"Hey, Hey, What Did I Lose?" One Year after the Floods

The Reverend Thomas C. Willadsen

As the anniversary of the flash floods that swept through Oshkosh last June nears I have been asking myself one, simple question: to paraphrase Led Zeppelin, "Hey, hey, what did I lose" in the floods?
I was out of town for both "the 25 year event" June 8th and "the 75 year event" June 12th. As I drove through Oshkosh on Friday, June 13th, I was astounded at all the refuse that was piled up along 9th Avenue. When I reached my house, eager to sleep in my own bed after two weeks away, I found that my bed was occupied by two people who had been driven from their own beds by flood waters. I slept in the guest room. The next day I got to work, hauling flood-damaged household items from my basement to the curb. Two weeks in a row the entire street frontage of my home was filled with debris for the sanitation engineers to haul away. I wish I had kept track of how many trips I made from basement to curb. It was several weeks before the city began picking up recycling because the trucks were needed to carry all the garbage.
Last week I looked around my empty basement and asked myself, "What used to be here?" Since the floods I have not gone to the basement looking for something and then realized that we had lost it in the flood. The only items I remember taking to the curb were our card table set, a wooden shelf and a box of phonograph records. There must have been other things, I just do not remember them.
I found it especially painful to part with these records. All of my 45s were in a box that had been damaged by sewage. I lost "Red Rubber Ball" by the Cyrkle, "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" by the Isley Brothers and "The Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin. This last record was the grail of 45s. Its flip side, "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do" was never released on an LP in the United States. The only way to obtain this classic was to find a 45 of it, which I did, more than 20 years ago in Greenwich Village. All these memories now reside in the Winnebago County landfill.
When I was studying Hebrew in seminary I came across the word "recush" which my dictionary said means "movable property." I asked the professor what movable property is. "Tupperware," she replied. "Household goods" was how I rendered "recush" into English for that assignment. Nomadic people had to travel light. They followed their herds, so they did not have a lot of recush; it would only slow them down.
My copious trips from basement to curb last year made me realize that 21st century Americans are the polar opposite of nomadic. We have so much movable property that we can hardly move! Our basements, attics and garages are filled with recush. And there are complexes of storage facilities along every highway leading into Oshkosh. We have so much stuff that we have to rent extra garage space to store it. As I drive past these buildings I ask myself "What's in there?"
And I fear the answer to my question. A friend of mine had about three feet of raw sewage come into her basement last year. Like everyone else she put tons of saturated recush on the curb for the garbage men. She found one woman going through her garbage.
"Don't take those Halloween costumes!" she shouted.
"They look all right to me."
"They were soaking in poo!"
"Oh, I don't mind."
Later, my friend got a long board, spray painted "CONTAMINATED" in day-glo paint on it, and leaned it against her garbage pile.
She might as well have written "Hey, kids! Free ice cream-take all you want!"
I expect the storage units that ring our fair city are bursting with treasures salvaged from last year's floods. Maybe even some recush from my basement has been squirreled away. I would not know. I have already forgotten what we lost. My basement is empty, and I feel free, almost nomadic!

This column first appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern, June 8, 2009.