WILKES-BARRE — It sure doesn’t seem like it has been 45 years since Hurricane Agnes swept away most of the memories I had of life before June 23, 1972.
One look in the mirror and that reality becomes a bit more believable.
The mid 1960s to that fateful June day in 1972 really are difficult for me to even want to try to remember. My mom died on May 10, 1968, the day before Mother’s Day in the year I was to graduate from high school. Those were extremely difficult times. My dad and I were lost. We really didn’t know how to cope without my mom around.
So one day my dad asked how I felt about moving out of the only home I had ever known. I mean it was hard to be in that house after my mom died. Everywhere I looked there were memories — lots of memories that were partially saved in several photo albums we had under my dad’s bed.
There was the kitchen where my mom cooked and baked and served meals and there was the living room where she would hang Christmas garland made out of red-and-green construction paper, and my bedroom where she would serve me ice cream on most mornings before school.
There was the little stand where our black dial telephone sat and where my mom would call Jack’s Market to order that evening’s dinner. There was her sewing machine in one corner and her jewelry in a drawer by her dressing table. There was the screen door that led to the front porch where she would sit and talk to neighbors across the street under the shade of a big maple tree.
So many memories. Yes, dad, let’s move. Too many nights crying myself to sleep, always hoping I would wake up from this nightmare and mom would be there to get me ready for school.
So we moved off the hill, down to Main Street. Before long, as we continued to put our lives back together, the sirens blared on this June night. We went to Aunt Betty’s house on East Shawnee Avenue and waited.
The flooding came. I remember water creeping up Davenport Street and staying there for days. Finally, the water began to recede. I vividly remember the brownness of the streets and the lawns. And I clearly recall the stink. It was awful.
Now came the time to return to our apartment on West Main Street. I remember walking in and seeing how everything was just gone. What was left, which wasn’t much, was covered in mud, soaked in river water and everything had that stink.
The best approach was to wait for it all to dry a bit. But it didn’t matter. What was important to us was gone.
Gone were my record albums, my baseball cards, my clothes, my diplomas — all my guy stuff, like baseball gloves, sneakers, even my underwear. It was all gone. And also gone were all those photo albums that sat under my dad’s bed. The ones that contained all my connections to my past — the photos of the O’Boyles and the Kraszewskis — all the people I knew growing up and those who were around before I was born. All were gone. All was lost.
Even at my young age, I remember being saddened by what had happened. I remember thinking that this damn flood came through our doors and windows and carried away all that was ever valued in my house. And just four years after my dad and I lost the only person we felt we couldn’t live without. What the hell was going on here?
I knew almost immediately that I would never live in the floodplain again.
Like many people hit by the flood, I lived in a HUD trailer for a while. I also worked in the recovery effort in Plymouth. I coordinated the cleanup crews and Plymouth came back fast after Agnes. Thanks to the efforts of many people, senior citizens, people with disabilities and those with no family around were given the help to clean out their homes to begin the process of starting over.
Every street in the floodplain had piles of flood mud-covered garbage stacked out front, waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to take it to a landfill. Every day, this process continued as everybody’s lifelong memories were piled into dump trucks and taken away.
It’s been 45 years, but it really does seem like yesterday.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.