I like the word torrential and have been able to use it in a sentence three times.
It had been raining constantly all day. It was one of those dark sky rains, where the hum of it falling from above pushed right through your brain -- into parts that used to be calm and serene. We didn’t start to worry until night fell, and the rain continued with the same intensity. Me and Phyllis, and our two cats White Willie and Juicy Lucy sat somewhat terrified in our living room, unable to focus on the torrential downpour. With each breath we drew, we hoped finally for silence, for an end to it, but it would not yield.
Around 10pm I looked out our patio doors. It wasn’t what I saw that spooked me, it was what I didn’t see that set off the alarm bells. We could not see our swimming pool. The rain had accumulated with sufficient intensity and depth that it had flooded our back yard. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner started to play out in the dark recesses of my mind – this wasn’t going to end well.
We looked down and saw the cats lifting each paw as they walked, trying to shake off the water which had now entered the house and had soaked the carpet. Panic now illuminated the neon sign in front of our brains. It was time to abandon ship. Moving all my camera gear off the floor, we chose to head across the wash to Phyllis’ mom’s house. It was safe there.
We bundled up in our rain gear and stowed both cats in the back seat, slowly backing down the driveway. We got about 100 yards down the road before the water stalled the car. Without speaking I grabbed a cat under each arm and headed back to the house in the shin high water. It is unfortunate that I could not step outside myself to photograph this bizarre once-in-a-lifetime-sight. The cats seemed to sense the bleak urgency of getting back into our house and did not offer up any resistance.
At this point we could do nothing but wait for daylight. It was one of those nights where you sit and watch the second hand of the clock sweep its arc endlessly, waiting for the seconds to turn to minutes, and the minutes to merge into hours.
The rain stopped just before dawn, but the relentless pounding of our hearts seemed to create a knocking noise that was quite a bit louder. As we surveyed the damage, what we observed was nothing short of a miracle. We lived at the bottom of a mountain slope on the south side of Hwy 111 in Rancho Mirage. Even though gravity was not our friend that day, God was. The water pushed through the back fence and separated into two distinct channels around our home. It was as if Moses was parting another Red Sea for us. You could see the sand and gravel had drawn distinct paths immediately on either side of the house. We lost about two inches of sand and gravel on the west side, but the structure was intact and undamaged.
Finally, we found our smiles again. The dampness in the house had conjured up the aroma of wet wool, and we figured we had a better chance of making it to the home in Sunrise Country Club where we could regroup, refresh, and reassess the damage. Our car had dried out to the point it could be restarted. Packing up some clothes and cats, we headed to Bob Hope Drive for the five-minute drive to Christine’s house. Like some cartoon character, our eyes bugged out when we approached the wash.
The bridge over it had been destroyed during the downpour. There already was one car on the embankment, the unfortunate driver lay dead inside. Had we not been thwarted from our attempt to relocate the previous evening, there was a good possibility we would have joined him. This emotional roller coaster was sapping whatever reserve of strength we had left. Our only option at this point was to trek the ten miles up the highway to Washington St. in La Quinta, where we could safely cross the wash and drive back to Rancho Mirage. With Phyllis behind the wheel and me on my Harley, we began what should have been a 20 minute ride.
With the sun out now, the water had turned to mud, the mud had turned to dust, and the dust settled everywhere, making it difficult to see and breathe. An hour and a half later, completely spent, we arrived at the house. Our drawn and harrowed faces told a story we did not want to retell. The rest of the day was a blur of attempting to recharge our emotional batteries so we could face the arduous task of reclaiming our home.
Fortunately for us, the water had not risen above the wall molding, only requiring the carpet and padding to be lifted so giant fans could be strategically placed to help them dry. I had not been so lucky five years earlier in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes hit our home in Kingston, Pa. We lived a block from the river and the water crested midway up the second floor of the house, necessitating rescue by rowboat for my mother and brother who were trapped in the home – they had ignored the evacuation sirens, and paid dearly for that mistake.
Marines from 29 Palms were dispatched to aid in the recovery effort. Here we had the best-of-the-best. Young, strong and devoted, eight of them labored for eight straight hours without so much as a lunch break digging the sand from our pool. Wet sand is excruciatingly heavy, yet they trudged through the muck to empty the eight-foot-deep pool for us. They would accept no form of payment other than our blessings.
They too were spent from the ordeal, barely being able to peel themselves off the ground once the work was completed.
To this day no one has been able to explain how the ferocious force of nature had amiably parted around our property, leaving no permanent damage. While it took many months to restore the house to its previous form, and while we were beset by charlatan crews of workers who almost pushed me to a point of no return, we endured and rebuilt. Even White Willie and Juicy Lucy took the task in stride, opting for a bit of sunbathing on the patio once it had been cleaned.
This was the third time I had witnessed the ravages of nature when the sky opened and spit down its contents upon us. I’m hoping against hope that I have put to bed the word torrential. God only knows what word might replace it next.