The project continued into 2016 as a way to carefully revisit Hurricane Katrina and the decade that had passed since. The call for submissions read in part:

Over one million people lived through that storm.  Even more felt its effects, and everyone is dragging  around their own emotional debris from the storm. Beneath layers of material rebuilding and a decade of time, this stuff is still here.

What do we do with it?  

The late artist David Wojnarowicz said, “Each public disclosure of a private reality becomes something of a magnet that can attract others with a similar frame of reference.”  I’m hoping that this boat can act as that magnet. I know that if boats were a salvation from the storm ten years ago, they can faithfully hold our experiences 10 years later, because Hurricane Katrina and its debris are still a valuable frame of reference for people in New Orleans and others dispersed across the country.

 

Hover over the boat to read the responses

 

MY story is the same as yours and yours and yours - a tale of broken promises and broken hearts; trapped on the roof, the I-55 corridor, a hotel room in Bum Fuck, your brother-in-law's living room (you never liked him anyway); brought to you by systematic and institutionalized racism, neglect, greed and C fucking NN. The country's narcissistic injury now being soothed by lies of "recovery, rebuilding, resilience" so that all those folks who pitied us, maligned us, tried to be us or steal us can now rest their greedy hearts with the false belief that we are "okay"

MY story and your story and your story knows that we will never be "okay". Not until each one of us comes home,  not until each of the unidentified dead who lay entombed within earshot from my front door has a name; not until carpetbaggers and contractors, developers and politicians have their just rewards for the lying and thieving; not until there is justice for Henry Glover and the Danzinger victims and your momma who died with a broken heart in Katy Texas and each and every soul who was left at Tulane and Broad while the water rose and there was no way out

So although the story has been branded with logos and hashtags, reshaped to fit the Disneylandrieu version of reality, MY story is punctuated with a deep and abiding anger that has not lessened in 10 years and which grows with each passing day. MY story cannot be be shapeshifted, altered, muted, revised. MY story begins and ends with us doing the best we can every day to keep figuring out the unthinkable, to resist the forces that say don't be angry, to truth tell

Debra Voelker

New Orleans, LA

August 2015

 

Cara Ogg

New Orleans, LA

August 2015

THE ax is one of those things that always reminds me of hurricanes. When I was in college and a hurricane was heading for New Orleans, my family would always stay and my mom would say they were safe as long as they had an ax in the attic. This way they could use the ax to get out on the roof in the case of a major hurricane and subsequent flooding. Little did I know, an ax really was important for many people during Katrina.

My Katrina story began when my family decided not to evacuate but to stay in New Orleans. I was single and didn't want to leave by myself so I stayed at Memorial Medical Center in my dad’s office space on the 6th floor. I received many many phone calls telling me that wasn't a good idea, but as I saw it, there really was no choice, I wasn't going alone and my family wasn't leaving. We had a crew with us, my mom, Ed, Chris, Lanise, Bear and Bubba. I choose an interior exam room for my bed, figuring if there were any broken windows or horrible winds, I would avoid those issues. I didn’t get much sleep that night because of the noise of the howling winds, the anxiety and sleeping on an exam table wasn't exactly comfortable. Then Ed was woken up around 5am, he had to go to the ER to take care of a stabbing victim. Even though I chose that interior room, I can remember the building swaying throughout the night, that scared the crap out of me. Everything scared the crap out of me those hours sleeping in the hospital and being scared and nervous would be a recurring theme throughout the experience.

When the actual hurricane was over and the minimal flooding around the hospital subsided, we all got in the car to leave. As we tried to get home, we realized something was very wrong, although we didn't realize what was actually happening. We saw a few people outside of their homes as they watched the water rise right out of the storm drains. It was rising fast and I always wonder what happened to the people we encountered that morning. Did they end up on their roof or did they get out in time? I hope they didn't have to use an ax.

We tried to put the radio on the find out what was happening, but no one seemed to know anything. We tried many routes and finally got home after checking on my house and going a back way down river road. We ran into so many downed trees and power lines, and we had to take many many detours. I was a nervous wreck wondering how we were ever going to get home or were we going to have to go back to the hospital and wait it out there. Driving around in a ghost town was not making me feel safe. Once we finally got home to my parents house, they again decided to stay, but the thought of no power and no water for days (baths in the pool anyone?) didn't sound too appealing, so Chris and I decided to get out of town. We had tickets the following weekend to a Dave Matthews Concert in Dallas so we decided to head out of New Orleans and stay in Austin with Robin, then Dallas for the concert. When we arrived in Austin, I was not prepared for the TV images of what was happening back in New Orleans. I don’t remember much from that first night, but I know we still weren't clear on exactly what had happened,where the water was coming from and how much was true and how much was made up. But I knew one thing, I was very happy to not be in New Orleans but I was definitely scared and very worried about what would happened to my home, my job, and my crazy parents.

In those weeks that we waited for news about the future of the city and my neighborhood in particular, I remember spending many hours on the phone with friends speculating about the future, would we ever get to go home, was there going to be a job for me when I got home, was my house looted and ransacked. It was enough to make a calm person anxious, but for me it was all too much to think about. I cried more those few weeks than I had in a long time, one time Erin even hung up with me, she always thought of me as the calm one and if I lost it, she didn't even want to talk to me. It definitely made me appreciate New Orleans, there were a lot of things you don’t miss until it’s gone and that is how a lot of people thought about New Orleans in those weeks after the storm. You forget all of the bad and only remember the good. More important, there was no replacement, we all just wanted to be home. 

 

Brenda Poché

Metairie, LA

Recorded and transcribed August 2015

(excerpt)

I don’t know dates.  I don’t even know the dates of Katrina. 

I still got a box upstairs I didn’t go through. Sho' did.  All my golf balls. I got all that. Well the ones that I’d put in the water when I was playing. 

What did, when was Katrina, anyway?

Well, we got called back from Destin, me and Alicia went visit, um, I don’t even know who we went see in Destin.  And then that night they told us we all had to evacuate because it was going towards Destin. And we were out drinkin'. Next day we said, “That hurricane’s not comin'.”  We were on the beach. I got my top off. Here comes - what is that girl’s name? - “Yall! Yall’s phones are ringin. Yall gotta get back! The storm’s going to New Orleans!” So somehow I left my top.  Wrapped the towel around me. Couldn’t find that little top that I wear. We pack up cause we call the hospital they said “Yall gotta get in.” We drive - I’m in back, in that little Subaru going like ninety...

I come home.  I pack my bags, you know, to go to the hospital. I looked at the two birds. I left. I got to the hospital on time. Checked in at the garage. Went up where I was supposed to park. Then I left. I left.  I told them I left something at my house, and I had to go and get my stuff, because I had a bad feeling. Well the guy said, “You can’t come back.” I said, “I have some important medicine I have to go get, you know, you gotta let me leave.” So I left and then I came here and I regrouped. I got all the bird food.  I got all the birds. I took all my papers. I took all of the pictures off the wall. The futon was on the back. I lifted up that nice mattress that I had on there. I threw that on top the table. I put all of the pictures in the closet in the kitchen. I took them off the walls. Cause I was like, “Oh, if the window gets broken or something, you know, they’re gonna mess up my pictures.” And I said, "Oh shit, you leavin' on Friday to go to Alaska, you better pack all your stuff." So I was goi'n to town. I packed my jackets.  I packed my big old fuckin' suitcase about this big, you know, with my hiking boots. In case they let me go on Friday. You know, I was gonna go straight to the airport. So that’s how I ended up with all my clothes and everything. And my papers. I don’t know what- why I took that whole thing of papers.  It’s beyond me.  

It was gonna be bad.  They kept saying Category 5. But I was thinkin' more wind, not flood.  That kind of stuff. I didn’t think that it would knock the house down or anything.  

Got to the hospital. Got the birds settled.  Cause they had to stay outside. In the stairwell.  You know, by the garage. 

But the first time I went there, I didn’t have hardly nothin', and I started thinking all of the sudden on my way there, “I need to go back, I need to pack." Cause all I was worried about was going to Alaska. I was ready.  

And I did go visit you with them birds in the back.  Them two birds. I didn’t have to work that night. Sunday.  

And then— When Katrina hit?  Monday. Monday morning. So I had to work that day.  We were outside going from one door to the other with the big winds. I’m lucky I didn’t lose my leg, cause you’d go to walk and it would just take your leg. And you know, we were just laughin'. Stupid Leslie Dorskey got a sheet and we hooked it on to the fuckin' wheelchair and it got a hold of the wind. That thing took off!  He hit one of them parking things, them cement things, and he flipped. He bust his face up! Look he was flyin'! He made a parachute.  That’s how bad the winds were.  And then administration came, “Yall need to quit actin' like this. This is a disaster.”  So it was time to go to bed.  

So then Emmett came the next day.  He said, “B, I went by your house.” He said, “Your house made it.” He said, “Oh, but those awnings, you don’t have an awning on your house.  He said, “It’s all— the back," that awning thing I had, he said, “That’s all gone.” 

So when the levee broke?  When did the levee break? Monday.

So Emmett comes the next morning.  He says— and then he tells me again— and he looks like shit.  He didn’t sleep since Sunday. He was a J.P. cop. And he said, “B, It’s bad.”  He said, “You lost your house.” I said, “What?” and I was outside talking, I said, “What you talking about? You just told me my house was good.”He said, “No. It’s flooded. Your house is flooded. You had about six feet of water.” I said, “Oh. Okay.” I said, uh, “Yall I think Emmett is exhausted. He told me it was flooded.” 

So then I was back in triage and here come these wet people. And I said, um, “Where do yall live?” They said, “We live behind— by Labarre.” I said, “It’s flooded over there? I live on Edinburgh.” They said, “Oh, yeah it’s flooded.” I said, “Shit! Really?” and started watching the news. Blanco or whatever her name was on there, and showing aerials and all of this stuff.  And then everybody was being all hush hush: Don’t tell Brenda. I’m like, I already know, but I never, I never fathomed it was that bad.   

So I guess it was.  It might have been Wednesday, I heard two of the nurses talking, and the unit was slow, slow.  Nobody, you know, people didn’t start coming yet. And then we were, we set our outside triage for a while.  And a bunch of methadone addicts come in and all of this kind of stuff.

Sylvia and somebody else was going to check on their house on the other side of— they was going down Causeway, going on the other side of Veterans to her apartment.  I said, “I’m comin'. I am comin'.”

“We said don’t tell Brenda.” 

I said, “I’m comin'.” 

I got my bag, cause I knew in my bag I had a camera that was, you know, left from the beach. It was one of them water cameras. And they said, the whole way, you are not getting out the car.  I said, “I promise. I am not getting out the car. I promise. I’m not.”

Child, we got to that Causeway loop right there by Airline. And the traffic stopped. I got out. 

...So I walked down there and the water, you know, it was up there pretty high. So they guy said, “No, you gotta go to the other side.”  So I told them to go head. So I walked around and I went down. And this guy’s saying, “Can I help you?” you know, he says, “I have my boat,” he says, “I’m from Houston.” 

I said, “I wanna get to my house.” I said, “cause I think my neighbor Margot is still stuck up in the house.” I knew where she was, but I just told them that cause I wanted to come. So we go down to the bottom and I said , “Look, my brother is here with his boat. My neighbor is stuck in the house,” and he says, “I know you, you work in the emergency room, you took care of me.” I said, “Yeah, can my brother take me?” He said, “I’m not supposed to,” he says, “Yeah, tell him to back up his boat, back up the boat right here.” I said, “Look, you my brother Jerry. So your name’s Jerry.” I got his name written down somewhere. So he tells me to get in the boat. And then they had got news that people were shooting at the helicopters and stuff. So he was a firefighter or something from Houston. So he said, “Do you mind if I ask—” Cause this big black man. He wanted to know if he could come. And he had a big old camera. He worked for CNN news. So, he was all excited. So me and him sitting in the front of the boat. Boy, that boy’s pullin' that thing, pullin' that thing. Typical. Everytime I get in the boat, the boat never fuckin' runs. So he says, “I don’t think we in deep enough, you know, water or something.” Badoosh.  That black man lookin' at me like I’m crazy. I’m pullin' that boat like this, I say, “Come on. Try to start it now. Come on.” Yeah, I jumped in the water. I’m like “Pull it! Pull it!” And I’m walking towards Rouses right there, you know, and the boat starts. So. I jumped back in the boat, and we’re going down— we’re going down Airline. He’s asking me where to go. Lorrd! We pass in front the gym. I start snappin' pictures. Snappin' pictures. I’m like, “What the fuck.” And then when we got to Ridgewood right here. He was going slow, cause they were in awe. The water was over the sign. The street sign. So he said, “You think they have cars that are parked on the side of the road?” I said, “Well I’m sure they do. Just stay in the middle of the road.” He said, “Well I can’t figure out what’s the road,” because you couldn’t see. So we had to go very slowly all the way down here, so his propeller didn’t hit the windshield or something like that, because the water was over the street signs. 

So we make our little turn right here, and I’m like— Oh when we got to the side, I got a picture of me and I’m leaning like this, I told that black man, “Take my picture!” Cause, you know, it was, at first it was like I was really like in shock, you know. And then that fence right there was knocked down. It was bent, like all the way, so the boat couldn’t fit to get in the back of the house, and I had a wrought iron fence that went around the old lady’s porch. It wasn’t a very big porch. We were able to float— he picked up the motor and we were able to float on top of it, and I had jumped out. And I missed the step so the water was like well over my head, and then I got on the step, and then I tried to get in, and I had a storm door, and I went, “Shit. I locked the storm door," and I said, “I don’t have the key and we can’t get in the back.” So I’m pullin', and pullin', and pullin' and pullin' and pullin', pullin', pullin'.  I’m going, like, like— I went, like, cuckoo. So they come around again and then the guy’s standin' up in the boat and he’s pullin', he’s pullin'. So I’m just gettin'— I said I’m just gonna swim to the back, and it was low back here, because it was a little sunken area. And they said, “Oh, no, you be careful…” And I said, “Ima do it.” So the black guy says, “Well let me try.” He was a big guy. He goes like this: click.  He was, fuckin'— it must’ve just broke loose or whatever.  But it just opened.

So I went, I got in the house.  I opened the house.  The first thing I saw. You know how they had them big butt TV’s. I had this big TV at the time; had a big butt that long. It was in the corner. That thing was floating face down still plugged in to the wall, face down, just— when I would make ripples it would move. Computer was right there. That whole glass had knocked out. I tripped. The floor was buckled. I got in the kitchen. It had— the mattress that I picked up. Child I was all covered with water. There was water was over the cabinets and shit. And um. I was like, "fuck." There aint nothin' I can do.  Shit. I'ma get me some liquor out of this fuckin' cabinet! So. I remembered I had like two bottles of rum that had like, you buy in the shape of a monkey— Carribean stuff.  I said I think I know where it is— look, I hold my nose, and I put all the liquor on the top. And I decided I needed a bag, and I knew I had grocery bags.  I had to hold my nose and I got them grocery bags. So then they was clankin'. So I said, well shit, lemme go in my bedroom. The top of the bed was covered.  The only clothes that was semi-dry was the clothes that don’t fit, all the shit on the top. So I took these old jeans and I rolled up all them bottles of liquor. I put it in there. I grabbed some other stuff, I don’t know. I was finished. I was done with this place.  

I went outside.  I said, “Mothafuck. Them mothafuckas left me here.” I’m on the porch I start cryin'.

 

I’m like, “I’ll show em, I can fuckin' swim all the way to Rouses.  I could swim over there.” 

So then, I hear a boat, and I hear em yellin'.  They went to take pictures at the playground. They went, they went sightseeing, they went take pictures. So they come back. They help me in the boat. And I was cryin'. And the black man said, “Here’s my phone. Who do you want me to call and you can talk to them?”

I said, well, “Ima call my parents.” So he was going slow, right here, so the motor wouldn’t make noise. 

I said, “Mama,” I said, “Um. It’s Brenda!” I was hysterical. “I’m just leavin' my house! Mama I don’t have no house! I don’t have nothin'! Mama, the water is over my head outside— ” 

She says, “Stop it now.” She says, “That is all material stuff. Everything can be replaced.  Don’t even think about that.”

I said, “I’m on this man’s phone!”...

So we going.  This man says, “Can I ask you a question?”  He says, “Is that your, like, prized possessions that you took?” 

Child, I’m diggin' in that bag. They're filmin’ this. I said… “No! It’s liquor! It’s liquor!!” 

“And it’s clothes that don’t fit from the top of the closet!”

So he’s laughin'.  So they get me back and Sylvia and them are pissed. Because they had to wait like two hours for me to get back. They were so pissed at me. They went and run they errands and all and then the guy told them, “No, she went back to her house.” So they were waiting. If not I was just gonna walk_. So I thanked that guy. And then we left, went back to work. 

They knew I was lyin' about Margot. They knew I was lyin', these two guys.  They knew I just wanted to get here.

Right when I got there I was soppin’ wet. Doctor G_ grabs me, he takes me to the tent. “You need to get Hepatitis A shots, you need to get a tetanus shot.” So I just let them give me the shots. And I was like, “It’s my house. I’m not worried about that.” I just took 'em. So I went take a shower.

 

Stayed there eight days.  Was upstairs bringing a patient to the floor and something made me look in this man’s room because they was havin’ some noise.  And I looked at the door, and it was Mister Fant. Phil Fant. A good friend of mine that lives in California. It was his dad. So, he’s got Alzheimer's, he was in his nineties.  He was in there for a bad UTI. Um. The mama, well, I had gotten my address book. I had that. I said, “Phil, I have you dad. I want to know if it’s okay, when I’m released from here, if I take Mister Fant with me to Lutcher, and I already talked to my dad, he can oversee his care.”

And Phil said, “We’re not doing extra measures,” but he said yes.  He’s an attorney. So they just took a verbal from him on the phone from him that it was okay when Brenda was discharged, just to take him to another hospital. I had to get Lutcher hospital to accept him. Joan and them, they were full but they still accepted him. So when it was time to go home, went up there, got Mister Fant dressed. Had the orderlies bring him down to the emergency room.  The nurses helped me put him in. Hooked his Foley to the door. Hooked him in. Man’s wayyyy out to lunch. Got the birds in the back. You know, I’m packed like Beverly Hillbillies. We’re crossing over. He was an engineer. And he says, “Wow. That’s some water.” I said, “Mister Fant,” I said, “They had, you know, the levees broke. You know, Hurricane Katrina, they had a bad flood.”  

He said, “Your house is okay?”

Cause I’d said, “My house is over there.”

I said, “No, my house is flooded.”

He said, “Don’t worry, honey, you could stay at my house.” And I’m thinkin’, "Mister, your house is worse than mine." He lives right where the levee broke, you know? And he had told me that Billy, the one that came to Mary’s house. They lived in a one story house. The water started rising. The mama just had had hip surgery. So he put the mama on his back, he got a gun, and broke the neighbor’s door, carried the mama up the stairs to the second floor, helicopters got them and brought them in Houma.  So Phil said they were safe. They were in Houma, and they were getting a flight out to meet Phil in California. 

So me and Mister Fant’s going.  We’re on the Bonnet Carré spillway.  And them birds start actin' up. They must’ve wanted to be free or something. One was going, “Meow! Ruff, ruff! Ruff, ruff! Meow!” He said, “I thought you said they had birds back there! They got a cat and a dog!”

But they, Sam, the African Gray, he had picked up all that verbiage.  All them cats and dogs up in there, you know, poor thing. They was all traumatized.  

