Courtney Ball

Pick Me Up: a memory from the 2008 flood.

I race down Edgewood Road. My goal is Walmart. I’ve heard there is a group giving out gift cards to flood-affected families, but only until 5:00. We could use the help. The electrician’s bill alone was nearly enough to empty our savings account. We are just beginning to grasp how expensive it will be to rebuild our home, especially after we learned that our circumstances render us unqualified for Federal assistance. It’s true that other help is available.. We’ll make it through this. Caring people and gifts are descending upon our city. The thing is, you have to get there in time.

My older brother Clint has loaned me his car. He and his wife Karla have been gracious to my family. Right now we live in their basement. The tally of beings under one roof includes four adults, four kids, two dogs, and two cats. Sometimes it feels just as crowded as it sounds. It will be months before we’re back in our home. In spite of everyone’s generosity, it’s hard to stay positive when I’m so tired.

I pick up speed as I head downhill toward 16th Avenue. It’s raining, but not enough to obscure visibility. I remember how my aunt and uncle in California worried once about us driving in the rain while we visited them. They’d forgotten that in Iowa we can operate in all conditions. Especially me. I’m a nimble driver, and I like speed.

The light at the bottom of the hill turns green. So far I’m making good time, and this little blessing can only help. As I sail toward the intersection, a red flag pops into my consciousness. If the light is green, why aren’t the cars moving? Then, WHY AREN’T THE CARS MOVING? As I stomp on the brakes, the rain I dismissed a moment ago provides just enough lubrication for me to slam into the back of a Mercedes.


I see the ambulance–the reason other drivers had stopped–blaze through the intersection.


Thirty minutes later, after the insurance information is exchanged and the police officer lets us go, I pull my brother’s sputtering car back onto Edgewood Road. I have about three minutes to make it to Walmart. I’m shaky, and the car is no longer in peak condition, but a deadline is a deadline.

“If you’re trying to teach me patience, damn it! This isn’t going to work!” I have a more volatile relationship with God since the flood waters receded a month ago. At times my heart is filled with gratitude. I’ve witnessed so much generosity, so many tangible acts of love. All those are forgotten for the moment. I seethe, and I step on the gas pedal.

When I make it to Walmart, it’s easy to identify the men giving out gift cards. Both are wearing the getup of the fraternal organization they represent.

“Hi,” I say. “I hear you guys have gift cards for flooded families?”

“That’s us, except it’s not gift cards. We have a list of items you can go pick from, and then you get a voucher from us to pay for them.” He hands me a list: bedding, clothes, toiletries, a few other things we don’t need. Items that were safe on the second floor of the house.

It’s as if the plug has been pulled. The frantic energy that had sustained me to this point ebbs away. I feel tired and hollow. I want to quit.

Instead, I get back in the car and point it toward home. Well, my brother’s home. Which reminds me. I need to call Clint and tell him I’ve wrecked his car.

Ten minutes later I have him on the phone again. I need a ride. The car has failed: overheated from the smashed radiator. And here again is a moment of grace, provided to me at the right time by my brother. A light teasing for ruining his car, and a promise to come pick me up.

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Courtney Ball

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