When I was eight years old and living in a wee bungalow in Chatham, Ontario, family life was routine to the point of boredom. Walk to school at 8:30 am, eat dinner at 5 pm, grocery shop with Mom on Thursday night, fight with my older brother in the back seat of the ’62 Olds on Sunday drives, hear Dad say, “If I have to pull this car over . . .”
Anything disrupting that steady drumbeat was a welcome diversion, even if it meant a few soggy toys in a basement flood. Winter rains had made the Tecumseh Creek, one street over, bulge then overflow, so much so that residents of that street, one street over, had to get around in row boats. How exciting!
Dad gave bail buckets to my brother and I and we got to work. Our work made us late for school. Mom gave us each a note, put the old plaid tin in my hands – it was full of her melt-in-your-mouth fudge, a class treat for our last day of school before Christmas break – and I splashed through puddles in my red galoshes on those deserted sidewalks thinking that, aside from Christmas day? This is the best day of my life.
As an adult, though, and a homeowner, I haven’t found basement floods to glow in that same way, you know? Like a Hallmark movie. They’re more like a Stephen King horror, minus the blood: great elements of surprise, scary dripping sounds, screaming (mostly mine).
Let’s face it: a catastrophic basement flood is never on your To-Do list.
By the time my late husband Hugh and I built our dream home on Clarke Road, we’d had enough floods in our wee bungalow in the country that I suggested foregoing a basement. “Can’t we just pour a lot of concrete?” I asked. “Build the house on top?”
But no. Hugh wanted a place to put the furnace, the hot water heater, the oil tank. (Yes, basement oil tanks were legal in the ‘80s.)
The years went by and the rains caused the floods that destroyed every last vestige of childhood memorabilia. But we became quite knowledgeable about sump pumps and their necessary maintenance. And also quite reactive to the sound of rain.
Now, I’ve recently learned that the sound of a steady rain, like the gentle sound of leaves in the breeze, is called “pink” noise. Quite apropos for October, breast cancer awareness month, and also, apparently, great for sleeping. According to webmd.com, it’s a deeper sound, with lower sound waves, “so it may be gentler and more soothing” than, say, “white” noise, which is like static, and “brown” noise, which is a bit rougher, like the roar of a river or a strong wind.
For me? During my thirty years of living on Clarke Road? The sound of a steady rain got my heart pounding. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. If I’d been sleeping? I’d bolt from bed, run down the main staircase. Thump-thump. Down the hall to the basement door. Pull it open, woosh, fully expecting that dead woman from the bath tub in The Shining to rise from the murky depths. No water? Well, then, it was only a matter of time . . .
I will point out that the land we built on was clay, so if excess water couldn’t find a proper exit through drainage tile or pumping, well, it just happily found a way in. The experts suggested a second sump pump would do the trick, so we added one and got really bold, finishing the basement with a bedroom, bathroom, rec room and even a sauna.
One time the second sump pump failed. One time water gushed down, Niagara Falls style, through an east-facing window-well. That had never happened before. One particular flood was so high up on the stairs that when a friend showed up to help me, her vehicle loaded down with fans and shop vacs, we took one look down there and she said, “Go big or go home, huh?” We sat on the front porch, pulled Coronas from her cooler and I called a property restoration company.
By then, Hugh had been gone for a while, having died suddenly on a business trip, causing way more insomnia than a steady rain. I’d curse him from time to time – as I discarded soggy things, ran the shop vac, restarted sump-pumps and set up high-powered fans – for leaving without solving this leaky-basement puzzle. When I replaced the back deck, after he’d passed, there was some extra excitement and expense when the construction crew, which included my son, discovered some broken tile at a back window. That was it! That was going to be the fix to stop all future floods, but that was prior to the east-facing window-well gusher.
I was out at Hugh’s sister’s place this past summer. She was my next-door neighbour, lives beside the dream home on Clarke Road. She told me that the new owner, a handy guy with a roofing business, has figured out the leaky-basement puzzle. I believe he thinks he has.
The rains came recently, for an entire day, easing from time to time, then thrusting down like an ark would soon be necessary. The nearby Thames River bulged, then overflowed its banks, drowning soccer fields, park benches and a few cars. When I crawled into bed that night with my second husband – we’ve been together for fifteen years now – I heard the pleasing sound of a steady rain on the flat roof of our wee home in the city. I knew our basement was as dry as the Sahara Desert and that, based on significant historical evidence, it would remain so. I slept like a baby.