The Day the Basement Flooded
My father is a mild, genial man, who by careful organization, planning, and orderly habits, manages to avoid most of life's annoyances. When misfortune does strike, though, he is apt to be cross.
On this particular Saturday, Mother was in bed with the flu. My sister and I were running the household, and were feeling quite smug because nothing disastrous had happened in three days. I had done the week's grocery shopping all my myself, and Sharon had served up a fine series of dinners. Even our brother, Matt, had caught the spirit, and mowed the lawn and trapped sixteen of the field mice that were a plague that year. (They were imprisoned in a window well until he figured out a humane way to dispose of them.) If anything, the household was functioning more smoothly than usual.
Until I ran the washing machine and forgot to unplug the tub into which it emptied.
Our utility room was never meant for laundry anway. Adjoining the den in the basement, it had been built as a storage room (and was still bursting with cartons and cartons full of books, clothes, and old photo albums). There was no floor drain in that room.
The water in the utility room must have been two inches deep. My father groaned as we all stood around looking at it. "Gad! Laura, you couldn't have made a worse mess if you'd tried."
"I know," I mumbled. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry doesn't help. This is absolutely the worst kind of thing in the world to clean up."
I stood silently, blinking away tears.
"Do you know what it takes to clean this up?"
I nodded, for this had happened several times before, but Dad went on talking. "First, you have to move every single thing in the room. Every last boxfull. Then you have to soak up the water with towels; that's the only way. Towel by towel until your hands are sore from wringing them. Gad, was a tedious process!"
"Well," said Matt, "let's get started moving these cartons."
"Can't do that. They've got books in 'em. Have to take everything out, item by item. Look at those soggy bottoms. Ruined. Every last thing in this room, ruined."
"I'm sorry," I repeated in a tearful squeak.
"Room hasn't even had a chance to dry out since the last time your mother did this." He sighed heavily. "Well, let's get at it." He walked across the den to the couch, the carpet squishing with every step, and sat down to roll up his pants cuffs. "May as well take off my shoes and socks. Wouldn't want them ruined, too. Brand new socks."
Then he stood up, waded into the utility room, and began hauling things out, amid much more panting and puffing than was necessary.
"Whew, it's hot in here," he muttered presently, wiping his forehead on his sleeve. With that, he slogged through the water towards the window. Matt yelped at him, but it was too late. The window was open, and the mice, all sixteen of them, were scurrying down the cinderblock wall like Niagara Falls.
Dad groaned. "That's all we need. A hundred mice. All over the house. Chewing up everything in sight. Reproducing like mad. Dying in between the walls where you can't get them, until the whole place smells to high heaven. It'll take months to catch them all. Months."
There was nothing we could do just then, however, so we went back to work for more than an hour, unloading cartons, moving the furniture in the den, rolling up the soaking rug. "Well, I guess we can start getting the water up now," Dad sighed. "If we can find any old towels. They're probably all worn out from combat duty."
They weren't worn out, but they were in use - by Sharon's skunk. Sharon had bathed her that morning (in the laundry tub, which is how it came to be plugged in the first place), and the skunk had slunk off behind the stairs where the torn and worn towels were kept, and had settled down on them to dry off. Rose was in a foul, snappish mood, and when Dad tried to move her, she nipped him.
We used the good towels, after all.
By supper time, when it was all over, it seemed pretty funny to everyone except Dad. Every time our eyes met, we kids had to hold our breath. It was impossible to keep sober faces, though, and one by one, we were banished to our rooms. Every time one of us left, stumbling over himself and free at last to howl, the more hilarious it got. Before long, Dad was left alone at the table, glowering.
We were confined to our rooms for the rest of the evening, with only enough time out to do the supper dishes. Another time, we might have grumbled over this tyranny; tonight we were too busy hee-hawing. And anyway, our revenge wasn't long in coming.
Dad sat down to calm himself with soothing music, and as the record dropped onto the turntable and the arm moved over, there was a tinkling sound. The stylus, along with the whole cartridge and a dozen microscopic parts, had fallen out of the arm, and been spun by the turntable in all directions. And there was a deep shag carpet on that floor.