Journal Two: Thoughts and Writing

The Cottage My Grandfather Built, Destroyed in the Flood

"Sarah, when you get back, it will be just about time to go to the cottage!" My grandmother held me tight and said these words on our last visit before I left for New Zealand and Australia. I would be abroad for three weeks, neither of us ever imagining that when I would return, I would be returning to a home I could barely recognize and facing a heartbreak felt by my entire family - and many others in my province.

Growing up in a family of nine, we didn't go on vacation trips together like many do. Instead, we spent our summers on an old dirt road along Fanjoy's Point, Grand Lake. In 1997, when I was a one year old, my parent's found a steal on a little yellow cottage, just a five minute walk from the little red cottage my grandfather built when my Dad was one year old. My grandparent's cottage was the place we would run to when we wanted to pick blackberries or build lean-to's from the pile of branches Grampy would leave under the deck for us. It was the place we would go when the waves on their side of the cove were so big we could pretend our lake was an ocean. It was the place freshly baked banana muffins would be waiting for us. The place we could always expect to find Grampy working in the yard and Grammy waiting at the screen door. It was the place I would carry my broken teenage heart and sit down for hours to work on a new puzzle while the rain danced on the roof creating a symphony above me. The place that holds many of my most precious childhood memories. 

And it's gone.

I first started seeing the news stories of the flooding happening in New Brunswick fairly soon after my trip began. At first, I didn't think very much of it. In a city that was built along a river, we expect to get flooding every year, some years worse than others. But as I continued to follow it from afar, I began to meet the reality that this year would be different. I started thinking of the cottages and wondered if they would be in danger of the waters reaching them. "No, it will be fine", I was sure. Many of the cottages in our community had been raised after the flooding in 2008. I wasn't prepared to receive the email from my Dad that began with, "Sarah, these photos are going to be hard to look at". 

I opened up the files to find visual evidence of what none of us ever imagined to be possible in our area. The most destructive flood recorded in our province's history combined with extremely harsh winds turned a lake's ripples into ocean waves that would decimate everything they touched. My uncle was there that day. He has been on Grand Lake for nearly 50 years and said he had never seen waves of their height. Walking around the cove yesterday, through piles and piles of debris and nothing more than ruins of structures that had stood for decades, it looked like the tragic aftermath of a hurricane. 

I wish I could say, "it's just stuff".  And in many ways, I feel like that is what I should say. I feel as though I should say something like, "they are just walls, and they can be rebuilt". But the truth is, these walls held up more than just structures. The cottages brought a very special community of people together who have been growing together for four generations now, and we are all feeling the heartbreak of the end of an era, knowing it will never be the same. 

I have been running up and down Fanjoy's Point Road ever since I discovered my own two legs could carry me places. And one day, I thought I would be able to walk along it with my own children, and show them the tiny corner of the earth that was my safest place. But that is a dream I no longer have the luxury of holding. Within weeks, there will be no evidence the little red cottage existed beyond the photographs I am keeping dear to my heart. 

This has hurt. This has been hard. It has been part of a series of difficult trials within the last couple of years that seem to have been stripping much of what I hold most dear away. I am being forced to loosen my grip. And even though everything in me wants to hold on tighter, I know there is very well an opportunity to open my hands once again and believe that better things are in store. I feel as though it is time to pick up my feet and keep my eyes focused on all that is ahead, but with me, I will always carry a gratefulness for the beautiful things that I have left behind, that have brought me to this place I am standing today. 

Yesterday, we were searching through the rubble to find pieces of my great-grandmother's old organ that had been torn apart. My mom finally located the large back piece, lifted it up, and tucked under it, she found a tiny, carved, wooden heart resting there with the word "hope" painted on it. We all needed to see that yesterday. We all need to be reminded of that today. There is hope unending. 

And if there is anything I feel I have already gained from the last couple of weeks, it is empathy for those who have experienced this sort of loss and uncertainty. I never knew what it felt like to be met with the devastation of losing a home in your family, and my heart is going out to all who have been affected by the flood. I think it is time to roll up our sleeves, give a heck-ton of free hugs, and begin to cultivate new dreams. Here's to beautiful memories behind us and new beginnings ahead of us. Here's to the closeness that hardship can bring, the love that carries through any measure of heartbreak, and the richness we have in just being together.  

- S


sarah kierstead