Virtue & Mischief


Last Monday night, around 10 or so, the rain started to fall. I heard it ricocheting off our rooftop, windows, and driveway. The winds picked up and the lightning attacked the black sky. Time to get the kids down for the night, I thought; I wish I hadn’t let them stay up later than usual. Now they’re probably going to be awake for the duration of this deluge.

“C’mon guys! Let’s go—brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and get your PJ’s on!” I announced, and received the usual muted chorus of mild disgruntlement and half-hearted assurances that they were on their way. I put my own night clothes on—a pair of old boxer shorts and a give-away Andrew McCutchen/Pittsburgh Pirates t-shirt—and within a few minutes met the amigos. They had congregated, as they do each night, in the boys’ room for a post-mortem on the day and a family prayer. By this point the rain caused the house to vibrate as it pounded the roof over Daniel’s bed. Wow. I was reminded briefly of Bill Cosby’s famous stand-up routine about God’s conversation with Noah before the flood: “How long can you tread water?” hinted the Creator.

Krista hollered upstairs that she’d join us momentarily. “I’m going to check the basement first. I’ll be there in a minute!”. Seconds later, as I began to ask Abby about her day, I heard a banshee shriek from below. “TIM!!! WE’RE FLOODING! GET DOWN HERE! HURRY!”

The kids exchanged alarmed expressions and I sprinted down two flights of stairs to the cellar where my frantic spouse was shoveling buckets-full of water and pouring them into a large sink to be drained away. At the northern edge of our basement water flowed in under the rail of a wooden door we never use. This door leads immediately to a set of concrete steps, eight or so, which climb to a pair of metal doors that push open from the inside, allowing entrance to the back yard.

“Tim, we’re going to lose the furnace and the hot water heater if this doesn’t stop!” Krista exclaimed. “Grab a bucket and help me!”

I fetched one and started scooping, but we quickly filled the voluminous sink. The small drain in the northwest corner of the basement was easily overwhelmed and the water continued to accumulate, now ankle high and rising. Thunder cracked overhead and shook the foundation of the house.

“Tim…DO something!” Krista bellowed in desperation as she sloshed around, distraught at the sight of our new (and unwanted) wading pool. Do something?!? Like what? I wondered. Place my arms across my chest and blink, Barbara Eden style, conjuring out of thin air a mega sump pump or perhaps a colossal tarp over our entire abode?

“Ummm…sweetheart, precisely what do you propose I do?” I asked, my impotence dripping from every syllable.

“I dunno!! But something. Go outside and see if you can…divert the water. Just do SOMETHING. Anything.”

Faced with Krista’s irrational demand I pondered quickly the following existential question, as any red-blooded, middle-aged American male in my situation would have done: which do I fear more—the wrath of mama amigo or the wrath of mother nature?

Oh, please. So I sprinted outside in the downpour, lightning flashing and thunder exploding all about me. Bare-footed and dressed still solely in my skivvies and t-shirt, I plodded across our back yard. It had become a bog so my feet sank in the soil three inches with every step and my toes became encrusted with grass and mud. I approached the exterior cellar doors and discovered the source of our problem. From all four directions the copious amounts of water followed an ever so gentle slope toward a 2-foot by 3-foot concrete slab next to the cellar opening. There the water pooled to a level of roughly six inches whereupon it flowed through the small cracks at the base of the doors, down the steps, and into our basement. Krista’s words echoed in my brain: DO something! Do SOMETHING!

So I retrieved our large push broom from the garage and began pushing the pooling water off the concrete slab, first in the direction of the saturated grass, then toward the saturated mulch and shrubbery. The water flowed back inexorably seconds later, like an ocean tide. Abby came out a few moments later, jubilant. “Dad, mom says she loves you and that it’s working! Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it! Hey,” she paused for a moment, “…umm, are you in your underwear?!” Before I could respond she returned to the basement to continue assisting her mother in the basement.

I repeated my exercise, non-stop, over and over and over again. Push to the north, turn, push to the east, turn, push to the west, turn. “You call this a storm?!” I screeched at one point, imitating Lt. Dan atop the Jenny’s mast as Hurricane Carmen descended on the hapless shrimp boat in “Forrest Gump”. For an hour I mindlessly swatted collecting water away from the slab, buying our little bucket brigade (and floor drain) enough time to drain the water out of our basement and prevent any serious damage.

Krista hugged and kissed me. Luke greeted me like a hero, too.

“How’d you do it, dad?” he asked when the episode was finally over.

“Well, Luke, I ran on adrenaline and stupidity. Fortunately, I have lots of the latter.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “That’s true. Good point. Well, g’night.”
Adrenaline and stupidity

Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.


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