Harvey brought together Texans of all types

By B.A. Belthoff / The Bulletin

I’m from New Jersey, and although I’ve lived through several hurricanes, none were quite like Harvey. Not even Hurricane Sandy, the storm that devastated the eastern seaboard and Jersey’s beautiful beach communities.

We lived in the northern part of the state on a ridge not near any rivers or waterways so hurricanes for us were wind events. Losing electricity and having to restock our refrigerator and freezer was a common occurrence after a storm. After seeing mountains of belongings towering on front lawns, home after home, street after street in the Houston area after Harvey, it makes the refrigerator issue seem so inconsequential.

In September of 2017, my husband and I had been in Texas just a smidgeon more than a year. Before we left New Jersey, we decided it was time to downsize and get rid of all the clutter and things we didn’t need, use or want. We came to Houston with the mindset that less was more. A favorite mantra we’ve developed is: don’t add to the pile. We donated to charity, gave to our family and neighbors, and sold most of everything else in a garage sale. We were left with a pile of what we really wanted and cherished. We purchased a smaller home and began to decorate it with the furnishings we decided to hold on to, while making a few purchases to fill in the gaps.

I remember a science lecture that started with this saying: Always have a plan B – and plan B had better be better than plan A – because if plan A goes bad, you have no back up. On August 27, 2017, for the first time in 27 years, my husband and I found ourselves with no back-up plan.

We researched the area before we purchased our home and decided to be northwest of Houston – in case there was a hurricane. We’d be on the west side of the storm, which is known to be the calmer, less destructive side. So said Alan, my part-time meteorologist husband (wink, wink).

We found an area that is being developed around the concept of preventing flooding. All the water channels to common areas, which are the lower lying areas in our subdivision. Places like the dog park, basketball courts, and soccer fields flood first. Our home sits on ground that is not considered to be in a flood zone. In fact, the mortgage company had recently informed us we did not need flood insurance. We didn’t have flood insurance.

The storm arrived, and much like the story of Winnie the Pooh, the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down. It came hard, fast and loud. It rained the first 12 hours like nothing I’d ever experienced. We watched puddles form to fill the streets, then the sidewalks. A break in the rain allowed only some water to drain.

More rain brought the water to the middle of the driveway. A few trees were uprooted and the retention lake near our section was beginning to crest. It was only a short time later when its water joined the water in the street. Looking out the window, the houses on our street seemed to be tiny islands bobbing in a huge lake.

After I experienced the moment of, ‘Oh my God, it’s really going to happen to us; we’re really going to lose everything!’ I gathered myself and walked around the house and looked at the things we’d collected over the course of our marriage. I asked myself, ‘Is this important to the rest of my life?’ The answer was mostly, no.

The furniture and stuff that we kept when moving here because we wanted to be surrounded by things that mattered to us like: Nana’s china cabinet, the lamps that were wedding presents to my parents, and lest we forget, my shoes – all that didn’t matter. What I found myself reaching for were pictures, the book of names and addresses I’ve had since we were married, and the file in the cabinet marked, family history. I grabbed medical files and utility statements in case we’d have to communicate via snail mail or phone.

My husband and I went into the garage and drew a line, agreeing that if the water got this far, we’d shut off the electricity to the house. Together, we gathered canned food, water, supplies and the dog and headed up to the second floor, mentally prepared to hunker down for several days.

There was a break in the bands of the storm, and our area received no rain for several hours. It was the reprieve we needed because the storm drains were overwhelmed. At 4:30 a.m. or so, when we got up from one of our short naps to walk around the house and check on things, we saw the water had started receding. It was back to the level of the previous afternoon. The debris marks on the driveway showed how close the water did come. Only the depth of the garden, about 4 feet, stood between us and a whole lot of trouble. We breathed a sigh of relief and said a prayer of thanks to God, and another prayer for those whose story didn’t end the way ours did. Then, we purchased flood insurance.

I’ve come to believe all of this tragedy is an opportunity for all of us to help one another. It was heartwarming and inspiring to see how Texas rallied.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was doing something to help someone else. Residents in our development formed groups to help those whose homes had flooded as well as first responders by providing them with food. We did laundry to salvage what could be salvaged and collected school supplies. We answered Facebook posts asking for specific sizes of clothing, baby items, water, gift cards, medicine, boats to borrow for rescue, power tools and on, and on.

I have witnessed Texans taking care of Texas. Their can-do attitude and open willingness to help any and all on such a massive scale should be the barometer for other states.

This is a tremendous melting pot of people from all over the world. No one here cares where you came from.

What matters is that you are here, in Texas. That makes you a Texan, and it also means if you are in trouble, there are so many you can lean on for support. I’m proud to now say, I’m from Texas.

(New-ish Texas resident B.A. Belthoff welcomes your comments. You can reach her at babelthoff@gmail.com.)