And we get to Lutcher. Then I follow Daddy to the hospital. We get the old man settled. We go home. My daddy starts, “Where’s your house policy? How much you owe on your house?” And I. Went. Nuts. Cryin’. My Mama. And everybody’s comin’ see me. They got siblings are there.  Everybody’s there. Mama said, “Everybody’s gonna have to go home.” I made her so nervous. And she say, “Carl. That is NOT important.” 

I said, “No, we’re gonna have to do it sooner or later.” So I go through the suitcase. Go through all my stuff. Got the papers. Owed less than five thousand dollars. Daddy said, “We’re gonna pay that off, cause when the insurance money’s gonna come, you don’t want it to have to go to the mortgage and get all split up.” Woke up the next morning, there’s a check made out to me. He told me, “Go to the bank, pay it off,” and— that’s why mine was smooth sailing, cause it was paid off.  

Oh yeah, I knew he knew. But as soon as you’re home? It’s, it’s just, it was crazy.  Crazy.  

But that’s how daddy’s think sometimes, I think. The Eds and the Carl Jeans, you know what I mean?  You don’t deal with the emotions first. You deal with the material— the things that they have control over. You know? That they can make things better. Money can make things better. You know, with Daddy. Not Mama. It’s like, “Shut up, sit down right here, let’s have an Old Fashioned, let’s—” you know what I’m saying.  “Let’s chill.” 

I worked eight, so I had to stay there for eight. So let me back up a little bit.  When we still were at the hospital, people were coming— Oh mister. It was… Droves.  I skipped that. So we had to set up triage outside. 

 

...When we heard that all of the pawn shop and all that was burnin', they made us go inside, and we locked our doors. And it kind of calmed down a little bit. I look outside, “Hey it’s a bus!” “There’s a bus!!” So I go runnin' out cause I’m so happy they got a fuckin’ bus. So me and Nancy, we go outside by that bus.  I’m the first one in that bus. There’s a man out here about six hundred pounds! That bus didn’t have all the seats.

He say, “I don’t need no medical care. I just need to get to safety!”

I’m like, what the fuck.  And they got a disabled man in the front doin’ like this. Then they got another disabled in the back. They only had three people. So I asked the man, “Where yall comin' from? Yall got this bus?” It’s a school bus

He said, “Well we was at the Bywater Hospital, and we heard these people yellin', and then I saw they had this bus so I had to hot rod it,” and he got it to start. So he had to ask people, cause he was from North Carolina...He said, “You need to take this bus and go down, take a right, and go to Causeway,” right there, helicopters were pickin' up people. Child, we watchin' TV that night, I see that helicopter. Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa.  I see that fat man! Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa! They had picked him up and he was in one of them things! He was, he went up in the helicopter! I think they could only take one that trip. And they was takin' all of them to Houston.

When the National Guard got there, after, we only locked down for like a couple of hours. Here comes these big old army trucks. We didn’t know they was coming. They were emptying out Charity Hospital.  And they lifted me up and they said, “Brenda, do a quick triage, and tell us where these people need to go.”

So I said, “Whatcha in the hospital for?” You know, whatever, “Okay, he can walk, get him down, send him this way,” you know, bla bla bla. 

I get to this girl, and they had some that was on gurneys that we had to get off, too sick to walk. This one girl said, “I’m in there for a urinary tract infection.”

I said, “No, get up, I need you to walk over here. You need to go over here.”

And then when they looked at her, they said, “This girl is sick.”

And I said, “Well she’s here for a UTI.”

And then when they took her vitals, her blood pressure was like seventy. And poor thing was a trooper to get up and fuckin' walk. You know what I’m saying? But she told me she was in there for a urinary tract.

I tell you that, that’s my biggest regret. I mean, being forceful to that girl, because she didn’t live three hours. She had been at Charity. I guess she was in the ER. I don’t know where she was. She had, she had a ruptured tubal pregnancy. And by the time they got her to the OR, whatever they did, she ended up dying. She was young. 

I just felt bad because the girl was like, really hurting. And I’m just like, “Move it, move it.” Because here comes the next, the next thing pulling up.  I think we had three big Army trucks and then they_ said, “We can’t take anymore,” you know, “We’re done. We’re done.” 

I was just forceful.  “No! Get up! Move! You can walk!” And she was, she had that shuffle, you know, that…  And then they lowered her. But. She was like the sickest one.  

And then a couple days later when they started getting people out the house, we had this mamaka.  Big fat mamaka, and her mama. Even their nipples was like about to rot off, because they had been standing in their house for like three or four days. Their legs were this big. They were already fat, but they were hard like a table. Just from standing up. Never ever being able to sit down for like seventy two hours or so. And we would stabilize them and they would send them to Baton Rouge, or send them somewhere else.  And then we had a couple of corpses come in, you know, like people that had died, they found them in the bed, and they still brought them to us. They brought us the dead. Just a few like that. I don’t remember how many… It was a lot of people that had started to come through, you know, from Downtown that they were finding. 

And then we’d sit around at night and talk to, what’s his name, Cooper? He just came out said he’s gay.  He was a night news… Anderson Cooper. He would sit at the desk and talk to us and all that. He was very nice.  

And then after the eight days, I still was on my eight days, Jerry took me over here by boat.  My real brother. We were over there and, we couldn’t come this way, so we crossed the Veterans bridge in Lutcher and came on the back and I showed my ID, it was no problem, they let us in, pull in the boat. We get all the way by right here, Hollywood.  Jerry gets out, he goes, “Shit. I brought the wrong flat boat. I brought the one—" He’s got two. He’s got a real flat boat and he’s got the one that’s more like a fishing boat. You know he wasn’t thinking, cause I guess the other one was somewhere else.  So, we couldn’t get that boat over the tracks. So then we were going down by Oscar’s, that second street, and this guy flags us down and Jerry gets out. Jerry knows his family. He owns that New Orleans-style house, has a pool in the back, it’s— he’s from Vacherie.  And Jerry says, “Man, I brought the wrong boat,”

He says, “You don’t have a flat boat?”

He says, “No.”

He says, “But, I think you’ll be able to get it over this track, you know, because it’s not as big as the other one.” But he says, “Look,” he goes, get his kids’ big old swimming pool and a long rope.  Makes a hole, ties it, and he says, “Look, you can put more of her stuff in here and in the boat, and just pull it behind.” He was pretty smart. 

So we get over here, and Jerry says, “I can’t (get over the tracks).” 

Well these people are yelling at us, “You need a boat? You need a boat?” Said, “We commandeered this boat from somebody’s house.” Said, “We’re finished with it.”  

Jerry said, “Yeah, gimme that boat!” So we both get in the boat.  Jerry got an antiquated movie camera, you know, one that had them little disk about this big, but it was old. He said, “You know how to work it?”

I says, “No,” I said, “I’d rather just paddle and you film.” So we come down Atherton, down Palm right there, and we turn by Bath, and we’re coming down the fire station.  And Jerry’s filming, he says, “Look at Brenda,” we had paddles and we had poles. He would help me. So we get here, and the water had receded. The water was like maybe to my waist, maybe less. Cause we had hip boots.  And that bastard wanted to take everything in the damn house!  He is taking clothes out of the, out of the drawers that were still underwater.  Throwing everything in there. And I just was piddling. I just was looking at everything.  When I looked at that swimming pool.  That boy had all the clothes out the closet.  Out of both closets! Blankets. Everything. Clothes that didn’t fit.  I don’t even know what else we grabbed.

So then it was time to go back, and, you know, we’re goin' back, we turn.  I see Kim Miller outside! Child— I saw him in the window. He was upstairs in the window. And I’m yellin' at him, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

And he’s like, “That’s Brenda?”

I said, “Yeah.”

He said, “Come on… Don’t tell Jamie how bad it is!” She was in Texas or something. 

So, um, then we got back.  Jerry put everything in bags. And then we on our way back home, soon as we drove up. I’m talking, ten ladies came to Mama’s house. All the neighbors. And he was talking to em. They said, “Jerry can you bring this bag to my house?” You know, these big garbage bags.  Big. Ten ladies. Two days later, I go, my clothes are all washed, all stacked, Mama had taken my clothes. Mister Norris did my dresses that don’t fit and all that stuff. He did it for Mama for free. And I had all that shit hanging up.

I said, “Mama that’s not even gonna fit, you know, your son done took everything.” 

So that’s how I ended up with all my clothes, because it didn’t have time to sit in the soot and die and all that kind of stuff.

So, then by that time, yall came home. And, oh, I had to go stay at the Sheraton. I was punished. Cause Mary wasn’t home. So, after my eight days, about sixteen days after, they_ said, “Okay you gotta stay at the Sheraton.” That’s where FEMA sent us. I kept waiting for a camper, but we couldn’t get a camper because we still had water. So I had my own room. I checked in.
And no place to park, so you’d leave your car at work and the bus shuttle would bring you back and forth unless you wanted to bring your car.  At the beginning you was able to park on the neutral ground. Then the city was saying, “We’re gonna, you know, boot your car and all of this kind of stuff.”

And then we had all them Mexicans. The Mexicans were all coming in and it was so much noise. We all was complaining. So then if I’d go to Lutcher for the weekend, then they said, “This is only your room.” So, you know, I just got my deodorant, blow dryer, got all of that stuff, you know, you just leave every everything in there. So I stayed there just a couple of days. I stayed there a little while. But a couple of times, I went to Mama’s house and I’d come back. Mothafuckas emptied out my room. I’d open that ready to go to bed. Empty. In the Sheraton. FEMA had said that’s my room. Maid’s only gonna clean it once a week. That’s the only thing they was gonna do. And so I’d have to call work, “Ima be late,” because I didn’t have any uniforms.

Housekeeping opening in the morning. And I’m crying the whole time, trying to find my clothes, my drawers, my socks, in this big old basement thing where they laundry is, down there, get all my belonging, everything. And then, I started going drink by Mary’s house.  And you remember a couple times I went home and I think I might have stayed there just a week after, and then finally, yall said, “Uh, uh. Come pack that shit up.” 

 

You gotta get up five thirty, six o’clock cause you gotta catch the _ bus, you know, to go back.  You’re late for work everyday, cause they waiting for somebody. Then I was staying at Mary’s longer and longer. Finally yall said, “Come on, stay over here. Enough.”

So you remember me and you going over there, you remember me trying to check out with that man.. “I’m not doing this FEMA stuff, I’m going stay at my friend’s house,” you know, bla bla bla.  Packed up the stuff, and just stayed there.

Because, they_ kept saying, “We’re getting you a camper. We’re getting you a camper. Getting you a camper. Getting you a camper.”

So, It’s all the way, Thanksgiving. The week of Thanksgiving. Yall was going play in the Quarter, or going somewhere, I said, “No, Ima stay home.”. And I had come over here, piddled. No camper, no nothin'. Went back to yall’s house. Yall came home. No camper.

Next day, the man calls: “How’s the camper??” I said, “I never got a camper.” He went ballistic on that fuckin' phone. He said, “You will get a camper tonight.” 

I said, “Well. It’s raining. It’s— the weather’s bad.” He said, “I don’t give a shit. You was supposed to have that camper.” And I had gotten all the paper work. I got mine, I got one for Margot. I got one for the blue house. I got one for Glenn Michael. And I got one for the people right there. I got them all to sign.

Child, that afternoon, they come with that camper. They must’ve had fifty people in my yard doing the plumbing, doing the— everything. They pulled up right where your car is, right in the driveway. 

 And I’d stay in the camper by myself.  When it was time to come home from work, the cops would come check on me every now and then.  Because it was only me and it was that man a block down that I would see every now and then. We was the only two over here for I guess about six weeks.  

And I’ll never forget.  Christmas came. I didn’t even go to the Bonfires.  Christmas Eve, I stayed in that camper. Cold as a witch’s tit.  It was like freezing, and it had sleet and all kind of stuff. I was like, “I’m not going home, you know, and then have to come back the day after Christmas. I’m not going home.” Well.  The fuckin' propane ran out. It was so cold in that camper. I had every piece of clothes I had on, I wrapped up in the blankets, cause that’s like being in a tin can. It was so cold. Then I realized what had happened. I had run out of propane. And then you can’t get propane on Sunday, but I was at work.  

...So, when my brother came out here, the lil' shit, I wasn’t smoking at the time, cause I had quit. I didn’t smoke all before Katrina. I had quit. And I didn’t smoke until they had poured that slab. And the Mexican was here, and they did the slab, and it was a Marlboro. He gave me one, and I said, “Can I have another… have another… have another.” Finally I went to the store, I bought him a pack, I bought me a pack, and that night, it was gone. I was right there. But Jerry— cause we had a gas leak over here, and Jerry said, “I’ll burn this son of a bitch, then you’ll get the hundred sixty thousand.” That’s what he said!

And then, he was like, he would say, “Bren. Look at all this rotten wood on this house. You know the money you would've had to put out. I know you’re upset,” he said, “but all of this looks rotten underneath there! you know, you woulda had to replace all this!" He says, "You know, one day you’re gonna see the silver lining,” he told me. And.  He’s right. 

So I had my friend Kent, he was a neighbor of mine, and he renovates old houses and all of that kind of stuff. So he came over, and he’s looking at everything, once everything had dried out, you know, like the floors, beautiful wood floors, had tilted, buckled like this. He said, “Let me work all this up.” 

He works it up he comes over two days later, he said, “You bought this house for eighty thousand," he said, “Brenda, it’s gonna cost me over eighty just to gut redo,” he said, “I’m tellin' you, if I was you I’d tear down.” And I cried. And I cried. Cause I figured, I never knew that FEMA was gonna give us all that money and all of this. And I just… It was a good house. I did a lot of work in it, too.  We took that sledgehammer to that wall in there. 

You were, I got a picture.  You were this big. I gotta see if I can find that.  You were a little boy when I first bought this house. You were watching us try to knock down this wall that was in the kitchen. Ruth said, and Ruth went to swing.  It came around, hit her in the ribs, she cracked her rib, oh yeah. Cause she hit the plaster wall. It wasn’t like sheet rock. It wasn’t sheet rock, and then it bounced off. And then you remember all that chicken wire they had? That was a strong frickin' house. I gotta find that where is that picture. I just told Mama when I went home the other day, “I gotta go through that box that’s in the bedroom up there.” That’s the box, the only box that I took out of your garage, and I put everything in one box, and I’ve never been back to it since. Kevin came, Maura, all of them, Ed, all of them. Jeff, Janet… We thought we was gonna keep it. We tried to salvage stuff. Well, the day that everybody was getting we were all sleeping at Mary’s house, and we all had a lot to drink, and then they was all coming over here the next day and then they had trucks and you know whatever we were gonna keep, and, Lynn was there, they drive up. I got a big old green blanket, and I got a bucket of Clorox, and I was washin' my golf balls and puttin them on the Lynn gave me the picture.  She got a picture from the car. Everywhere the green was, where the Clorox was, it turned white. And so, and when Mary came, I had a couple of cots that I got from a hospital. Remember? You walked up, and you saw that piece of paper, and that was your Mama’s obituary. I had all my obituaries dryin' out because I save obituaries. I had them all dryin' out and the wind had blew and Mary found Florilda’s obituary.  She flew off. 

So then we save, like, Tupperware, and pots and pans and all this stuff. And Myrrh was so good, you know what she ended up doing? She called the Magnalite Company, and they sent her information, and she told them it had been underwater for like, you know, two weeks, you know, the Katrina water, and they said, “The only way you can keep them pots is if it says ‘Made in USA,’” because they had a different coating on it than the ones now that are made in Japan.

So, I took the pots home, Myrrh washed them. Some of them still have water levels on it. But when she called, they said, you know, “Don't worry about that, those pots are good.” And all of mine that Myrhh had bought had 'Made in USA', so I still got my pots. Yep.

And then, when I finally went through all the stuff at Mary’s house, I ended up, I was gagging, remember? I was crying, going through that stuff. And we thought we was doing good, oh it smelled so bad. I coudln’t— I’d said, “No, don’t throw that away. Don’t throw that away.” Dishes, Mary washed all the dishes, and then finally I ended up giving it to a college kid. The whole backyard was covered one day, and then I said, “No. None of this.  None of this.” 

Cause I was getting ready to move into my house.  It smelt— it still smelt bad. Yep. 

...Mona’s chest.  That’s the thing I was so upset about.

Mona said, “Well I’ma give you this.”  And I said, “Yeah, I’ma take it.”

And you remember, I redid it, sanded it up, fixed it up nice, computer was in there, the glass broke out, I was gonna.  And my Grandmother's— Mawmaw’s furniture! Mawmaw!” I was cryin and cryin and cryin.  

Poor Katrina didn’t have her bedroom no more.  I done took over that thing. Girl you know what was funny, I was thinking about this the other day. Sometimes I would come down from getting dressed upstairs, and I’d look at Mary, and there was so many days we had the same like color shirt, same pants, I’m like, “Something is wrong.”  And I don’t have all my clothes over there, and I say, “Me and the bitch both gonna walk down, both got a pink shirt." I got both of us with pink shirts on, and pedal pusher pants on. You know, I’m like, “I’ve been livin' here too fuckin' long.” Same type of clothes on, I’m like, “Something wrong with us.” This is crazy.  

Cutting the grass. That wasn’t my job that was my only sanity. Remember, I’d take that lawnmower, cut everything? So I got Madeline’s husband’s lawnmower. Madeline said, “Come get Cal’s lawnmower!” So I went get Cal’s lawnmower. I don’t know who’s grass I was fuckin' cuttin', I thought I done broke both of my fuckin' wrists. I’m pushin that lawn mower. That lawnmower kicked back up. I hit like, a piece of cement, kicked up, kicked down, that thing budrrrrrr, budrrrrrr. I got in the car, I went to Sears, bought a blade. I broke the fuckin' block on it. So I had to tell Madeline that I broke the fuckin' lawnmower. I’d pay for it. You know, “You’re not payin' for that, that’s only a hundred dollars!” Everytime I still talk to her, she still tell me how I broke Cal’s fuckin' lawnmower! I’m like fuck I should’ve just bought another one! But I was like, “Ed! Ima cut the grass! Ima cut the grass, Ed!” 

Girl, that’s all I liked doing was cutting the grass.  And I had to get the liquor out of my system, shit. 

 

Ed-- Showing off that meat. And we enjoyed eating that fuckin meat.  And then, look, I would say, “Ed, I got some more money on my food card, c’mon.” And I’d swipe my card. We’d swipe it. 

Ed and them, they weren’t working, and it was the first fuckin' day the daiquiri shop opened. I think we was like the first ones— us four. And we was like a couple the whole week. All the time! Me and John, Ed and Mary. Me and John, Ed and Mary. And then, they’d go to bed, John’s on one couch, Brenda’s on the other. We slept like that— long. And then you remember? Was Jacinta there or not?  The night you was playin' that music and we was dancin' with them Poise pads, kickin them Poise pads! Jacinta came to town and, and we were walkin' around the house, dancin'— what was the song? We’d play them songs. 

 

And Uncle Kevin would come.  He would bring big old dishes of stuff, and, yeah— it was.  They came like twice or more. They would come and they would help us with anything, anything we asked them. They were here just to do.  He made CD’s and we would sing and dance.

