Come On In
An open door after Harvey
Two days before Hurricane Harvey hit, Margaret Lynn was lonely.
The single mom had just dropped off her youngest child in Austin for his freshman year of college. Her oldest was headed home from College Station, but stayed put when news broke Harvey was on the way.
“I was thinking how bored and alone I was going to be,” Lynn said. She took a trip to Costco to stock up on dog food, bought herself a roast chicken and told her friends from a few streets over, Russell and Thuy Hall, she wished she had someone to spend the storm with.
Days later, her home was bursting with 11 strangers, two dogs and a senile cat.
I was one of those strangers. Lynn took my family into her two-story home in Meyerland after flood waters gushed through our ranch-style house, leaving me, my husband Jon Adler, our 4- and 2-year old daughters, and our cat and dog with nowhere to go. She gave us beds, made tasty rice dishes and smoothies, lent us her car and watched our kids. Lynn is one of countless neighbors who helped neighbors, and, in many cases, strangers.
The water had started seeping into our home at 8 a.m., steadily rising to almost a foot. We turned off the power. We strapped our screaming 2 year old into a high chair for five hours to stop her from trudging through flood waters. We called 911. No one picked up.
When I saw a canoe float by, I sloshed across the living room to bang on the window. We’d never met Russell Hall, who lived several doors down. But he was evacuating our next-door neighbor, Jana Haggard, who was eight months pregnant, her husband Ross and their dog, Acie.
“We’d called the Coast Guard 30 times and never heard back,” Ross told me later. He’d pulled on wader boots and was heading to see about shelter at Lovett Elementary. “That’s when I saw Russell,” he said. Hall said he had to talk to his wife. “Next thing you know,” Ross said, “he was back, and he said, ‘I’ll take you.’ I said, great, but where are you going to take us?”
Hall’s wife, Thuy, called Lynn. Again. “Thuy first called me Sunday morning,” Lynn said. “She said her friend Pok and her family were flooded. Then Thuy called again. A woman eight months pregnant needed a place to go. Then, again. Two little girls, a dog and cat needed someplace to go. Russell made a joke, he said, ‘If Thuy calls you again, don’t pick up the phone.’” (The Halls had also flooded. Heidi and Bo Peng, who lived a few houses down, took them in along with seven other flooded families.)
Lilah, 2, sat in my lap, her hand over mine on the paddle as we pulled away in the canoe Russell had borrowed from neighbors Bob and Beverly Hanson. Sadie, 4, sat on an Ikea stool. Russell would go back later for Jon and the pets.
We paddled hard, hugging Meyerland Park. The rain had paused, and it was quiet. The boat rocked, splashing water on our feet. When we turned onto Jason Street, the current picked up, and we dug in. Ten minutes after we had left, I climbed out of the boat, pulling it up to Lynn’s house.
When she opened her door, and I knew we were safe, I broke down. Tears spilled. Lynn, in a T-shirt and house slippers, didn’t hesitate to pull me in for a hug. “It’s going to be okay.” She didn’t blink when we deposited garbage bags stuffed with our belongings in her entry way, when Lilah sprinkled food crumbs throughout her house.
“Sunday I woke up and looked out the window and saw a river,” Lynn later told me. The water lapped her front steps. “I started to feel guilty. I was nice and dry, and knew people were probably starting to flood out.”
My family – the cat and dog included – bunked in Lynn’s daughter Ashlee’s room. Our cat howled. Disoriented and afraid, Sadie and Lilah cried, keeping everyone else awake.
But we were all safe, thanks to Lynn. Lilah entertained our fellow house guests by performing somersaults on the air mattress in the living room where Ross and Jana slept. Sadie and Lilah did laps up and down her staircase. We watched the news. We watched the rain. When the streets cleared, my family moved on to my aunt and uncle’s home in Piney Point until we found a rental in West University.
Four days later, after all 11 of us had left Lynn, she took in another family. And when that family left, she hosted a co-worker whose home had flooded. I later learned Lynn also took in families during Hurricane Katrina. “For her to be so generous, and so willing to help all of us, it was really remarkable,” said Ross.
Lynn brushed it off. “When people need help,” she told me, “what do you do? You help.”
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