52: Flood Damage

52: Flood Damage

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Flood Damage

Filthy water cannot be washed.

~African Proverb

Six weeks before our daughter Patti’s wedding to Jeff, we took the three bridesmaids’ dresses to show to her future mother-in-law, Gisele.

“A friend loaned us the dresses,” I said. “She was generous enough to let us borrow them this weekend to show you, and she said we could keep them until after the wedding.”

“They’re lovely.” Gisele caressed the glimmering satin. She glanced out the window. “It’s drizzling outside. Why don’t you leave the dresses here where they’ll stay dry? You don’t want to risk getting them wet.”

We agreed, for we were grateful to the friend who let us borrow the beautiful dresses. We sure didn’t want to stain them.

Patti and I carried the long gowns carefully, watching to make sure the hems didn’t drag on the floor. We followed Gisele into her bedroom. She was crowded for space in her mobile home and directed us to lay the dresses over the back of a chair.

“Leave them here until you come back for dinner tomorrow night,” she said. “They’ll be all right.”

Wrong! The dresses were not all right, and we never returned for the dinner Gisele had planned.

While we slept that Saturday night, the flood of 1984 swept through Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gisele awakened to water flowing through the mobile home she shared with her son, Jeff. She waded to Jeff’s bedroom to waken him. Frail and cancer-stricken, she couldn’t get out on her own. Jeff carried her through the flooded trailer park to safety.

The next afternoon, authorities let us back into the trailer park with Jeff and Gisele. Jeff opened the door, and we stepped precariously around Gisele’s overturned china hutch. She gasped at the sight of her beloved dishes, many of them shattered. The refrigerator lay on its side. The table of wedding invitations sat where it had been the night before, but it bore evidence of rising to the ceiling on the floodwaters. When the flood receded, the table had returned to the floor, still upright. The invitations remained in place, slightly water-damaged but not ruined.

What about those beautiful bridesmaids’ dresses — our borrowed dresses? We dreaded picking our way over debris to the bedroom to see what had become of them. Gisele led the way, and she wrung her hands when she opened the bedroom door.

“Oh, dear!” she cried.

The dresses lay where we’d left them, still draped over her chair. Mud dripped from the delicate blue satin onto the floor. Heartsick, Patti fell into my arms.

“Mother, what are we going to do?”

I didn’t have an answer. How could I possibly return home and tell our friend what happened? Unwilling to leave the dresses in Gisele’s ruined bedroom, we dropped the sodden mess into trash bags and hauled them to Patti’s apartment.

Dry cleaners weren’t open, for it was Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and people all over Tulsa were trying to deal with their flood-ravaged city. If we waited until Monday, the mud would have completely stained the satin. Patti and I had only one hope of salvaging the dresses — a slim hope, but we had to try. We dumped them into the bathtub and began rinsing off the mud. She and I took turns all afternoon on our knees, leaning over the tub, rinsing and gently scrubbing away the filth. Our backs ached, our arms hurt, and we were tired of the stench of mud in our nostrils. But the mud washed out, and the blue satin began to shine again. We hung the dresses over the bathtub, and they dried without a trace of the flood to mar their beauty.

Six weeks later, Patti and Jeff stood in the church chapel (which had also been flooded) and exchanged their wedding vows. The slightly watermarked invitations had gone out as planned. The bridesmaids were lovely in the blue satin dresses, with not so much as a stain to show what they’d been through.

Each of us has times when we’re like those mud-stained dresses. We get ourselves into situations that appear hopeless. But once we wash the mud away, we uncover the underlying beauty that is still there.

~LeAnn Campbell

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