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.

Comments

I passed my NES and SNES onto my nephews years ago way before i had kids but just seeing that pic brought memories whooshing back. great post.

Great article; I'm beginning to think that the girls are writing better articles, time to step it up boys.

Great. That's all I can say. And yes, it's the dust.

Good article. The closest memory to this that I have is when my dad bought an Odyssey2 back in the late 70s. He hooked it up to the TV in the den (our only TV at the time, IIRC) and we played many games of Baseball (check out those awesome graphics!). Not long after that, I got an Atari 2600 and they rest, as they say, is history. From the Atari forward, I only played games with friends or my brother.

Great article Kat. Brought back fond memories.

Great article... When I was a kid, my late Grandmother was also my video-game enabler with a NES. -And dammit if that dust hasn't made it's way over here now too.

WizKid wrote:

Great article; I'm beginning to think that the girls are writing better articles, time to step it up boys.

Are you calling Rabbit a girl?

wordsmythe wrote:
WizKid wrote:

Great article; I'm beginning to think that the girls are writing better articles, time to step it up boys.

Are you calling Rabbit a girl?

He was probably referring to those Julian and Cory chicks.

My heart is made of granite, so I'm immune to...dust.

But this is a really nice piece Katerin.

Ah, I remember my good ol NES. Good times. Good times.

wordsmythe wrote:
WizKid wrote:

Great article; I'm beginning to think that the girls are writing better articles, time to step it up boys.

Are you calling Rabbit a girl?

Wait... Rabbit isn't a girl?

WizKid wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
WizKid wrote:

Great article; I'm beginning to think that the girls are writing better articles, time to step it up boys.

Are you calling Rabbit a girl?

Wait... Rabbit isn't a girl?

He sounds like a girl, and Gillian is a girls name.

That's an awesome story. I passed my Nintendo on to a poor family that could barely pay for the electricity to play it. Sometimes I think back to that with nostalgia and wish I still had the system. Then I try to think about that family's kids and how they're grown up now and probably have nostalgic memories of the same video game system, and that's really special.

I still remember Mom and I playing my old Playstation. My grandma wasn't too fond of our gaming, but my grandpa would come in and watch sometimes. He never quite understood what was going on, but would come in and watch anyway.

Damned dust.

Great article Katerin, I always enjoy reading your stuff it usually brings about quite the memories.

A few years back I went back to japan, and visited my grandmother for the first time in a while. She showed me an old famicon (NES) that me, my brother and my japanese cousins used to play all the time. So many great memories flooded back as I flipped through all the games we had. It was one of the few things that could cross the cultural and language barriers so effortlessly and create a comfort zone in a place so foreign.

Now if only my grandparents had played as well, oh well that would have been too perfect.