Standing in her 16-year-old son's room, once crisply painted navy blue, Nancy Leonard lifts bubble wrap off a carefully wrapped painting of him. "It's my favorite picture of him," she says. But as she lifts the plastic, the painting is gone, vanished, like someone shook out the Etch-a-Sketch. The storm surge that filled her home with about three feet of brackish water wiped the image from the canvas.
The storm that ripped through here on Monday devastated her home on Cayuga, along with most of her neighbor's homes, the evidence of which is piled high on curbs — soaked insulation, furniture, Christmas decorations, appliances.
On Tuesday she was able to get the water and mud cleared out of her once well-appointed ranch, in an effort to save her wood floors, some now buckling. Now it's time to turn to the furniture. Her Tempur-Pedic mattress has drawn in water like a thirsty sponge, making it heavy and unwieldy. It takes great effort for her, her ex-husband, her sister and her brother-in-law to heft it out the front door where it flops out onto her rose bushes that are now scorched by salt. The smell of the home is powerful, now transformed from fishy to moldy.
Now her living room is crowded with appliances and furniture, all raised up and yet still ruined. Her neighbor comes to her to break the news: You can't keep that couch.
Leonard knows all the upholstery got wet, and rationally she knows its fate, but still she says, "Are you sure I can't keep it? I just got that Pottery Barn sofa."
The story is much the same throughout the house, new Brazilian hardwood floors, new refrigerator, new kitchen, all gone. Every room in her home, saturated.
"We put everything up on picnic tables," she said, but the water came in so high it floated the wooden tables and benches. "Everything you thought was protected, it picked up and threw."
"It's kind of a matter of fact kind of feeling," she says, managing a smile here and there as she points out the water line up to her shoulder outside, or her still submerged crawl space.
And matter of factly, she notes, she isn't covered for flood. Her flood insurance payment reached her insurer three days late. She's hoping FEMA will help her.
"It's weird to think about going back to work, I mean, I have to go back to work. I don't have clothes."
Tonight she will commute with her sister and brother-in-law back to their Trenton home. There they will do load after load of laundry hoping some of her clothes can be salvaged. Asked what she needs, she says its the basics: shampoo, a hair brush, toiletries and hands to help.
Things in Leonard's house are incongruous, tasteful art and fall decorations still hang on her river-soaked walls. New appliances stand upright again and are wiped clean, though they will never work again. You get the sense that it's like that in her head and heart now, as she slogs through yet another day of clean-up in the cold air and chilling wind of November.
"I have no idea what today is," she says. But there isn't much time to contemplate right now. It's time to get the garage door open and get all her belongings to the curb.