 

Me, Ed, and John were downstairs at John’s house, and I most probably was the best fit, because I had been goin' to the gym, and I had even been going even more because I would leave the camper, and I would get up in the morning and take a shower at the gym, cause I couldn’t stand that little shower that they had. So Ed and John they trying to slit that carpet. They went somewhere, I took that knife cause they was strugglin'. Wet carpet. By the time they come back, I had that son of a bitch rolled up. Their eyes were this big. I’m fuckin' pushin' with my fuckin' feet.

Ed and them are goin', “Oh. My. God.” I was just like, I was fuckin crazy with demolition. You, you’d tell me to demolish something, and I’d carry heavy sacks of things that I couldn’t even—. 

So we’re hauling shit out of the basement apartment. The niece was living there. We worked like trolls. There was a dildo. “Come see Mary!” It was in a drawer. We laughin', we laughin', we laughin', we laughin', laughin'. Took the box. And we throw it out to the curb, and we go out there, the shit is out there on the curb. It’s like growin' and growin', this trash pile, and Dick Coralis and his wife, neurosurgeon, drives by sees us on the porch, we like, trolls, we all like dirty and trashed out.

But he comes up there, he and his wife are talkin to us, and he’s leaving. And the dildo is out there. It’s going dudddudddudddudddudduud.  It turned itself on!! And I don’t know what her name is but she says, “Like, there’s something out here, like, it’s alive.”

We’re like, “No no no, just forget about it!”

But the dildo’s out there like dudddudddudddudddudduud, dudddudddudddudddudduud.  It turned itself on. 

 

You better leave Tipsy and me in your will because of all this fuckin' anguish we goin' through!

 

 

 

Katherine Pontiff

Arabi, LA

Interviewed by her grandson, Colin Roberson

21 June, 2015

WHEN it rained hard, you had to go park your car by the tracks.  Or park it in the street, cause that’s the lowest section there. Alan ruined his car going through there.  He had another transmission goin' through there. He broke down

 

C: I just remember you used to have a bunch of trees back there in the back yard.  

 

K: no.  there was not a bunch of trees.  over there, next door, on the other side on LeBeau street, on the other side when I stayed across there. Now see years ago, before, I stayed down there a year and a half when Katrina hit.  Moved from there. Cause Mary wouldn’t fix nothin'. I was livin' there. Well we stayed there from seventy three till the time I moved from there. I was down there a year and a half when Katrina hit.  

 

C: Why didn’t you want to leave with Roy?  I was tellin Chris - 

 

K: I never did leave! Beverly wouldn’t leave either! I was down there on the tenth? That was on Esteban and Royal, and she didn’t leave either! So we both got stuck in the flood. I had to work my way up through the attic, (laughs) and I’m lookin' out and I’m seein' all the water comin' from, from up there on, comin' from up… even when they, somebody said there was a canister from the barracks in the backyard where I was.  I could see the water. I could see the water coming, looking out. Once up there, you know? In the attic. and I could see ALL that stuff in that man’s garage go out. He had a lot of stuff in the garage, and I could just see the water just takin' it off. I was in the house. 

 

C: So you weren’t standing on the porch watchin' all this water come?

 

K: No! no no no!  I was gonna put the mattress from the rollaway bed in the closet. And i’m walkin' in water. I said, “the hell on this!” I went, threw the mattress on my bed (laughs).

 

me: cause you wanted to save the mattress? is that what you were thinking at the time?

 

K: well.  i didn’t think the water. i thought maybe the roof would leave, like when i stayed uptown on oak street one time.  was it oak street? yeah, um, that one year, and the roof, the roof left. had water comin all, all over. 

 

m: for a hurricane?

 

K: a hurricane, or a storm.  i don’t know what it was. i don’t remember what it was. 

 

M: so when the water came up was that in the morning?  

 

K: let’s see, i stayed on marengo and laurel.  anyway. then we lived on oak street. must’ve been on marengo and laurel, the roof started leaking.  i had to put buckets here. oh. oak street. that was don that was living with me then. 

C: wait the whole roof was gone and you were just putting buckets around??

 

K: well, certain places where rain was coming through had to put buckets.  had to move the bed.  

 

C: but during katrina, did the all the power go out, and you heard all the noise and you were.  it was raining like crazy?

 

K: The wind was blowin’ like hell! the wind was real strong i could see the - we had the screened in front porch. you see the screens going - well they weren’t all that good. half rotten.  the screen was gone. i had the - 

 

C: your plants were inside already?

 

K: whatever i kept inside, yeah, most of em. .. and i could hear, next door there was one of them things on the roof. 

 

c: the whirlybird?

 

K: I heard THAT go down.  i didn’t have nuthin on my side.  I heard that go down -

 

me: wait. like a tornado?

 

K: and the wind was blowin so hard here.  the garbage can, my garbage can took off. I heard the thing rip off the roof. the whirlybird or whatever.  the air vent. i had one that made a terrible noise. they had to change it. i didn’t like that sound.  you couldn’t sleep at night you heard it. they changed the thing. i don’t hear it no more.  

 

C: so this is the middle of the night, you got no power, and you’re just watchin all this happen? -- 

 

K: this is in the mornin!!! not in the night! this the daytime, man! the daytime! 

 

c: oh okay.  so you woke up and everything was fine?  

 

K: the daytime!  everything was fine.  the deputy was driving around telling everybody to leave. i didn’t leave! i told beverly.  i was on the phone with her. and first thing you know, the phone went dead and the power went out.  and beverly says, “i aint goin!” and i says, “i never did leave!” you live over here, we never did leave. the water, all we had to do was drive the car up a little further back and up on the side the house. 

 

C: so did you make coffee that morning?

 

K: i think i did! i had an extra coffee percolator. i had that up in the closet, i put that up in the closet.  but it still got wet, you know. the water got to it. put it on the top shelf and then. it was like this hall closet.  top shelf. i had the coffee pot up there, well, it managed to hit the bottom and got wet.

 

C: so when the cops were coming it wasn’t dark outside?  

 

K: no, it was light. the sun wasn’t out, but. they told everybody to leave.  I told bev, “i never did leave,” she said, “i’m not leavin, either.” but she couldn’t get to the attic.  they had that big old fan where they were supposed to have an opening for the attic. she stood on the table. 

 

C: she just stood on her table?

 

K: well she didn’t get as much water as i did.  i got ten feet of water. she might’ve got five feet of water in her house. 

 

me: cause she was closer to the river up there?

 

K: yeah.  the closer to the river, the higher you are. that’s what they say, but i don’t know, when it rains hard, there’s a puddle of water over there in that yard across poplar street, over there in that yard.

 

C: so it rains really hard, and everything's blowin' around and

 

K: everything’s blowin. and i’m watching. and when i felt the water, i had my ladder ready. my bag of clothes.  i put it up, up in the attic.  

 

c: did you hear a loud noise before all the water came?

 

K: there was nothin but a lot of wind. a lot of wind.  the branches breakin on the trees. garbage can floating away.  

 

me: did you have a hatchet in the attic?

 

K: i had my hatchett, the radio, and a flashlight.  everything but my pills and my watch. (laughs) i left that in the kitchen.  I came down to check on it and the water was this high (Hand to chest?), refrigerator was blockin the door.  (laughs) i said, “the hell on this! and i went back up the ladder.”

 

Colin: wait you can’t swim but you got in the water up to here?? 

 

K: I came down the ladder, i’m walkin around the door.  you know from up there, you walk around. and you see the refrigerator across the door, you’re gonna go back up.  

 

me: i can’t imagine coming downstairs and the refrigerator’s floating and—

K: i was looking for my glasses.

 

C: you didn’t have your glasses, either?

 

K: no. i didn’t have my glasses. they had to get me a new pair of glasses. we got em in gonzales.  your daddy had to take me to the eyedoctor and i had to get em from the wal mart in gonzales. 

 

C: did you put water and pillows up there?

 

K: no. no.

 

C: you didn’t have any water??

 

K: no.  the guy next door he was leaving town. there was, he had two five gallon containers of water delivered to his house. i said, ‘I’m not gonna need that!’ course it didn’t do me any good anyway.  somebody found it when they went to clean the place out. he gave it to me, yeah. 

 

C: but that’s too heavy to put in the attic?

 

K: i wasn’t about to bring that up there.  i didn’t never / i didn’t have any bottled water. 

 

C: did he ask you if you wanted to leave with him?
 

K: no. they didn’t ask you that! they leavin town. i said i’m stayin. i never did leave.

C: roy doesn’t leave you anymore, does he?

 

K: get stuff, put it in my car and go to my brother’s house in mississippi.  we left their house to go over to karen, the daughter’s house. they lost power but they had, they had one of them generators.  but we didn’t stay there long. by the time we got back to charlie’s house, the road was all full of tree branches, somebody had cleaned most of em…

 

C: would you ever stay here again?
 

K: and now, charlie stays at his son’s house, and i wouldn’t know how to get there.  i know how to get to charlie’s house, but i don’t know how to get to bruce’s house. and that’s where charlie watches the two boys every other week.  i told roy, next time ima stay here. and mary says, ‘I’ll come and get you.’ 

 

C: why don’t you come down to my house and we can stay together?

 

K: silence. you near the river there.  you know, on angela street. somebody lived on angela street near the river, said they didn’t get no water there at all.  but i don’t know, by bev and them didn’t get no water. she was on. she was right off of mealey street. you know where mealey is? all they did was the guys from the firehouse took em off and took em and carried them there across to mealey and royal, they knocked the front door open so bev and the boys could get in there. somebody’s house.  to stay there till somebody comes. nobody was there. there was a second story. that’s what they did me. they took me to lebeau street, a two story building, there was already other people there, a baby, a little young baby. and then they brought me there and they went and got a man that was further up from me, they was gonna bring him to the sugar refinery and come get us and take us to the sugar refinery and that’s where we were gonna spend the night. 

 

C: on the concrete slab?

 

K: concrete slab. we had a, uh, an old box. i had my head, i was using my bag to put my head on.  i had that all weather coat on that roy had bought me.  

 

C: tell chris how you got out the attic though.

 

K: well you just loosen the boards! laughs.  cooyon! the hatchett. i got my hatchet back there.

 

C: i always thought you were choppin through.

 

K: no no no! you take the hammer part, and you loosen.  you take one side - i was hurtin so bad. i had to take my time cause my wrist was hurtin and my side was hurtin, I almost went through the ceiling. i missed the catwalk lookin for a place, and then next to the bathroom i see it. i see an opening.  i see the roof.  most of the roof is gone.

 

C: cause you saw some light?

 

K: well, yeah. i’m sittin there. i’m lookin and waiting. i figured. i can’t get out on the side.  what house has something like that. anyway on the side, a certain. yeah. you see that? we had one of them.  i come lookin. that side. you see where that air vent is? above the lights? well i figured there’s no way i could get to the roof going out through here. so that’s why i kept watching. i figured, well, next to the bathroom would be a good place to start loosening the boards.  the wood was rotten so half of them broke off. it fell. part of it fell into place. roy ended up keeping a piece of that board. he threw it away after a while.

 

c: how long did it take you to get through. to make a hole big enough?  

 

K: it took me long enough, cause i was hurtin.  i had to stop every now and then. it was morning, it had to be morning.  started getting an opening. i was lookin around. i seen one guy floatin around on one of them flotation things, come to find out it was the guy that was living next door.  on the other side of the house. and then later, i seen a head come up a few houses down this way. i said, well, i’m alright. i’m not the only one. and then i kept waiting around to see if someone come round in a boat.  finally i see a boat coming. couple of guys in it. and they stole the gas from the boat that was next door, stole the gas can from that boat.  cause their gas is running low. they was running out of gas. but these people next door to me, they had left town. there was a couple there with about three kids. they left town three kids and a couple of dogs.  they took the dogs, they were pets. 

 

C: did you hear dogs howling?

 

K: the only people i knew that had dogs were . they kept them in the house, and naturally they’re gonna take them with em.

 

C: so when you saw the boat did you start yelling like crazy? or waving like crazy?

 

K: no, no no.  they saw me. i said, “help!” (laughs).  i think i said help. well i figured they were goin around lookin for people.  and you know, them guys, you know that building on the end of lebeau street and st. claude. that brick building? when you turn to come this way to get to community street? right off the track there? that building right there. there were people up there, having a hurricane party. cause the fellows knew the people up there. when we passed by there, they were all up there, all half drunk. they were drinkin in the daytime! in the daytime! when they picked us up from the refinery, no they picked us up from the house and we were goin to the refinery, and these people were up there, they were up there, all drinkin, drinkin, they were drinkin. where their car was, i don’t know.  probably under water somewhere.

 

K: well, we were heading after they had gotten everybody they could. we were heading for the refinery. they took us from the refinery and took us to the chalmette jailhouse. 

 

C; they took you to jail?

 

K: (laughs) they took us to jail. (laughs) yeah i went to jail. thats when i think he stopped by and they had that party. we were goin out , we were goin out.  towards chalmette. cause they had to watch where they were drivin that, cause they had the polls, and the lines, electric polls.  

 

C: did you tell those partiers that they should cut it out?  

 

K: i didn’t tell em nuttin.  the guys knew em, they talked to em.  

 

C; didn’t you tell me it was your mailman who found you?

 

K: no. he didn’t find me. we were all together.  they were in one boat and we ended up running into each other over there at the refinery.  it was the mailman— 

 

C: he’s the one who called roy?

 

K: it was the mailman, well yeah, after he had already left for baton rouge.  he tried every chance he got when he went to the hotel. he had friends that went there. you see, you know them friends didn’t even ask him to join them? friends of his, he claims! so he ended up getting a ride a few days later, going to alabama with relatives out there. and i heard later where he came, he was in metairie working as a mailman. in metairie.  he worked in chalmette. and he happened to be here. He had the snacks. that’s what we’d snack on - his crackers. (laughs) I didn’t have nothin. Jan down there, you know that big, fancy house down there? yeah, the lot next door, the had it fenced in, they had a car and a truck back there. i don’t know, you don’t go there that often, that way. Anyway, her and her husband and her husband’s uncle, and someone else, and her dog, and she had a big dog, well they stayed in chalmette when someone come along there at the jail and said they’ll be busses comin from baton rouge, yall gotta walk to the ferry, whoever wants to go to the ferry, catch the ferry to go to algiers, catch the bus go to go baton rouge.  well joe and jan’s uncle, they joined us, we stuck together all the way, from there on, from the jail on, we stuck together. we went and caught a bus to baton rouge. we walked to the ferry, hurtin as i was, and joe was helping me carry my bag, he had two bags of his own. 

 

C: did he take your arm?

 

K: no. so, it, it got so bad i was carrying my bag and i asked a black guy,  i said mister, can you help me carry my bag, i hurt myself.’ and he took my bag and he carried it a while.  

 

c: that’s good.

 

K: well he was way bigger than me. 

 

C; how long did you hang out in chalmette for? 

 

K: a couple hours. there wasn’t no place we could, we could, there wasn’t no bunk we could get.  everybody had it ahead of us. so and joe, he couldn’t stand the black people. and the floor was so wet in there, and my bag got so wet.  even my clothes inside the bag was wet when i got to baton rouge, when i took it out to air out. i had to go bring it off with my son somewhere, so it would air.  it stunk. my clothes stunk. so joe went to the hotel. he took my clothes and had em washed. before he left, he washed my clothes, left it there with the old man that was with us. the old man lived down here down the block next to joe’s uncle. they lived in the same building. you know the old man left his billfold on his bed, he says? he had no identification.  he just had his clothes he had on. and shorts. now joe had clothes cause he had already done his laundry at his uncle’s house, and he was gonna go back to chalmette and stay at his uncle’s somewhere.  he wasn’t at home, but joe came there to use his washer and dryer... i had everything in the bag. i had my purse. i had the pair of shoes, the ones i threw away. you know the ones that broke on one shoe? i had that in the bag.  i had a old pair of tennis shoes like they were the black ones over there. they had holes in it. and i had a split skirt. three change of clothes in the bag. couple towels.  

 

C; you had towels?

 

K: couple towels. a rag. what do you think i washed with over there? well they came in later, people came in later and brought some wash rags.  no snacks.  snack on joe’s snacks.  crackers he had. he must’ve took everything his uncle and them had in the house. (laughs a little). 

 

C: why baton rouge?

 

K: we decided to leave the jail over here.  jan and her dog, because she couldn’t take the dog on the bus.  and i think when the water went down they went back to the house.  i don’t know how long they waited till the water went down. she ended up at the house. 

 

C: were you worried that we weren’t gonna find you?

 

K: well i was just gonna stay there and find some place to go, land. i dont know where, but after a while they would have carried me somewhere. joe said, joe said, ima keep callin. and roy says, ‘why don’t you use someone else’s phone?’ everybody using their own phone, having a hard time keeping it charged….there were eight busses. it looked like eight busses or more. the bus was loaded. we tried to.. joe kept pullin up against me. you hold one another, trying to stay close. all three of us, trying to stay close together. it was crowded. people were pushing to get on the bus. and then we had to walk - what was worse - after we’re getting to algiers after the ferry, i had to walk up the metal steps, holding my bag, holding, get up where the bus stop was coming.  they gave everybody life preservers. it was a long ferry ride, believe me. it was five miles, they said it was five mile ferry ride. seemed like it took a long time. 

 

C: you don’t usually like to get on top of the water.  you don’t usually trust the ferry, right?

 

K: i had a life preserver.  i wasn’t worried.

 

me: were you nervous on the boat coming from community street, in that boat?

 

K: nope. nope. it was so wet. i sat on the seat and sat on the back seat of the boat and my bag was on the floor and i said, oh gee, all this muddy water.  

C: how long did it take you to get to baton rouge?

 

K: i don’t know. it was night.  don’t ask me what time, I left my watch… convention center. that’s where we first went. up on the other side. there’s no carpet. someone come there before it got real crowded, said, ‘Why don’t yall go on the other side, there’s carpet over there.” we was sittin on that cold floor.  there’s air condition. there’s air condition on. oh i kept my coat all that time on. i was all wet, myself, all the way through. it says all weather coat. but i still got wet. i’m still using that coat! still have it!

 

C: did they take everybody’s name? 

 

K: no. i had to go see a nurse.  yeah they took our names. how else you think roy would’ve found me? i had to go see a nurse. she said, ‘well you don’t have any broken ribs.’ my wrist hurt a long time.  i still have my.. it’s when i grabbed the rafters to keep from going down through the ceiling. that’s how i got hurt. i missed the catwalk, see? there was a catwalk to get on… fixing to turn around and go back the other way and i look out through that hole where that whirlybird was.  i coulnd’t get through there. it wasn’t big enough. i could get my head through, that’s it. i couldn’t get my shoulders through.  

 

C: how long at convention center?

 

K: stayed there a few days.  and yeah they finally got cots.  and we had good meals. they were serving.  well, then they were giving us these, these what these meals you had to open up? MRE’s.  i had to ask one woman to - i had no glasses, i couldn’t read the directions. i had to ask her to fix one for me.  

 

C; did you make any friends?

 

K: it was alright as long as they were fixin the meals for us.  coffee. they give us a cup of coffee in the morning, you get a roll or whatever.  fruit, apple, something. a banana. 

 

C: were you surprised when we showed up?

 

K: well i was glad when you showed up.  to get away from that crowd. everybody had left. the old man left after joe left. somebody came and got him. somebody from texas.  they all left. the old man left for cigarettes, i guess he forgot about them. there was some woman there, i guess she smoked. i took the cigarettes and went and brought it to him….

 

C: did you have one?)

 

K:.. uh uh, no, i had already quit.

