BY ARLENE APPELROUGH / AJT //
When I walked into my lake house utility room earlier this year, I noticed something strange. On the floor in front of the dryer was a thick, wispy brownish line. It looked as if someone had painted a stripe on the linoleum.
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Even though I love entertaining children, I couldn’t think of any recent guests who might have left this artistic mark.
Seven years earlier, my hot water heater rusted out, so my first thought was maybe this brownish substance was rust – although, water heaters usually last more than seven years.
I called a plumber anyway. He assured me there was nothing wrong with my water heater, charged $125 and left me with an unsolved mystery. I washed the floor, hoping that would be the end of it.
Several weeks passed before I returned for this past Memorial Day Weekend. If I had been confused by the two-foot-by-two-inch stripe, I was about to discover something mind-boggling.
There was a puddle of water under the pool table in the rec room. If the water had been near the glass doors, I might have assumed the excessively rainy weather in May was responsible, but this puddle was far from the glass doors.
“That’s weird,” I thought while heading into the utility room.
But in there, the entire floor was wet. So I checked the hose on the washing machine – no leak. Where could this water be from?
I went into the master bathroom, also on the lower level. As soon as I stepped on the throw rug, water squished out. But there wasn’t any water on the floor.
I stepped on a second throw rug. More squishing water.
I checked under the sink. No water.
I looked at the ceiling, No water marks.
“Either there are poltergeists in this house or someone is trying to drive me crazy,” I thought.
The phrase printed on some napkins I recently purchased popped into my mind, seemingly perfectly characterizing the situation:
I try to live simply, but drama just keeps following me around.
Unfortunately, this drama was just beginning – after discovering soaked carpet in my closet and wet clothes, I called the plumber.
“You do not have a plumbing problem,” he stated, matter-of-factly. He pointed out patterns of thin lines on the floor of the utility room.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked. I noticed it was the same color as the previous stripe.
“Silt and Georgia clay – from outside your house, not inside,” the “expert” announced. “Obviously, the entire lower level of your house was flooded, and I can’t help you.”
Funny: He worked for the same company that hadn’t helped me the previous time. But he didn’t charge me and wished me luck.
I next called my Uncle Henry in Canada, who is a successful builder. He advised me to call a company that does water extraction. I did, and a service man came immediately with meters capable of measuring the moisture in my walls.
“The moisture goes up four feet,” he said. “Last weekend we had more than four inches of rain in less than two hours. We’re getting calls from people who have never had water in their homes before.”
We walked from room to room, and he pointed out water marks, indicating there had been at least a foot of water in each room.
“You couldn’t have done a thing to prevent this,” he said.
After ripping out the carpeting, industrial-size dehumidifiers were set up in each room. After five days, the machines were still extracting water, and mildew spores were present on the walls. The insurance adjuster came and delivered the shocking news that my homeowner’s policy would not cover any of the damage.
Out of options, I hired a contractor. The sheet rock was torn out and the insulation removed; all the floors had to be taken out, even the tiled floors in the rec room.
The master bedroom began looking like an archaeological dig. Under the carpeting were three layers of floors. The subflooring was crumbling. To make matters worse, everything had to be removed from the lower level of the house, and this too was time-consuming, expensive and triggered a bout of insomnia.
I guess stuff happens. This too shall pass has become my mantra.
For weeks, I’ve watched as contractors have worked outside and inside the house. They have enlarged drains and built a large retaining wall to divert future heavy rainwater. They rebuilt the entire outside wall of the utility room – the old wood had rotted.
Now, I keep thinking about the original warning sign – the wispy line of Georgia clay that appeared on the floor. If only I had been able to identify it, maybe the flood could have been prevented.
Yes, I believe things happen for a reason…
As soon as I figure out the reason for this flood, I will let you know.
Until then, I’m busy making choices about new floors and new walls…and wondering why there’s so much drama in my life.
Arlene Appelrouth earned a degree in news-editorial journalism from the University of Florida and her career as a writer and journalist spans a 50-year period; she currently studies memoir writing while working on her first book.