This appeared in the Dayton Daily News on August 14, 1983
‘I remember the flood’
I have been told that before very long there won’t be many of us around who remember the flood, either by having been in it, or somehow connected with it. And, it might be well to put our memories on paper.
I was ten years old that February. At the beginning of the school term in September, I was in the sixth grade. Going to Patterson School at the corner of Wyoming and Alberta streets was rather awesome to me and it seemed rather important that I be there unless I had a good reason.
It was pouring rain one morning and my mother said it did not look good and I should stay at home. I could not imagine why, as I had tramped through snow and rain across the fields many times while going to Rubicon School. That immediately filled me with apprehension that all was not right. That was the beginning of my days of wonder, fright, and worry and not quite understanding what it was all about.
Our home was situated on a small hill. Someone said the water was creeping up in back of us. The neighbor family lived at the foot of this hill and were about to be flooded. My brothers helped move them –mother, father, four children and a dog—to our house. We had not been on good terms with those neighbors, but mother said this was no time to think of that.
This ten-year-old figured things were not good. We had outdoor plumbing so I followed the boardwalk, stood up on the seat and could see that the river and canal were one with a swift current, which at that time was carrying what looked like a horse. The NCR lumberyard was directly behind the house, but by standing on the seat I could see water and noticed it was running freely through the lumberyard.
The Cincinnati-Dayton traction line tracks were on a high levee and therefore not touched by the water. We lived about a block south of the NCR Company on South Main Street, so were protected by the hill between Apple Street and Wyoming.
One morning a couple of men from the NCR Company came to our home requesting that they b e permitted to attach wires to our hydrant in the large kitchen-dining room so that messages could be sent to other cities. They probably used the hydrant for grounding wires, I don’t know. They used the same kind of instrument that we see in the old Western movies—a round black key which gave out a constant clicking sound. That could be heard day and night.
My mother must have had the strength and endurance of ten for she managed to keep food on the table and a semblance of order for us—my five brothers, dad and me, as well as the six neighbors and also a couple of telegraph men who were on shifts around the clock!
I do remember drawing a picture on the steamed dining room windows, and after someone told Ma that I should not be allowed to do that, one of the NCR men took my part by saying, “Before this is over, we might be glad to see a child’s markings on the window.” I can’t imagine a child of ten remembering those words verbatim, but I do. It could be also that his words gave me new cause for worry.
We were told that somewhere in the vicinity of Main and Vine streets a building had floated out into the middle of Main Street. It later blew up and we understood it was Saettle’s Grocery.
A morgue had been set up next door to us in what was once the NCR employees’ dining hall, with just an arm of the lumberyard between our house and the morgue. Brother Russell and I heard that an aunt and uncle who lived in a cottage on Brown Street were unaccounted for in the flood. Russell, fourteen years old, said it was our duty to sit on the curb at the morgue entrance and watch in case Aunt Carrie and Uncle Vic were brought in. This we did, but I don’t remember ever going past the front doors of the morgue and don’t believe Russell did either.
Dad worked all hours building boats at the NCR and would come home just long enough to snatch a little sleep, eat and go back again. (I heard he was the fastest boat builder they had.)
Next came another scare for Ma to cope with. A limousine pulled up in front of the house and brother Walter was brought in exhausted and very wet. Walter had taken a boat at Main and Apple streets, rescued two women in a swift current on Apple Street, but then a horse came up to the boat. He told the women to sit still and gently pushed the horse away with the oar. The hose came back again. The two women panicked, rocked the boat and Walter fell out. He was close to a telephone pole on South Main Street and the water was high enough for him to grab a wire. He hung on and was rescued.
Anyway, John H. Patterson happened to be there, witnessed it, and ordered Walter taken home in his car.
All this time my brothers did not have beds to sleep in and they had slept on the floor, taking turns during the night checking the rising water in back of our house.
I helped Ma but kept wondering how long she could hold up and keep things moving so smoothly. The only murmur I heard from her was when the neighbors kept feeding their dog out of the same dishes we used, but I was told to soak them in hot water and was the only one to hear about her disapproval.
Next, brother Ed came home and said he saw the father of one of his friends. Ed said the man has walked from West Carrollton because their son Earl must be in the flood and he and Mama were worried sick about him and couldn’t rest. Ed, who sometimes stretched the truth if it would make someone happier the way he told it, told Earl’s dad that he had seen Earl and they didn’t need to worry as Earl was fine.
When Ed told Ma, she said, “Did you see Earl?” Ed replied that he hadn’t seen Earl. I knew that another lecture for another brother was coming up. Ma asked Ed what he would have to say if Earl was lost in the flood, and he had given the parents false hope.
I remember Ed’s answer to that: “Yeah, but gee, Ma, they will get a good night’s sleep tonight and that will be good for them.”
I don’t remember just when it was, but there came a knock at the front door, and there stood Earl.
Ma was overjoyed to see him and I imagine Ed was, too. He became another member of this growing guest list at our house.
I am glad my mother took me downtown to see what the flood had done. Mud caked everywhere. Things gradually settled down and I remember being taken downtown one evening to see the big cash register on the Court House lawn where they endeavored to raise $2,000,000 to build flood prevention dams. I thought the cash register was a real one! There was a lot of cheering each time the figures on the register increased.
Why tell of this? First, as a tribute to Ma and Dad and secondly to show that sacrifice, hard work, pinching pennies, but willing always to help those in need was not too much for them.