Houston family turns devastation into determination after Hurricane Harvey floods home

'Even in the worst of times, there's good,' Hilary Trammell says

HOUSTON – Hilary Trammell and her husband, Terry, were out of the country when Hurricane Harvey hit last August.

Their home did not flood until after Hurricane Harvey when water was released from the Addicks Reservoir, but the couple's children took preventative measures to minimize damage to the house. 

The family raised furniture, put items on top of tables and evacuated with the dogs, but no one anticipated the home would flood the way it did.

"We've been in the house since '96 and we've never had water past the sidewalk," Trammell said. "We never expected anything like this."

It wasn't until the couple's son sent the couple a picture of their truck covered in water that they realized the extent of the flooding.

Trammell teaches a leadership course and believes the lessons she uses have helped her get through the recovery process. When she learned her home had flooded, she took out one of the models she teaches that encourages people to focus on what they can control and influence.

"We sat and we just said, 'We flooded; it's done,'" Trammell said. "We couldn't stop it. It was happening no matter what. We went through the house mentally and cried, just kind of wept for the things that were gone. Then we said, 'All right, that's that.'"

When the couple got home a week later, the water was still chest-high. They had to be taken to their house in a canoe. Their whole deck was floating and Legos from the couple's granddaughter's playroom were everywhere. 

After they made a list of what needed to be done, work began on recovery. Unlike some people who threw items out because of the stench, the Trammells went out of their way to save as much as they could.

"I think one of the greatest travesties in the midst of help is that people didn't know what was meaningful, so they just bagged it all up and threw it away," Trammell said.

Trammell and her children spent weeks going through bags volunteers had put out on the sidewalk to see if anything could be salvaged.

Among the items saved by the family was a trunk Trammell's grandparents brought to America in 1915, an old grandfather clock and a blanket made by Trammell's late mother-in-law.

The family has witnessed the recovery process test neighbors. Some have left the neighborhood for good. There have even been times that the Trammells have questioned whether or not they could continue.

"We were standing in that room with no walls, concrete floors, you know, just the foundation," Trammell said. "My husband said, 'I don't know if I can do it.'"

On top of the work needed to repair the house, Trammell's husband had to have a full knee replacement.

"I put our song on, I grabbed him close and made him dance with me," Trammell said. "This is what makes it a home. Walls are overrated."

Over the past year, this has become a habit for the couple. When things become overwhelming, they dance.

"We've danced all through this house now," Trammell said.

Even though they have tried their best to remain positive, there are some wounds that have not healed. Trammell lost both of her pianos in the flood: an upright one she received on her 16th birthday and a baby grand that was a 40th birthday present from her husband.

"All my music that I've had my whole life, done," Trammell said. "I lost my keyboard. I lost my MacBook with all my music. I haven't been able to get past that one thing just yet."

She was only able to save one book where she had written original music.

The couple has also had to consider pushing back retirement.

"I'm 53. We had no debt. Our cars were paid off," Trammell said. "We were about a year and a half from paying the house off to having this huge loan, having to fix the house, new cars. So we were like, 'All right, well, we're going to work probably another 10 years.'"

Trammell tries to remain positive by keeping the family's challenges in perspective. She's been inspired by the way family, friends and neighbors have offered support.

"It was the most humbling experience in my life, because I'd never been one to ask for help, I'd always been the one giving help, and we had people from all over the world come into our home," Trammell said. "This storm turned us from a neighborhood into a community."

There is a sign Trammell keeps in her home that reads "Be the Good." She calls this her motto.

"We have an opportunity every day of our life to be the good for someone else," Trammell said. "You can look for all the bad or you can look for all the good. Even in the worst of times, there's good and I think this hurricane has been living proof."

Even though the family was able to save more than some, they have still had to rebuild and replace destroyed items.

Trammell sees this as an opportunity to create a new story for her family. She has encouraged everyone who has walked through her home and lent a helping hand to be a part of that story.  As volunteers from around the world helped them rebuild, she asked them to write a message on the beams in the walls. Some people wrote scripture, others signed their names.

"The theory is, God forbid we ever flood again as soon as the walls come down. We are reminded we're not alone," Trammell said.

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