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O'Neil Couvillion

A list of the lost possessions of Mr. O'Neil Couvillion is written on the bow and stern of the final layer of the paper boat. 

In August of 2016, a powerful storm stalled over the Baton Rouge metro area and dumped more than two feet of rain in a matter of two days - three times as much rainfall as Katrina dropped on Louisiana a decade before. As rivers rose and overflowed into streets and then homes, boats transformed from pleasure crafts to lifelines, as neighbors sped through streets rescuing neighbors stranded in their homes.

O'Neil and his wife Cynthia found themselves in one of those boats leaving their flooding home in the Livingston Parish town of Walker. "We had a boat. It was rushing in so fast, we parked it right over here on that ramp, got our to go bags together. Opened the door and my neighbor’s son was over there and he helped us." They left their wet cat, which had taken off for the top of a storage trailer, and a lifetime's worth of posessions.

A few weeks later, O'Neil showed me around the soggy mess that the flood left of his home and his garden. Wet family photos, dead plants, soggy furniture, and crud-marked waterlines, the remnants of his old hovercraft. It was a small but heartbreaking window into the suffering that was being felt by the 55,000 families whose homes flooded during the storm, several of which are wrapped in the layers of this boat. "Everybody is suffering, I’m telling you," he said, and pointed down the road, which had turned into a canyon surrounded by mountains of debris from gutted homes. "Each one of these people could have a story just as good as mine. Some of them more. I’m just telling you, I’m one person in many."

Mr. Couvillion was one of many, but his story is unique. He is a collector. Over his lifetime, and over the 44 years he'd lived in Livingston Parish, he had amassed a trove of art and curios and family keepsakes and generations of plants, trees, and vegetables. Hovercraft: "We used to have gravel road and we used to have gravel in the front and open front porch, and there wasn’t a lick of gravel left when it was through when it would fly by. You used to have to wear earplugs. Earmuffs to fly it. And my son was little at the time and when he was flying on it you could barely see his head. And to make it sharp, you’d lean in it to sharp, and you’d make a sharp turn. We’d fly it around out front and we had a little fence out there and we’d try to get it as close to the fence as possible. And we looked up to the road and it was lined up with cars, they had a schoolbus, everybody was trying to see what the heck was going on, what that damned thing was. It would make so much noise you could hear it up the road. No muffler at all. That thing was bad. But unfortunately my neighbor across the street at the time, he called a fuss. They came over here and was gonna give me a ticket and the old man said, “I’m not gonna do that.” Put it up and don’t worry about it. So I did. I was gonna try and rebuild the dang thing but my wife and my daughter tied a horse, she had a horse, and she tied it to the back, and you see these things? The horse ripped it off, everything of it, it just ripped off.". "And I like it here. I don’t give a damn what they say about it. I’m comfortable here." house on three acres of land tucked in on a quiet road bordering the woods in Livingston Parish. As he showed me around, the sheer weight of the loss of these possessions had yet to be processed. "You never realize, these people that are on cable TV, they don’t ask the questions, like, what’s it like, what’s it like to lose everything. What’s it like to throw your memories in the garbage? They care more about the Olympics scandal than they did the flood. It’s heart-wrenching, to say the least, because when you have to pick up a cherished memory, something that your mother had or something like that, and you have to physically pick that up and throw it into the garbage, that’s heartbreaking." 

I didn't know what to do to help Mr. O'Neil, how to process the loss (his loss among 55,000), or how to answer when he asked "How do you replace thirty or forty years of history?" 

A fire would’ve been a hell of a lot more better for us than a flood, because a fire you don’t have to pick up your memories and chunk and dunk em.

It is too much. 

In times like those, writing becomes my default method of dealing. So I did my best to make note of every material possession O'Neil showed me on that tour, because once things are thrown out, they're gone. Once they're gone they're gone. The list tells an important story in itself.

