66: A Flood of Blessings

66: A Flood of Blessings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

A Flood of Blessings

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.

~Garrison Keillor

It was the Monday before Christmas, and the first really cold day of winter. My seven- and nine-year-old sons and I pulled up to our brightly decorated home, excited to go in and wrap more gifts. We tromped over the snow, past the herd of lit-up reindeer and elves and through the front door. I smelled it before I saw it — there was moisture in the air.

Before I could puzzle it out, the boys had already run downstairs into our basement family room and were yelling the bad news up to me. The basement had flooded. We made our way down to find four inches of water on the floor, and more pouring in from a pipe that had frozen and burst. Fortunately the boys were so caught up in rescuing our hysterically mewing kittens they failed to hear the colorful words from their mother’s mouth. All I’ll say here is that I was not feeling very merry.

In our basement were my desk, computer, TV, pool table and a brightly lit Christmas tree (it was on a timer), surrounded by beautifully wrapped gifts. Thank God the tree was on a stand, so the gifts were okay. But other than the pool table, everything else resembled cookies that had been dipped in milk for too long. And the water was still pouring in. I dashed through the icy flood and yanked the power cords from the wall. I hadn’t considered the likelihood of becoming a cautionary tale about what not to do when you’re standing in ankle-deep water.

Surviving that, I needed to figure out how to get the pipe shut off. I called the local water agency, and the message I was forced to leave was not about their awesome crisis support. Next I started rifling through the Yellow Pages for a plumber. As I found out firsthand, the first freezing day of the season brings lots of floods throughout our city. Needless to say, they were only minimally interested in my problem.

When I finally got someone to talk to me, he promised to be there in an hour or so. Worrying about what “or so” might mean, the boys and I rushed our valuables upstairs and started bailing as fast as we could. By the time the plumber arrived two hours later, the water level had risen by several inches and we felt a lot like Jack and Rose on the Titanic. The cats, being cats, had quickly figured out this was a human issue and headed upstairs with no more than sardonic cat-smirks for goodbyes.

The plumber, God bless him, shut the water off, mended the pipe as best he could, and called in his restoration partners to take over the next phase of the “Keeping Jackie from jumping off a ledge” project. Those wonderful men spent the next four hours (until well past midnight) hauling dripping carpet out onto the snow outside. Of course they discovered mold, which meant even more destruction was in order. By this time, the boys had shrewdly joined the cats and retreated to their upstairs bedrooms, which were relatively spa-like in comparison to the rest of the house.

The next morning, striving for normalcy, I dropped the boys off at school. Then I went to work completely exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I tried to go about my regular business, but my mind was very much on my basement and that poor, beautiful Christmas tree surrounded by the not-so-beautiful wreckage. As the workmen were not as emotionally invested in my tree as I was, I knew its time was limited. I decided we would take down the tree that night and move the presents upstairs.

Very pleased with my logic and emotional control, I shared the flood story, along with my aquatic heroics, with two male co-workers in a meeting that day. I explained to them that it made no sense to have a tree when there were so many other, more important, things that needed to be dealt with — not the least of which was fungus-free air.

My co-workers listened patiently and nodded carefully, like negotiators trying to coax a jumper off her ledge. After more of my “reasoning,” one co-worker finally asked how I thought our family, who decorated like maniacs for every season, could possibly go without a tree on Christmas. I explained that the tree was in the basement because our living room was too small, and there was no way it would fit upstairs, and we’d just tape up a picture of a tree, and that the kids got it, and I got it, and everyone else would too — ha, ha, ha, ha... ha. Talking about it was obviously a bad idea, and I finally lost control. The tears I’d been carefully holding back fought their way out and streamed down my face. Not at all happy about crying at work, I sped to the bathroom, blotted my eyes and returned to the meeting. Nothing more was said of Christmas trees or flooded basements.

I picked up my boys early that day, so we could head back to our cold, sodden family room and start dealing with the mess. When we arrived home, what should be waiting for us on the front porch but a small Christmas tree, wrapped in a bow, with a card attached. It was a note from Santa, explaining how it was not acceptable for the Sheltons to be without a Christmas tree. He had specially selected this one to fit in our living room.

The boys were thrilled that Santa had dropped in early, while I was overwhelmed at the thoughtfulness of my co-workers, bringing the tears streaming back. But this time, in a good way. I felt very much like George Bailey, and yes, it was wonderful. We brought it inside and set it up in the same spot I’d planned for the tree picture. Santa had guessed well — it fit perfectly.

That night we reenacted the ritual we’d performed just weeks before, with one small difference. We heated up hot chocolate, cranked the Christmas tunes, and spent hours moving ornaments and gifts from one tree to the other. As we enjoyed our evening, I thought about how much different that night would have been if we’d been packing up the ornaments into boxes, and how blessed we were to have such amazing people in our lives. There was no way that night could get any better... until my nine-year-old turned to me and said, “Mommy. How lucky are we that we get to decorate two Christmas trees this year?” And just like that, our worst Christmas turned into one of the best.

~Jackie Shelton

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