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Sunday Journal: What Would Abuela Do? She'd deal with a problem graciously

I read my Bible often enough to have a pretty good idea what Jesus would do in any given situation, whether it's hogging two parking spaces at Target, calling in sick to go to the beach or giving up a seat at the airport terminal to a pregnant woman.

I don't have a WWJD bracelet. If I had one, it would be WWAD: What Would Abuela Do. Forty-two years after her death, my abuela, my father's mother, continues to be my measuring stick for always doing the right thing and smiling through it. I had a WWAD moment last summer when one of our 12-year-old twins woke us up at 3:45 a.m. to tell us there was water all over the house.

I was sure I was dreaming. My husband swung his feet to the floor and dipped them into 4 inches of cool water. We woke in the dark to a flooded house that began with a broken line that was supposed to feed water into our fridge's water and ice dispenser. Anything that was less than 6 inches off the floor was soaked.

Our retro collection of record albums was soaked. Photos, rugs, shoes, books, all soaked. Holding a high school yearbook from the 1970s now swollen with water created an instant sense of loss and anger.

A Shop-Vac — that's what we needed in the predawn hours on a Monday when I was to be at work in about four hours. Nothing was open near our house except a Dunkin' Donuts and a Walgreens. We could have an iced coffee and a cruller, but we couldn't find a place to get a vacuum to dry out our house. We could either wait for a home store to open or we could go into action.

That's when I had my WWAD revelation. I had seen Abuela mopping floors with our Cuban version of a Shop-Vac: a big rag over a mop that consisted of a long handle and a perpendicular bar on the end to drape the rag over. I flashed back to Abuela's small hands wringing the water out of the rag to transfer dirty water into a bucket. Gleaming red terrazzo floors remained behind.

Bath towels and hand towels and dish towels began to come out of bathroom racks and closets. Husband, twins and I all had towels and buckets and we started sloshing water from the flood into buckets and out the door into the garden. Pruny hands, aching knees and chapped palms later, we had emptied the house of any dampness. Soaked books and rugs were drying in the sun, and our slate terrazzo floors gleamed like Abuela's.

Our sense of loss would continue in the coming weeks as we realized that we couldn't save cherished record albums, whose covers we had maintained in plastic for decades. Snapshots of our college-age kids are stuck together, their emulsion bonding one memory to the next in a stack that won't separate. Like our memories of the older kids growing up, the photos exist as an inseparable unit with moments morphing into each other.

I remembered how Abuela had made the best of so many circumstances others would have called disasters. How she created delicious meals from beans and odds and ends during the worst days of food rationing in Havana. How she hadn't told any of us of what must have been excruciating pain as her kidney disease progressed. How she always had something to share with neighbors who had even less than we did.

During our flood, we had lost material possessions only. Our memories of the events in the photographs and the yearbooks, our delight in the music on the albums by the Band and Bob Dylan and the ideas in the books that ended in the trash are undiminished. If anything, we experienced a Buddhist paring of material excess to gain the greater treasure of accepting loss without fear or regret. Washing all those towels was an issue to face on its own.

I had an Abuela moment at the end of that long day spent on our knees drying out our floors. "Well," I told my husband and kids, "at least the floors are clean!" I knew that's how Abuela would have turned a flood in the middle of the night into sparkling memory.

Maggie Hall lives in Dunedin.

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Sunday Journal: What Would Abuela Do? She'd deal with a problem graciously 09/06/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:31am]
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