  1. Five pineapple plants

  2. Pineapple ginger plants

  3. Mosquito-eating bug plants

  4. Mother’s wheelchair

  5. Mother-in-law’s wheelchair

  6. Plum tree

  7. Apple tree

  8. Logan tree

  9. Birthday cards from late mother

  10. Solar garden lights

  11. Table saw that belonged to deceased father

  12. Jigsaw that belonged to deceased brother

  13. Circular saw that belonged to brother who died of cancer three days after his birthday

  14. Cookbooks (collection of 200+)

  15. Pair Newbalance shoes brand new

  16. Pair Newbalance shoes old

  17. 20+ packages of family photographs

  18. Aircycle 720 hovercraft

  19. Papaya tree

  20. Sofa

  21. Lamp hand-turned by O'Neil

  22. Gray easy chair

  23. Beige easy chair

  24. Chairs

  25. Slip covers for chairs sewn by Evelyn

  26. Cat house

  27. Umbrellas

  28. Notebooks full of writing (10+)

  29. Key for 24-hour wind-up glass globe clock

  30. Chest full of papers and magazines

  31. Toilet seat (brand new)

  32. Mother-in-law’s little refrigerator

  33. Out-of-print book on 1982 Livingston Train Derailment

  34. Mother’s watch with four interchangeable bands

  35. 1977 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon (Safari edition)

  36. Contents of Bonneville station wagon

  37. Hummingbird feeders

  38. 1984 Ford F-150

  39. F-150 toolbox and tools 

  40. Ghost pepper plant

  41. White eggplant plant

  42. Hat: “Frazier Barber College”

  43. Photographs of graduation from Frazier Barber College

  44. 1976 Grandfather clock assembled inscribed “1976-1977 OJ Couvillion Hammond, Louisiana”

  45. Battery-operated stuffed toys

  46. Bag full of videos

  47. Charcoal sketch of boy by Evelyn Couvillion

  48. Barber chair

  49. Mattress, box spring (2 months old)

  50. Marble floor tiles

  51. Stereo

  52. Cypress-hewn coffee table

  53. Washer machine stainless steel

  54. Stacks of Sci-Fi books

  55. 1000+ DVDs

  56. Jim Walters Homes baseball cap

  57. Jim Walters Homes knit cap

  58. Jim Walters Home 

  59. Chest of drawers, full

  60. Cynthia’s guitar

  61. Cynthia’s sewing machine

  62. Heaters

  63. Grey suit from mother’s, father’s funeral

  64. Black dress coat

  65. Favorite shirt

  66. Cedar chest full of mother’s belongings 

  67. Late mother’s tackle box

  68. Late mother’s fishing pole

  69. Late brother’s fishing pole stand

  70. Secretary bureau, full (“Mama had everything”)

  71. Barber coat

  72. Hand-stitched fabrics from Mother-in-law

  73. Mother’s coats

  74. Puzzles 

  75. Antique beer can

  76. 2 boxes Christmas ornaments 

  77. Century plant

  78. Spare trailer with auto parts

  79.  Executive chair (19th century)

  80.  Skiis

  81.  Books 

  82. Globe

  83. Push mower

  84. Wood-slab clock made by late brother

  85. Refrigerator

  86. Irish blessing plaque

  87. Book shelf

  88. Winter clothes

  89. Father’s clothes

  90. Armoire

  91. Nine frames

  92. Dale Brown books

  93. Cleve Cluster books 

  94. Sushi master

  95. Coy International antique beer can

  96. Whoopie! The hound dog ™ 

  97. Billy Beer lamp

  98. Bullet casings

  99. Knight with shield

  100. Christmas cactus

  101. Late brother’s gun safe

  102. Cotton ball blossoms from North Louisiana in arrangement

  103. Baby shoes

  104. Signed edition of Texas pollution graphic novel

  105. 3-legged table from World War II

  106. Machete from World War II

  107. Catamaran boat

  108. F-38 jet parts

  109. 2 bicycles

  110. Straw hat

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