My first day as a resident of Lyons, CO was pretty much the worst. I was six years old and starting my first day of first grade at Lyons Elementary School. I spent most of that day mean-mugging my classmates and hatin’ life. I was mad at my mom for making me wear a stupid dress. I was plotting revenge on my older sister for ignoring me on the playground, and I was researching ways to commit my dad to a mental institution for uprooting our family and moving us out to a hundred-year-old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
As time went on, that tiny little town grew on me. I made lifelong friends, and we spent our days wandering around town, buying candy buttons at Becky Jacobson’s store on Main Street and weaseling our way into pick-up games of basketball at Bohn Park. We blew up tubes and floated down the icy waters of the St. Vrain River in the summer, and gorged ourselves on ice cream at the Dairy Lite. As I kid, I used to play epic games of hide-and-seek around the Planet Bluegrass property long before it was ever a destination for world-class musicians. On warm days, I used to sprint out of my driveway and run down the winding Old South St. Vrain Road until I reached the bridge near the old Andesite Mine– always admiring the view for a minute before finally turning around to race the sun home.
Today, that bridge is gone—as are most of the places that make up my childhood memories. Washed away in the floods that struck the area a little over a month ago.
That first day of the flood, on September 12th, was the longest day of my life. It started with a frantic phone call from my sister at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. She wanted to know if I was okay, and I couldn’t understand why. I was buried under a cozy fort of blankets and pillows in my bed in Boulder, blissfully unaware of the chaos building up around me. Completely clueless that my parents and grandma were battling massive walls of water, pouring over the banks of the nearby St. Vrain River and surrounding their home just outside of Lyons. I had no idea that my brother-in-law was attempting to make his way from his home in Lyons to his job in Boulder—only to find out that the one road connecting his two worlds had been washed away. As the day went on, the situation got worse. Phone lines went down, and communication with my family in Lyons became sporadic at best. My sister and brother-in-law were trapped on one side of the swelling river, and my mom, dad and grandma were frantically trying to reach higher ground on the other side. Random phone calls would contain frantic instructions.
“Call your sister and tell her we’re trying to get to their house!”
“Tell mom and dad the bridge is washed out and no one can get through!”
“A neighbor in a backhoe made the driveway passable and we got a car out and made it up the hill! Tell everyone we’re okay for now!”
At one point in time, my mom and dad were separated, leaving my mom safe at a neighbor’s house and my dad watching three foot high walls of water thrash through his property. When I finally got through to my dad that day, I couldn’t really hear what he was shouting at me; the sound of roaring water was so loud. I heard him yell my name a couple of times before the dial tone took over. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, my heart goes out to you. If you’ve ever gone hours on end not knowing if your loved ones were alive—I want to hug you and buy you whiskey.
Around 8 o’clock that night, I finally confirmed the safety of my family in Lyons. Relieved and exhausted, I sat down to give my beating heart a rest, which lasted a few brief minutes before I heard the stern voice accompanying the flood sirens blaring along the banks of the Boulder Creek near my house. I thought the eerie sound of that siren was the most terrifying thing I’d ever experienced, until my power started flickering on and off and the sound of my neighbor screaming started echoing throughout my neighborhood. I sat alone, watching the streets surrounding my house morph into rushing rivers. Around 3 a.m., I finally tucked myself into a ball on my couch and prayed for morning.
I spent the next two days seeking comfort in groups and worrying about my family trapped in Lyons. I blankly stared at photos of blown out bridges and roads, crying residents, and empty patches of land where houses I had played in as child used to stand. I listened to news reports of the decimation of the sewage plant and severe flooding of the only market in town.
It’s been a month, and the sight of rain clouds still give me goosebumps. The town of Lyons still looks like a total war zone. Hugs last a little longer now. The sound of the river can be heard from just about every part of town, and the break in my dad’s voice as he whispered, “I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it, T,” still echos in my thoughts on most days.
The water washed away so much that makes up the heart of Lyons, but it takes more than a natural disaster to destroy the spirit of the small town. Stories of heroism, friendship, and respect stick out among the rubble that covers the broken streets.
As a little girl, my grandma used to tell me that good things come in small packages.
Lyons might be small, but the good that resonates within it will rebuild it.
New bridges and roads will fill in the empty landscape in the area. Planet Bluegrass will reopen its doors. Tourists toting mountain bikes and sporting hiking shoes will once again fill the trails and local eateries.
If you can help, you should. There are so many ways to do so.
You can make monetary donations to the Oskar Blues CAN’d Aid Colorado Flood Relief Fund that I helped create in response to the flooding. To date the fund has already received nearly $200,000 in generous donations and over half of that amount has already been distributed to individuals and small businesses hit hard by disaster. You can grab a pair of gloves and a shovel and help with clean-up efforts. (http://hands.org/.) And you can keep the town of Lyons alive in conversations. Share the stories that you’ve witnessed and heard and the photos that you hold along to people that have already forgotten which county Lyons is a part of. Just because our TV screens are no longer saturated with images of angry rivers and sad looking buildings, doesn’t mean that the scars left behind have healed.
Lyons will never be the same. But it will always, always be home.