To the east, regions already suffering the aftereffects of flooding from Hurricane Irene almost two weeks earlier had those problems aggravated by 2–4 inches (51–100 mm) of new rain on saturated ground and rivers still swollen. TheWallkill River crested at five feet (1.5 m) above flood stage in Ulster County, and the village of Washingtonville in Orange County to the south was isolated as it had been after Irene by the rising waters of Moodna Creek. The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, just reopened a day earlier, was closed indefinitely. Roads were closed, including exits on the New York State Thruway in the Mohawk Valley and, south of the Interstate 84 exit at Newburgh, the entire road. Some businesses that had spent considerable time and money to reopen after Irene were once again flooded. Damage in Tioga County in the Southern Tier was estimated at around $100 million. ~Tropical Storm LeeWhen the second inundation, courtesy of Tropical Storm Lee, was imminent, I left work early so as to get to this side of the creek before I could not. At home, I ensconced myself on the couch with my book. It was chilly. I thought about starting a fire in the stove, but it didn't feel as if it would be worth the effort. It was very quiet. The rain pattered against the windows, stopped, resumed.
I thought I heard a car's tires roll up the driveway, but from where I sat, saw neither Husband's truck, nor any other vehicle. After a few minutes, a tiny tap-tap-tap of a key on the glass of the door. I unwound my legs from among the poodles and got up, craning my neck around the end of the kitchen counter to see the door. A tall white-haired lady peered in, hoping for a human. I opened the door and she stood on the porch in the rain, telling me she'd been a mile from home and had gotten detoured . . . and lost. "I could see the church up on the hill there, you know the one, with the blue cross? And he wouldn't let me go on!"
She wore no coat, and her black sweater was soaked. I got her inside and settled on the couch, provided, with my apologies, a cup of coffee reheated from the morning, and put the afghan on her shoulders. We visited for a little bit, and I heard the short version of her life story. She's from Lubbock, Texas, had a husband who died, then a son who died. She went to school for architecture but then decided she didn't like it because she didn't want to have to work with men all her life, so she got a degree in interior design. She was in cohoots with builders and worked a deal in which she'd decorate the new houses that they built. Anyway, then her son died, and this man Bob somebody (who owned the place near here where she lives now) married her and brought her here and then "no sooner did we get here, but he died."
She was matter-of-fact about the whole thing, except a slight wonderment at all these people dropping dead around her, and I enjoyed listening to the Texas flavor of her speech. In the short time she was here we covered a vast amount of conversational ground. She said the women here have been unfriendly to her. I said, "Well, you know, there's that little bit of antipathy between Northern and Southern women." I mentioned Jeannie to her, who had said once, in one of her Scarlet O'Hara fits of pique, and probably quoting some romance novel heroine, "That's work that only niggers and Northern women would do!" My guest was aghast. "I was raised with ladies, you know. No one I knew would ever have used language like that!"
While we talked I checked the computer to see how to get her home.
She said, "I'd better write this down."
"You don't have to," I said. "I'm going to lead you there."
She did that whole upper-body recoil that it seems to me only Southern ladies do so well, and said, "You're going to lead me there?"
All little back roads and the poor thing had no idea where she was, I couldn't send her off into the rain alone to follow directions that included no landmarks. Some of the roads look like hardly more than somebody's camp driveway. But all told, it looked like only about seven minutes from here to there.
After a while I said, "Well, you finish your coffee and get your keys, and we'll go out and get you home. And you get into a hot bath and warm up."
"I will. I'll put on one of those things, you know, that you wear over your bra." I expect she meant a camisole. Another Southern lady thing. I would have put on my flannel jammies.
I wasn't real sure where I was going but I knew where we needed to end up, and I knew the general direction. Some of those roads were ones I'd never been on, but lo and behold, after a while, we came out on the other side of the big pond that was the state route and I delivered her to her door. We blew our horns, waved out our windows, she pulled into her driveway and I went on. I wanted to see the flooded road. I saw it . . . all covered in several feet of water, guarded by sheriff vehicles with red and blue flashing lights. Having seen it, I had to back into somebody's driveway and, anticlimactically, pass by my erstwhile guest as she stood at the end of her driveway, in the rain, talking to someone I took to be a neighbor. Getting more soaked as she did so. Excessively gregarious. Maybe that's her "Texas" coming out.
We waved again and I wended my way home.
I am not an Earth Mother type. I don't go around Doing Good Without A Second Thought. I would not be one of those women about whom people would say, "Oh, she's just an angel . . . help anybody." But it never occurred to me not to go out in the rain and take that poor soul home. I think it's just the way it gets to be when everybody's all together in a big uncontrollable mess and we find out we need each other to survive. When I look at it that way, it makes natural disasters look a little bit like blessings.