August 29, 2005
Hurricane Katrina.....It's all over the news today.
And those who went through the storm are looking back.
I watched the eyewall of the storm (the most dangerous part of a hurricane) that day as it crossed over our house. The trees crashed down all around and were even uprooted from the ground--the sound of the cracking and shredding of those beautiful creations of nature still stays with me.
My elderly mother and I endured the weeks without electrical power while we slept on the floor of the screen porch because it was the only place where there was even the slightest bit of coolness at night. It was so very dark that I remember being awoken in the middle of the night by bright lights high in the sky--it turned out that those were the stars.
Everyone I talked to later said that there was at least one day during recovery that they just wanted to die. We had no running water, so the day I wanted to give up was when I realized I was the filthiest I had ever been and I hadn't been able to wash properly for nine days. My mother rescued me by putting gallons of water in the trunk of the car to heat up in the sun, and then she washed my hair. My mother's very bad day came when she became overwhelmed by the realization of just how much damage there was to repair. She was so upset that she couldn't even stand up. I rescued her by making her a tiny little quilt-hanging that had button bees on it--just watching me sew calmed her heart and perked her up. It was the small stuff that brought everyone back to a sense of themselves.
While I helped a friend at a local shop in the months afterward, I listened to so many terrible stories about the storm. I heard so much anger (nearly all of it from New Orleans residents). And I heard some humor, too (nearly all of that from fellow Mississippians).
But the memory that haunts me most from that time has little to do with Katrina. There was a family who visited the shop. They came to town to help with clean up and rebuilding. While the father was discussing business with some men outside, I talked to the gentle mother and her pretty, polite little daughter who never said a word but stood smiling quietly wearing a soft lavendar cardigan. They were Amish, and they came to us from Nickel Mines. I have so often thought of them and wondered about the safety of that child, in the light of the terrible and needless tragedy their community faced the following year.
I could tell a whole lot of storm stories but I won't. Most of the awful things I've heard deserve a quiet death. Old folks used to call that "graveyard talk." That's when there are some things it is just too painful to share and that need to be put to rest.
I really don't talk much about Hurricane Katrina at all. Those of us who went through it have talked enough amongst ourselves. And if you mention Katrina to an outsider, they tend to assume you're from New Orleans and then they tend to say some very ugly things about the behavior of those people, so it has become impossible to say "I was here during Katrina, and I rode out the storm."
Today I want to say that I am proud to be a Mississippian. Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (That stuff that happened in New Orleans was largely a man-made problem.) Even though the news doesn't mention us at all, even though all the celebrations and the presidential visits and all the other media outlets mention only New Orleans, even though the Weather Channel refused to acknowledge our existence (it appears that we are the "land mass between New Orleans and Mobile"), we endured. We didn't fuss and fume. We got on with it, and we did our best. We are due a little respect. We are survivors, too.
August 29, 2005
I was there.