Bonnie Dues pulled up to her son’s barn and sat in the car, gathering herself for a few seconds before going inside.
She already knew it contained a collection of warped memories. Inside, she would have to walk a maze of antique furniture, all destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
“It makes me sick to come here,” Dues, 90, said. “I know it’s just material, but it’s what you’re tied to.”
Dues is one of the thousands of Dickinson residents who became displaced after the storm, and she’s part of a likely even larger group of people who lost precious, irreplaceable keepsakes to Harvey.
The storm made landfall in Rockport on Aug. 25 and moved up the coast, where it dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of the county and overflowed rivers and creeks.
Dues’ home flooded with about 42 inches of water. It pushed her antique furniture over and marinated it in the toxic water; some of it couldn’t be saved.
“My whole house was almost antiques,” Dues said.
The items that Dues showed off in the barn or in her temporary home had some hope of being salvaged.
Some of the damaged items were big in size or significance — her daughter’s wedding dress, a corner cabinet, a grandfather clock, a barrister bookcase, a cedar chest.
Others were no less important, sentimentally — a powder bowl, skillets, a postcard collection dating back before World War I, a set of toy dolls from McDonald’s.
Since the storm, Dues’ family has worked to restore some of the furniture and items. Some of it might not ever get back to its original state or be salvaged at all.
Dues knew the latter was a possibility. At the barn, she pointed at various pieces of furniture on multiple occasions and said, “We might be able to save that.”
Such keepsakes are important to be salvaged if possible, Carrie Feldman, a museum specialist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum for African American History and Culture.
“The point is not to conserve them at a museum level but to salvage them and get them stable enough to make them OK as they are or take the next step and take them to a conservator,” Feldman said.
Sherry Simmons, an artist and restorer at Alley Antiques and Restoration in Galveston, said conservators can only do so much, but items can be brought back to life in some way.
“You have to accept some of it maybe will not look the same,” Simmons said.
Feldman went to Rockport after the storm and taught people several techniques to save some materials. Photos, for example, can be rewetted and laid to dry, and books can be placed in the freezer, she said.
“I think it’s really instinctive, especially when it comes to water damage, to want to throw things out,” Feldman said.
In Rockport, Feldman heard of an assortment of belongings that were damaged or lost, including baseball cards, Bibles and books.
“I think it really hits you after you’ve dealt with the immediate needs like food and shelter and water,” Feldman said. “You start going through your home and seeing what’s left, and you see piles of photographs stuck together, which represent your memories.”
Tina BeBout, a Galveston resident, lost a collection of items during the storm. One was an ancestry book, containing materials dating back to the 1800s.
“It’s just something that is almost like irreplaceable,” BeBout said. “It’s horrible.”
Keepsakes and sentimental belongings carry an emotional attachment, which makes them oftentimes more difficult losses than even a house or a car, Feldman said.
“People attach emotions to all of these things,” Feldman said. “They kind of tell the story of who you are. When you think of how to tell your own story, you tend to think of these things, part of your identity, right?”
Dues’ identity is wrapped up in many of her lost items, which were passed down among relatives. Her favorites are her grandparents’ wedding set, a dresser for men and a vanity dresser for women.
“Oh, they were just everything,” Dues said.
For now, Dues is waiting to see if anything can be done with that furniture. The rest isn’t as important, she said.
“Those two pieces, that’s what I really hope and hope I can save,” Dues said. “This other stuff, some of it comes from the family, but nothing like that.”