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by Dan and Jan Ahart
It is reasonable to assume that all cruisers, except those with no family whatsoever, dread the inevitable phone call summoning them home to assist during a family emergency. Our call came via email from a neighbor who informed us that my mother's house had flooded during Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped incredible amounts of rain on Houston, Texas in late June 2001. Knowing that at least one of us would fly back to the states during an emergency was as far as our contingency plans had developed. Obtaining tickets and securing Sojourner for an absence of unknown duration took much more time and required much more decision making than we had anticipated. Leaving our "home" in good hands was extremely important to us and we found ourselves weighing the merits of several options. We were reminded of a great line in the book "Foundation," by Issac Asimov. "Planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well."
Our improvisation began with the decision to haul Sojourner, and store her in a secure yard because we felt we would be gone for perhaps three months. We only had a general estimate of how long it would take to help mom with her problem, but we had already planned to return to the states in late August to be present for the birth of our daughter's first child. It was now the last week in June, so we figured we would be gone until mid September and perhaps longer. Leaving a boat in Trinidad during the rainy season presents some problems. We were told that during heavy rains, water would inevitably find its way into the boat, so we should leave some through-hull valves open so water could drain out, lest we return to find a boat full of water and mildew! Leaving a through-hull open did not appeal to us, because we were fearful that undesirable multi-legged critters would inhabit our boat in our absence. Instead we opted for a plastic "tent" to be installed that would cover the entire boat, thereby keeping rain and sun off the cabin. We also rented a small air conditioner to keep the interior dry and cool. The air conditioner was mounted on top of the cabin over one of the hatches. These arrangements, plus having Sojourner set on blocks in a fenced and guarded secure area gave us the reasonable assurance that we would return to find a serviceable boat without water damage, mildew or overheated electronics.
Next we purchased airline tickets. This proved expensive in that we were not able to obtain discounts via advanced purchase, so we only bought one-way tickets figuring we would have time to shop for better prices on the return trip. We left Trinidad early on July 3rd and arrived in Houston that afternoon. Then the fun really began. With gentle but firm persuasion from my brother and me, mom was convinced to move to an apartment complex for seniors. Her adjustment to an apartment after living in her own home for 30 years was not easy. Parting with familiar surroundings and many possessions collected over a lifetime is very disturbing. Mom is in her 82nd year and was also understandably apprehensive about moving into a new environment full of strangers.
As it turned out, assisting mom in her move was the easy part. Dealing with the insurance company and trying to sell the house turned out to be incredibly frustrating experiences. We learned that all flood insurance, regardless of the carrier, is actually a U.S. Government program with very complex rules that no one fully understands. We talked to so many people and got so many different answers it reminded us of dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. Even the agent, who had sold the policy, could not explain what was covered and what was not. Because some 48,000 homes were flooded in Houston, the prospect of a rapid repair of the house was out of the question. We opted to take the insurance money and sell the house at a discount in order to expedite the cash flow in mom's direction. It was a great theory, but the flood insurance program is biased toward repair and homeowners who just want the money are considered somewhat suspect as to their true motives. Combine that reality with an adjuster assigned to mom who had 60 other families to deal with and we had a formula for family sized frustration.
Selling the home also proved difficult in that the buyer had difficulty finding a mortgage for a house that needed repair. Plus, since mom had not probated dad's will or put the house solely in her name, the title company had reservations about a clear title, which was resolved only by my brother and me giving mom our personal powers of attorney to sell her own home. I suppose most closing attorney's would require and affidavit from God if they were required to attest to a sunrise.
On the bright side, many neighbors and friends provided invaluable assistance during removal of wet sheet rock and insulation and were especially helpful during the garage sale as well as providing many other kindnesses. Without their assistance we would have been overwhelmed by it all. Flood insurance notwithstanding, friends in need were friends indeed and we appreciated each and every one of them.
The good of all this is that these legal issues are now satisfied and mom can begin to appreciate the advantages of living in a senior apartment. It will make life much simpler for her, without the worries of the upkeep of a house plus the advantages of balanced meals provided five days a week, transportation for shopping and banking and many activities provided including exercise classes, movies and social groups. We likened her transition to ours, when we chose to live aboard and go cruising. We also had to make lots of hard decisions and rid ourselves of all sorts of possessions and simplify our life style, so we had great empathy for her.
The process brought to mind another quote from one of my favorite
authors, Henry David Thoreau, one of America's foremost nineteenth
century philosophers, who said, "When we consider what, is the chief
end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it
appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living
because they preferred it to any other. Yet it is never too late
to give up our prejudices." Mr. Thoreau was not without a sense of
humor and was well known for his advocacy of the simple life, yet
he also recognized that we all have options. Choosing the right options
is a very personal responsibility. And it can be less than comfortable
or enjoyable if our options are limited. Maybe the best solution
is to keep an open mind and try to overcome our pre-conceived notions
until we make peace with our circumstances. Stay tuned.