 

C: did that experience make you want to have a drink or have a cigarette?

 

K: nope, no , nope.  and just think, i did without my pills all that time, too until baton rouge, no, not till baton rouge, uh, with roy. LaPlace. no.. to metairie. Roy found the bottles. he couldn’t make out. he must’ve made out the name, or something on them. took em to the drug store, had em refilled. high blood pressure pills. that was a big pill! different than the one i’m taking now. 

 

C: do you remember when we went to the gas station right after we found you and you got a cup of coffee? i remember you being really excited about it. 


K: A cup of coffee - a big ole!  the cups of coffee they were giving us were little bitty cups. 

 

C: we went to where nancy was staying, with a lot of stairs?

 

K: yeah.  that was hell. 

 

C: how long did we stay there for?

 

K: i don’t know.

 

C: you didn’t like being in laplace with roy’s girlfriend’s family?

 

K: no… well we snuck into metairie.  you know the day we got there, the power had just come on. we snuck into metairie.  we went to your mother’s house and pulled the carpet out in two days, it took him. he pulled the carpet out the place. and then, he found a can of something up there, i don’t know what it was, i forgot what it was. he opened it and we had that to eat at night.  we spent one night there. yes. we spent one night. i slept on one of your beds up there. was there power? i don’t remember, man! shucks. you don’t stop to think..  

 

C: but the beds were dry?

 

K: yes. the beds were dry… cause yall didn’t have that much water over there. 

 

C: no. just like three feet on the first floor.


K: two feet. 

 

C: two feet. did it smell like animal droppings though? cause i remember that when i got in there, the animals had gotten in and gone to the bathroom all over. that was terrible.

 

me: what was it like when yall were looking for her?  how did you know where to even look or call?

 

C: i think.  i don’t remember.  

 

K: i’m tellin you.  downstairs, you should have seen the people down there. oh boy.  

 

C: roy and i talked about how we would find her.  and he said there was no way to know anything. and i don’t know if he looked for you on his own.  did he come here looking for you? 

K: I don’t know whether he just walked in on his own or not. but i was upstairs.  the mailman must’ve told him i was upstairs. 

 

C: i feel like roy and i had just gotten back to metairie, and he had just gotten a call from the mailman, and he told him you were in baton rouge, at the convention center.  and we jumped in the car and drove to baton rouge and..

 

K: you couldn’t even get through to metairie, how’d you - 

 

C: i don’t remember where we were, but we weren’t in baton rouge.  cause we had to drive for quite a while. but we just had to look and look and look, and it was cot after cot of person. all these people everywhere and i didn’t think we were going to find you.  

 

K: yall must’ve been looking downstairs.

 

C: and then I remember when.  yeah. i think we were looking downstairs.  cause you were in a little hallway. but then when we found her, she just kind of stared at us. like, 

 

K: i wasn’t sure. i recognized roy. i didn’t see you.

 

C: and then you went to go live with roy in metairie, huh?

 

K: yeah. eight months. putting up with that.  sleepin on that futon with a blanket folded back to keep that dip off.  to fill in that dip. eight months! and six months in poydras in a trailer. well that was okay.  except for having to walk to the store to get stuff, dollar store and drug store. 


C: but you were walking everywhere in metairie, weren’t you? 

 

K: yeah, i had to walk over the interstate to get to the save a center.  back then it was save a center. i had to walk to david drive and over. 

 

me: metairie’s a horrible place to walk in.

 

K: tell me about it. that traffic. and i walked to wal mart.  about eight or nine blocks. the one that was on veterans. i walked to the bank.  i walked to the bank to cash out my money out of that bank, what’s the name of the one that was….

 

C: tell him about all those steaks you had.

 

K: Yeah, i gave him the food stamps. i had about two hundred dollars left in food stamps and he had to use em up. so he went and got all steaks.  a bunch of steaks.  we had steaks for the longest time. only thing, it wasn’t done like i liked it. it wasn’t done enough. cause i have false teeth. he had his own teeth to chew. 

C: did you have your teeth with you when you were in baton rouge?

 

K: well naturally! the first thing i put in the morning. in fact, i slept with my teeth. take em out to clean em in the morning. if my gums get too sore, i take em out at night and soak it. i sleep with my uppers.  i don’t have no problem with the uppers. just the bottom. and then when i go to put em on in the morning i have a hard time getting em set. ….

 

K: ... I said last time i talked to kevin, he said she was in the hospital. she’s letting everything bother her.  her and her husbands anniversary - ends up in the hospital, the place up in alexandria. they called me after lori died, said ‘how you doing?’ i says, ‘i’m doing fine. i don’t let nothin bother me.’ (laughs).

 

me: it doesn’t seem like you let being in the attic bother you, too much. - 

 

K: i knew what i had to do.  i’m an old country girl. 

 

C: didn’t you say at first it made you a little bit sad for laura? 

 

K: i knew she had to go, knowing she had cancer. but she wanted to come home, well, she’s home now. at least not like she wanted to be. but i would’ve had problems if i’d have taken her back here. 

 

C: but you never get depressed or real sad?

 

K: (shakes head)

 

C: no?

 

K: nope, no. there’s no need. why worry myself sick?  

 

C: true… those steaks that roy bought. he didn’t cook them in the microwave, did he?

 

K: YES. every one of them. he cooked in the microwave.  he had one of these little containers, he put it in - a plastic container he cooked it in there, he covered it, with something, i don’t know.  EVERYTHING IN THE MICROWAVE. i’m a stove cooker. he’s a microwave cooker.

 

me: why didn’t you cook?? you’re the one who’s a good cook.

 

K: i did, towards the end, i’d get gumbo, i’d get shrimp and okra up there. i’d go to the store and find okra, i’d find a seafood place, i’d get shrimp, i fixed gumbo. i cooked beans. i’d get beans and cook red beans.  

C: but he eats everything out of the zatarains box and in the microwave

 

K: everything in the microwave. i says, “why’d you cook it in the microwave!?” like you know the ribs i bought already fixed, they were already cooked? i didn’t know they were cooked all the way through, cause they were in a pack. i opened it up the night before, i cut it all up. i put it in a big old pan, i was gonna bake it and shove it in the refrigerator and i opened the oven, and i cooked it in there. he said, “why didn’t you cook it in the microwave!?” i said i didn’t know they would cook all the way, i put it in the oven. he says, “you shoulda put it in the microwave!”... he’d buy like a noodle salad. it was elbow macaroni that was pretty good.  he’d get mushrooms. open up a can of mushrooms. we managed to get good stuff to eat. 

 

C: did you eat a lot of hamburgers with him? 

 

K: no. 

 

C: cause you don’t eat out?

 

K: yeah, i’ve eaten a hamburger already. we’d go across the river, one time we went across the river, got a hamburger, and he got it dressed. i told him, “i like it plain.” he brings it with lettuce and mayonesse, first thing you know, it’s got mayonesse zoomin out of the thing and, i don’t know… 

 

C: have you had a poboy in a while?

 

K: uh. when was it. last time, lets see, you got a taste of it. we bought it right here at the store.  oyster and shrimp.

 

C: when i took the pictures?....

 

(colin is massaging his grandmother’s head as she talks about her spaghetti sauce splashing around the lid and dropping on the stove.  “the one on this pot don’t have a little hole.” (

 

C: you never put your fire on high do you?

 

K: no.  but not you. everything’s on high.  you don’t,  you don’t— medium.  him. it’s gotta be full blast... i never did like electric stove. i’m used to a gas stove

 

me: what was it like to be in the sugar refinery? had you ever been in there before?

 

K: no. we were upstairs.  you had to go up up the steps.  on the outside, on the side, they pulled the boat up by some little door going up the steps. 

 

C: you remember i told you i went around in the abandoned school by my house? and i went in there and i went up and we looked at the city?  i went up there with chris. and it looks just like katrina just happened.

 

K: you see a lot of these lots. aint nothing done to em. a lot of these old buildings.  you go claiborne, you see a lot of them old buildings they look the same. i’d hate to go down those back streets. you’d really see a mess.  

 

me: can i see the coat that you wore?

 

K: go in the closet…. my hatchet’s back here.  the radio’s gone. it fell in the water it got wet. (laughs) when i was up in the attic.  they were talking about the water. it just went dead.

 

C: is this it, right?  with the little hood?

 

me: it looks brand new? it does not look like it went through the worst…

 

K: now i washed it several times. it’s big.  it’s so big on me.

 

C: will you put it on real quick becuase i love when you put the hood on,


K: no!

 

c: you look so good with the hood on!

 

K: no. no. no. no. i look like a old lady.

 

C: no you don’t. with the hood on, you look like a baby.

 

K: I’M NOT PUTTIN IT ON! go put that thing back.  kid want too much.  

 

C: i always wanted to take your picture. you remember when you would drive me into town and you would put your hood on? 

 

M: remember any other hurricanes?

 

K: i remember. i was in new orleans. it was 47 i think. his grandpaw and I.  it was forty seven that’s when we got married. we were on the third floor on st. joseph’s street. it’s near the river off of magazine.  magazine? magazine yeah comin from camp. colin’s working on camp and st. joseph. i was on st. joseph and magazine. and we were up there then, and his grandpaw was SO AFRAID, he was scared shitless, excuse my language.  it didn’t bother me at all! and i must’ve had a grin on my face or something. or maybe it looked like a grin. he said, ‘what are you laughin at?’ it didn’t bother me at all! here, i’m 19 years old. why should it bother me?! (laughs).  

i’d been through it when i was little back in the country. we had fruit trees all around the house.  well it never damaged our place. it just knocked a lot the fruit down. the apricots, we’d go out there and pick apricots. oh boy that was good. we’d eat em. plums.  we had plum trees. apricots. pecan trees. and we were right on the __ canal. we used to fish out of that canal. and there were houseboats that people drowned. people’s roof went off and some people drowned that year.  i was young, yeah i was young. they had people in those houseboats back then. 

Me: did, did anyone that you know of, um, die around here? 

 

K: yeah there was a woman died, well she was found dead september the twelfth, she was found dead. and then george couvillion’s son stayed. george and his sister went to the country out in, somewhere out in  alexandria. and his son stayed there. and what his son was doin around here - he said his son was found around here drowned, and he was a good swimmer. now what did he do? he might’ve been trying to swim to the refinery, maybe, i don’t know. they said they found him. and then, doctor keena(?) was found dead over here next door. and one of the fellows lived out there at the time on the corner of jensen and community. he said he called her he said, miss dot, you want me to come and get you and she says, no i’m okay i got water, i got enough stuff here, she stayed. so his mother died since then, i don’t know where they went. well anyway he’s living down here now, he’s living in...  and then there’s lonnie. lonnie lives on center street. he used to live next door to me. across the street there. and you met lonnie and his daughter right there, gayle. it was gayle you met, drivin around one day and we stopped at the end of center street, that girl was there with her mother.  they were in a trailer. their house was getting fixed. they were in a trailer out in the corner and almost in the street. it was right on the side of the house. but they rebuilt they’re all in it. they been in it. terry and richie had to buy another trailer they live in it. 

 

C: um… what was i gonna ask you…

K: must’ve been a lie.

C: my question? 

K: yeah. (laughs) 

 

she talks about going to the cabinet and forgetting what she was looking for. she just sits and wait “i stand there and i wait a while.” ...

K: ... look, roy don’t go to no eye doctor. he sees floaters. 

C: yeah but you have a problem that they know about, so you should tell em.  otherwise why even go?

K: yeah.  why go? (laughs) WHY GO

C: you remember that baby Royal that we were playing with.

K: you notice when i reached for him, he’d run away.  he’d crawl back like a crawfish?

 

Thomas Ogg

New Orleans, LA

August 28, 2015

AUGUST 26th, 2005 was a celebration of marriage between my good friend Price and Lacey in New Orleans.  Everyone was having a good time at the reception in City Park and Hurricane Katrina was on no one’s mind.   

August 27th, 2005 was a day of recovery from the wedding where we spent the day at my friend Darryl’s parent’s house in the pool drafting for our fantasy football league.  I can remember Darryl’s mom coming outside frantically telling her son that he needed to get ready to pack because they needed to evacuate since Katrina was coming towards New Orleans.  None of us took her seriously and we joked, “That thing ain’t coming here!”

August 28th, 2005 I woke up to the news warning people to evacuate New Orleans.  I was living in the Garden District at the time and was not worried about flooding.  I figured I would ride the storm out at home and the power might go out for a day or two.  By about 2 PM that day, my friends had started to call me and tell me that they were all staying at the Windsor Court to ride out the storm.  Our friend Price who had gotten married on Friday had a suite from his wedding that he gave us because he was evacuating with his family. Several of our friends parents had also rented rooms at the same hotel.

After much convincing, I decided to join the Hurricane Party at the Windsor Court.  All I brought were the clothes I was wearing, my PlayStation, and alcohol. We were all having a good time, assuming this would be a fun sleep over for the night.  Surely the storm would come and go and we would all return to our homes Monday afternoon.

August 29th, 2005 We were glued to the TV by the time midnight rolled around.  The wind and the rain really started to pick up around 1 AM from what I recall.  Then the power went out. We watched the show from the windows of our room. Debris was blowing down the street, we could see stop signs swaying violently, and finally we started to hear windows break and the building started to sway from the winds.  At that point, the hotel manager came over the emergency loud speakers and ordered everyone to sit in the hallways to avoid being injured from broken windows or debris coming through the windows. One of my friends decided it would be a good idea to go into the room, open the sliding glass door to get a “feel” for the wind speed.  Needless to say this was a bad idea. Once they opened the sliding glass door, you could feel the air pressure all the way in the hallway. It took two people to close the glass door. I foolishly went to go and look out the window after this with 2 of my other friends and the double pain glass window broke on the outside and we all went running for the door to exit the room and me and another friend of mine bumped into each other and I jammed my hip into the door handle so hard, I had a bruise and pain for over a week. 

By day break, the storm had passed for the most part.  We had all thought at the time we were in the clear. We gathered our things and went to get our cars to survey the damage in our neighborhoods.  I can remember a large amount of Oak trees all over uptown blocking the streets. There was no flooding uptown and most of my friends’ houses including my own had little damage.  My main concern at the time was checking on my parents, who live on the Westbank, but phone communication was down and I didn’t know if I could drive to their house yet. There was also little to any news to be heard about the condition of the city.  Several of my friends decided to leave the hotel and either leave town with their families or go back home to start cleaning up. About 6 of us stayed at the hotel Monday night since it was the most logical place to be safe and have food. I can remember trying to go to sleep and all you could hear were cop sirens and the only thing you could see in the streets was cop lights.  I was foolishly still holding out hope that we would be able to get power back in a few days.

August 30th, 2005  I remember waking up in a pool of sweat, sick with a terrible sore throat that ended up lasting a week.  The heat of August was on and there was no AC to speak of. We went back out again in the morning to survey the damage and see what progress was being made.   I can remember driving by the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas and there were still people going in and out looting whatever they could get their hands on. My friend Lee and I decided to ride bikes down Canal Street and we got only a few blocks down the street from the hotel and that’s when we saw a Foot Locker getting looted and a bunch of cops just watching.  I walked up and asked one of the cops that I knew why they weren’t stopping them and he simply said there were not enough cops and they have bigger issues to contain which was true. This is also the area where we saw water on the street up to people’s ankles. I could see the water in the street as far as my eye could see. I didn’t think much of this because I figured the water was ankle deep all over New Orleans.  I had no concept of the varying elevation of the different areas of the city. Little did I know that in places like Lakeview, the water was sitting 5-10 feet high.   

One of my last friends to stay was Gordo and his family.  Communication was still bad and people were unsure how to leave the city.  No one knew which roads were flooded or which roads were safely accessible.   They made contact with a friend of theirs on a CB radio and arranged for a tug boat to pick them up and I dropped them off by the Ferry Landing.  Gordo’s dad looked me in the eye, hugged me, shook my hand with $100 in it and told me, “godspeed son.” This is when I knew I had to leave town soon.  That night, it was just my friend Lee and his parents. We agreed we would all head to our respective homes in the morning, gather our things and meet back at the hotel at 9 AM.  If the other person wasn’t there after 5 minutes, we would each be on our own.  

August 31, 2005  I went back to my house, cleaned my fridge out, grabbed a weeks’ worth of clothes and headed back to the hotel.   I can remember finally being able to make contact with my friend Karen in Baton Rouge and she was able to give some loose directions on how to get to them through a back way on the West Bank.  9 AM came and went and Lee and his parents didn’t show up. As I was preparing to leave the hotel, it was chaos. People were begging for rides and I was nervous someone was going to try and take my car.  I got out of there as quickly as possible.  

I can remember driving by Convention Center Blvd on my way to get onto the interstate and there wasn’t a sole there yet.  Little did I know that would be ground zero for a lot of people with nowhere to go later that day. As I got onto the interstate and began to take the back highways to Baton Rouge I had a million thoughts going through my head.  Were my parents and their house ok? How soon would I be back? Would New Orleans be same?    

 

Gary F. Gansar

Niwot, Colorado

Bay St. Louis

 

BAY St. Louis, Mississippi, a town of about 9,000 and Hancock County seat on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, caught the eastern eye wall of Hurricane Katrina.  This once picturesque old southern town was situated higher than other areas on the Mississippi coast, and so in its central area had some houses still standing. I attended a celebration of the survivors called Second Saturday, which was of course started on the second Saturday after Katrina hit.  The party was housed as usual at Jenise’s, an art coop and just about the only business open in the town. Initially it was to be held every other Saturday, but the town council asked Jenise to throw the party every Saturday since it was the only evidence that the town was still alive. Among the beautiful jewelry, plaster plaques, paintings, and photos for sale there was a picture of the survivors celebrating the first Second Saturday.  The bewildered looking partiers raising a toast in the picture were exactly the same people there on the day I visited.

 

The evening before the party, we toured the beach, a once glorious resort coastline peppered with unique places to stay overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The coast now resembled a bombed out Beirut.  The highway which separated Old Town Bay St. Louis from the sand, was broken into dinner table sized sections and randomly stacked upon each other like jigsaw puzzle pieces. A narrow, quaint hotel had the entire front torn away revealing three stories of rooms open to the water.  Every room was filled with debris except one in the corner of the third story which had a bed that was still made, a chandelier still completely intact hanging over it. Several residents assured me that it had been that way since the storm The Hancock Bank still stood but was obviously condemned.   Across the top where a sign once boasted “Hancock Bank” to the road along the water, only the letters “cock ban” still clung to the building. Some Bay St. Louis resident with a good sense of humor [which they all seemed somehow to maintain] had scrawled across the front in red paint, “penalty for early withdrawal”.  

 

Next to the hotel, the ruins of a bed and breakfast had been mostly cleared and there stood a large oak tree, completely denuded, branches and trunk black and now scrawny.  If you stood with your back to the water at its edge and looked at the devastation of homes, businesses, and highway along the coast, it continued east and west for as far as you could see.

 

Kevin, a slightly plump jolly, late 50 year old guy at Second Saturday, gulped down a barbecued pork sandwich as he related his story to me, occasionally laughing at inappropriate times. He said that he, his wife and his buddy decided to ride out the storm in the bed and breakfast on the beach since it had survived Hurricane Camille’s onslaught in 1969.  At about 10:00 in the morning, they found themselves with three others and two dogs cowering in the rear of the second floor as the fury outside became louder and more frightening by the minute. Suddenly the front of the building sheared off, “leaving us to look out on the gulf like it was an audience and we were on stage.” They all crouched down together unsure of what to do when it became obvious that the back of the building was swaying and the roof was going to collapse on them.  Four of them ran to the front and dived onto the giant oak tree which was up to its first trunk division in the gulf flood. An older couple would not jump, but “they got out with the dogs some other way.”

