The writer of this post, Jessica Hartley Sodeke, grew up in Pattonsburg, MO. After she graduated from high school in 2003, she went to college at Northwest Missouri State University at Maryville, and then relocated to Lincoln, NE. At the time of this writing, she is employed as a marketing communications specialist for the Nebraska Community Blood Bank. Her sister Jacque Hartley Bauer, graduated in 2001, and also has relocated to Lincoln and works at Crete Carrier. Jessica’s parents are long time educators in the area and are both retired. Her father, Gregg Hartley, taught one year at Pattonsburg High School but spent many years at North Daviess High School at Jameson, MO. Her mother, Lisa Hartley, is a retired teacher and helps with speech therapy at the Pattonsburg School.
I’m happy to share what I remember about the flood of 1993, although keep in mind this is from the eyes of a young child so I didn’t understand how scary and sad it was for our community of Pattonsburg, MO.
Mom told me a flood was coming. She explained that because it had rained and rained and rained, the river couldn’t hold the water anymore and it was moving toward our town. “They” (not sure who they were, maybe people on the news or the old farmers of the community) had said to expect maybe a few inches and to raise furniture about a foot. So dad brought home cement blocks to put under our furniture. My mom had been working on sorting boxes of our treasured family pictures and those got put on top of the couch for extra safe keeping. We had never experienced one of the great floods of Pattonsburg before so we didn’t know what to expect but I remember mom and dad felt prepared. They had no idea what was coming…
Fast forward a day, maybe two, and life became a lot more chaotic. The water continued to rise and move toward our town. My grandparents lived a block away from us at the end of Walnut Street. You could see from their front porch the water just over the dam. I’d never seen an ocean before but it looked like one had formed just over the ledge. The water appeared to spread for miles and miles. I remember it sparkled in the sunlight and to me it was exciting as we waited to see if the dam could hold it.
It couldn’t. I don’t know how my parents knew, maybe a call from grandma, maybe they could see the roads being swallowed up by the water, but the dam gave way and water flowed into our little city.
I don’t remember exactly what was going on but this was the first time I felt scared and anxious. The water was moving quickly down the road, into our yard, into our neighbors’ yard, inching closer and closer to our van. They figured out the water would be higher than the foot they had planned for and there was panic. Mom and dad worked quickly to move things upstairs and raise the furniture all while running back and forth from the house to the van filling it with whatever they thought we would need. I don’t know exactly how much time they had but to me it felt like only a few seconds. I watched the water get closer. I don’t know if that was my job for that moment, if mom had assigned me to be lookout, but I just remember watching what seemed like a wave of water sweeping across our town, covering everything in its path.
Mom and dad ran out of time and we had to leave. Our plan was to head to the other side of town to my Aunt Debbie’s house. I don’t know if her home was higher up or just further away from the water, but for whatever reason we knew we’d be safe there. At least for a while.
I’d been to my aunt’s house many times before so when I got there all I remember is having dinner and playing with my cousin. Adult me wishes I would have asked more questions or showed some concern for my parents but I felt safe and comfortable and excited for a sleepover.
I’ll never forget the next morning when I woke up. I stepped onto the porch of my aunt’s house and we were surrounded by water. There was no street left, no grass, no trees; it was as if all of our homes were floating like boats. And I was excited!! Mom, can we go swimming? Mom, are there fish just swimming around right outside? Are there sharks and water moccasins? We begged and begged to play in the water but it was too deep and too dirty, mom said. And we hadn’t had our tetanus shots. We heard this over and over.
Eventually my mom and aunt gave in and let us swing on the play set out back that must have been on higher ground because there was still a little knoll of grass underneath it. Her swing set had a surf board that rocked back and forth, and we were ecstatic to be able to ‘surf’ among the flood waters. While we played I’m guessing our parents were devastated and trying to figure out what was next. All of our vehicles were flooded and the water was too deep and full of debris for us to wade through. There was fear about electricity and downed wires and livestock running loose. It didn’t take long before people in boats started to make their way around town to pick people up and get them to safety.
I still remember the boat ride. I don’t know who rescued us but again, it was another great adventure! I remember my cousin was very upset because one of her pets had run away and we couldn’t wait for it to bring with us. We’d get it when we came back, I thought. As we drifted all the way across town I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t understand that this would be the very last day “Old” Pattonsburg would be our home. I knew that when we got off that boat grandma and grandpa would be waiting for us along the water’s edge, and we’d drive all the way to their home in Eagleville and we were even going to stay in her basement for a while!
We stayed with my grandparents for months, maybe even a year, and life just continued. Because we were so young my sister and I didn’t go back very often. But when we did I remember the terrible smell the water left behind and the mud that covered everything. I remember mom hanging up what was left of all of our family pictures, hoping they would dry and that you could still make out the memories among the smudges of color. I remember the supplies that were brought to us. We had what seemed like a lifetime supply of dried apple chips. I remember being told we had six to seven feet of water in our house, and dad would show me the line along the water of how high it got. I remember not being allowed to go upstairs to my room because animals had run up in hopes of surviving but didn’t.
I remember how sad my mom was about her beautiful home. We lived in a large yellow house with a white wrap around porch. Some of the windows were stained glass and one of the doors had an antique doorbell. By the time we got back to the house, all of those things had been removed by someone. I remember going into the school (my mom was a teacher there) and mom would sort through her things to see what could be salvaged. Eventually the school did reopen and mom, my sister and I would make the long trip from Eagleville to Pattonsburg every day. Grandma made us hot chocolate every morning and this became our new normal. Eventually we found a new house, a mobile home along Highway 69, where we built new memories and had new toys and furniture.
It took me many, many years to realize how devastating that flood was for not only our city, but my parents. They lost everything. They had only been married three years (my dad generously adopted my sister and me as his own). They had their first baby in February of 1993. So my brother was just a few months old in the midst of this great flood.
My mom said they took my sister and cousin and me on a boat without them because they could only take a few people at a time. Mom stayed back a few hours but they were anxious to get her and my brother out because just months before she had suffered a severe blood clot, after having my little brother, that nearly killed her. She spent 21 days in the hospital and because she couldn’t walk after she was released, she stayed at my grandparents’ and we stayed home with dad. When mom was finally able to leave town on a boat, she never got to return because they were worried about her touching the unsanitary water and causing an infection.
She choked up as she told me all these things and said that flood really, really ruined our lives and changed everything. It’s something that is very hard for many people still.
I reminded mom that, yes, it did change our lives but we are still SO very blessed and they’ve really made a life for us. We couldn’t have done it, though, without family and the support of our community members. I’m still very proud of the Pattonsburg I came from, and I have wonderful memories of our old home and playing with my friends and going to school.
— written by Jessica Hartley Sodeke