Friday, August 1, 2014

Two Reunions

Two years ago, on the first Friday of August.  It is two years since some first cousins and their families gathered at my home in Westover, near Johnson City, New York for a mini family reunion.  We haven't had one since and I don't know if we ever will have one again.

After the reunion was over, I wrote this blog post.  It's hard to believe two years have passed since the reunion, and almost three years since a flood that devastated my neighborhood, and other parts of the Triple Cities of Upstate New York.

It's been a time of recovery and a time of hope. A time of memory (the topic of the August NaBloPoMo),  A time of ReUNION.

Slowly, the flood ruined houses are finally being demolished. Much (not all) of the land will be turned into green spaces, never to be developed again.
Former BAE Industries, Westover, NY, July 3, 2014

The ruined factory I speak of (still not demolished) once occupied by BAE Industries and 1300 workers, still waits for its date with the bulldozer.  At one time it was the largest wood framed structure in the United States.  Its history is forgotten by so many.

But on the other hand, since I wrote this, at least one new business has started where another one had closed - a seed of hope.

And our town, the town of Union, has been planning a gigantic planning project, the ReUNION Project 2020.  There are a lot of high hopes for our area.  Time will tell what positive things will come out of this disaster.

This is the post I wrote after the cousins reunion, on the eve of the first anniversary of the flood.

On the Cover of the Rolling....Flood Book

It is said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.  Sometimes, that fame is a welcome thing.  Don't you want to be famous?  Doesn't everyone?

Sometimes, it is your neighborhood that becomes famous.

Many times, you just as soon wish it had never happened.
That's what I wish, every time I leave my house near Johnson City, NY and walk or travel more than about three or four blocks.

I pass buildings that became vacant 11 months ago today, and are still vacant.  Some don't have interior walls.  Some are still filled with debris.  Some have "For Sale" signs.  Some still have bushes encrusted with flood mud.

There is the former credit union building.  The former day care center.  The former doctor's practice. The former 600,000. square foot factory building that once held 1300 workers.  The former adult day care center.  The sagging houses that will never be occupied again.  One entire street is almost devoid of occupants, with just a handful of hardy souls trying to reclaim their lives.

The out of business and for sale tire store whose mechanics nourished my son's love of car repair especially touches my heart.  The former.....the former.....

Many businesses have reopened.  The Home Depot.  The Ollies.  The window contractor.  The Aldi.  Our local pediatrician. A dentist.  A massage therapist.   My beloved Unicorn Electronics.  Wild Birds Unlimited.

We must look towards the future and I usually do, but today I look back one last time.

This past weekend, I had several cousins visit from the New York City area, Pennsylvania, and (by Skype) Florida, the midwest and Texas.  We had a lot of fun, and we talked about many things.  Still, a certain book I had taken out of the library drew a number of fascinated readers.  They paged through the pictures while my young adult son provided the narration.

One of the cousins graduated last year from Binghamton University.  She looked at pictures of places she knew. She had graduated in May of 2011 and the pictures were taken during the period of September 7, 8 and 9, 2011 during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee,  It was a book about the flood.  If she had still been going to the college, she may well have volunteered at the Events Center, which became one of the evacuation centers.

My neighborhood is on the cover of the flood book.  My house is even visible (no, not telling you which one) in the aerial photo.

Our neighborhood of Westover, along with several other areas (some of which suffered much worse than we did) have become a symbol of the flood.  Let us name them:  Owego. Castle Gardens.  Twin Orchards.  The Southside of Binghamton.  There are others.  I really don't know why our neighborhood was chosen for its 15 minutes of fame, but it was.

When I first found out our neighborhood would be on the cover, it was emotionally very hard.  It was just a couple of months after the flood, and my feelings were still too raw.  But, when I saw the book at the library this past July, I knew it was time.  Time to put the flood where it belonged, in the past.

Time to read the book.  Time to move on.

So we looked at the book, and then went on to much happier things. We had such a good time that my sides ached the next day.

I wish the flood had never happened.  I wish I could have had the power to prevent the storm from doing what it did to our part of upstate NY and parts of several other states.  But wishes have no power.  Only actions.  We have come so far, and we should be proud.

Next month will be the one year anniversary.  I will write about the flood recovery one last time.  And then I hope to move on permanently to other blog topics.

It is time.


  1. What a sad thing to go through. It must be very hard to see all those old lovely buildings, still empty. I am glad, however, that there is a bit of hope in the midst of the devastation. I hope your neighborhood just continues to grow, reseed, and flourish in the coming years, and recover from that flood.

    1. Thank you, Bethany. It's slow, but the recovery is happening.

  2. Take that,apply the damage 100 times worse with no hope of reconstruction and you have Detroit everyday.
    I don't know if you noticed but I linked your blog to mine quite sometime ago...*s*

    1. I've never been to Detroit, Michael, but years ago, I did have occasion to be, for a short time, in Flint. Binghamton and Johnson City and Endicott - our Triple Cities -I agree it isn't Detroit but we have a lot of very real problems. I could fill this blog, with no trouble, with pictures of crumbling factories and neighborhoods - but then I would lose all my readers! We lost so much and the 2006 and 2011 floods were only a small part of it: Incidentally, thank you for the link - I've linked back. I hadn't noticed. My blog reading has had to have been curtailed recently but I hope to be back to more normal in a month or two.

  3. Alana,
    It sounds like your heart is beginning to heal from that awful experience. You lost a great deal in that flood, I think. I'm so sorry. I too hope that your neighborhood will once again grow and flourish in the years to come, and that the flood will be just a sad memory some day.

    1. I hope so, Amy. My losses in the flood were minor compared to people even two or three blocks from us. I wrote about it in a fictional memoir for NaNoWriMo in 2012, and that helped tremendously in the healing process. Not sure that fictional (or my real) memoir will ever emerge from my computer but maybe - one day.

  4. So sorry you had to go through all that. It sounds like your neighbourhood is well on it's way to recovery. Best wishes with everything moving forward and keep your head up!

    1. We are moving forward in some ways. In others - our area is economically depressed. But we all do the best we can. I love this area. I hope I can continue to stay.

  5. Know that the floodwall always protected my old neighborhood (Oakdale), Westover, and the 'GE Plant' (as it was known back then.) For 40 years the river would rise on the other side of the floodwall, but we were always safe. But neighborhoods that were always safe and dry flooded. Oakdale/Westover are now in a FEMA flood plain behind a flood wall. Oakdale, my old neighborhood came back physically, but residents fret every time it rains. I see ghosts of the former life in the Southern Tier that may never return after losing major employers and experiencing the 500-year floods.

    1. Swimway three years after the flood, I am still apprehensive every time it rains hard, or every time a period of rain is in the forecast. We never had to carry flood insurance.When we saw the flood walls before we moved to Westover in 1986 the man who became our next door neighbor said "oh, it's safe. If this neighborhood floods the entire Triple Cites will flood." BAE (the last occupant of the old GE plant) is now in Endicott but they have only committed for another three or so years. I suspect they will be gone after that.

  6. I honestly just cannot even imagine. Thank you for sharing your story...sometimes I think it is easy to forget that behind those aerial images are actual people with real lives just trying to pick up the pieces and recover. Amazing post.-Ashley

    1. Thank you. Yes, I could actually write a post about the flood aftermath, and all the people who came out to gawk and take pictures, like we were a tourist attraction- that's a side of humanity that I hope I never have to see again!

  7. Awww gosh I'm so sorry , just cant even imagine .x


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