Bus Tarbox sat in front of the ivories on his grand piano, stretched his fingers, then let the music flow. As the finishing notes faded away, he smiled.
“It’s an old friend,” said the 78-year-old Loveland man.
When he lived in his home along the North Fork of the Big Thompson River, he would play several times throughout the day. Every day. Before lunch. In the evening.Whenever he had the itch to hear the clear tones of his Kimball.
Then the 2013 flood raged in and destroyed his home and most of his belongings, filling his haven with 3.5 feet of water.
While the raging waters took so much from so many, they damaged but did not destroy the piano.
That piano will be the centerpiece of his brand new living room this summer when he moves into his new home — the first home of his own since the flood.
Tarbox and Joyce Kilmer, who fled up the side of a mountain with the deadly flood waters not far behind, were chosen to receive Habitat for Humanity homes through a program for those who lost their homes in the flood.
Temporary to permanent
The Loveland Habitat for Humanity received funding through a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Relief for three homes for flood survivors. One is still available.
The flood homes are slightly different from the traditional habitat home.
They are modulars built off site then placed on lots in the Loveland neighborhood. The residents must put in 100 hours of work in order to qualify for the home, which carries an affordable monthly mortgage.
Kilmer and Tarbox, long-time friends, will be next door neighbors in their own homes by summer.
When asked how she feels about having her own home again, Kilmer uttered three simple words, “relief and security.”
While she loves her rental property and is grateful for her landlords, she longs to have a permanent place of her own.
“I haven’t felt secure for a while now,” she said. “I need more security.”
Back in the studio
When she thinks about her two bedroom home, Kilmer imagines what it will be like to paint and sculpt once again, for the first time since the 2013 flood.
She is excited to convert her garage into a studio where she will, once again, let her creativity flow into clay and canvas.
The last piece of art she created before the flood was a painting of lilacs that had been specially commissioned. She hung the finished project in her living room until the customer could pick it up.
It still hung in her home when the force of the flood washed away Cedar Cove, steam-rolling almost the entire neighborhood.
She plans to paint another for her customer.
But first, Kilmer is planning a large piece for an art show in her home town of Grand Rapids, Mich., this September. A light glints in her eye as she talks about how feverishly she will work once her studio is set up.
When the water subsided, Kilmer’s records of five decades worth of paintings and sculptures were gone. But among the debris she found a couple of paintings, one which has been cleaned and will go up for sale after touch-ups.
Also in the trunk of her car, which washed down the river, her former neighbors found a very special sculpture she created more than a decade ago of her grandson, a little boy with a teddy bear dangling from his hand.
She had packed it in the trunk of her car to evacuate, and it stayed there as the waters washed away the life Kilmer had forged in the canyon. It is that special, unique piece that she is most excited to place in her new home.
Daily dose of music
Before the flood, playing the piano was simply part of each day for Tarbox.
Now it is a special treat when he is able to visit Kilmer, who made room in her rental for his piano until he is able to reclaim his instrument.
That is the once piece of furniture Tarbox knows he will have in his new home, right in the living room where he can play at will.
“You take it for granted until you don’t have it,” said Tarbox, who has been living in his grandson’s basement. “It was such a part of my life.”
When he wasn’t playing at home, he could often be found tickling the ivories for residents at assisted living centers around Loveland. He had 80 binders of sheet music he had sorted and collected.
Of those, only the three that were sitting on the piano the day he evacuated survived the flood.
Tarbox fled as water chipped away chunk after chunk of road, driving through water so deep it covered the headlights on his vehicle. He spent the night at the Big Thompson Canyon Association Building then was evacuated out of Drake by helicopter the next day.
Weeks later, he returned to his destroyed house and belongings.
His grand piano was still there, water logged and muddy. The legs were tarnished, the inside filled with dirt and debris.
Tarbox wondered if he should give up on the piano.
“I wouldn’t let him,” Kilmer said. “I know how much he loved it.”
Movers hauled the piano to her rental home, where she opened the top. The inside was filled with dirt and leaves.
“We took a leaf blower and blew everything out,” said Kilmer.
She repaired and refinished the legs.
Now, after a couple of tunings, the piano is back to its former beauty.
Tarbox visits and plays, but soon the he and his piano will be home.