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Prophecy or Science Fiction?
Alice C. Bateman
I guess before I get into telling you the actual stories of my family, I should introduce everybody. At the time of the flood, in June of the year two thousand and three, my oldest daughter, Kat, was married to a very nice man named David. I thank God they are still among us. She was twenty-nine when the waters rose, living outside of London, Ontario in a small town with David and their two children. She had her tubes tied after their second child, so that is all the children they have.
Alex, my oldest boy, had been married for only four years, and didn't have any children before the flood. Since, he and Karen have had five babies. They were a young professional couple, and I thank God to this day for the coincidence that saved them from drowning. They were enjoying the last day of their vacation in the Blue Mountains up around Collingwood when they left a restaurant after lunch, to find that there was water as far as they could see to the south.
If they hadn't been on vacation, they would have been trapped in their separate office towers by the rising water, and drowned like all the others. They had to stick to high ground and slowly make their way down to Hamilton to try and find me. That is the biggest reason we remained in my little house in Hamilton for a time. With no communication, we decided it would be best to stay in place and wait for the older children, if they had survived, to come to us.
My heart pounded with joy when first Kat (short for Katherine) and David and their kids, and later Alex and Karen showed up at our door. My little townhouse was suddenly very crowded, but it was filled with love and joy. Together, we all sat down and planned what we should do, knowing that our food supplies and everything would not last long in our present location, and it was getting dangerous.
Earl, my second son, almost twenty, and my daughter Kristen, seventeen, had been living downtown when the flood hit but, thank God, were visiting me on that awful day. Also, John was still living at his house in Niagara Falls at the time, although he spent a lot of time with me and the kids in Hamilton, so was with us. If I had lost him or any of my children to the water, I'm afraid that my heart would have been broken to the extent that I would not have wanted to go on.
Heather, my next daughter, sixteen, was still living with me, and so were my two young sons, Arthur, eight, and Dustin, seven. John and I never formally married until after the floods, because the bond between us was so strong that we knew God had brought us together and blessed our union without the need for public ceremony and display.
In those early post-change days, we were deep in disbelief and sadness. John and I were compelled to drive down to the new lakeshore time after time, leaving the children at home, because we never knew what we might encounter. The people that were left alive, mountain residents and visitors, were walking or driving around in a fog of uncertainty. The roads were littered with cars that had run out of fuel and been abandoned, the traffic lights weren't working, and driving anywhere was a dangerous and chancy proposition.
Nobody knew what had happened, only that there was a new reality.
At the beginning, many more people who hadn't drowned died. Life support systems keeping people alive at the Henderson Hospital and the neighbouring Cancer Centre, on Concession Street, shut down after the emergency generators quit. There was no one left who was capable of fixing them, and no way to channel electricity from power plants that no longer existed.
The water now had a slightly salty flavour, which we didn't think could really harm people over the short term, but no one liked the idea of using water that held so many dead bodies. The most gruesome thing we had to do in those early days was to help harvest the bloated corpses that surfaced. The once-lovely park where we had first seen the swollen lake was turned into a burning ground.
A lot of the people helping with this task searched the bodies, removing jewelry and watches and emptying pockets, but John and I would have nothing to do with that activity. We spent long hours hauling bodies out of the water, hard physical work, but it helped to distract us during the difficult time we spent waiting to see if my oldest children were alive or dead. I cried endlessly, thinking that I might have a counterpart somewhere pulling my own children's bodies from the water. I have to say that those were the most dreadful days of my life.
Twice, I helped to pull out people I recognised. I broke down completely the first time this happened. It was somehow just a detestable chore before it became personal. It was a very difficult and demanding time, something that nobody left alive was prepared for, but something that we all had to get together and do, or have bodies rotting all along the shoreline and poisoning the water.
Actually, there weren't as many bodies as we expected, and we surmised at the time that a lot of people must have been trapped inside buildings, and their bodies were still stuck inside them. Believe me, nobody was prepared to dive down into the former city to find out. Just the picture in everybody's mind was enough to put us off this task.
Eventually, the people who intended to stay in the area did find ways to go into the water to salvage needed items like food. Thanks to twentieth-century packaging, many foodstuffs were salvageable from under the water. However, John and I knew we wouldn't be able to feed ourselves or the children food that had been in the company of so many dead people, which is one of the strongest reasons we decided to depart from the area.
The heartbreak of loss was so palpable in what was left of my city, it was almost unbearable. As far as we knew, all the other cities were completely drowned, but Hamilton, because of the high ridge we called a mountain, was still half-alive.
But virtually everyone had suffered personal losses. The husband and father who'd been at work at Dofasco or Stelco, the wife who was working at the General Hospital, the children who attended a school in the lower city. The life-long friends of the senior citizens who'd lived in the building on the shoulder of the Jolly Cut. The list was endless. Everyone was in mourning, too stupefied by their own personal losses to carry on with any coherence or planning.
There was a pervasive feeling among the survivors that the dead were the lucky ones, and many people took their own lives, some right in front of me and John, intentionally drowning in order to join loved ones.
The saddest day of that sad, sad, time was when a young mother with two small children and a baby first held her babies heads under the water, and then sat down beside them so the water was over her own head.
I screamed and ran to pull her out, but she begged me to let her go, to be with her husband and children. I had no choice. I had to let her go back under the water. I will never forget the forsaken look in her beautiful green eyes as I let go of her.
In those days, the vast majority of people only had one or two children, so most people had very little family to keep them on an even keel in the midst of such sorrow. Most people were left virtually alone.
John and I were so glad that we had all the children to think about, forcing us to overcome the overwhelming sense of unreality, to plan for the future. We would not simply close ourselves up in my little home and wait to die like so many others did. What was left of the city of Hamilton just became too painful to bear.
Even now, fifty-two years later, tears come to my eyes when I think about that time. It was a relief to venture away from the city, even though we knew we might encounter the same sort of situation wherever we went for some time.
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