We expected a little bit of water in the house... maybe a couple of inches or even a foot. But nobody was prepared for the wall of water that ravaged the community 40 years ago today when Hurricane Agnes passed by.
We lived on West Bald Eagle Street, just about a block below the Weis Store. When it kept raining day after day, we, like others in town, became concerned that the Susquehanna River might overflow her banks and send a little water our way.
We listened carefully to the radio all through the night as local broadcasters spread the word from weather forecasters of river levels, and possible crests and areas that might get water.
We weren't too concerned.
And then ... at a moment's notice ... we became quickly alarmed.
The river was coming over its banks. It was gushing into the streets. Residents were grabbing their children and pets, evacuating even as their homes became surrounded by the rapidly rising flow.
Piper Aircraft was moving airplanes to the new Route 220 bypass.
People were driving vehicles to higher ground.
It was beyond time for concern.
Dad removed the motor from the furnace in the basement and put it on the kitchen table. We moved some things from the floor to table tops and carried a few things upstairs.
We grabbed a few clothes and made our way to South Fairview Street where my grandparents lived and Dad had taken a small camper.
That camper was to become our home for the next couple of weeks.
That is, except for Dad, who still wasn't convinced that we'd be swamped with water or suffer major damage to our home. He remained behind until the last minute then, as the water became nearly impassable by vehicle, he fled, too.
I can remember the sights of the next morning vividly.
We stood on the corner of West Bald Eagle Street and South Fairview Street, where Dickey School now stands and looked down the street. The water was up to Jones Street, just a block away. We could barely see the front porch roof of our home. The water was eight feet deep at our house, barely an inch from entering the second floor.
We were in shock.
We had a hard time comprehending what we were looking at - telephone poles and trees floating among the roof tops. People in boats making sure residents were safely out of their homes. Bystanders on the street corners staring at the muddy ocean in front of us and trying not to think about what was happening to their homes beneath the water.
Dad monitored the receding water and he was first to go back home several days later. The black station wagon turned an ugly shade of brown as mud splashed all over it. He had to use the windshield wipers to see where he was going. When he reached the house, it was another trek through mud, this time on foot, making a path through a sea of mud and trying to find the sidewalk buried below.
Several days later, the rest of our family got a look at the place we called home... the place with the back yard where we played kickball and hop scotch, the big apple tree with a porch swing ... the grapevines along the fence that grew the sweetest fruit ... the pretty pink peony bushes that flowered every year ... the porch where we five kids slept out when summers were hot and humid ... the patio with picnic table and charcoal grill where we spent hours eating and enjoying friends.
Everything was covered with mud.
The inside of the house was no different.
Everything was destroyed. Even the motor from the furnace was gone.
Perhaps most devastating was the loss of those things that can never be replaced ... like photos. Mom often talks about the picture that was in the dining room of her mother and father on their wedding day. It was the only picture my mom ever had of her father, who died when she was just a baby. It was lost in the flood along with many other photos, mostly of my brothers and I as babies.
And there were books... a whole bookcase filled was baby books, yearbooks, old books that were my dad's when he was small ... and many more. The entire bookcase was destroyed ... the books in pages amid the muddy floor.
That antique mantel clock that was a special gift to my parents?
It too was gone.
Then it was clean-up time. And it didn't happen quickly.
My dad used a big knife to cut the rugs heavy with inches of mud into narrow strips that we kids pulled out into the street. We moved out beds, dressers, tables, chairs, couches, the television set ... all out into the street. Next came piles of mud-covered clothing, shoes, curtains, sheets, towels, you name it, it was covered with mud and had to be taken out.
The plaster walls fell apart. Many of the windows were broken. We used shovels to scoop out the glass, debris and mud from the floors into wheelbarrels and buckets that we dumped out front, too.
Now it was time for the hoses. Inside and out. We used hoses day after day to wash down the walls and floors. Every time we thought we had all the mud out, more crept out from the cracks. And we'd hose it down again.
There was also that awful smell. It's the smell of muddy water and dirty debris of moldy things and sun-baked garbage and debris. It's a distinct odor ... one can only describe as the smell of a flood. And it lingered.
Day by day, week by week, month after month, we worked to get our home liveable again. We stayed at my grandparents' for a while and then moved into the second floor which had escaped damage.
There were new walls to erect, new windows and doors to install. Painting to be done. Furniture to buy. Carpets and other flooring to be put down ... just to name a few of the items on the to-do list.
We, like many others in town, were fortunate to receive a 1-percent loan from the Small Business Administration to finance the repairs and re-furnish our home.
My dad was adamant that repairs would be completed by the time the snow fell and we would celebrate the Christmas holidays as a family in our "new" home.
His deadline came quickly.
The week before Christmas, Dad put down new red carpet in the living and dining rooms. It was the only color he could get on such short notice.
On the day before Christmas, he and my brothers set living room furniture on the new carpet. Again there were few choices available. Dad just took the couch and chairs that were in stock.
On Christmas Eve, Mom decorated the Christmas tree... as she had done every year ... and the gifts were there on Christmas morning.
It was indeed a special Christmas at the Yarnell home. Dad was so proud to have the house finished for us in time for Christmas.
But the joy didn't last long.
Two days later, on Dec. 27, 1972, my father passed away while lying on that new sofa watching a football game on the TV. He was just 47. It was something with his heart.
I can't help but wonder if the hard work and stress the flood brought along with it didn't have something to do with Dad's unexpected death.
And I can't help but wonder what my life would be like if Dad was still here.