[elmira-ny.com] - Keeping memories alive...photo courtesy of Tom Drum...

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  - Irene Fadis -

Thanks for the opportunity to share our memories of that eventful summer of 1972. I remember that earlier in the day my mom,sisters, and I were repeatedly in touch with my uncle, who knew a lot of the city officials, and with our neighbors, to see what everyone was doing. We didn't want to be too hasty to make any decisions.

After several hours of keeping in touch with everyone my uncle called to say that the city officials said that we had to evacuate our homes, that the water was not going to stop rising. One of our neighbors, across the street from us, called too to say that she was evacuating, and was there anywhere that she could drive us too.

We packed a few clothes and we went with her. She drove us to my grandparents's house, the corner of Durland Ave & Church Street, which was higher ground. We hadn't moved any furniture, or clothes, nothing,. We all thought that the water was going to crest, but it never did, so we lost everything. Clothes, furniture, important documents, old pictures, including my parents' wedding pictures, and my high school yearbook, everything was lost, including religious artifacts that we had in our home.

That night my family and I camped out in my grandparents' living room together with my aunt, who lived with my grandparents. Our grandparents went to their room to call it a night. Anyway, I remember staying awake for hours listening to the sirens whale, and listening to the radio to see where other people had evacuated to. My uncle and his wife, lived on a second story apartment and chose to stay there, they lived further away from the river than my mom, sisters, and I - we lived on Winsor Ave, right across the street from the dike. We lived four houses in from the corner of Hoffman Street and Winsor Ave.

Anyway, one by one my family members started to fall asleep. I tried to stay awake, because I was beginning to realize that by now my aunt and uncle must have had to evacuate, because the news on the radio was getting grim, so I wanted to know to what school they evacuated to.

During this time I remember reflecting on my life, and wondering if my relatives and I were going to come out of this alive. I also remember praying for God to forgive me of my sins, especially if I was going to die that night.

Sleep finally overcame me, and in the morning when I woke up everyone around me was up and about. The radio was still on , but the announcer said that they wouldn't be reading off names anymore, until later in the day again.

 The phones weren't working, so we had no contact with the outside world, we had no clue where my aunt and uncle were, or if they were safe. We were also concerned about my grandfather, who at the time was very elderly and sick. One of my sisters and I asked each other, what will we do if grandpa has an emergency.

Hours passed and later on my uncle and aunt were at the back door of my grandparents' house. I remember crying like a baby and hanging on to my uncle's neck for dear life. I remember repeating over and over again, that I am so happy that you guys are alive and safe.

Eventually my uncle drove us to our home to assess the damages. Everything was covered in mud, mud, mud. Our house looked like the valley of death. Everything was overturned, broken and destroyed. The water went half way up the stairs that led from the first floor to the second floor.Then we started cleaning up, my uncle and my two aunts helped us. Everything stank, especially the contents of the refrigerator.

After that we drove downtown to assess the damages to my uncle's hot dog stand, George's Sandwich Shop, that also had undergone total destruction, I couldn't believe that our quiet little river, that we loved so much, had wrought so much destruction. Even one of the churches in Elmira, St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church was damaged by the water. That saddened me so much, to see even one of God's houses to be destroyed. It was very humbling to witness.

Time passed and we were able to obtain vouchers to buy things with, we took out a loan, but then there was the repair and restoration to face. One day my mom was sitting under a tree in our yard, crying as she was praying. She didn't know where she was going to begin. My uncle and aunt had to restore their business and get back on their feet. It just so happened that a neighbor of ours saw my mom.

This neighbor was young, married, and had three children, her name was Mrs. Burt, I hope that I spelled her name correctly. Anyway, some people from a sister church of hers, a church further up north from Elmira were going to come and help her, and her family, to start rebuilding. Mrs. Burt declined their help, and directed these people to us, because my mother was widowed and had three daughters, no sons to help her out.

Long story, short, the pastor of the sister church came to our home, offered a prayer to God for our family, then for an entire summer, he and about six couples from his parish, came every weekend to help us rebuild.

 My mother told him that she didn't have any money to pay them, and they said that they didn't want money, they wanted to help us, and that's all. The only thing that they asked was that we would feed them, of course.

The first time they came they brought us bags and bags of clothes. They brought us so many clothes, that there was enough to share with others in the neighborhood. I never had experienced a natural disaster before, and I never experienced such kindness from complete strangers before. Of course I will always remember the kindness of our neighbor, who was so selfless and loving to direct those people to our house.

The flood was a time of loss and destruction, but it was also a time of restoration, love, and resurrection. Wow, repeating all of this renews so many of those feelings that were experienced at that time. Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to share my reflections with you concerning the flood of 1972. Best regards.

Just thought of two more things about the summer of 1972. I remember about a week or so later, that we were walking on the dike, and we saw that a big chunk of the Walnut Street bridge had been totally washed away. That was such a creepy sight, besides for the obvious reason, that such a strong bridge would be totally wiped away, but our family had driven over that bridge countless of times in younger days when my dad was alive.

The other vivid memory I have of those days, was that one of my sisters and I had to walk to downtown Elmira from Winsor Ave, to get in touch with my uncle about something. The phones weren't working yet. I remember that one block before Lag's Restaurant, I don't remember the name of the side street that met with Water Street, there was a line of national reserve men, blocking the intersection. That intersection had a laundromat on the corner, and it was right before the luggage place and a photographer's studio.

Anyway, one of the reserve gentlemen told us we couldn't pass, because the shopping area was off limits to residents, it was only open to store owners. When we stated our purpose for needing to be let through, they checked with someone if they should let us through, and then we were given clearance to pass. It was a very strange time in my life, experiencing such things. I was a college student at the time, a part-time cashier at Super Duper on weekends, and all of these experiences were strange and unsettling at the time.

As time passes, however, all things heal, and this experience just served to help make us stronger, and more resilient. Praise God for the positive outcomes of all of this.