Entering the foyer of Irv and Sharon Caplan's rambling rancher-style home just outside Stevenson in Baltimore, a visitor would never know.
"What you're walking into is where a tree fell through the house," said Sharon Caplan.
The initial horror at seeing their home after it was ravaged by the derecho in the summer of 2012 is now a calm narrative of loss, rebuilding and the renewed understanding of what is most important in life.
"We were away at a family wedding in Houston when the storm hit Baltimore and a tree limb went through our beautiful home and then blew out," said the 71-year-old former partner in Manekin LLC, a commercial real estate corporation. "Water poured in the house the entire weekend with no [functioning] electricity or air-conditioning.
"We returned to a dark, flooded, uninhabitable home," she recalled. "Walls, floors, ceiling, ductwork, furniture, drapes, carpet, and my piano from childhood were destroyed."
When the shock subsided, the couple picked up the pieces of the shattered areas in their home and took the next logical step.
"We wanted to rebuild but decided that a change of venue was needed mentally as we undertook the project with the help of a decorator, excellent contractor, and a cooperating insurance company," Sharon Caplan said.
Her husband, Irv, a 76-year-old retired attorney, added, "We learned the importance of finding a general contractor who not only does quality work that you've seen but who will be your advocate in dealing with the subcontractors and the insurance company."
After a four-month stay in a furnished Inner Harbor apartment, where the couple enjoyed all the amenities of downtown living, they returned to what Sharon Caplan called "our 'new' home … with all new walls, curtains, lighting, ductwork, carpet and custom-ordered furniture."
While realizing their losses were only material things, she was nonetheless heartbroken to part with her shattered piano, the one she had been playing since the age of 7.
The couple's second concern was the damage to their pieces of artwork, both on the walls —where the water miraculously dripped around, not on, them — and the tabletop pieces of sculpture and memorabilia collected on their trips abroad.
In the wallpapered den and in the taupe-colored walls of the living room and dining room, their paintings are given museum treatment.
"The first picture we ever brought into our home was rented from the [Baltimore Museum of Art and] is a Baltimore scene on Charles Street with the Christian Science bookstore in the background and a Triumph car in the foreground painted by Steven Waugh," Irv Caplan saied. "We were able to buy after the year's rental. A friend had tried to buy it from us years later, [but] we never would sell it."
The painting hangs in the dining room over a long. narrow, built-in buffet of oak. Both complement the carved oak dining table with its velvet and jewel-toned table runner picked up in India.
"[Our] second favorite picture is by John O'Brien, which is a painting within a painting and is a lavish depiction of a beautiful home." Irv Caplan said.
This slice-of-life work is hung over a foyer table of iron and marble; its size seeming to act as mirror reflecting the neutral warmth of the living room furniture, the all-brick fireplace and the crystal decanters on a glass coffee table.
The three-bedroom home, purchased in 1969 for $42,000 has, over the years, evolved with the Caplan's growing family of three sons and, now, their wives and children. Family pictures are as treasured as the masterpieces and the collection of Judaica embellishing the decor.
The couple never think of their rooms as one benefiting more than another from the renovation.
"All the rooms are special to us, and we use each one for different reasons," Sharon Caplan said. "[There is] the dining room where we frequently have guests for a Shabbat dinner; the sunroom where we have bridge guests; the den where we enjoy Orioles/Ravens games; the office where we do our work; the kitchen where we enjoy preparing and eating our meals; [and] the living room, which is a reflection of our many travels."
If there is a single lesson to be learned from the aftermath of the derecho's wrath, it is that acceptance prepares the way for new adventures and joy in the rebuilding.
"We had the opportunity to live at the Baltimore Inner Harbor for almost four months, and we so enjoyed living [there] — the excitement, restaurants, waterfront, shopping and diversity," said Irv Caplan. "And we learned [that] if you're really fortunate ... you really can go home!"
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