(Thoughts Evoked by the Hurricane Katrina experience.)
Oh what a beautiful week it was leading up to the “storm”. The weather was magnanimously Gorgeous. Extremely low humidity and only slightly warm! Life for me was an all-time HIGH! The business was good. My music career, moving along! Packed items were in the attic and guest/office room for my move back to California.
Mom’s home was perfectly renovated and the new kitchen items were going to be installed after I had left so, my moving was timed great! I could feel the urgency after a slow, barely attended rehearsal on Thursday and a performance to honor the great Fats Domino who lived in my neighborhood. Friday’s formal dance was well attended as we all felt as if we may not see each other for some time. Weeks we all thought. Who could have imagined!
I packed all the things I could think of on Saturday after returning from my last event and the “gas up”. People were uneasy! Many did not know what to do. My personal secretary told me she could not leave as her bull mastiff (dog) would not be able to be taken to a hotel or the Superdome. She had an SUV. I told her to take her husband, the dog and get the hell out!! Her dog died in her duplex and they ended up at the dome. As for my pooch and suv; we always leave!
Mom and I had a best girlfriend and she had a daughter my age. Her husband sang in the choir with me at church. I told her the same. Her husband, one son, daughter and she stayed home. All three of their vehicles so far under water eventually they could not see the tops. She had TWO vans. she called me as the water began to rush in as she tried to close the front door. They eventually went upstairs to keep dry in her son’s apartment above the garage. The horror of the noise in the background as things in the house fell apart and wind banged on her shutters was enough to keep me awake all through the storm. We checked in every 30 minutes so as to not run down cell batteries on her end. No time to collect those chargers in the rushing water. We said goodbye each time we hung up as if it would be our last. She is an artist and my muse when I get lost. What would I do without her and her supportive daughter? They waded out of the house on the third day and hitched a ride with a friend who had a car. The four of them PLUS the girl, her daughter and Mother who was WEEKS out from having transplant surgery would eventually pile into the little subcompact and leave the city. The mother was also rationing her drugs for days before they drove out a week later. My friend and family slept on her porch until they did. She told me she really wished she had listen to me. With Three Drivers in the family and three vehicles; the amount of people and memories she could have saved is heartbreaking! For we should ALL Leave!
I kept hoping that it would take a turn for our better, slowly get smaller; it was not going to happen! I had just come back from San Antonio to celebrate the Spurs Championship and did NOT want to travel again. Travel was the only option because, we always Leave!!
My oldest brother is a Louisiana State Trooper and calls me to give me the inside scoop on when traffic is best to keep the drive less tedious. That Sunday Morning, I dreaded picking up the phone! He simply stated “It’s Time”! I sighed as I usually did and woke up the house. There would be Mom, my little pooch Heather, my mom’s sister Gloria and my younger brother’s ex. Yes, I took his ex-wife with us to Texas this trip. My brother is remarried and running himself from his newly built home in Gautier, Mississippi. Her three sisters and brother were going to leave her in her house to fend for herself along with the fact that she has MS (multiple sclerosis) and could not swim. Even though we were no longer a part of her life for the most part; I could not leave her behind.
Everyone was allowed one suitcase and an overnight bag. As many photo albums as you like or any other memories you could squeeze in as we packed the night before. That morning as we drove out of the driveway I jumped out to key lock the front walk and driveway estate gates as to try to keep out or not make so “easy” the obvious looters that will appear before we return. (Our water line was eleven feet and our driveway elevated to three feet only…, there would be little to nothing left to loot!) While doing so I saw several groups of children playing and riding bicycles. I asked them when would their family be leaving? They simply said we aren’t going anywhere. Or, “we have boats and supplies”. “We are going to protect our and the neighborhood’s properties.” As I drove away I saw many doing just that. Lingering! There were so many bodies found around my block that they were still pulling them out months later as the cleaning crew we hired were removing and gutting our home. Every year I think of one man and his sister who were both disabled. They had a home a few blocks from us that they inherited from their parents. What disability and retirement did not pay for; they knew that they only had to come to our gate or ring the bell and I would see to it that we, our friends, or the church would take care of it. To this day, I do not know what happened to them. I did not see them home that day as I passed their corner. I can only hope and pray that they chose To Leave! I would have GLADLY shoved Heather into my or my mom’s lap for the nine-hour drive, as we have great connections and they would have had all that they needed to survive.
My oldest brother was the last person I saw that morning as we sat in light traffic on the I-10. He always directs traffic as a corner below in the city of Metaire by the airport. I beep my horn. He waves. I wave. After the work is done, he and his wife and their kids and spouses All Leave.
