MOLINE — Tugging nervously at the bottom of her brown sweater, Nancy Riesebieter pauses to wipe tears from her cheeks. Her free hand nervously shakes as shares her story.
It's not supposed to be like this. Not at age 74. Not when she's supposed to be enjoying life's golden years.
For two weeks Riesebieter has been homeless, though she owns her home.
When that home was swamped by floodwaters, the Red Cross put Riesebieter and her pal, poodle Toby, up at the Moline-based Motel 6 for two weeks, the maximum period of time the Red Cross will pay for a motel. With her stay at its end, she recently returned to a mold-and-mud-filled home along Moline's River Drive. In the basement, the water has reached the ceiling.
For 14 months, Riesebieter has battled breast cancer, working through surgery and then radiation's heavy toll. Ever the optimist, she says each day is a good day, but some days are better than others. Her smile, as much and she tries, cannot conceal her fears.
Riesebieter's mistake — if we can call it such thing — was assisting a Rockford-based family member in need, then deciding that paying her medical bills was more important than keeping her flood insurance.
She's on a fixed income, and she had too choose one or the other. She chose paying her providers.
Then the flood of 2019 and its monumental crest rolled in.
Mind you, the nice lady with the salt-and-pepper hair has dealt with floods before, but nothing like this. No other flood in the 12 years she has lived in her home has forced her to evacuate or destroyed her car. The late-model auto she owns is no longer functioning, since it was caught and destroyed in the early stages of a massive Mississippi River rise.
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It was, however, insured. The insurance covered the rental car she currently is driving. When she buys a replacement vehicle, Riesebieter says, she'll pick one of lesser value with the hope of using any money left over for essentials. Like food, bills, taxes and trying not to be homeless.
She wants desperately to clean her damaged home, to start over. Doctors first warned her that returning to her home might be harmful to her cancer recovery because of the cleaning chemicals involved. Those physicians then relented slightly, and now her sights are set on occupying a back room of the damaged home.
"You know how we have times when we are kind of lost and we wonder what direction we need to go? Well, this is one of those times," Riesebieter says. "I'm lost at this time, torn with all I am dealing with. I want to be in my house, but I don't have the resources to get things back in order.
"It's in real bad shape, and I cannot afford to go anywhere else, and have no family here to turn to. I have dealt with floods before, but nothing like this one."
On Tuesday mornings, Riesebieter attends meetings of the Healthy Lifestyles group at the Moline Township Activity Center, sharing time with her friends there. Those sitting around the table each week have become like family members.
"Amazing group, just trying to assist someone who means a great deal to all of us," says Roxann Adamson, the director of the activity center. "Nancy's issues are not of her doing — her battle with cancer and her dealing with the flood and all that comes with it. Her friends — and they are more like family to her since she has no one here — have stepped forward."
Today, Riesebieter hopes, will be better than yesterday. She wants desperately to return home, but she does not have the resources to make that happen. Her health and finding her way financially are concerns.
"It's the not knowing,'' she says. "I never thought this could happen to me.''
Sadly, it shouldn't have.