Three weeks ago, I relayed how one of my brothers and his wife were ordered to evacuate their home in rural southwest Iowa because of unprecedented flooding on the Missouri River.
Since then, the unthinkable has happened.
They'd been forced out before, chaining their liquid propane gas tank to a tree so that it wouldn't float away and putting everything inside their house up high just in case.
And always when they came back, their house was OK. Which is what they expected this time, too.
But this year's flooding was the worst anyone has ever seen, caused by melting snow and heavy rains atop frozen ground. The Sunday morning my column appeared in the paper, levees upstream were breached as water over-topped them and poured through.
And then their house was no longer OK. Knowing the elevation of his house and the elevation of a motel outside of a nearby town, my brother figured that when that motel flooded, so did his house.
Still, it's one thing to know your home has been flooded. It is quite another to push through the front door and see it. Smell it. Feel it. And to understand, right away, that even though you built this house — your dream home — with your own hands, your own sweat, your own savings, that you will never go back.
That's what happened when they returned this time.
The first thing my sister-in-law saw, slogging up the muddy driveway, was a dead cat. Her cat. Drowned.
It didn't get any better after that.
Their home sits three-four feet above ground level with a set of steps leading to a beautiful open porch that runs all the way across the front, just right for rocking in a chair and visiting, or listening to birds and drinking coffee.
My brother and his wife kept chickens for eggs, planted blueberries and flowers, tended a vegetable garden and had a machine shed in which they stored an antique John Deere tractor and lots of mementos. Lots and lots of mementos.
They also had a trampoline and above-ground pool for the grandkids. It was a happy place.
Now that's all washed away. Trashed.
Cell phone photos of the interior look like scenes from a television show in which a room has been ransacked. Apparently as the water rose to about three feet up the walls, furniture and other items began to float and, as the water receded, they fell to the floor, topsy-turvy and scattered about.
A thick layer of black yuck has settled in the bathtub and in the toilet.
And there's a water line half-way up the buffet that was part of the dining room set my grandparents gave my parents in 1935 when they were married. As we siblings cleared out our family home, we each chose some pieces to take with us, and my brother and his wife took the buffet.
But that's only one of many items that is wrecked.
My sister-in-law also took a photo of the large braided rug she made for their home shortly after they were married in the early 1970s, a rug she's carried with her in every move they have made. She holds out hope of cleaning it, but the stench that clings to everything is overwhelming.
The plan is that once the roads reopen, they will return to salvage what they can, which may be heartbreakingly little. They will take only those items that can be sterilized. And then they will dig a hole, light a match, push in whatever remains and never look back.
Exactly when that will be, they don't know. Roads remain under water or washed out.
For now they have started furnishing a mobile home on dry ground. And telling people they are fine.