I took my friend’s calls in private so as to not worry my mom all through the ordeal. My sister awakened my mother that Sunday to let her know that everything is gone. My oldest brother sent a video tape weeks later as he and his son were one of the first let into our area. She laid there quietly and wept as I imagined she did those 38 years ago when hurricane Betsy took her first home. Dad refused to leave that time. I was not born until the next year or so but, my sister and brother reminds me of the Coast Guard’s rescue every once in a while. I played my stubborn dad’s role once. ONCE! My next paragraph explains why I only did it once and why we ALWAYS LEAVE!
This storm a year before Katrina was a Cat 2 and a joke. My sister made sure that I would fly or drive in to take care of mom and I did. We did the usual. We tied down lawn furniture and put away delicate breakable objects in the attics and utility sheds. We stocked up on water, canned goods and put emergency items near the escape areas in case of rising water. (This includes an escape hatch so as to not become stuck in a hot, oxygen deprived attic.) It came. I watched as our tall pine tree’s tip bent over and almost touched the ground. Shocked at the force, all I could do is listen to the radio (as cable was out) and wait for it to end. The “eye” of the storm passed over and the most beautiful blue sky showed itself. Mom being “mom” sent me out to secure a piece of gardening items that were loose. I figured at this point okay…, not so bad. Wrong Again. I watched as a few drops of rain started again. Time to head inside. To my amazement, it was raining horizontally and the sting was almost unbearable. I thought to myself. Are you Kidding Me?! My brother always told me that “the backside of the storm is always the worse! Mom mother ended up in a closet. I stayed lying on a sofa to keep up with imminent danger. Finally, it was over. We had trees all over the driveway, streets and lawns. We went a week in humidity, high temps, no power and misery. The prima donna in me started to come out by day three as I sit in a lawn chair outside because the house is too hot. Still no stores. No phones. I felt TOTALLY detached from the rest of the world. My cellphone and sun tanning kept me sane. THIS is WHY… WE ALWAYS LEAVE!
My mom now has a new smaller retirement home in San Antonio out in the countryside suburb. It is close to my sister’s ranch and the grand kids. When I am working or playing, which I tend to do often, she is close to family. She is safe from hurricanes. I am free from the “flee” of evacuation.
At times, being away from friends, career and losing my french château that I grew up in and was mine hurts deeply. I went from second home to “homeless” in an instant! I looked forward to my permanent move back to Los Angeles. All those items were lost. My company barely survived. Also, I miss the singing side career and struggle at times to find the motivation to do it fully again. I’m working on that! I miss not having every photo album, painting, sports card collection, couture clothing and such. Some of that can be replaced. All those lives lost! THAT can’t be replaced!! All the friendships severed or strained; weighs on me heavily at times. Sure, I’ve made new ones. Yes, I will start spending more time in places other than Texas but, I am now bound to visit a little more these days. When I work from New Orleans, I live with my Dad and Step-Mom. I can hardly even drive down the street of my old home. It has been given to a distant family member who has no home and they will remodel it. We were blessed as I handled most of my moms insurance and she has an investment representative and retirement accounts. We had interior and exterior wind, flood and contents coverage. The insurance companies tried to nickel and dime us as they did many others but, thanks to those pictures and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank; we prevailed!
I have one MAJOR heart wrenching loss that is very hard for me. The fact that I no longer have a baby picture is Brutal! My dad says he will look through his photo albums that he was given from his mom. There is still Hope! When I speak of travel, high school, college or the marine corp; it is slightly weird when I want to reach for an album or trinket. I’ll think about music or sports and say “oh, I have that”…, then think and say “uhmmm, no I don’t”! (Adding at times: “That “B” Katrina took it!!!) Laughter has made a great deal of it more bearable!
Our family was blessed in many ways as we had a family ranch to run to. My sister’s formal living was home to family and distant relatives and many others did the same. It made for Great Family dinners. Large!! We took turns cooking, cleaning and giving each other Space. I went to work at a local college where my sister was the Dean. When I had more, I gladly shared with others. I volunteer as often as I can when disaster strikes! I know first hand all about the suffering and decisions!! I try to NEVER leave my fate totally in the hands of other entities. I believe in doing as much for myself as I physically and mentally can. That is why everyone should be preemptive…
AND Thank God…,
We Leave Everytime!!!
(This is my brief summation. There are many more details and situations that affected our lives. Feel free to comment or even ask a question and I will do my best to reply.)