The Flooded Basement and a Bit of Larceny by
(285 Stories)

Prompted By Floods

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I grew up watching George Reeves play Superman on television in the 1950s. The show’s introduction, forever imprinted in my mind, told me that heroic Superman “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” My parents reinforced this lesson, lecturing my brothers and me on the importance of honesty in all things. Imagine my shock as a kid when I saw them throw a set of luggage into the rising waters flooding our basement.

Imagine my shock as a kid when I saw my parents throw a set of luggage into the rising waters flooding our basement.

When I asked why they were doing this, my never-tell-a-lie parents explained that they needed new luggage and now the insurance company would pay for it. This was my first encounter with the little larcenies that were considered acceptable, even to my father who was honest to a fault in his job as an accountant. The deception was fair in their opinion because they paid for insurance year after year. As a kid, it was my first inkling that even my parents weren’t always honest.

Basement floods were pretty common in the ranch house in which I grew up, even with a sump pump because it often failed. Before the suitcase incident, I never thought about what other deceptions my normally honest parents may have used to improve that basement after floods. Many people of their generation, who lived through the Depression, felt that they were being duped by the wealthy, who would take advantage of them at every turn. My parents didn’t feel a bit guilty about inflated insurance claims.

My mother-in-law thought it was fair to switch price tags on clothing because it was over-priced to begin with. She felt no guilt because the big department store was making enough profit. At restaurants, she put all of the sweetener packets in her purse, along with the porcelain soup spoons in Chinese restaurants. After all, we paid for the food, which was also over-priced in her mind.

I have wandered a bit from floods because I have never been impacted by a real one. My heart goes out to the people in Libya, where over 5,000 people have died due to massive floods. The devastation caused by Katrina in New Orleans is still fresh in my mind. Climate change has increased flooding from the east to west coasts. Although I am safe living on the 14th floor of a condo, I know how devastating a flood would be for my kids. I also know it is very possible for them to face a flooding disaster in the future from which even Superman couldn’t save them.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I rather like your forebears’ bits of larceny, Laurie. I understand their reasoning about paying the insurance premiums, except their premiums would go up if they continued their practice and those restaurants were probably not making as much as was perceived. But taking the sugar packets wouldn’t make much of a dent.

    But you are right to think about the impact of climate change on so many others (although I heard the flood in Libya was caused in large part to corruption – the money designated to fix the infrastructure of the dams that broke was never spent and just disappeared (I listen to NPR and heard this from a resident of the city, interviewed in the aftermath of the flooding).

  2. Laurie, although not a laughing matter I had to smile at your story.

    I don’t think my parents would’ve thrown luggage into a flooded basement, but my mother also took the sugar packets at restaurants – and the rolls too! And a child of the Depression, she chided me for sending clothes to the dry cleaner without first attacking the stains with a little soap and water and some elbow grease!

    As for switching price tags, did you ever tell your mother-in-law the consequences and embarrassment if she had gotten caught!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      There was definitely a Depression mentality that afflicted their generation. I guess my parents felt the rises in premiums were offset by what they gained in their claims. My mother never met a stain she couldn’t remove (think toothpaste) although ironically her father was a tailor and dry cleaner. My MIL never got caught. Also a different era with fewer safeguards other than a sales person catching her in the act.

  3. Jim Willis says:

    Laurie, I enjoyed reading about your parents’ getting their toes wet in the basement of larceny. It made me think of the first time I heard my dad tell a lie. We were on vacation, I was 13, and we were entering a paid-admission ghost town in New Mexico. Kids under 12 got in free, and my dad told the gatekeeper I was 11. It stayed with me a while, before I realized that parents are human, too.

  4. Laurie: A great description of a n ethical dilemma.
    When our basement was flooded, for technical reasons that I thought bogus, the insurance company refused to cover it. The flood repair manager estimated that the repair would cost over $23,000. He wanted an immediate deposit of %10. We were in a crisis and paid. Later we found he had sold us a dead horse. We could have had it fixed with $6000 or less. We hired a different contractor but never heard from the flood guy again.

    Revenge on the rich and criminals runs deep. I have no way of getting back at this rich flood company. And am angry with the insurance company. Hypothetically, I wish I could have given your parents a few pieces of luggage to throw into their basement flood..

  5. I appreciate how you meandered through this essay–I have the impression you did not know where you wouid end up when you began it. It was a different==in this respect–but still appealing kind of writing than I usually associate with you. I salute you for being honest about your parents’ or grandparents’ occasional indulgence in dishonest claims or practices. I could similarly tell stories of my grandfather taking advantage of customers for the junk he resold, in having my Uncle Aleck, then a mere teenager, cook the figures. Or how my uncles helped people during the Depression illegally turn back on their power after being shut off due to non-payment. Or about one of my great uncles being upset when he had to buy tornado insurance for his business: “Who can possibly cause a tornado?” (Meaning, he was accustomed to be able to cause ‘fire’ when they made him buy fire insurance.).

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Dale, you are right about my meandering since the only floods I experienced were in my parents’ basement (and a couple in our house, which were not that exciting). The examples you write about would make great stories. What prompt would elicit these family stories we all share?

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