 

Kevin and his wife clung to the tree, holding with all their might against the howling wind.  He shouted to his buddy in the limbs next to him, but the noise was so deafening that they could not hear each other.  The merciless, wind driven rain pelted them like nails so hard that Kevin thought he would not be able to withstand the pain and would have to let go.  Miraculously, a large section of clear plastic sheeting appeared floating in the water. Kevin bent low to grab it, then wrapped it completely around he and his wife.  They held tight to the branches protected from the stabbing raindrops by the sheet, the wind screeching and the flood rising around them. For three hours, he, his wife and the two others held on terrified, praying, their hands and feet going numb.  He says that he does not recall the entire time spent in the tree and wonders whether he actually passed out, but at about 1:00 that afternoon, they descended. The twenty-eight foot surge of water had receded to waist height and he estimated that there was about two feet of newly deposited sand beneath that water.  The dogs made it. The older couple was later found dead among the debris half a mile from the oak tree that saved the others.

 

The Resurrection: The Saints' story

originally published in Boulder Weekly 

February 1, 2010

SEEMINGLY over-matched by a Minnesota Vikings team led by Hall of Fame shoo-in Brett Favre, the New Orleans Saints finally advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in the franchise’s 42-year history with a 31-28 overtime win in the National Football Conference championship game. It was a very special moment for a very special city.

Drew Brees, the saintly quarterback, raised the heavy George Halas Trophy – signifying the NFC’s newly-crowned champion – high over his head and he beamed broadly, then blew a kiss to the adoring throng of fans in the Louisiana Superdome. It was easy to read the elation on his face. Streamers and confetti fell from above, players embraced each other tightly, and the New Orleans fans, with tears in their eyes, hugged, high-fived and screamed as they had been screaming for a full four hours.

Hundreds of miles away and four-and-a-half hours earlier in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, another future Hall of Fame quarterback, accepted the American Football Conference championship trophy with a simple nod of the head and the nonchalance of one who has been here before and knows that the job is not near finished.

The nation watched this tale of two cities with perhaps a bit of amusement when considering those New Orleans denizens and their childish delight. Several football commentators would, in fact, question the prematurely overzealous reaction, one stating, “Uh, guys, this is not the Super Bowl.”

Those Saints faithful know that this was not the Super Bowl. They know that they will be underdogs in the upcoming fight with the Colts, who are led by New Orleans native son Manning, who grew up rooting for the Saints from his home uptown. They know their chances at the next level are anything but good — sportscasters almost universally forecast a Colt victory in Miami. Yet there is something very special about this Saints team, about these Saints fans, and about the story that binds them uniquely as no other sports team has ever been fused to its city. As New Orleans expatriates by choice for 17 years now, my wife and I have had the fascinating experience of watching a unique culture from inside and out, and being present when it boiled over as it had never done before in the wake of a conference championship (or even a Super Bowl, for that matter), and we knew why.

A love story like no other

It is an unusual story that is worth telling to football fans and non-fans alike. It is a love story like no other you have heard, and it speaks of redemption – from a higher power, a power poorly defined, yet palpable. It is a story of the downtrodden brought to the top against all odds, and it is one of life’s precious moments that was shared by several hundred thousand souls previously bound by misery.

The story begins in 1967, in Tulane Stadium, on the campus of Tulane University. One of the largest stadiums in the country, it was filled to the brim with New Orleans residents about to witness the inaugural official game for their new professional team, the Saints.

I was a 12-year-old sitting in the north end zone when the Los Angeles Rams kicked off to the south end zone, and John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff that that inaugural game 94 yards for a touchdown. My buddies and I whooped and high-fived, knocking my glasses from my face in the process. This is easy, I thought.This is so cool. The Saints are going to be great.

Anyone who has followed professional football for the last 42 years knows that it has been anything but easy for the Saints. In fact, it has been for the most part, a debacle.  Without going into 42 years of suffering, without talking about the brown paper bags engulfing our heads, and without explaining how great players could join a team year after year and not be great anymore – let’s suffice it to say that the team sucked almost all the time. 

As the millennium rushed past, support for the hapless “’aints” began to wane, and Tom Benson, the owner, pondered moving the team to San Antonio. Plenty of hearts were broken, and when he made the usual owner demand that the state build his team a new stadium, the non-football fans bid him farewell. The legislature balked, the governor intervened, and the move was held in abeyance.

 

Saints and the Superdome

The Louisiana Superdome was a source of pride to a state near the top of almost every bad list and the bottom of every good list. When it was built, the political chicanery and subsequent brain damage made its very existence a miracle. It was to be large enough to contain the Astrodome in Houston, previously proclaimed “The Eighth Wonder of the World” by so many of those Texans. It would look futuristic, sleek, and it would shield players and fans from the intolerable and unpredictable weather.

The Superdome would soon be home to six Super Bowls, world title fights, an NCAA basketball Final Four, as well as many international events. The Superdome showcased the best of Louisiana and the future of New Orleans to the world.

Now, after 25 years, the luster was off and the need for expensive luxury boxes to support the escalating costs of professional football was making it outmoded. Benson needed something better.

The question begged for a philosophical answer: “Should a state that so poorly funded education, that was overwhelmed with poverty, and that had so many more tangible needs, spend its meager funds and its future on building a new stadium for a rich guy just so he could get richer?”

Then real tragedy hit in the form of the largest natural disaster to stain the country, a hurricane named Katrina. I will not belabor the point except to say the entire city and its suburbs were devastated. The land was laid to waste, the population emptied New Orleans, and the government was in disarray. The future looked so bleak that one consideration was to move New Orleans and its port up the Mississippi River and start over.

The Superdome itself was horribly damaged. It had been the refuge of last resort to the multitude of newly homeless victims, and it was not prepared for that duty. People reverted to basic instincts where law did not exist. Horrible conditions fomented crime and desperation. People died in there, and bodies were placed in the refrigeration bins and stairwells. The roof was partly torn away and the rains poured in. The once jewel of the city was a ruin, a symbol now of the grime caked to the city’s underbelly.

 

Saints to San Antonio

New Orleans is not a city of people passing through. For the most part, even the most miserable of its citizens will not leave. They grow up, marry, have kids, and die there, knowing that the next generation will do the same.

Those that could remain would certainly do so, and they had to be supported. There must be priorities. There were innumerable problems, and as a whole they threatened the future existence of a truly remarkable American city.

The fact that the damage to the city had sent the Saints to practice in San Antonio and scheduled to play some of their games there gave a new urgency to the dilemma. Everyone realized that if this goes on for long, it would be too easy to relocate the football team to the center of Texas, and it would be a long time before the NFL looked upon New Orleans again.

What should be saved first, the infrastructure of the city, the schools, the neighborhoods, or … the Saints?

Great thinkers and planners on both sides of the line had reasonable arguments, but in the end it was decided that refurbishing the Superdome would have the most immediate effect on the city’s future. It would show the world that New Orleans was not going away, that it would not be moved. It would give the people who lived there tangible evidence that things would get better and that it was worth staying in the city and suffering now for a brighter future. And it would put pressure on the Saints owner and the NFL to maintain a holding pattern above New Orleans. How could they be taken from us if we made them a top priority?

Would the public relations disaster that resulted from the NFL delivering a body blow to a struggling underdog fighting against the overwhelming reality of the profit motive in professional sports be worth the resulting tarnish it would have to clean?

New Orleans rolled the dice, and once that decision was made, the work on the Superdome and the Saint’s practice facility began with an efficiency and alacrity that no other project in the state had ever experience before or since. The Saints would stay put. The NFL and Tom Benson begrudgingly accepted the crown of the beneficent.

A chain of events occurred that must be evidence of some form of “intelligent design.”

First Payton, then assistant head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was offered his first head coaching job in the NFL with the Saints. He took over a team that had won only three games the year before, second-worst in the NFL, but pretty much the usual for the Saints. A few months later, he was courting Brees, a free agent and former Pro Bowl quarterback with the San Diego Chargers, who suddenly found his job in jeopardy with the rising, and youthful, Philip Rivers nipping at his heels.

Payton got Brees and his wife to come to New Orleans to check it out. The city was still in shambles, but Payton drove the couple around, personally showing them neighborhoods that they could call their own if they accepted his invitation to join the Saints. Unfortunately, as Payton would later relate, he was new to the area himself and was not that familiar with these neighborhoods. He took a wrong turn and was lost – for an hour. They drove past miles of destruction. The major part of the tour that the Brees family “enjoyed” were boats on top of houses, foundations where houses once existed, and piles of rubble that used to be stores. Drew’s wife, Brittany, yawned nervously.

Payton figured it was over, but Drew saw it another way. To him, it was a sign. The wrong turn had a purpose, and Brees felt that he could make a difference here. He could help rebuild these lives and this place.

This was far from the easy life in San Diego, but it was a life with purpose — a personal purpose that a six-year, $60 million contract would help him fulfill. He signed in March of 2006.

The following month, the Saints took Reggie Bush with their first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, the second-overall selection, after the Houston Texans surprised the football world by passing him up. He said he “could not wait” to get to New Orleans. This is something that the people of the Crescent City had not heard in several years.

 

Return to the Dome

On Sept. 25, 2006, the Saints returned to the newly refurbished Superdome to play their first home game there since the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

The city practically beamed with pride. The hurricane had not defeated them. The dome was filled. The Saints were back. Their city was saving itself and the fans were changing its destiny. That day, the Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 23-3. By the end of the 2006 season, Payton was named the NFL Coach of the Year.

The Saints players were loved by their town. Since the hurricane, it was not that big anymore, and they were visible everywhere. These guys had sacrificed quite a bit themselves in order to be here. There were innumerable inconveniences and indignities, but not one had complained. They could see what their fans were going through, and the players’ willingness to be there was reassuring.

In addition, there were many charitable foundations set up by individual players and their wives. The contributions became real when an ancient, rundown, inner-city high school had its dirty grass field converted to a brand new state-of-the-art stadium and track by Brees.

Thad Gormley Stadium, a WPA project from 1937, built in the style of the Coliseum, had been used by New Orleans high schools and had been the site of the only Beatles visit to New Orleans. Katrina left it looking like a bowl of mud. Reggie Bush was a major force in bringing it back to life. A plaque there thanks him for his efforts.

All of the players seemed to be involved in resuscitating that city, and the people responded in kind. Black-and-gold banners began appearing everywhere imploring — “Bless You Boys.”

Twelfth Man

Now it was Jan. 24, 2010. The uphill climb was almost to the top. The end was in sight.

The Saints had the home field advantage for the NFC championship game. That meant everything to the fans. Mostly, it meant that they could take part in this Cinderella story. They could be the 12th Man. They could push the adrenaline on the field to its maximum with their voices.

The day before the game, an article appeared on the top of the front page of the Times Picayune, explaining how to scream effectively, when to scream, and the importance of screaming. The decibel level in the stadium would top 102, louder than a jackhammer. Standing throughout the entire game like everyone else, and screaming appropriately as directed, I found myself quietly pondering a Saints’ defensive change to myself. Suddenly, I felt a smack to the back of my head, popping my fleur de lis-emblazoned Saints cap to the ground. I turned to find an intense young lady, perhaps 25 years old, sticking her index finger in my face like a schoolmarm. “Scream!” she demanded. “Every voice counts!” The rallying cry for a city rising from the dead.

Our team may not go any farther than this championship this year. We may not win the Super Bowl in Miami, but forever those living in the City that Care Forgot during the last half a century will believe we are together and we are winners.

 

Mark River Peoples

Clarksdale, MS

August 2015

IT was the end October. The water had receded in most areas around the city of New Orleans. My brother, William Eugene Peoples and family were visiting St. Louis, fresh off their stay in Deritter,  Louisiana. They rented a house to weather the storm until the waters exited their home in New Orleans. Barely a foot water occupied their home on Gentilly Ave., but still lost just as much as the individuals whom lost entire homes. 

 

  My brother who married a Creole woman from New Orleans named Katina, loved Louisiana. Once telling me,"Brotha, I will be in New Orleans for the rest of my life." Having a young daughter named after our deceased mother, Jade Iveara Peoples, only worry was about her pink room and if it was like she left it.  Katina's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Greene, loss everything.

 

  The visit to St. Louis was the beginning of the long, tedious road to rebuilding their lives in New Orleans. My brother, a stern, discipline, retired Army officer, who taught me work ethic on the football field and Katina, his wife, a doctor, displaced from her practice, were letting the family know they were all right, but just starting over. 

 

  They looked good, but I could see the stress in their bodies. Having taken everyone into the house they rented, you could see the heavy load being carried through their eyes. Katina had two brothers that had families that lived with her parents, plus variuos neices and nephews all hunkering down, figuring out the next step.  I knew my brother had a plan, but he needed help. 

 

  As I foraged through the kitchen, I could hear my brother talking to our father in the other room. He had proper insurance, but the cost of a lot of the work needed done seemed higher than what insurance companies paid out. Crews of workers from Mexico roamed the neighborhoods offering services to desperate homeowners needing help. The problem was, it wasn't cheap. The workers were taking advantage of the tragedy of our nation, profiting whenever possible. I heard my brother say to our father, " They want $6500 dollars just to tear out the floors!" Our father responds, " I got the perfect person to help you. Your brother Mark!"

 

  I smiled knowing I could help my brother get through a very tough time of his life. The plan was for him and his family to return to the rental home in Derritter, Louisiana while we squatted at the home in New Orleans. He would go to work daily, while I attacked tearing out the floors and the lower walls of sheetrock damaged by the brackish water.  On weekends, him and I would drive to Derritter to see the family. 

 

  I decided to take the train to New Orleans. As a lover of the train from my college days, I thought it would be great to see the Delta and Louisana from that perspective. I wanted to see the aftermath of the storm. I wanted to feel the landscape as I headed into the devastation.  The train ride was excellent. The sun started to rise as we approached the Delta. I instantly started seeing sharecropper shacks and miles of cotton looking like snow. Fisherman line the lakes and rivers. I got confused thinking I would see less, but noticed more life than expected. Herds of deer running through the bayous filled with cypress trees and palmettos. Pelicans,  roseate spoonbills, egrets, and wood ducks took flight as the train rolled by. I didn't see any devastation to wildlife, but thriving ecosystems -reborn.

 

  I arrived  in New Orleans. My brother picked me up from the train station after a long day at work. Eyes weary and I noticed something out of the ordinary. There were half smoked cigars in his ashtray. No way, I thought to myself, my straight-laced brother smoking! He informed me it helps keep him

awake during his long drive between homes.  He explained to me that we will be staying in the house upstairs away from the mold infested downstairs area. He briefed me on the safety issues. The street lights were still off in many areas and illegal activities like looting, drug dealing, and robberies were rampant in the dark. Thieves even watch houses in which home owners hadn't returned.

 

  "Tomorrow morning, I will show you everything you been reading about. It's important that you see this with your own eyes."

 

  That night I stared out my neices window watching shadows in the night. Dogs barked all night, with an occasional gunshot in the distant. Vehicles drove slowly through the night. Darkness ruled. The smell of death, decay, and brackish water filled the air. I opened all the windows so the mold wouldn't harm us in our sleep. I didn't sleep that night, I could fill the death in the air.

 

  The morning took forever to come. So excited and fearful of what I would see.    The day started with a ride through some of the most decimated areas. Droves of vehicles stored underneath highways. More cars lined parking lots with noticeable damage from the acidic brackish water. Personal debri from homes littered the city. The markings on the homes symbolized where bodies had been retrieved. Rumors floated  through the community about bodies being missed and mismanaged. I was amazed at the damage standing brackish water could make. 

 

  We ended the day with the drive to Deritter to see family. I was excited knowing Mrs. Green would have a spread of Creole inspired food.  The plan was to bulk up on great food and start the work Monday morning. We sat around in the biggest room of the home eating and telling stories, but not once bringing up Katrina. I got the feeling they were all talked out, ready to move on.

 

  The work day arrived quickly. Myself and a sledgehammer working consistent throughout the day, occasionally stopping to load the wheel barrel , and haul debris to the street. Trucks of workers would drive by giving me dirty looks as if I was stealing their work, but this was my chore. Every swing I made was for family and humanity. Dust filled the house as I continued on strong all day. I was determined to leave here with my family in a better place. I knew I could help my family off to a great start and incubate the healing process. I tried to double my work daily, so my brother would see results when he arrived home. Every day the large pile in the driveway increased. I could see the load being lifted off his back. It got to a point when he would return from work , we would just crack open a beer, talk, and call it a day. 

 

Jessica Ertel

New Orleans, LA

August 2015

WE decided to stay. We had just evacuated for the previous storm, spent hours in traffic, and came home to a few leaves on the ground. My dad worked (works) for Allstate insurance, often part of the CAT(astrophy) team. He said he wasn’t leaving again, mom either. Plus they wanted to be home, so that in case we did suffer any damage, we would be here to begin repairs immediately.  I canceled my plans to be out of town for work. My younger brother waved goodbye to his girlfriend, even though she pleaded with him to evacuate with her. But no, we were staying. If our parents were staying, so were we. We have always been a very close, tightknit family. So we stayed. 

 

I had already packed, nonsense clothes. I worked a couple of jobs at the time, while being in school (UNO) full time. I was supposed to be in lake Charles, partially for work, partially for fun. I had going out clothes packed, heels, ridiculous shirts…

We had three tall pine trees out front of our home, and we were concerned they would come down. So we opted to ride out the storm at my grandma’s house. She lived three houses down on the opposite side of the block. I took my small suitcase of ridiculous clothes. We were down the street….

The night before the storm, that Saturday myself, my friend, and her boyfriend went out. We went out to Bourbon Street, just to see what was going on. It was fairly deserted and bars were literally closing up their doors. I started to worry then; Bourbon Street doesn’t shut down. We left Bourbon Street and headed to our regular place, Mick’s in Mid-City. It was our Cheers bar, and it was packed full of locals. The bartender, joann who is not from here, was visibly nervous but the locals were somewhere between unfazed and mildly nervous, nothing a few beers couldn’t fix.

Sunday my grandma left with her companion, and we moved into her home. It was a boring day, quite sunny and calm. The news coverage was getting a little more intense and my parents were definitely nervous. We talked about leaving, but seeing the evacuation at a standstill, decided we would stick it out. It would be ok.

Sunday night was ok. Winds started picking up but it really was NOT bad. We woke up Monday morning very early, and my brother and I were running around outside, dodging a few roof shingles. By 8 am the storm had passed, and we were doing tequila shots, celebrating how not bad it had been. One of the pine trees had come down, through our attic, and into my bedroom. We expected it, and while that wasn’t good, we thought at least we don’t have to wait to get back into the city to start repairs.

