By Hannah Reich Berman
Last week I optimistically wrote that I, like Martin Luther King Jr., shall overcome. This week I’m somewhat less certain about that. Dealing with this adversity has not been easy. After two weeks my power was finally restored, but it’s of no use to me, as my circuit-breaker panel, having been submerged in water, is unusable. Translation: I have no electricity or heat at home, so I’m still at my daughter’s house.
I know that others are in far worse shape than I, but I need to be honest; my prevailing thought is “May Hashem give me strength!” If I don’t vent, I may crack under the strain, so I’m writing it all down. I’m not sure where the following quote originated, but one man I met as he trudged along on foot (having lost his car), carrying heavy packages, smiled wanly and said that he was waiting for the locusts and the pestilence. Indeed, it does feel like a plague has been visited upon us despite the fact that it’s only an inconvenience.
I talk to myself often. This is not a particularly good sign, but that’s the way it is. For a time, my mood fluctuated wildly. Being a chatterbox, I told some people that, before my basement was pumped out, it had six feet of water. In calmer moments, I said that it was five feet. And, on those rare occasions when I managed to get myself into a Zen-like state, I used a generic term; I said that it was several feet of water. I wasn’t lying or exaggerating. The discrepancies were because, in those first dreadful days, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
An overworked electrician put an end to the mystery and speculation when he pointed out that the water mark indicated that it was just over four feet of water. I would have known that if I had gone down there after the water was pumped out, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In another life, Hubby would have taken care of that–and a lot more. (Arnie, where are you?) But, having visited the basement, I now know that, in addition to being out one circuit-breaker panel, I also lost my freezer, washing machine, dryer, gas furnace, hot water heater and central-air-conditioner blower.
Another of my daughters is also living here with her family. Cots and mattresses are everywhere, giving the place all the ambience of a public shelter! But the little ones are having a blast with their cousins. This gives new meaning to the word cozy. I can’t speak for the rest of the clan, but I’m bonding as I have never bonded before! Nevertheless, I long to be back in my own home. The noise level is often deafening and my nerves are shot, thanks to the kids’ favorite activity: removing cushions and pillows from the den sofa, piling them on the floor, and using them as a launching pad from which to jump. They call it flying! My daughters and their husbands have nerves of steel. They’re amazing people. Were I to be host for this length of time to such a large number of people with the inherent noise and clutter I would likely exhibit all the hospitality of Atilla the Hun.
There’s much to be grateful for. My family has light and warmth, and we’re all together. What goes on here in the mornings is difficult to describe. The word that comes to mind is chaos, as we get youngsters to their schools and then the adults make an attempt to get to their workplaces. In the evening, the children do their homework and then play with one another while the adults sit around discussing how they met the challenges of the day.
But I want to share with you what the youngsters do when their cousins sleep here. The room that I “confiscated” from one of my granddaughters when I first arrived is no longer mine alone. When my other daughter’s family moved in, I naturally had to share my sleeping quarters, so I acquired a roommate. I adjusted to the lack of privacy but not to the fact that each morning there is a different occupant in the other bed. The first time it happened I did a double take. I knew for a fact that Elisheva had gone to sleep in that bed, but when I awoke, Avital was in her place. Sometimes it’s Batya that I see in the bed. The youngest children want to sleep with their older cousins and the negotiating is fierce. They draw straws, they do coin tosses, and when the outcome doesn’t suit them, they nudge every adult in the house in the hope of getting their way.
Apparently one of the kids came up with an unusual solution. To the best of my knowledge it went something like this: “Okay you can sleep with Sarah half the night but I get the second half with her. And tomorrow night I get to sleep with Rebecca!” And it’s not just the girls. Zev and Yisrael too vie for the opportunity to bunk with their older male cousins. These kids must be wandering around the house at all hours of the night. But they aren’t the only ones! Other people here are doing the same thing.
My children, like so many others in hard-hit communities, are kind and hospitable. All are welcome. One time I awoke and saw a perfect stranger in the hallway. I didn’t get scared–on the contrary, I was ecstatic because I thought maybe it was my insurance adjuster and he had finally come looking for me. But I realized I was wrong when I noticed that he was wearing a bathrobe. It turned out that he was just a local man who had come in after I’d gone to sleep the night before. He had slept here and was looking for the bathroom while his wife and son were still sound asleep on the den sofa. I didn’t see them again after that, because they stayed only the one night before making their way to a relative in another neighborhood.
And, speaking of insurance adjusters, I have yet to see one of them. As of this writing, the adjuster for my homeowner’s policy is scheduled to meet me at my home (the one that I once considered my palace) in two days’ time. We’ll see how that works out, but I’m not optimistic. On the other hand, the adjuster who responded to my automobile claim is still missing in action. He has called twice to let me know that he’s on his way, but he may be coming by way of Maui because so far he’s a no-show.
The good news is that getting gasoline has become easier. The bad news is that I remain carless. But hopefully that will change this week when my newly leased car arrives.
The beehive of activity has tapered off. In that first week, many people came either to grab a hot shower, to charge their cell phones, or to use the Wi-Fi. It didn’t even pay to close the front door, much less to lock it! This joint was jumping. We’ve all become great friends and it’s as comforting to those who give the help as it is to those who need to take it. Mine is a community to be proud of. And the nicest thing is that many others are as well. Everyone everywhere is pitching in and reaching out. All that we have is each other! That’s the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.