In downtown Waterbury yesterday, a constant stream of cars and trucks rumbled down South Main Street. People stripping down and cleaning up their flood-ravaged homes and businesses could barely step onto the sidewalk without encountering another curious passerby or media gawker (guilty as charged).
At the pharmacy, prescriptions were being dispensed at the counter as the bulk of the store remained cordoned off. Across the street at the Sunoco, yellow tape surrounded the pumps. According to the sign, regular unleaded was currently going for $6.66 per gallon, plus for $4.20 and super for $0.01. Just one example of people keeping their spirits up while they cleaned up.
Another example: A few blocks away, on the still-green grass of Rusty Parker Park, the Thursday farmers market was proceeding as scheduled. B Flat and the Side Burns honky-tonked in the bandstand while vendors — not as many as usual, but a good showing — sold tomatoes, lamb meat, cheese and prepared goods.
Kim Ingraham and Rob Weiss of Plainfield's Willow Moon Farm were giving out samples of their award-winning goat cheese. While their herd had weathered the storm, they said they'd heard about other dairy farms in trouble. They'd been relieved to hear recently that Rochester's Liberty Hill Farm now had a generator for milking.
George Nash of Gopher Broke Farm in Hyde Park was selling free-range eggs and copies of Homesteading in the 21st Century: How One Family Created a More Sustainable, Self-Sufficient, and Satisfying Life, which he authored with his wife, Jane Waterman. The farm is on high ground, he said, but Irene's winds claimed the barn roof on Sunday afternoon, leaving "lots of dispirited chickens."
Where the market fronts on South Main, a family paused at two tables piled with toiletries, pet food and baked goods, all free for the taking. Bonnie Katzman of Waterbury, who was supervising, encouraged them to take some home-made oatmeal cookies or cupcakes.
Katzman, who lives on Blush Hill out of reach of flooding, had been helping with the town's relief effort since Monday. Back then, "we couldn't believe the devastation," she said. On Tuesday, her grandsons visited from Richmond, which is also feeling Irene's effects. "To see such a big community affected by it was an eye opener for such young kids," said Katzman. She herself had only one real reference point: Years ago, for a high school project, Katzman's daughter interviewed an old-timer about the historic flood of 1927. "Cows on roofs — I had that in mind," she said.
When a disaster like this hits, "it makes you feel very ineffectual," Katzman said, though she lauded the town's "good coordinated effort." The Waterbury Good Neighbor Fund was taking donations.
Jenny Lyle stopped to survey the tables. She'd been scheduled to start teaching preschool in Moretown this week, her first year on the job. Now there was no place to hold class, and Lyle was busy doing home visits to families in the hard-hit area. "The whole school has to be replaced," she said.
Over at the Painted Tulip tent, owner Nicole D'Agata (pictured above), who also manages the farmers market, was busy assembling bouquets. In the flood's aftermath, "I wanted to make this place like a little oasis in town," she said. "I put flowers on all the tables. I don't care about selling flowers today; I'm just about being here for the community."
On Sunday, said D'Agata, she was supplying flowers to a wedding site in Chittenden. When the roads closed, "we weren't sure the bride was gonna show up." Eventually she did, "we had a wedding," and the venue comped D'Agata a room for the night. She knows "a lot of people in the wedding industry who are trying to pull together, swapping venues," she said.
Walking around Waterbury, I spotted various "signs" of the flood and its aftermath, from a handwritten notice offering free chiropractic care; to the odd prices by the inoperative gas pump; to the description of a gray and white rescued cat who "really wants to go home." Simplest, if least permanent, was the date inscribed in a thick layer of mud in the pharmacy lot, a monument to the storm and the community that pulled together to rebuild.