This weekend's basement flood has started me thinking about the things I value. When I went downstairs and noticed the water flowing in, my first thought was the safety of one of my cats, who was lying under my computer desk at the time. Once she was safe, I quickly unhooked the computer and threw it to high ground. By that time, the water had started to rise, and was flowing toward the unfinished part of the basement where we store a lot of our stuff. Boxes full of remnants from old office jobs, stationary that I don't use anymore (although I really wish I still wrote letters in long-hand), the cat carriers, etc. Luckily, my photos are all stored in boxes in an unused bedroom, so that wasn't an issue. However, one thing mattered to me more than anything in that unfinished part of the basement. And that was a sign my grandfather painted for me for my 11th birthday, 18 years ago.
My grandfather was an artist. He was a signmaker for a living, painting and designing signs for the companies in our area. I have 10 younger cousins (I am the oldest), and when each of his grandchildren celebrated a birthday, he would create an amazing personalized sign for him or her. I have pictures of me and him in front of all of them. The early ones were enormous-over 10'x10'. The later ones were smaller, 3'x5'.
Built into each sign was a surprise. Hidden somewhere in the sign-perhaps in one of the letters of "Happy Birthday," perhaps circling around the eye of whatever storybook or cartoon character had captured our childish interest that year- was the word "Papa," the name we called our grandfather. And it was our job to find it.
When I was very young, the "Papa" was easy to find. As I grew older, it was much more challenging. But after the initial "oohing and ahhhing" over the masterpiece he created, the next task at hand was finding the hidden "Papa," and it sometimes took quite some time. He gave hints, though, after awhile.
The sign in my basement is the only one I have. I don't know where the others are. So as the water rose in my basement and started to inch up my 11th birthday sign, which reads "Happy 11th Birthday, Krissy. With Love, Papa" and then the word "Dolce," (which means "sweet" in Italian and which was the name he called me by) painted along the bottom, I slogged across the floor, grabbed it, and brought it to safety on the main floor of my house. The bottom is a little wet. But it will dry.
On August 5th of this year, my grandfather will have been gone for 10 years. And while the sign he made me certainly isn't the only memory I have of him, or even the most important one, it's a visual reminder of his amazing talent and of his love for me. I was able to save this part of him and I will keep it safe always.