" as one of the greatest ways to say "I love you" that I have ever heard.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Rob_Anybody wrote:


Best game nobody's ever heard of. Awesome little side-scroller.

I loved it!

mudbunny wrote:

Thank you for sharing this. It is really nice.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some dust in my eyes that I need to get out...

Yeah, this page IS erm... dusty...

Great writing, yet again!

Isn't it funny that it's so often the grandparents and not the parents? My grandparents bought an SNES for their retirement and that was my introduction to gaming. I'll never forget the way my grandmother would physically bob along with flying Mario in Super Mario World.

SuchStrings wrote:

Isn't it funny that it's so often the grandparents and not the parents?

I agree, my parents never were into gaming. But my grandfather asked me once what I would buy if I had a hundred dollars. I promptly replied "A Nintendo!" Then he walked out of the room and when he came back, I had a crisp $100 bill. The next night my parents and I were at Kay Bee toys looking for my NES (I ended up with a Sega Master System as every NES in America was sold out that winter) and had a blast with it!

Nice article. My grandma was a Bomberman addict and beat me 80% of the time; she believed in letting me learn the hard way.

Bonnonon wrote:

Nice article. My grandma was a Bomberman addict and beat me 80% of the time; she believed in letting me learn the hard way.

This is one of the most awesome things I've ever read.