I went to take a nap, it had been a restless night waiting for the big hurricane. When I woke up a short time later, the river had started. The water started filling our street, and the worry set in. we lived in Gentilly, on the Gentilly ridge, one of the highest points in the city. But the water kept coming, for hours. We watched for a while, my parents visibly shaken. The hurricane had passed, the skies had cleared, where was all this water coming from? It hadn’t even rained that hard during the hurricane. We thought maybe it had stalled just past us, and was dumping water. But the skies were so clear. My dad wanted to swim back home, to start pulling things off the floor; my mom didn’t want him to go. Save what we could, but it was scary. We had no idea when the water would stop, or when it would leave. We waited a few hours, and it appeared to have stopped rising. The sun would be going down soon, so we made the swim as a family. The water was 7 ½ feet on the street, and 3 feet high in our house. Everything was floating, the couch, our beds, the refrigerator was up. The water was black. I went Into my room and lost it. It was two fold, coming up from the flood waters, and down from the hole created by the tree in the top of my bedroom. I don’t remember what if anything, I tried to save, except for my favorite heels. That’s the level of shock I was in, we were all in. I felt like my brain was shutting down, going into protection mode. This was bad, but there were no guidelines of what to do, what to prepare for.  I put my favorite SHOES up high. Ridiculous. But who knew? My pictures of high school were already in a rubber crate. I grabbed a pair of shorts and a shirt, and walked out. Leaving the house that day is a bit of a blur. It was too scary to process. 

One other neighbor had stayed. His wife and one dog had evacuated; he stayed behind to watch the house, with their other dog.  We too had our dog, our springer spaniel Picasso. He had a second story, with manageable roof access, and a small fishing boat. We used his generator, and all crammed into a second story room (his second story was under construction at the time), the water was already half-way up his stairs. We lived in a predominately elderly neighborhood, and we could hear the cries for help ringing out. It was awful. So my dad and my neighbor took the boat and went to our closest elderly neighbor, we knew she had stayed and was alone. They brought her back to the house.

We climbed out on to the roof that night, as darkness fell. It got quiet. Scary quiet. So quiet you could still hear neighbors from blocks over pleading for help. It was too dark to do anything else.

We each got on our phones. Messaged everyone in them. “We have made a terrible mistake. We never should have stayed. We are still in Gentilly, on a roof. There is no way out, but we have supplies, a generator. We love you all, please please pray for us. “

Our service went out a short while later, and we were on our own.

 

The water was like glass the next morning, everything submerged underneath. We could still hear neighbors crying for help, and we needed to find a way out. My dad and neighbor took our elderly neighbor and her dog, and left on the small fishing boat. My mom made us say “final goodbyes.” To my dad. We had heard gunshots throughout the night, and that was scary. Saying goodbye to your family is brutal, the fear of the unknown is crippling. We could do nothing but watch Gov. Kathleen Blanco cry on tv; she just kept saying “GET OUT” but offered no advice on how to do so.

 

Nancy Finlason

Waveland, MS

Interviewed and transcribed August 2015

(excerpt)

C: Have you tried to sit down and ..

N: I tried.  I’ve tried. 

C: When was that and why did you try to start writing it?

N: For you. 

C: Oh really?

N: But the thing is, well, if you notice.. I’m not one to talk.  I’m very insecure when it comes to people. I’ve been like that all my life.  So I think you wanting me to— it’s like oooo— it’s like, am I gonna say the proper word (laughs).  It’s just. Anxious. Very anxious. Isn’t that weird?

C: I understand what that’s like.

...

N: Isn’t that amazing how they got everybody out alive on our block?

C: On your block?

N: On our block.  We… I told you that.  We woke up that Saturday morning, like, it’s here.  We’re bulls-eye. And then, all hell broke loose. Hugh had to tend to the boat.  I wondered, Christopher, I wondered around the house, I didn’t know what to take - it’s going to make me emotional - I didn’t know what to take. and you think.  this is coming, if it hits - and we knew it was gonna hit - you know, you’re, “What do you take? What’s your possession? What’s the most important thing you want to take with you?”

And, I told Mary this story, that...we’re all neighbors...we gotta do, gotta do, gotta do it.  And the neighbor across the street. Her mother’s like almost a hundred years old. She had a punch bowl. Pre-Civil War. She said, “I don’t know if I should take this, I don’t know what I should do with this..”

And I went to her, I said, “Claire,” and Ms. Martha, I said, “We’re gonna take care of your punch bowl. Don’t worry about that.” Cause her mom was concerned.  Claire’s mother.

And Claire says, “What are you going to do with your China now?" The only China that I had, Hugh’s mother gave me, it was before she passed away.

And I said, “Well I’m putting everything in the dishwasher.”

And Claire says, “Well..”

And I said, “Put the punch bowl in the dishwasher. Cause you lock the dishwasher.” So I said, “Put the punch bowl with the cups in the dishwasher.”

So she did that and I went home and I started picking up, thinking, “What am I gonna take?” I put everything on the second floor, I took the paintings down.  I thought, “If we get water, it’s not gonna get on the second floor.” So all the paintings, everything I really wanted to keep - second floor. And I said, “I’m not gonna drag all of these photographic albums, they’re gonna be safe on the second floor.” Not realizing, you know, that the water was going to be going that high. And this is really freaky about the punch bowl, I’ll tell you about that in a little bit. So I put stuff in the washer. I put stuff in the dryer. Just different things that would be protected from the wind and whatever, the water.  And but it was like I was in a fog of not knowing what to take. What, what life possessions would you go in there and take, thinking I could never replace this? So what I did, I took my bill box. (Laughs) All my monthly bills. I took my tax returns from the past seven years (laughs). Put em all in a box, and put em in the car. You know, I could have gotten copies of bills anywhere. And I took the family Bible. I don’t know how we kept this bible in the family all these years. And I don’t know how I had the Bible.  Took the Bible. And Hugh, like I said, in Karate, he has a black belt in Karate.  He waited years to get this certificate from this Fu Karuki Shin in Japan, and it came in, beautiful certificate, I had it framed and put it over his desk.  ...WHY I didn’t take that? Cause it’s something you can’t replace.

Photographs of me. I don’t have any photographs of me as a baby. I remember telling my mom, “I Know I’m adopted.  I know yall stole me from somewhere.” Cause there’s no photographs! I’m the only one that there weren’t any photographs of. And, so anyway, that was, bla bla bla, all day long. And Hugh had his own ordeal he was going through with the boats.  Because he had all the boats at the yacht club and you know Christopher, once it’s a storm, you’re constantly moving your boat back and forth— what are you gonna do? so he convinced all the guys, five of em, to take their boats to Casino Magic.  And I told you about how the barge when the tidal surge came in, it broke loose and, so it was tied up in this little spider web.

big ass spider web. So he came home. And Claire, the lady with the punch bowl, it was her husband’s birthday, so they figured, she was gonna have a party for him that night.  So she says, “Why don’t we all get together and just, you know have a little party.”

This is Saturday Night.  So we did, and it was our house, us next door, and the big house with the indoor pool, they had an apartment in the back, and there was this guy, I don’t remember his name, He was from Oklahoma.  And a little cute little dog, and he was there telling us he was gonna stay because he had never seen a hurricane. And all of us just look at him and say “You can’t stay.” And he says, “I’m staying, you know, why should I leave? you know I’ve never seen it and it would be fun.” And we say, “No. You’re leaving.” We did talk him into leaving. We came back and you couldn’t find a thing! There was nothing there! He would’ve died. Gone pecan. So we kind of not celebrated, we just talked, happy birthday, bla bla, and went back home, and then making plans with our friends from Pittsburg. Why I did that?... She had rooms, she had gotten rooms in Pensacola.  Christopher. The hurricane could’ve done that (curves her hand to the left and laughs). And here we are. We grew up around hurricanes, but we’re listening to Jackie. We were in Pensacola. So that Sunday morning, Hugh wakes up and starts boarding everything up. So that was an entire afternoon of packing things, getting cleaned up. And you know my sister called from England, “Please go get my cat,” and I’ve got Becky bouncing off the wall.

So we went over to her house, got the two cats and her valuable suitcases.  And everything was gone for Jennifer, too. Cause she lived in Bay St. Louis. So we get back and then Becky made sandwiches. I don’t know where, how, how did she come up with making sandwiches. So Hugh Penn, our friend, he came over, he says, well I’m going to stay. And Hugh says, “Hugh you can’t stay. Look at the television!” That’s when the entire Gulf was you know taken over by Katrina.  So Hugh said he was gonna follow us to Pensacola. We got everything in the car… we packed up, took a picture of the house.  I said, “We’ll see you in a little bit.”

 

Oh, let me tell you about the house next door. Mary Ellen, we’d just sold the house to six months prior to the storm, good friends from New Orleans. … Mary Ellen and George, so we sold them the house. They did repairs, put in a new bathroom. Our lives would’ve been so nice with Mary Ellen and George next door. We had them for six months. So they came over the Saturday. To put up shutters- board up the windows and all. And Mary Ellen took a towel and put it in the front door, and she said, “That’s just in case the water comes up.” Talk about freaky what happened, I mean God works in mysterious ways. She rolled up a little towel and just shoved it, sat it at the front door in case the water would come up.  I’m thinking to myself, “What about all the windows, the back door,...” But she zeroed in on that front door.

 

So then we got in the cars. Becky had her lil sandwiches. It was me, Hugh, the two cats, no, me, Becky, the two cats, and Hugh had the van-- the SUV. He doesn’t like me to call in a van. (laughs). So we packed up. We packed up all kinds of stupid stuff. And so we caravan out, we go, through Bay St. Louis. We just look, when you’re driving away, you’re just looking and thinking, “I wonder how it’s gonna be when we come back.” and we got over the Bay St. Louis Bridge.  We got over to Pass Christian. Went up to Hwy 49, turned to get on the interstate, no Hugh Penn. Cell phones weren’t working.  We couldn’t find him. He wasn’t answering. So we didn’t know what had happened to this person who was gonna come with us to Pensacola.  And you couldn't stop, you had to get on the interstate and keep going, and going and going and going.

 

So we finally got to Mobile. We’re one of the few last people to get through Mobile. And (claps her hands) the traffic stops.  Until we get to Pensacola, it was like this (Clap. Clap. Clap).Then we get to Pensacola to the Holiday Inn, the winds were so strong. You know, it was ten o’clock at night that we finally got there. I’m not kidding there was a wall. It was a hallway, a brick wall, and then we were the first room. I would put my hand on that wall, I could feel that wall from the wind. And I told Hugh, I said, “We’re gonna die in this hotel.” Hugh would try to walk the dogs, He was asking how you walk forward into the wind.  That’s how strong it was. And that’s in Pensacola! You know, you’re thinking, “If it’s like that here, what’s going on over there?” You know, that was really scary.  So we get in the room (laughs). It’s me, Becky, Hugh in one room, three dogs, and two cats.

Dogs don’t like cats, if they don’t see them, right? (laughs)  

...You know, and that’s why I wanted to know: what were they saying about the coast?  Because we didn’t have any television, because the wind was blowing in Pensacola. I put Becky on a plane. Hugh and Roger took her... They took Becky to the Pensacola airport...  So she flew to my sister in Texas. Texas City. Well, it went into Houston. She was there for two years after the storm. So Becky left and Jackie and I went across the street, like to Applebees or something to get something to eat because we were starving, and Jackie and I are sitting there eating, and I hear "Waveland", cause they had a TV-- "Waveland". And I turned around, and they said, “Waveland’s gone.”  That’s how I learned about Waveland. Was on the news, by turning around.

In the meantime, Roger and Hugh are on their way back to Waveland.  They got back. Hugh Said it was horrible, you know, destruction everywhere, on the Interstate, the trees down, the big signs down, they came down 603. Not one National Guard. No National Guard. They drove to Highway 90. They went, the first thing they checked-- cause Roger lives near the Casino. They drove up.  Hugh said it was thick thick mud.  He doesn’t know how he got there.  And once they peered around the side, he knew all the boats were gone. So once he knew that happened here, and Roger lives a half a mile from there.  So they kind of realized something had happened to Roger’s house. So what they did, they made their way down Blue Meadow road, and Hugh waited in the SUV and Roger walked. Like a quarter mile to his house. And he said Roger was gone for about two hours.  I’m sure he was just broken down, you know, because they came back and there was nothing either. They had a metal staircases to the second floor, one of these round staircases, It was the only thing standing.

 

So then after Roger came back, they got in the van and drove back down to highway 90, drove down Nicholson, and Hugh couldn’t go any further than the railroad tracks. Debris was everywhere. And he managed to get to Mollere Drive, and he said he didn’t even go down.  And he just turned around and said there’s nothing there.

 

They drove back to Pensacola and got us and the next morning, we really evacuated to Amelia Island. We have friends that were our neighbors, moved two years prior to Katrina were living in Amelia Island: John and Colleen. Right outside of Jacksonville.  Beautiful, beautiful area.  Real young couple, real real nice. Great people, but. We got there.  The first thing she says is “No one’s watching television.” Cause they were watching everything that was going on in New Orleans. She didn’t want, they didn’t want us to get more upset, but I was like, "no, no, no. I’m a grown woman. I want to see television." There’s only one television in the house.  So I couldn’t look at it, and I didn’t know what was going on!

 

And we get there.  Jackie dropped her dog, she dropped them at some shelter that Colleen found. There was no way I was letting my three little dogs out of my sight. Cause Jackie’s dog was a big big dog.  My little dogs are lapdogs. And this was, I told my mom this. The hardest part of Katrina for me, I mean I lost everything, was when we called Patrick, Hugh’s nephew, who lives in Orlando. We couldn’t bring our dogs back.  So we called Patrick and asked him if he could come get the dogs and keep them for a few weeks for us. (Exhales)

I can appreciate you being separated from a child or something.  You know, you just like they evacuated all these people from New Orleans, and their little pets are outside of the school buses. What happened to them?  Because when Patrick drove off with my three dogs, I opened up.  And I think I opened up, and then I (claps) clammed up after that.  I said this is my pain, I’m gonna deal with my pain just watching my dogs leave, I don’t have anything at home.  What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?

 

So we stayed there for five days.  Our friends that we bought the house from us called us, got Hugh, I don’t know how, and said, “We want yall to go to Gulf Shores, you know, we have a condo in Gulf Shores.  The condo’s fine. Everything’s fine,” she says. Cause she knew, they knew, that we didn’t have anything.

She says, “Please, Nancy, go to Gulf Shores.”   I think there was one other family in five hundred units at this, this Gulf Shores... Hugh would leave— Memorial Hospital said if you don’t come back, you lose your job. This was the week after the storm.  So, what he would do is leave me in the condo, the only thing we had was a phone. They didn’t have internet. They didn’t have cable. Gone. So I didn’t, again, no television. So I still didn’t know what was going on. I was completely shut off from everything that was happening in New Orleans. I knew Waveland was gone. Bay St. Louis was gone. Everything—

I’m all alone! I did befriend three little kittens.  They were my buddies. They were my salvation. I had somebody to talk to. Because there was no one around.  No one... All day, I piddled around.  I cooked and cooked and cooked and cooked. You know? Cause Gulf Shores, they had grocery stores. And I’d wait for Hugh. But what Hugh would do was leave early. Now that’s pretty far: from Gulf Shores to Memorial in Gulfport. So he would commute there, spend three nights there at the hospital.  And then come back, rather than back, forth, back, forth, back, forth..  I’d stay alone at the condo. And then Hugh would come back. And I was there five weeks. 

 

 I was alone.  And I didn’t have any of this. I didn’t have anything. But I did have wine. I think that’s when I really started drinking wine. But I wasn’t a big wine drinker. I really was never a big wine drinker. I was a beer drinker. I loved my beer... so he’d come back and forth. And that was five, five weeks of that. God bless Mary Ellen and George, because we didn’t know what were we gonna do. 

 

So in the meantime, Hugh comes back. This is where Hugh Penn comes in again. And Hugh Penn had just bought a house in Bay St. Louis and they were renovating it. And Hugh drove up looking for Hugh Penn, our friend that disappeared, we didn’t know what happened to him. And, the neighbors, Hugh said they had a fire, a big fire in the middle of the porch, they were cooking stuff.  I don’t remember the people’s names. He said, well “Mr. Penn said we could stay in this house if we needed to.” Hugh says, “No. I’m very good friends with Hugh Penn, give me the key.”* (Laughs) So Hugh took the key from him, came back to Gulf Shores, closed that up, drove back and I stayed in Bay St. Louis... We stayed at Hugh Penn’s for eight months. Hugh stayed the night before, that night he got the key from the neighbors - the wacky neighbors. And so that next morning he wakes up completely covered with flea bites.  Because Hugh Penn doesn’t believe in putting flea medicine on his dogs. So the fleas were in this house, boarded up, hot. It was like, “hot meat!” And Hugh, going back, stopped somewhere in Pensacola, going back, he bought an air conditioner, because all the air conditioners were ruined because of the water.  And bought a window unit. Picked me up, packed up all our stuff, my jewelry, stupid stuff I brought, and we stayed there. We were there for eight months. And the games began.

...That certificate of Hugh’s.  Cause that’s a lifetime thing that he worked toward.  You know? You’re not gonna replace that. Jewelry you can replace.  I was so angry that I emptied all my jewelry. I had a little jewelry case.  I emptied all my jewelry, everything, I didn’t care, I just poured it in this leather bag. I wouldn’t open that bag - for years I would not open that bag.  I was so angry that I put that much value in the jewelry rather than that certificate.  You know, that, that, that’s what hurts. The things, in your mind, that you, you weren’t thinking very straight.

...I understand I did the right thing with the jewelry.  But. That certificate was more important. The photographs. Of my mother.  Photographs that I can’t replace.  I didn’t take that…. And I might’ve just, when I die, no,  that’s how I think: who’s gonna care about this when I die? You know, we don’t have children to leave them to, you know, nieces and nephews are all over.  You know, they, they, that’s how I’ve always felt about it, but— . The photographs of me: one photograph in Westwego on a— well, I guess they have these traveling guys with the horses, you know, and I’m a little girl! Blonde blonde, light, light, white hair.  You know? That’s the only one I have.  I didn’t take that.  Didn’t take it... The photo.  (Laughs). I’m standing-- It was so funny.  In this cute little pink little top, tank top, and a little skirt.  And I’m standing there like that. And white, white, white hair. I’m probably about Quinn’s age.  You know, and then I think, “Oh, they did love me, somebody loved me enough to take a picture. Because my childhood. was so. Crazy. And then they had that little sliver—  somebody loved me. Got that photograph.  

And then Hugh, oh, another thing, did I tell you?  I took Hugh’s baby book. Hugh’s auntie Madge had this beautiful baby book made up for Hugh.  And it’s got locks of his hair at a month old, locks of his hair at six-- photographs, I mean his whole lifetime up to six or seven years old.  I did take that. I have no wedding certificate.  I didn’t bring that. I didn’t bring Hugh’s naturalization papers (laughs). Passports. Didn’t bring any of that. I brought my bill box! Cause I had to pay my bills (laughs)! You see the priorities were just so— it’s like my mind’s saying, you’re coming back, don’t worry about that. Just put it upstairs…

C: That bill box.  Then the hurricane comes through and says, “FUCK YOUR BILLS.”

N: Right. Right! Well, Ruth that owned the bakery in Bay St. Louis. Someone north of the interstate found her business check book - by the interstate. That’s like, four miles away. And we were finding signs on Mollere Drive from Bay St. Louis. We also found a dead body there. No I didn’t find it.  They did have a dead body on our street... They did (identify it), but I didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to know. But they also. All the dead animals. There were so many dead animals. There were so many deer.  All the wild boars.  Dead animals everywhere. And that’s why I asked about the flies. There was all these rotten carcasses.  

And remember the heat?  How hot it was after the storm? It was so hot. And no birds, Christopher. No. Birds. 

