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Swedish Meatballs, a Storm, and My Basement

The title sounds like the set-up for a joke, where a man walks into a bar with a duck on his right shoulder and a cat on his left. But, really, it’s about my family, Hurricane Irene, and Ikea. As you can imagine, it’s a tragic-comic tale.

My family and I were on Nantucket when Hurricane Irene hit last August. It was a change over weekend for us, during which time my mom and step-father, Howard, traditionally leave the rental house we all share on the island so that my dad and his girlfriend can come and eat their leftovers. Only, in the days leading up to Irene, the forecast predicted that my mom would not be able to get off the island and my dad would not be able to arrive. In order to decide what to do, my mom and Howard spend the better part of two straight days watching every news report delivered by every wind-and-rain-battered weatherman up and down the Eastern seaboard. Then they went down to the docks to check the ferries and then they came back to the house to worry. When they weren’t doing that, they were calling the Steamship Authority to check on the status of their waitlist placement.

Meanwhile, back on the beach, my 9-year-old son, Andrew, was pacing. Andrew has a keen sensitivity to bad weather, creating in him some sort of internal barometer that works like a panic button in a home security system. All this talk about Hurricane Irene and our small shelter on an island 30 miles out to sea had him on the verge, ready to detonate. He noticed the swelling Atlantic surf and the dark, hovering clouds. Would we be okay? Would Nana and Howard, now 212th on the waitlist of cars needing to be ferried back to Hyannis, ever make it home? Would the lights go out? Would a tree fall on our house? How would Poppy and Lisa arrive?

I had questions too. Mine were more along the lines of, what happens if my mom can’t get home but my dad’s plane arrives? For how long can a grown woman live under the same roof with her children, spouse, parents and their significant others without power, eating from rationed cans of Stop and Shop tuna fish?

I mentally prepared for Survivor: Extreme Nantucket Family Vacation.

Alas, the storm came and went without much fanfare, as did my mom and Howard. We hugged them goodbye and then prepared for my dad’s arrival.

My mom called me later that night to say that she and Howard had checked on our house as promised on their way back to the city.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” She asked.

Our basement had flooded. This actually turned out to be the good news. The bad news was that, because no one had been home, water had been soaking into the carpeting, couch, and walls for over 48 hours. “I knew it the minute I opened your front door,” she said. The smell of wet, moldy carpet had penetrated the whole house.

Brett immediately went into action, calling our insurance agent from the patio at a local restaurant. Three out of the four of us had a nice dinner, as Brett kept excusing himself from the table to make and take calls. That became the theme of the week, Brett clinging desperately to his last few days of vacation, determined not to fly home to deal with this. He became like that “Can you hear me now?” guy, calling carpet removal companies and contractors from every dune on Nantucket. Hunched over slightly to block the sound of wind, one hand clutching a cell phone as he roamed the beach for a signal: this is how I remember that week with my husband.

Our thinking was simple. Why fly home to deal with the mess when my mother was already there to handle the clean up? Because when it comes to cleaning up (or packing, moving, organizing, filing, or tap-dancing), there is no one better for the task.

(I flatter her now publically in order to thank her once again for dealing with the mess and providing us with peace of mind. Although, I’m not sure how reassuring her calls of “Wow, this really is a disaster!” and “It still smells kind of bad, even with the fans” really were, come to think of it.)

A week later, we arrived home, assessed the damage, and went about renovating. New walls, new carpeting, new paint. Next step: a trip to Ikea for furnishings. We wanted to convey Tween Chic.

Comedian Amy Poehler once said in an interview that ‘Ikea’ is the Swedish word for ‘argument.’ Brett and I heartily agree. The first argument we had was about which Ikea to go to. Brett said no to New Jersey, and I said no to New Haven. We settled on Brooklyn. The next argument was with our children, who wanted to know why we insisted they eat Swedish meatballs at a furniture store and for how much longer we planned on torturing them with sitting on couches in make-believe living rooms. “Do you guys like this one? Or this one?” I asked.

“WE DON’T CARE ANYMORE!” Andrew explained, lying listlessly on the Karlstad.

We had so many decisions to make that we needed a return trip, sans children. A week later, for what reasons I’m not sure, Brett and I headed to New Haven. The argument this time was with a salesperson in the TV storage area, who explained that she was not allowed to help us pick the doors, hinges, legs, handle pulls or inner shelves for our Besta unit. For those of you who are not familiar with the Besta storage unit, there are approximately 427 individual choices one must make in order to build this cabinet, creating over 11,000 combinations on what is essentially just a receptacle for DVDs. The fact that no one helps you with this process, and that the unit comes in a zillion pieces, explains the $400 price tag and my escalating migraine.

But, in the end, it was all worth it. Thanks to Brett’s design sense and my love of shopping, we have achieved a really groovy looking subterranean hangout, if I must say so myself. For the record, others say it too.

“I love this!” My friend Jamie oohed, walking around the room for the first time. “And you said it’s all from Ikea?”


“But where did you get the couch?”


“And this desk?” She caressed its smooth, sleek surface.

“Ikea. Everything is from Ikea.”

“But…this chair…?” Jamie said, sinking into a copy of a mid-century Jacobson piece.

“Eye – Key – A!” I said, starting to laugh. “Everything!”

(Well, except from the decorative pillows and cashmere throw and glass knickknacks from ABC Carpet and Home. A girl has to live.)

“It’s perfect!” She declared.

And it is. It’s cozy and hip and it has lots of seating and a mad awesome flat screen on which I can watch Downton Abbey in peace.

My basement is now a perfect place to weather the next storm.

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