Not a Sunday drive | Mark’s Remarks

Back in the late fall or early winter of 1993, Michelle and I were an engaged couple who often took drives around the city or to places we wanted to visit and explore.

We’d usually pick up a coffee or even something to eat and head to a new place.  We went to plenty of parks and places where you could take a walk.

One such planned outing, suggested by me, was an incredible error and mistake on my part. I don’t know what got into me, nor do I know what I must have been thinking at the time.

Here’s a little background to explain my poor decision.

I remember seeing some news on television about the flood waters of ‘93 and how people were recovering. I’d only heard a little bit about the post-flood condition of the town of Valmeyer, and most of my knowledge was from video footage on the news.  

Even though I had been to Valmeyer many times, the horror of the flood wasn’t real to me. It was just like any other town that may have experienced a disaster; just another town that we were somewhat disconnected from and watching on the news.

Maybe my feelings were a way of blocking out something unpleasant.  I really wasn’t letting the reality sink in.

I was pretty familiar with Valmeyer. I had watched fireworks there and knew people who lived there. Back in the early 1990s, I was a pretty serious cyclist and a friend and I would make the long ride to Valmeyer a few times a month just to prove our endurance and boast about our athleticism.  

Several times, we’d get off our bikes and walk into Schneider’s store on rubbery legs, our faces often pockmarked from tar that had ricocheted off Bluff Road as our bicycle tires sped down the hot pavement.

We would hang out under a tree or sit for a spell somewhere in that great little town before jumping on our bikes and heading back to our homes.

At least one or two bi-county institutes were held at the old high school there, and I remember the history that rang from the walls of that building. The large framed photos of graduating classes. The dark woodwork and the solid construction.  

It was a shock to see these familiar places under water as news reports came across my TV set.  Then, I saw photos taken from airplanes. Yes, a shock to me who sat safely and unscathed in my living room at home. I can’t imagine what the emotions must have been for those directly impacted by the flood.

For whatever reason, I thought it might be a good idea for Michelle and I to grab sandwiches from Subway and head down for a leisurely drive to survey the flood damage. Again, what the heck was I thinking?  

Michelle must have thought I was a little nuts but she agreed and after getting our food, we drove out by the levee and planned to head down that way.

My friend and I had cycled past the Gummersheimer farm on our shorter bike rides; a route that took us past the mini-golf course, up on the levee and then back toward Bluff Road.  

My first shock during that car ride came when we started seeing the powdery white dusting of the previously flooded roads and land. Although the roads out there were now passable, not much had recovered from that awful disaster.  

We made our way back to Bluff Road and headed down to Valmeyer. At that time, houses still stood and had not been bulldozed.  Schneider’s was still standing. The town looked like a battle zone.  Some things had been cleaned up but the flood damage; the muddy windows, the water level marks on siding, the washed away trees and flower beds.  

All of it very evident.

We almost felt like we were walking on top of a grave. We felt we were being irreverent. We felt like we were doing something wrong. I’m sure others had done exactly what we were doing, but it just didn’t seem right.

I doubt any of them had been dumb enough to think they’d make a picnic out of the visit. I mean, really.  Somebody should have slapped me.

Driving around a little more, Michelle finally said she was ready to start home. So was I. Still, I had that feeling I couldn’t look away. It was horrifyingly interesting and so hard to stop surveying the damage.  And I suppose there was a little part of me wondering if anything could be done. 

How could we help?  You almost had the urge to jump out of your car and see if you could clean something up – recapture some semblance of home for someone.

But we finally started home, stunned, sad and feeling so sorry for the people who had lost their town.  

And we never touched those sandwiches. They went in the fridge. It may have taken a while for us to regain an appetite.

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