Helping Hands and an Indoor Horse

Jill L. Ferguson

Her house sits across the street from a lake, and her backyard faces the lake, so when Jill Collins, 69, of Bellevue, Neb., saw her land, garage, sheds and the crawl space of her house flood from both the front she picked up her two dogs and big Buddha-like cat and evacuated. They made it to her daughter’s home before the city shut down her street. Every few days after the flood, her grandsons would check on the water levels at her property, and when they finally said it had gone down enough, she returned to assess the damage. 

The two dinghies she owns to navigate the lakes were flipped and secured to trees, but she wasn’t physically capable of moving them to safer ground. The tornado shelter under her garage had flooded and water-logged the few pieces of furniture in it, but its heavy steel cover in the garage floor and its rebar-like ladder to climb into it made her unable to access the space and to clean it out“I was fortunate there was no mud in the house,” she said. “I don’t have insurance.” 

Team Rubicon’s strike team doesn’t always do mucking and demolitions work. Sometimes the job involves helping a senior citizen do physical labor she’s not able to as the result of carpal tunnel or arthritis or other ailments that zap strength, flexibility and power. 

She got to work digging her picnic table and lawn furniture from the mud, and trying to clean up her yard, which now was covered with a lot more sand. She asked the strike team to open her sheds because the doors were stuck and blocked with silt and debris. She talked animatedly as they dug each free and used brute strength to pry open the doors. Each was full of the remnants of the dirty water and mud, but many of the things inside the sheds would be salvageable with either pressure washing or cleaning. The team helped her throw away the items in the storm shelter. They also dragged both boats further into the yard and dumped the water out of them and secured them again.  

“It’s perfect, you guys get shit done,” Collins said. She’s the same kind of do-stuff person, when the pain in her hands, wrists and forearms doesn’t limit her.  

As the team was gathering their tools to leave, Collins surprised them“You have to come into my house to see my horse,” she saidEveryone loves my horse.”  

The five of us followed her into her house after she admonished us to “leave your damn shoes on.” Inside we found a life-size replicable of a horse, complete with horsehair mane and tail that Collins had made from papier-mâché“Everything in this house but the furniture has been handmade by someone in my family,” Collins said. “So I’m glad I lost none of it in this flood.”  

She insisted that the horse would support each of our weights and that one by one we mount the horse and take photos on him. “Bet you never get to ride a horse in people’s houses,” she said, laughing.  

Afterwards, she presented us with homemade frozen cookies and hugged us before we climbed back into the trucks.  


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