Cause my trip back, see I hadn’t been back till Hugh picked me up five weeks later. And we were driving back, and I think my eyes must’ve been just about this big. I’m going, “Oh my God. This is what happened on the interstate. What is it going to be like? What is it going to be like?"

Made that turn to come down, went down Nicholson, got across Sing and made a turn on Central, and then— the bulldozers? Those guys that push all of the debris away after Mardi Gras, you know? Big ones. Going down the street. And there was a pile on the end of Mollere Drive. And then I can remember, I jump out of the car, and Hugh was screaming to get me to stop. And then I was screaming, “I want to see my house! I want to see my house!”

 

Stupid. You know, you should’ve realized, you didn’t see John’s house, you’re not gonna see your house....

 

A slab.  And there was stuff all over the place and I didn’t want— I didn’t want to pick up anything. I didn’t want anything. It was over. It was gone. My life was over. You know, this part of my life was gone. Why do I want to pick up anything? I didn’t want to pick up anything. That was the initial response.

I broke down crying. I really broke down. I mean, I just, on my knees, I just started crying. Oh. Crying. Crying. Crying. And I wasn’t. I don’t think I was crying for myself. I was crying for our community. It was gone. It was gone. You know, and then thinking, “Oh. Did Miss Smith leave or did she stay?” You know, cause you were all wrapped up in, “I gotta get out of here!” You know, you gotta get, I gotta evacuate, I gotta evacuate, gotta evacuate, and then just thinking, “Did Miss Smith make it back?” Where did she go? 

So anyway, after the crying, I was just walking around, we walked over to Mary Ellen and George’s slab, the towel was still there! The bricks, they had, like, a brick foyer. The bricks had fallen on it and you could— the towel was still there. The entire— EVERYTHING ELSE GONE. The towel still there! What’s the chances of something like that happening? The towel was there! (Laughs) And you think, you know, they put all that money into renovating the house. It was so— It was secured, to make sure nothing would happen, and God said, "Uh uh. I’ll show you what I can do." You know what I’m saying? I mean, look. You think you’re— We’re not— We’re weren’t safe at all. I mean there were tornadoes

 

We had the weather report come in and do a study because we were fighting with the insurance company. "No it was wind.  No it was water. No it was wind. No it was water," hire an attorney. And finally. Yay, we get our pay. The attorney took 33% of what we got. 33%. After fighting with the insurance company, paying your premiums every year.

 

Oh! I’m going back to this. 2004: Florida had those five hurricanes? Ivan, and— we didn’t have flood insurance. 

I told Hugh I thought we should get flood insurance. Well, we’ve never had it before. I said, "Just look at Florida. I think we should get flood insurance." My effective date for the flood insurance, I think it was August 17.  Full coverage August 17th... A week later, nine days later— If I hadn’t had that flood insurance— There was a little angel on this shoulder, said, “Do it. I’m coming. Do it.” You know, “It’s gonna be destroyed.” So I had flood insurance for the Hurricane.  Isn’t that... That’s weird. 

We lived there from '88 to 2004. We built the first house in '88. 16 years. Beautiful oak trees were finally growing. That’s what got me were the trees. Where did they go?? We had a pecan tree. Never found the pecan tree. Gone. And all the big pines. We had two big pine trees in our back yard that actually Hugh and I could put our arms around and touch cause they were huge. And on the tree it was like pa pa pa pa pa pa. Stripped. And you know, the roofing nails? The trees were full of roofing nails. The wind was that hard, just bam, just everything.  And of course, the two pine trees just died.  But you could see the roofing nails.  

So. Okay. Everybody’s mingling around. They’re coming back.  We’re like, Oh my god, where’s everything? The punch bowl. Claire. Frantic. Couldn’t find the dishwasher. Nothing. The Corps of Engineers. They’re still grading stuff. They found her dishwasher. They opened the dishwasher. Not one scratch. Not one break on that antique punch bowl. They moved up to Arkansas and apparently there was a big story up in Arkansas: the woman with the Confederate punch bowl. Didn’t lose it 'cause they put it in the dishwasher.  

She didn’t take her jewelry, but they found her safe with the jewelry in it. And Warren Scott was working in an old English cab. A black cab... John was there on his lot one day, and he just happened to see a truck, and he said, “Why are these trucks stopped on this street?” So he walked down Mollere drive. And these guys with the truck had a chain. They were trying to take the old English cab away. Pull it away.  And they told John. John had a gun. John had a gun on his side, and they saw it.

He says, “Well they said I could have it.”

And of course John’s not stupid, you know, a highly educated man.  And he says, “Well who are they?”

“You know, the people that live there,” he says, “They said we could have it.”

John, I remember John, he says, “What are their names?”  And you know, he said, his voice kept rising, getting louder and louder.  

They were just looters, trying to take the stuff out of there. So if John hadn't been there—  Warren Scott loooved— Warren Scott was elderly— loved the cab. He was restoring the cab.

It just showed people-- what they were doing. Just—

And that’s the anger part of it, you know, cause there were big signs, you know, “YOU’RE LOOTING. THESE ARE OUR LIFE POSSESSIONS.” People were putting signs up all over the place.  And what did I do? I spray painted a can, put a sign on my slab, “We will be back.”

“We will be back.”

 

I was all of the sudden in this one little world. Nothing else was going on, just where we were. And I could’ve gone up to Picayune, Hattiesburg. But your mentality was: This is where you are. You know? You’ve got to survive... Everybody was knocked down in the same way. You know, people that would not have given you the time of day before. But then all of the sudden, you know, we’re like, we’re all we have. So we all came together. It was a very small community. You know, Waveland’s not big, Bay St. Louis, we don’t have a lot of people. But it brought so many people closer together. That was a positive thing. You know, it let— it doesn’t matter what you have, who you are. We’re all equal. Black. White. Green. Whatever. Really weird experience... The yacht club, gone.

You know, stress also— I think when you start laughing at everything, I found everything funny (laughs). And I think that was post-traumatic stress. You’d tell me something, “Oh it’s so funny!” You know, and, that wasn’t normal. You know, and Hugh would catch me and say, “This is not funny,” and I’d say, “To me, it’s funny.” I think that was my coping mechanism, was to laugh at everything. And then I started catching myself. You know, you really sounding like a crazy right now. You’d better slow down. Cause you know, the fear of the "am I going off the deep end here?" Cause it was a lot of stress.  You know, not knowing— and I didn’t know where all of yall were. And I started—finally when we got back to Bay St. louis—calling, and I wasn’t getting anyone. I think I finally got your mom after they dropped you off. It’s not being able to connect with the people who really are important to you. Not knowing: Where are they? Did they make it? 

You just don’t think of that.  You go, “This is really happening,”... We stayed at Hugh Penn’s house for eight months, and I remember taking the laundry— What an ordeal! Everything was an ordeal! When Walmart just opened, they had, like, big tables, and they had, like, big rugs, and just bare necessities just for people to make it by— bathroom rugs, little shelves of cereals. It’s nothing like you would walk into Walmart now. It was like, “Woah.” ... because the water was above Walmart on highway 90.  It had gone above Walmart. All that was underwater. Everything was gutted, and they started rebuilding for the community to come in. And then you’d meet up with people, and then the morgue was right there, in the middle of the parking lot.  

And then they had the first aid guys here.  And we needed them, cause everybody was stepping on nails.  We all needed tetanus shots. Everybody was stepping on nails. 

But my dishwasher.  Hugh’s mother’s pretty little red rose teacup and cups and saucer.  I put em in my dishwasher. We couldn’t find my dishwasher! (Laughs)  Couldn’t find it (laughs)

But you know. She found hers, why couldn’t I find mine? You know, that was my mentality: Her’s is okay so mine will be okay. And finally when they started dredging stuff out of John and Colleen’s swimming pool, there was a car, a Cherokee, there was another car in the pool. My dishwasher. And my double oven. So it was my double oven, my dishwasher, a car, and another car. In the swimming pool. (laughs). That’s where the dishwasher was. And you know, of course it was all mangled, and Hugh pried it open, and I got, I think I got like one saucer and one cup.  Everything else was broken.  

Oh I still do have them! That’s my pride— that’s coming with me now.  Wherever I go. But the thing— this antique thing! Not. A scratch! And Claire and Warren.  They were so happy, so happy.  She said, “You’re in our story,” she says, “You know, you’re the one in it.” 

You know, that’s a great place to store stuff if you have to leave.  If you have to leave. 

...Camille. Yeah. We lived in Algiers.  But we had a friend who had a camp in Bay St. Louis.  The day after Camille, we went to Bay St. Louis, and we saw all the destruction. You remember, Camille was tight. It was a small storm that went right into Pass Christian. Bay St. Louis was on the good side, but they still had damage, but not as much as they had in Pass Christian and Long Beach. That’s where these people stayed for the hurricane party on the beach (for Camille), at the condos. They all died. They stayed, “Oh there’s gonna be a hurricane, we’re gonna watch the hurricane come in.” They didn't’ make it.  

See, so Camille was so small and compact, where Katrina was huge and had such a wide area for Katrina. And unfortunately we were on the wrong side. New Orleans was on the right side. Cause if— God— Christopher. If that had gone twenty more miles. You wouldn’t be here. There’d be nothing here. The Westbank, there would be nothing.  Cause they had no levees. Cause you know, the politics. 

Unfortunately we were on the wrong side.  Where else would you want it to go? You know you can’t just say you want it to keep going.  You can’t.

But we did have, for insurance purposes, we had that, some weather guy, each of us had to pay fifteen hundred dollars, and there's a timeline of when things were going on. And the main thing was the wind. We wanted to see what happened wind-wise. It’s amazing what they can do, how many tornadoes were right in our area. Around our house. So a lot of the house was just torn apart by tornadoes.  Cause that’s why we didn’t find a lot of things. We didn’t find a lot. And then as that surge came in, it kept pushing pushing pushing pushing pushing pushing all the houses, pushed to the railroad tracks. The debris. Not the houses.  All that debris, just kept pushing, pushing, pushing back.  

So, I guess, I always imagine the storm surge that made all that mangled stuff.  But it was tornadoes. Lots of tornadoes.  In fact, Roger, when he went back to his house on Blue Meadow, they had to get all these engineers and all, again, the wind— the (insurance) didn’t want to pay. So you had to hire attorneys and get these experts to come in and say, “Look, this is what happened in this timeline,” cause you can get National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. You can see that. You know, the level of the water starting to rise, rise, rise. And it came up thirty-two feet. You know, that’s a telephone pole.

So when I’m sitting on my front porch looking at that telephone pole, even today, and I think about it, “Man. What was going on? What was that like?” Can you imagine that? these people that stayed. God, that must’ve been horrible. What a way. What a way to die. First of all, you could’ve— the tornadoes took everything. The tornadoes first and then... you’ve got that tidal surge and no birds.

Did yall have birds here? There was complete silence.  Everything gray. Complete silence. No leaves on the trees. Except the oak trees had leaves. They were pretty hearty. We did. We have that one-- two oak trees that survived. And Hugh had chained the swing, we had a cypress swing in the back, we had made the first year we got married, you know, not married, when we moved in the house. So he chained the swing to the oak tree and Rick’s dad built a barbecue pit. He used to work at Avondale. One of these massive things you can’t move out of steel. And Hugh chained that to the oak tree. And it was still there. Still chained. And we have the, we have the swing, which is fine. It’s an old cypress swing. Cars wrapped around the trees... Amazing. And then Elaine, again the same people, on the second floor had a big trunk: all Mardi Gras beads. Mardi Gras beads just flowing out. And she was the first house on the beach.  We found Mardi Gras beads forever. Forever.

And all the women, “Oh have you found my pearls?” “Oh have you found my jewelry?” A lot of women left their jewelry. So you’d pick up, like, a Mardi Gras bead of pearls and say, “Is this real?” Or is this Elaine’s Mardi Gras beads? And I did find John’s mother’s— like a rosary bracelet. I found the rosary bracelet. John couldn’t believe I found that.  It’s the little bitty things you found. In the mud area. In the hippy dippy days, I had a libra sign on my ring, I used to wear it for a ring. I wore it all the time, and I was just walking. I looked down. There’s this little stupid ring. One of these rings I didn’t take. I guess I had it on the vanity. And you think, “There it was. Poking out the dirt. The debris.” 

 

Every day.  I went. I finally got over myself and started picking up things. Little things.  Plates that were broken. And, I think, “Oh I gotta keep that plate.” So I did.  I started putting things in these big Rubbermaid boxes. Cleaning them off. I’d take them to the house and I’d clean them. And knives and forks and different—“Aw I gotta keep that.” So I would find little things that were broken. So after we rebuilt, I had them in the shed, and I said, “Let’s go through this stuff.” And I went through them.  And I threw it all away. There was no reason to keep that stuff. Things that were broken. Teeny little things I’d keep. There was no reason to keep it. That was— it’s gotta go.

Everybody had to do things. And I found little bocce balls. I had a bocce ball set. And the most important thing were those bocce balls. I had to have those bocce balls! (Laughs) Not even a set! And I still have those, they’re out in the yard. The little bocce balls. But that was important. Little bitty…

Now Lori Gordon is an artist in Bay St. Louis. She’s now living in Morocco. And she was doing art out of Katrina debris. And she was selling them like hotcakes. She picked up a few things. She said, “Would you mind?” I said, “Oh whatever you want, take it.” And she made collages out of different things, and a couple of times when I was at her studio, and I’d look up, and I’d go, “That’s mine. I can remember that plate.” You know? I can remember the design on that plate. But didn’t want to buy that piece of art, you know, no no no, it’s there. No Didn’t want that. Didn’t want it at all. 

 

They’re all covered. You know, I don’t open up about all of this. 

 

Because it continued on, you know... I just kept thinking, “How are we gonna rebuild?” “What are we gonna do now?” “What do we do next?” You know, you had to get it all graded, had to get more dirt put in. And Christopher. I couldn’t get sod anywhere. I plugged. I would go up to this nursery out in Kiln, and [get] St. Augustine plugs, the grass. I plugged my entire yard. Now. You think they had somebody in Hattiesburg that could’ve come down and sodded my entire house, yard. That’s my mentality. That’s my survival. I’m taking care of my little piece of earth. I plugged it! (Laughs). 

And I remember John the little neighbor down the street, and he was so cute. I loved John. And he and I would go into the debris field in the back and we would find all these duck decoys, so the people that lived on the beach were wealthy, very wealthy. The Conneries. Big attorneys. An old family in New Orleans. And they had a collection of these ducks. Antique wooden ones. So we were collecting all of this stuff and John would take it and we would put it in a secure place, and finally the Conneries would come and they would ask us did we know of anyone that found any duck decoys or guns, antique guns. So people were looking. 

And John would say, “Well Nancy and I play in the woods all the time,” cause we’d go in the woods. I mean we’d— he’d pick up a piece of board and I would crawl under it just looking for stuff. Stupid asses! 

You know that one painting. You saw that one painting. Me, your mom, and Johanne, we went up to Boulder. And we bought the art. And I bought one. The title of the painting— all greens and yellows! You know real, very modern. Horizontal. It wasn’t big. That big. And the title of the painting was A Moment to Pause. Freaky! A Moment to Pause, okay? I thought, oh that’s gone. That was upstairs. I’ll never find that again. 

Well John and I were playing in the woods. John loves to tell people that. And I thought. Does it sound right?? It doesn’t sound right!! So, you know, I’m crawling and looking, just, looking, trying to see if I could see anything. I saw this balled-up piece of orange. And it was orange. Orange, yellows. All these different colors. Could that be… Well anyway, I don’t know how I didn’t get attacked by a snake or a bear, and I pull it out. It’s my painting! All mangled. But it’s on canvas. You know. Acrylic paint. Fine. It had little holes in it and all. I can’t believe I found this painting. So I’m out dragging this with me. This is something you’re not going to get rid of. I held onto it until they opened the studio, and I went in there, and I told Charlene, said “Is there anyway I could save a painting that I found?”

And she said, “Just put it in the bathtub with water, let it sit,” cause it was all corroded with mud. It was in there for so long… So she says, “put it in there…” I did, I let it soak. And I’d go in there and I’d wash it really gently with my hands to get the mud and everything off. 

She said, “Let it dry, once it’s dry, bring it to me.” Brought it to her. What she did. She made a frame this time. Cause it was torn. She kind of distressed the frame so it looks like a painting. And it had little bitty holes in it. And I have that hanging over my fireplace. 

But A Moment to Pause. What’s your priority in life here? And I found it in the woods. 

Playin with John in the woods. Finding these decoys that these guys, you know those are worth a lot of money. And I found my nameplate from when I worked at Tulane department of surgery. It had, “Nancy G. Finlason.” One little nametag. 

 

But I mean it’s built up a lot. Coleman avenue and you know we built a new city hall, a new fire department. Brand new library. There are no businesses. No — And that’s Coleman Avenue it goes into the American Legion, all those monuments that they rededicated. And just finished— the pier’s reopened again. We had it fixed, after Katrina. It took years, and then when Isaac came, destroyed it again, and it was, what, three years ago. Remember when Louisiana sent all the nutria over for Isaac? 

 

THOUSANDS. You couldn’t go to the beach. They had all these guys in hazmat, white things, and they’re just shoveling them up. Like seaweed. That all came from the marshes. What scares me now is MRGO’s closed. We haven’t had a storm. You know, I think we’re gonna flood even more now. Cause Waveland and Lakeshore, think about that. Mmhm. Cause now they have the levees and all. Water’s gotta go somewhere if it’s coming in. And New Orleans is pretty well-secured with levees. 

 

You know who never cried, out of any of this, I didn’t see— is Hugh. Never. 

That’s very internal. He doesn’t let much out. Never saw him, if he did. He said he cried when he first got there. He told me. He did. He cried. But I never saw him. It was just. He was my, and I guess I was his emotional support also. 

 

You know, but getting back to Waveland, Bay St. Louis was a priority. You had to get back. No matter what, you had to get back. I’ve gotta get back. I don’t care if I have nothing. I gotta get back. To start over again. But a lot of people, you know, once they left, they didn’t come back. I guess they didn’t have that job to come back to, where Hugh did at Memorial. And it took forever to build the bridge over Bay St. Louis. And four young men lost their lives building that bridge for us. Everytime I go over that bridge, I say a little prayer for them. Freaky accident, you know, construction accident. But four of them. 

 

Cause Gene Taylor, we also had a ferry service from Bay St. Louis to Pass Christian, cause otherwise, you’d have to go all the way up to 607 to the interstate, interstate and come all the way back down. So we needed that connection to Pass Christian. So it’s, a lot has happened in all these years. Positive things. With the people. The people, the community coming together. That was amazing. Really amazing. No one had a status. We were all the same. We were all there buck naked together. That was it. Souls, everything, possessions, everything. We were all the same. And you see it now. It’s starting to get this [upturned noses]. Slowly but surely, oh yeah. Slowly but surely you know you see it. It’s like, “Hey! You forgot?” (Laughs) 

 

“You remember?” For Thanksgiving first Thanksgiving. MSNBC at the yacht club we went and had a bonfire. It was like minus 2 degrees it was so cold that Thanksgiving. It was like minus five. And MSNBC came out and here we are, bonfire, all of us, laughin’ and jokin’ and, yeah, kumbaya. Now this is what? Two months, three months after Katrina and this camaraderie had already formed. And we, you know, I had two gloves, Kathleen didn’t have a glove. I took my glove off and gave her a glove. You know, so that’s what happened. And MSNBC was out interviewing people, and we were like “I don’t want to talk about this, just look around, you don’t have to talk, look! You know? I’m not gonna tell you what happened. Look at it.”


