The Fox River turned into white water rapids July 12 outside of Charcoal Grill. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


You really don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.

Joni Mitchell hit the nail on the head, and those words rang truer than ever last week in my beloved hometown of Burlington.

One minute, you’re scrambling throughout town, trying to get the best photos of the flooding, taking video with your phone and completely disregarding all the gawking bystanders eager to document a piece of history, despite the dismay of real human beings in need of a helping hand.

You may be text fighting with someone, ticked off at your boss or simply upset you weren’t able to go to the Brewers game last night.

Trivial, selfish desires that consume our thoughts and keep our brains focused on material items.

Then it hits.

Before you’re able to blink, there are feet of water in your basement, backyard and even your once comfortable living room.

An hour later, the water is up to ankles, knees and even waists. Appliances are being rendered useless, food and water is no longer available and possessions are gone.

Finally, the power goes out, and the world turns upside down. A child’s requests to watch “Moana” fall on deaf ears.

“Not now, honey, we don’t have TV right now.”

In this era of social media and cell phones, suddenly there isn’t an opportunity to stay connected. People have to actually interact, see each other in person and help one another through good, old-fashioned dialogue.

This doesn’t even address sleeping arrangements.

Thank God for family. Mine stepped up for us, asking if we needed anything, providing a fridge to keep food and shelter to stay overnight.

Three nights at the in-laws’ was nothing compared to what this area endured last week.

Sure, I had nearly a foot of water in my old house’s basement, but as of Tuesday, we’re nearly totally cleaned up and the worry is gone.


It’s never as bad as it seems

The people I’ve met and stories I’ve heard in gathering several stories for this week’s paper – from a single father with MS who is homeless, to a family in jeopardy of losing its restaurant, and a neighbor with a special needs adolescent in need of electricity to survive – are downright heartbreaking and unimaginable.

The desperate pleas to wake up and clean the basement from my wife last Wednesday were nothing.

Can you imagine losing EVERYTHING you own?

Your house, valuables, money, furniture, food, water, peace of mind, gone in a matter of hours.

Water is one of those sickening Catch-22s. You need it to survive; yet it can kill you in a heartbeat.

Times like these make you realize life is about giving back and helping one another, because we are so lucky and privileged and blessed with what we have every single day.

Waking up is a victory in itself, and the people that love us are more valuable than gold.

Throughout this entire ordeal, family and friends kept me strong, and their countless acts of generosity made me especially grateful to have them.

Life was thrown off, even in the sports world.

Beaumont Field and Congress Diamond in Burlington were under water, which caused the cancellation of last Sunday’s Burlington Baseball Hall of Fame celebration. Don’t worry, the city’s latest class of baseball greats will be honored at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 30.

And the honoring of late coach Don Dalton, which was scheduled for last Friday at BHS, is postponed for now. My guess is the Celebration of Life will happen sometimes early in the varsity football season.

Sports, like everything else, had to take a backseat to the most devastating flood in most of our lifetimes.

There’s something both awesome and frightening about witnessing a 16-foot, roaring river mercilessly smack against the side of a heavily protected bridge.

This bridge wouldn’t crumble, would it?

Gawkers and personnel alike were simply in awe of a town in such raw, natural trouble.

I don’t care who you are, the site of National Guard members and menacing tanks doesn’t feel very safe in a small town.


A big thank you

All I can say is thank you to all of the wonderful people in this community, those who helped, those who needed help and those who shared their stories in hopes of helping others and informing the very community that came to their aid, no questions asked.

A representative from Billy Graham talked about how helping those in need were his calling, and he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Witnessing countless selfless acts of help and charity for the past seven straight days opened my eyes to my community. Its strength is unparalleled, and deep down we’re all in this thing together.

We all want to take care of our families, enjoy our food, water and shelter, love each other and help each other.

Although the flood was bad, and it was really, really terrible, it brought us together in a refreshing way that should give you plenty of hope in humanity moving forward.

Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor for help, even if you’ve never talked. And don’t hesitate to help someone in need, with no gain in mind.

You never know what someone is actually going through until they show up at a free meal shelter or at the Red Cross and beg for help, weary in the face, exhausted from days of cleanup and beaten down by the rigors of life.

Nicole Gramhofer, who lost her home to the flood, had it all over her face Tuesday night.

“How do you pick yourself up from something like this?” she asked.

“I am lost.”

Very slowly, minute by minute, day by day, time heals all wounds, and each trial becomes a bit more bearable.

Through the grace of God, the goodness of others and an inner strength we don’t realize we have until the going gets tough, we survive.

We endure, and we move on, no matter how impossibly unfathomable that seems in the moment.

People like Nicole, and Jeff Austwick, who also is displaced and homeless, will bounce back.

Why not make this an everyday thing?

It sounds ridiculous, but let’s treat each other with the utmost respect and helpful attitude every moment, every second – even when it’s hard.

OK, I’m getting much too preachy, and I apologize.

But I can’t deny the inspiration I’ve drawn from a city and an area that has jumped back up after nearly being buried, literally, in pain and despair.