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By Maria Daddino

Wednesday, July 18—three days before the garden tour. I had worked for months to get my garden perfect, and it was ... almost. I was picking the last weed that no one aside from me would notice, spreading that last bit of compost, deadheading one more flower, rearranging a few more flower pots. You tend to get a little crazy when your garden is featured on a tour.

Dark clouds were thick overhead and then it began to rain, hard. I was watching the storm from a dry vantage point inside my garage when, all of a sudden, I heard a strange noise. I looked up and watched in horror as thousands of gallons of water and dirt from my neighbor’s yard came crashing down over my retaining wall. The force of the waterfall damaged my garage door and filled my basement with more than two feet of water. I was in a daze, in a state of denial that anything this awful could happen.

I tried to put it in perspective: My kids and my grandkids were all healthy and happy. Material things can always be replaced. I tried a little humor, too: It’s not Katrina. At least I’m not sitting on my roof with my parrot on my head and my hungry collie next to me!

But memories spanning more than 40 years were destroyed in seconds. Paper decorations for my Christmas tree made with my sons’ tiny hands were all gone. Sepia-tone photographs of my young parents were stuck together, muddied and ruined. Lost were the contents of two large containers filled with items that meant something to me: handwritten letters from my favorite aunt and cards from my parents, all long gone; wedding announcements; my wedding gown that I’d kept for 45 years and hoped to give to my granddaughter; adoption announcements; drawings and Mother’s Day cards. All were pieces of my life, treasures that had no monetary value but, to me, were priceless.

Now, images burned into my memory: My dear friend Patty and her husband, Mark, trying to save what was left of my treasures in my smelly, moldy basement while I was out in the sunshine doing the smiling-garden-tour-hostess bit. My driveway looking like a “Beverly Hillbillies” set. My severe asthma attack and the pale faces of my friends as they began to dial 911. The horrified expressions of my neighbors when they saw the mud, dirt and devastation in my basement, and the sad look in the eyes of my friends when they saw how many of my treasures were lost.

But the most troubling memory is that of my neighbor, examining the damage the next day, and his insensitive words: “It’s an act of God. Your property’s too low and water always finds the lowest point and you’re it … Sorry.” These words from someone I considered a friend. To say I was deeply disappointed would be an understatement. During the two years that it took to build his house, I e-mailed him pictures of every phase of construction. I stored his furniture and fixtures in my basement. I let his construction crews freely use my electricity, water and whatever else they needed. He built his castle in the sky, taking out the trees and undergrowth that bordered our properties and held the dirt together. He changed the contours of his land and raised its grade, so every time it rained a river of dirt and water flowed over my retaining wall. He was aware of the problem for more than a year—and always promised to correct it and clean my dry well. Somehow, he never got to it.

So now at a time in my life when all I want to do is play with my grandchildren, write stories and enjoy my garden, fate has handed me a curve. But at least one thing remains certain: in times of trouble, your good friends shine like bright stars in a dark sky, while others ... well, they’re just there.

Maria Daddino writes the “From Fourth Neck” East Quogue column for the Southampton Press Western Edition.

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