 

...From there we moved from Hugh Penn’s house. Hugh sold his house so then we moved to Mark and Jenice’s house, where they wanted us to buy it... A boat had broken loose and apparently stopped everything from hitting it. It was one of these raised houses. And we stayed there and again, Hugh was going to work, and I had my three little dogs. Puppy dogs. Oh we drove back to Florida to get them six weeks later.

So we get back home and we’re at Mark and Jenice’s house and there are these dead pine trees everywhere. And when, an electrical storm, a bad thunderstorm would come by I would go down in the stairway because I was scared. I hate lightning. And I built up a phobia with my little dogs. To this day, they hear lightning, they’re shaking. Cause they saw me, next to me, when Hugh was at work I was all alone. The pine trees would fall. One of them fell, hit the wires that connected from the telephone pole, the light pole to the house. I mean, this far, from the bedroom, we were sleeping in. So I mean all these different stupid stories and things that you hear. 

 

I’m trying think of another thing that happened that was strange. So when we were at Hugh Penn’s house, the first house, they had the firemen from Washington State. All these volunteers that were coming down to cut down trees. Hugh didn’t have a fence in his backyard so we put up this little picket fence around for the doggies so they could do their business. So these guys, nice, young, men from— well, good lookin guys. Young men from Washington State. They’re over there with chainsaws and Beauregard and Belle were barking at them. He puts his hand to pet Beauregard, bit the hell out of him. So they’re with the National Guard Reserve, they go back to Stennis, I go to New Orleans the next day to get my hair cut, like, yeah we didn’t have anything there. Hugh calls me in a panic. The police are knocking at the door. They wanted to take Beauregard away because he had to prove that they had the shots and bla bla bla. Belle didn’t have her tag on her thing. So I’m in New Orleans, Hugh’s panicking, the police are here to take Beauregard away and put him in quarantine, because he bit this National Guard guy. 

And when I saw him he was all bandaged up. Well you don’t have a chainsaw in one hand and put your hand in to pet a dog! Yeah. He wanted to say, nice little doggie. You know, and (arf arf arf arf arf rar rar rar). 

So anyway, the guys are there and they’re cutting, real cute little guys. Mrs. Robinson, go home. I said, you know, we have two pine trees on our lot that are dead, I said, “Yall think yall can cut them?” Cause they had a schedule, this is what they had to do, do, do, do. And I said, If you have a chance, I live at this address, cause I had my address on a big piece of wood. I said, I’ll meet yall over there, if yall can do it, do it. And I’m driving back, and there they are, five of em. With their little, fireman outfits and it’s so freakin hot, I’m like, woah, Hugh! Come get me away from here. Hugh says, we start talking to them again. I can’t remember their names. Nice Nice young men. They were Paul Bunyans up in Washington. They were loggers. What do you call them guys up in the north country, Washington State. That was their living. But they were in the National Guard.

 He says, you put a quarter where you want your tree. And I will fell that tree. So of course. It’s a big ass pine tree, you can’t even put your arms around it. Hugh says, there. 

Eeeeeiiiiiii, pow. Exactly where the quarter was put. There were two huge pine trees that they cut. And that time, you know they were in the National Guard. So I ran up in the car, I went up to Highway 90, Rite Aid - in a trailer. And I got two cases of beer. Cold beer. I was driving like a bat out of hell. I was determined I was gonna get the beer to them before before they left. So they were still reeeeiiirrrrr, making, cutting the tree, and hacking all that, And I put the beer on the slab and I started backing up and I pointed and they saw the beer. So they all were able, before they went back to Stennis. To sit back and have a beer. And I was so thankful to them for doing that. Christopher. They were…

 

No I didn’t take any pictures! I mean here he is with his fireman thing, with the strap hanging, I said, Oh my god! good god! 

 

So there were good— There weren’t really anything bad. Nothing really bad. Other than looters. Sons of bitches. That you didn’t see. They’d come at night. or when you’re not there.

[They’d take] anything! Well, you know, I had silver that I don’t know what happened to the silver. And copper. I mean, anything, they’d pick up anything. And in fact, even when we were building the house, the guys, I called them the chain gang, building the house we were in now, they would go in the back in that field and dig up debris and metal and take it to the scrap yard and sell it. “Oh we made three hundred dollars today” by selling this, whatever that they would find. So you had that element in there. You really had that element.

 

 And that’s my story and I’m stickin to it. So we started building in two thousand and, five, six, seven, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2007, is when we started building. And then we moved in our house September 22nd, 2007. 

You couldn’t find builders or supplies to build it. You know, our house, I’m sure we paid over a hundred thousand extra because we didn't have the supplies there. There was a Lowe’s, a Home Depot there that went out of business, Lumber 84 opened, went out of business, after Katrina. But we had this local little hardware store, Hubbards on Nicholson Avenue. And Hubbards is still going today. You can walk into Hubbards and say, “I want this,” and they tell you exactly where it is. And it’s not big. But it’s an old established hardware store. But...It’s an institutional place that’s been here forever….

Hugh’s boat!... My brother, he’s a welder, he bought a trailer for Hugh, and he, David, Roger, and Hugh drove to Oklahoma and got this boat and brought it back to Lake Catherine and then they... sailed it from Lake Catherine to Bay St. Louis. 

Oh! My god. I got pictures of that. Oh, that smile from here to here. “I got a boat back, I got my boat!” And that’s why we called it Rock Bottom. Cause, you know, you lost everything, you lost, we lost our business, he lost his business, cause Hugh did non-invasive Cardiac studies, we had contracts with all these different doctors all across the coast. And we purchased all this Toshiba machinery to do echoes and your vascular studies, which were very expensive, so when we left nobody thought of equipment. It’s amazing. Nobody thought of that. 

They were in one of the doctor’s offices in Bay St. Louis. The water came down. But they were insured. You know, but the thing was you had to take photographs, you know, you had the mold growing all across the instruments and up the walls. Do you believe us now? You know? Cause you had to prove so much. For our house, an adjuster claimed he crawled under our house. And you know, fighting with him, I said, my house was under the ground, how could you crawl under my house. The adjuster that claimed this was from Hawaii. That came in. you had adjustors from all over the country that came in. Working for the insurance company. They wrote in the report, the adjustor to the insurance company, that they went under our house, the house was fine, the slab was fine. What are you? A worm? You know? You can’t get under it. You know, it’s— shysters. People taking advantage of people. There were. But then to think we had to pay an attorney 33% of what we got. Instead of 250 for flood, he got 33 percent of that. Mmhmm. 

 

He’s one of these fly-by guys that came in, too. But he was good. He did his job. He made them pay. You know, but it’s the fact that we paid premiums all these years for insurance except for the flood that I had one month, and, because the flood said, “No it was the wind.” The wind said, “Oh, no, it’s the flood.” 

 

See, the private carriers wanted the government, FEMA, the flood insurance to pay. That’s why they called state farm Snake Farm, and I had a policy with MetLife, that loss of, loss of use clause in there, that if I lost my home in a fire, that I would get 42,000, like for rent, or to live on. They wouldn’t pay me! Gotta get the attorney in. And he got 33 percent of that. And everything from my house, every invoice, I have a folder this big. I still have one. And when the attorney, opposing attorney said, “Well we want copies of the records,” and our attorney, I forgot his name, he says, “I don’t think you’re gonna want this.” 

He says, “We want it,” And he says, “Okay we’ll meet you in the office.” And he says, “No, we can’t possibly come.” It was a stack of invoices. Like, okay, my house cost me $20,000 to build, you gonna believe me or you gonna go through all these receipts? Add em up. That’s how picky picky picky picky. So make sure you have insurance. You have renters insurance? 

 

It costs like ten dollars a month! It’s cheap! Renters insurance is cheap. If somebody burglarizes your stuff, a fire. That’s what would scare me is a fire. 

 

We had a FEMA trailer. We spent one night in it. Hugh said I am not. The formaldehyde. Oh it was so strong. So strong. You know, in one night, he said I can’t. I said, if you chainsaw this, and move this, you know ,they had a table with two benches, and you couldn’t get past it, and I said, “Well cut it.” that bench, where you couldn’t get by. You know that FEMA trailer. You’re on the toilet, you just do this (moves foot) and you’re in the bathtub… IIt had that little part that popped out, a little kitchen area with a round little fake marble and the sink and the refrigerator. Two bedrooms. But she had two big dogs and a cat. 

 

And that’s when Roger had a heart attack. (Laughs) All kind of things.

He survived… It was the stress of everything that got to him also. So what they did, they put a stent in. Like me.

 

Yeah I had a little minor— problem. The stress. Yeah. Hard-headed though. Wouldn’t go to the doctor. 

Oh my god. Horrible. It was horrible. I was sleeping. I was taking a nap and all of the sudden—I felt— I thought— Hugh was mowing the grass— I was tired— So tired— Everyday: I’m tired. I’m so tired. And I was— I remember, I was taking a nap, and I woke up and it was like, Hugh hit the house with the lawn mower. And (inhales deeply) I went like this (grabs her chest), so apparently I had a chest pain and didn’t realize it in my sleep. 

Well I’m tired. I’m tired. I said, “God I can’t breathe.” I said, “I just can’t breathe.” And I got real nauseated. I started getting nauseated. And I had nitroglycerine before, I had— not big major heart problems— but I had the nitroglycerine. But Hugh gave me a nitroglycerine and I felt better. We went into the cardiologist and he did an EKG and apparently the EKG had changed dramatically. 

So he says, “Nancy you need to go to the hospital and get this thallium stress test” where they inject you with dye. And then I remembered doing it and next thing you know I hear Dr. Kreig screaming at people, about, “I can’t believe yall don’t have Dr. Rizk’s number!” (He’s a cardiologist in Gulfport.)

 And he’s screaming, and I said, “Oh God, I wonder what’s that about.” It was about me! So apparently he talked to Dr. Rizk’s nurse practitioner, and she says, “Well, oh, have her come in tomorrow. We’ll see her tomorrow.” 

Kreig’s screaming, “She’s not gonna make it!” You know, “She’s not gonna make it!” 

And then apparently he said, fine. That’s the nurse practitioner. 

So then I went home, thinking, I’m having a good night’s sleep. And Dr. Rizk - Kreig got the cardiologist - said, “You get her in there now.” So he called me and said, “You’ve got to come in to the hospital today.” So we pack up. I’m scared to death. We’re driving to the hospital. And I could feel myself. And I just feel so tired. So we get into the room, I got into the room, you know I got all the monitors on me. Christopher. It was like an elephant sat on my chest. I had a heart attack. In the bed. I was in the bed five minutes. I was out of that room, into the cath lab in a matter of, to me it was like a minute. They said, I mean, bam bam bam bam bam bam. Had me in the cath lab. Had me, they did the cath and put the stent in at the same time. 

What’s the main one? The big, big one? Ninety-nine percent blockage. Dr. Rizk told Hugh, he said, “I don’t know how your wife survived as long as she did. She should be dead.” Cause it was that blocked. 99 percent blocked. 

But if I had not been in that bed or in that car — if I had listened to the nurse practitioner who said, “Oh we’ll see her tomorrow,” without Dr. Kreig just pushing, saying “You gotta get her, Rizk, she’s gonna be dead by tomorrow.” So Kreig saw that. He saw that how rapidly that had changed. 

But I was tired. Once that nausea starts. And then you (inhales deep) you can’t breathe. It was weird. I mean it was just meant to be. I was in the right— I was in the hospital bed having a heart attack. Next thing you know, I’m in the— I want to know— and I’ll fight it, you tell me something and I’ll fight you till the end. I’m gonna make sure I’m so sedated I’m not gonna remember anything for a week. And I can remember, on the table, putting my head up, “What are you doing now?” 

And I could see Rizk, “More. Give her more.” 

Finally I was like, “Okay.” laughs. 

Woke up in recovery, and you know, they have to apply pressure to the groin where they put the catheter in, and there’s this male nurse, Wayne, and he’s just pressing, pressing, pressing, “Who are you!” “Who are you!?” Then you realize where you are, you know, “You’re in ICU.” Sheila and Wayne. Hugh told me this later. Sheila told Hugh that I never shut up the whole time. 

And she said I kept telling her that, “Please don’t let me go to sleep because I’m gonna die. If I go to sleep I’m gonna die. Cause I was afraid to close my eyes.” 

And there’s Wayne, you know, this guy, pressing on my groin, I’m like, “What are you doing?”

I remember fearing. If I went to sleep I was going to die. Because I knew, you know, going into the O.R. to have the cath, you know, it was just, they’re gonna do this, go in through the groin and up into the heart, and I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. 

Wanted to know the exact maker. I wanted to know, “Who made this stent, why am I gonna have to carry this card forever in my life, how do I not know it’s not defective?” (laughs)

 I’m sure they wanted to go (slap slap slap slap), (laughs), and there’s this lady when they’re getting ready to—- cause they shave you. And I’m like, the last thing, the last thing I can remember is her doing this with the shaver. The electric razor. “Oh fuck” Cause you knew they were coming after you. (Laughs) And then Rizk saying, “Give her more!”... 

Oh she’s back. Look at me, I’ve been yacking. I’m sorry.

 

I haven’t shut up in an hour. And I’m laughing cause some of these stories— and that’s all the effect of Katrina. Stress. The stress, you know the stress. The building the house. The attorneys, you know the fighting, and watching Hugh and having nobody here, my sister’s are are all in Texas. When I was in Gulf Shores, all alone, and my kitties. 

 

—torture me— and then, nothing, wait, remember what followed Katrina? Rita? I’m sitting there on the balcony in Gulf Shores, the WAVES coming in. And there’s Rita, you know, far out into the Gulf, heading to Texas. That was the closest, you know, you're right, I was isolated from everything and everybody. 

We went through everything. Made jokes. Funny things that I didn’t remember.

 

That was six years ago. It was a ninety-nine percent block. Cause if it hadn’t been for Kreig. He was telling Hugh he didn’t know how I was functioning. Cause I was so tired. I wasn’t getting any blood! 

 

And then they had all those people next door, Weewo’s. And the one on this side, was an elderly lady that grew up in Bay St. Louis and before the storm, she had no running water, no electricity, very very weird. Walked around with aluminum foil on her head. We lived there from October to June, and she’d knock on the door and want to talk to me. And look I already had one crazy, I didn’t need two crazies. I didn’t want another crazy.

 “Is Hugh home?”

 “No What do you want?” 

Gladys, whatever her name: “Well I have a book, and we want to let you know there’s rays coming off the power lines. Make sure yall put yalls hats on.” Walked around with the aluminum foil. Stayed there for the storm with no electricity, no water. During the storm. She lived there before with none of this. Stayed there after the storm, and that’s when those hunka hunka hunka guys were there helping her. Cut different things. They didn’t realize: That’s how she lived before! 

 

She died. This guy Ronnie Hebert of Hebert’s Air Conditioning. He bought the house. He had the original windows. You know, the wavy old old glass window panes? He redid the entire house. And I went in, I said, “Ronnie, I’ve got to see this house. I saw it as a neighbor. I’ve got to see what it looks like inside.” Well he redid all the renovations, beautiful work. And he said, “This is where she had her bowel movements and her daily constitutions.” In the bathtub. She didn’t have running water! She didn’t have anything! Anything! And at one point the city put one of those port o potties in front of her house.


 

I remember Betsy. I was in my late teens. We were on the Westbank for Betsy. And I remember my sister had just bought a piano cause she had just started working for Werlein’s, and she had it in the front room. And she got her piano, she was so proud of that piano. Susie, my oldest sister. So proud of that piano. And one of the windows blew out and here we are, trying to push this piano through into another room. Because the wind and the rain and everything was coming in.That’s when my dad, my dad was gone at that time. When he had taken off for one of his three month, six month—

Hugh was on the Aircraft Carrier America at that time. Cause remember Betsy did the loop, made the circle and came back in? They went through Betsy on an aircraft carrier. He said the waves were—

 

 We stayed for Isaac. We boarded up everything in Waveland. I have never been so terrified in my life.

[Stayed] because it was a [category] one. “Oh it’s just gonna go by.” The wind. The sound. The surf, you know, cause it was right there! And I saw the water start to creep up on Mollere drive. Cause it’s got that dip. And apparently a tree stump had come in, and it would wash in and out. Now this time it’s getting higher and higher, and I was like, “I will NEVER EVER stay for another storm.” Cause you’re blocked, everything’s boarded up. You can’t see outside. You hear the wind. You hear the surf. Cause it’s right there. I will never. Never ever ever ever. 

 

My mother’s father, my Papa, down in Cutoff, I think it was a 1902 storm, a 1900 storm, in Leeville. That’s where he grew up as a child. And he watched his sister’s hair get tangled in trees, he watched three of his sisters drown. And he was in a tree till the water receded. But they didn’t know it was coming! He didn’t have Bob Breck, or what was his name? Nash Roberts. 

Oh a bad storm coming, and you can see all the boats are coming in cause it’s a storm, but you don’t know what’s behind that storm. But three of his sisters. I remember my Papa telling us that. Watching their hair, cause they all had long hair, drowning. And he was in the trees. In the bayou. 

 

… A lot of friends said, “Oh, we’re not leaving. We were here for Camille.” It didn’t flood. Look. They were on top of their refrigerators in Bay St. Louis off of Main Street. Cause Katrina was that type of storm. 

I was telling Christopher about how I couldn’t get in touch with anybody, you know, I didn’t know where anybody was. When I got to Amelia Island, I used Colleen’s phone and I called Corrine and Gary and they were like, “Thank God we found you!” You know, to know where yall are.

 

Kezia Vida

New Orleans, LA

August 2005

 

Hector

New Orleans, LA

Recorded August 2015

BEFORE, I was doing very well.  I was working at brennans.  My wife was doing well. My sister-in-law, she sees that we are doing well, and she tells us that we need to buy a house.  We lived next to St. Anthony. In Mid City. We had an apartment, and we could see the altar from our window. It was perfect for us.  But she tells us we need to buy a house.  And my wife, finally, she says she wants to buy a house.  So that’s when we go to Elysian Fields.

During Isaac, we go to Austin.  And - are you recording this? - they steal everything from the house.  The electronics, everything, even the towels. and that is when we sold the house.  

We used to sit outside, you know on the veranda, and talk.  But the people, the homeowners, gave their property over to the renters.  And the renters, they sold the drugs and these things. They are not the same.  The neighborhood is not the same. So my wife, she said we cannot live here. If my son has children, this is not a good place for a baby.  So we decided to leave.  

 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1749 - 1842


SPIRIT SONG OVER THE WATER

THE soul of man is like water;

  From Heaven it comes,

  To Heaven it rise,

And then returns to earth,

  Forever alternating.

  Then it foams brightly,

  In cloud-waves rolling,

  Over polished rocks.

  Then tranquil flowing,

  It wanders, hiding,

Soft murmuring to depths underneath.

Over scrags from the steep projecting

Falls it all, roaring, foaming, step-like,

   Far downward.

   Then, level flowing.

 Creeps to the meadow away:

 And in the glassy sea

Gaze all the planets at their fair faces.

Wind is to wavelet tenderest lover:

Wind from the deep tears foam-crested billows.

Soul of man mortal, how you are like water!

Fate of man mortal, how you are like wind!

  • White Instagram Icon

© a paper boat project. new orleans, louisiana, 2019

 thanks for visiting <3