“Are you okay mommy?” She heard her daughter’s voice, yet it wasn’t enough to pull Sarah’s gaze away from the snow globe in the store window. It was Chicago, the year 2041, but as Sarah stared deeply at this musical toy her mind took her back to the fall of 2011 and her home in upstate New York. The snow globe had a small village of homes inside surrounded by water, and if you shook it tiny sparkles fell on the houses like rain. Too much rain. Sarah finally answered, “Yes honey, mommy is fine. I’m just remembering something.” Then she told her daughter the story.
Back in summer of 2011, Sarah was 10 years old and living in a place called Prattsville. If you look up the word ‘country’ in the dictionary you’d find a picture of it there with land as open as its people, a place where small town folks weren’t always rich in money, but in the ways that mattered.
Like everywhere, they’d seen flooding before but nothing like what was coming. A hurricane named Irene took aim at the East coast and all the people on TV could talk about was how much damage it might do to New York City. Nobody was worried about her little town, but they should have been. The storm came and sat and dumped a half foot of rain. It caused the creeks and rivers to rise up and swallow Sarah’s home, streets, even her school. Then the water backed away as if to get a better look at what it had done; and it had done plenty. Sarah’s world was gone, all of it. Even the sidewalk where she drew her hopscotch board in chalk vanished into the muck. She sat on the muddy back steps and heard her daddy crying behind the old shed where he thought no one could hear.
But just when her world turned darkest is when light started shining through. A family Sarah barely knew took her, her brother Chip and her parents in to live with them for a couple of weeks.
People from the Red Cross came to help too, and for a while they moved into a small apartment in a place called Ravena. She remembered the name because Sarah liked birds and thought the word looked like ‘Raven’.
When Sarah finally went back to her house it didn’t look as bad as before. Strangers from places that didn’t flood had just shown up to help. They pulled out the wet floors and walls and when daddy got the new sheetrock they helped him nail it in place. She remembered a nice man in a suit with a clipboard telling her parents he would help them buy a new washer, dryer and fridge. After they moved back in a truck full of food pulled up in the center of town. They told them to come take what they needed for free and Sarah and her brother filled daddy’s trunk with Chunky Soup and Ragu sauce and Chip grabbed a package of Oreos.
One day, while eating one of those cookies, Sarah walked down to that terrible creek that had risen up and taken her home and saw some trash piled along the muddy shore. In all that broken garbage there was one thing she recognized so she picked it up, rubbed it clean and put it in her pocket.
Eventually Sarah and her friends went back to school and quick as you could say ‘Santa Claus’ it was Christmastime. With all the money her mom and dad spent trying to fix the house, Sarah and Chip didn’t dare ask for anything. They knew they wouldn’t even have a tree that year. Then the man from the nursery down the road, the place where they’d bought flowers before, showed up with a wagon full of small pine trees. He drove through town playing holiday music and offering trees for free to anyone who wanted one. He said they were extras, but she knew he was just being nice.
Sarah’s mom worked in Albany at an office, and even though she and Chip had never been there, the workers decided to be their ‘Christmas Angels’ buying all sorts of things, even the Transformers toy Chip secretly wanted.
On Christmas Eve, as mom placed the presents under the tree, they all held hands and said a prayer thanking God for growing up in a place where people you don’t even know care about you. Just then, Sarah told everyone to wait, ran to her newly-painted room, reached under the bed and clasped her tiny fingers around it. When she returned and opened her hands Chip’s eyes flew open and mom started to cry. It was the star from their old Christmas tree. “Found it by the creek bed,” she told them. Dad lifted her up so she could put it where it belonged, atop their tree in a home that love literally built.
Sarah felt her husband Tom squeeze her hand and she was back in Chicago again, far removed from that Christmas long ago. He loved his wife more than anything and he knew exactly where she had gone those moments staring into the store window. “I’m going to buy it,” she said, “because it reminds me of what this time of year is really all about.”
As they left the store with the snow globe tucked safely in the shopping bag, Tom said, “We should go back there sometime, to say thanks.” Sarah looked at her daughter and then back up at her husband and spoke gently, “I go back every day in my heart, Tom.” Just then her daughter said, “Listen mommy.” It was the snow globe. Even though no one had wound it up, the music was playing from inside the bag. It took but a moment for them to recognize the melody, ‘What a wonderful world’.
Is the story I just wrote real or fiction? That’s up to you and me. While it’s set in Prattsville, it’s also about Windham, Middleburgh, and so many other small communities in our area devastated by flooding. What happened to these people wasn’t a sin, but a tragedy. The sin would be for the rest of us to move on and forget about them. A donation to the Red Cross, an extra can of soup for the Food Bank, a Christmas present for a family that has nothing this year. That’s the ending to this story that we can write together. Thirty years from now I see a woman staring in a shop window remembering a place that didn’t forget her. What do you see?
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org