My Irreplaceable Treasure 1


Recently I gave a dinner party for some close friends. To add a touch of elegance to the evening, I brought out the good stuff--my white Royal Crown Derby china with the fine blue-and-gold border. When we were seated, one of the guests noticed the beat-up gravy boat(调味汁瓶) I'd placed among the newer, better dinnerware. "Is it an heirloom(传家宝) ?" she asked tactfully. 

 I admit the piece does look rather conspicuous. For one thing, it matches nothing else. It's also old and chipped. But that little gravy boat is much more than an heirloom to me. It is the one thing in this world I will never part with.

The story begins more than 50 years ago, when I was seven years old and we lived in a big house along the Ohio River in New Richmond, Ohio. All that separated the house from the river was the street and our wide front lawn. In anticipation of high water, the ground floor had been built seven feet above grade.

Late in December the heavy rains came, and the river climbed to the tops of its banks. When the water began to rise in a serious way, my parents made plans in case the river should invade our house. My mother decided she would pack our books and her fine china in a small den off the master bedroom.

The china was not nearly as good as it was old. Each piece had a gold rim and a band of roses. But the service had been her mother's and was precious to her. As she packed the china with great care, she said to me, "You must treasure the things that people you love have cherished. It keeps you in touch with them."

I didn't understand, since I'd never owned anything I cared all that much about. Still, planning for disaster held considerable fascination for me.

The plan was to move upstairs if the river reached the seventh of the steps that led to the front porch. We would keep a rowboat downstairs so we could get from room to room. The one thing we would not do was leave the house. My father, the town's only doctor, had to be where sick people could find him.

I checked on the river's rise several times a day and lived in a state of hopeful alarm that the water would climb all the way up to the house. It did not disappoint. The muddy water rose higher until, at last, the critical seventh step was reached.

We worked for days carrying things upstairs, until, late one afternoon, the water edged over the threshold(门槛,极限) and rushed into the house. I watched, amazed at how rapidly it rose.

After the water got about a foot deep inside the house, it was hard to sleep at night. The sound of the river moving about downstairs was frightening. Debris had broken windows, so every once in a while some floating battering ram--a log or perhaps a table--would bang into the walls and make a sound like a distant drum.

Every day I sat on the landing and watched the river rise. Mother cooked simple meals in a spare bedroom she had turned into a makeshift(临时的) kitchen. She was worried, I could tell, about what would happen to us. Father came and went in a small fishing boat. He was concerned about his patients and possible outbreaks of dysentery, pneumonia or typhoid(伤寒) .

Before long, the Red Cross began to pitch tents on high ground north of town. "We are staying right here," my father said.

As the water continued to rise, I kept busy rowing through the house and looking at the furniture that had been too big to move upstairs. I liked to row around the great cozy(舒适的) couch, now almost submerged, and pretend it was an island in a lake.

One night very late I was awakened by a tearing noise, like timbers creaking. Then there was the rumbling sound of heavy things falling. I jumped out of bed and ran into the hallway. My parents were standing in the doorway to the den, where we had stored the books and my mother's beloved china.

The floor of the den had fallen through, and all the treasures we had tried to save were now on the first floor, under the stealthily(暗地里) rising river. My father lit our camp light, and we went to the landing to look. We could see nothing except the books bobbing like little rafts on the water.

Mother had been courageous, it seemed to me, through the ordeal of the flood. She was steady and calm, and kept things going in good order. But that night she sat on the top of the stairs with her head on her crossed arms and cried. I had never seen her like that, and there was a sound in her weeping that made me afraid. I wanted to help her, but I couldn't think of what I could possibly do. I just knew I had to figure out something.