One way or another, I thought we should get out of the kitchen.
Earlier that day, the construction crew had excavated in order to waterproof our kitchen foundation. But instead of a true foundation, all they’d found was a cinder block wall just casually supporting our kitchen, approximately 14 inches back from the edge of the walls. It was as if, at some point in the past, a couple of guys decided to dig out a basement, and while they were at it one of them looked around and said, “Hey, whaddya think about throwing a few cinder blocks up here? Just in case, ya know?” And the other guy said, “Think we should dig on over to the actual edge of the entire house above us?” And the first one said, “Nah, what’s a foot or two? It’ll still hold things up for now.”
Which meant that now, in 2018, when the foundation crew stopped for the day, we were left with a trench and a flimsy wall rather than the soil that used to help support the kitchen. We also had a small mountain of dug-out dirt towering over the trench. Not ideal, but before they drove off, the guys assured me it was “solid enough” until we figured out what to do.
The tornado threw us for a loop. We don’t have tornados here: this is a government town, and things like that are just a little too dramatic for our tastes – and Ottawa isn’t exactly Tornado Alley. In fact, we were so surprised when the radios and cell phones started blaring about a tornado watch that we kind of ignored it. It just didn’t make any sense. One of my friends hopped in the car with her child to come over to visit. Even if there was going to be a tornado, she said, which seemed ridiculous, it wasn’t due for another 30 minutes. As my friend walked in, she commented that the wind and rain had really picked up.
She was right about “really picked up” given that it had been a lovely day right up until the tornado came. We sat down in the kitchen, our usual gathering place, and poured a “nice to see you” drink. Andre walked in a few minutes later – he’d biked home from work – and he, too, commented on the wind and the rain. “It was so pretty earlier,” he mused as we handed him a drink.
Did I mention that our kitchen was no longer supported?
Mere moments later, through occasional wind-blown gaps in the rain that was now sluicing down our kitchen window, I could make out cascades of water gushing down the pile of mud and directly into the ditch next to our definitely-not-to-code kitchen foundation. “You’ve got to see this!” I gestured my guests over to the window.
We looked out, gasping, and at that moment, as the wind howled around us, we realized that we were watching torrents of water flow into the trench below us next to the sort-of-supportive cinder block wall. Standing next to the window meant we were standing over the trench – which meant we were standing over thin air. The lights flickered. One way or another, I thought, we should get out of the kitchen.
As we settled into the (well-supported) playroom, the lights went out. The kids were horrified and delighted. We rounded up the flashlights and the candles. Within minutes, the winds died down and the rain stopped. From what we could see, the trench had quite a bit of water in it, but there wasn’t much in the basement. Nevertheless, once the tornado had passed, we decided we were better off at a friend’s house for a while. In the end, we were lucky: our house held up, probably because the tornado – which turned out to be several tornadoes – didn’t directly hit our part of town. Our power was out for a while, and school was cancelled the next day, but the foundation crew had been right: that old cinder block wall was, indeed, solid enough. Somewhere in the early 1900s whoever dug out our basement must have known what they were doing after all – thank goodness.