Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Remembering the People of the Gulf Coast

Last night I watched the National Geographic channel's decomentary Witness: Katrina. I had to turn it off before it was finished, because it was just too painful to watch. Seeing people headed into the Superdome, assuming that they would be uncomfortable but safe, was wrenching. Seeing people say, while holding a toddler by the hand, "I survived Camille so we will be fine...." made me feel almost ill.

I can hardly comprehend that five years have passed since my husband and I, watching the television coverage of events in New Orleans and the surrounding area, determined that we just had to help somehow.

We had heard that Convoy of Hope, one of our favorite relief organizations, was trying to get there, and we determined that we would hook up a trailer full of whatever we could gather and head for one of the places COV was setting up a base of operations.

My congregation collected water and medical supplies, and made shoebox packages for the boys and girls of the area. Each box contained some toiletries, something like crayons or a small toy, and each was brightly wrapped. We also had a washing machine that someone donated, and we figured that somewhere or other, there would be electricity and people who needed clean clothes.

Many phone calls and emails later, we headed for Gulfport and the First Assembly of God church there. We figured we would work in Gulfport, but plans changed after we arrived. We ended up spending our nights in Gulfport, in the ravaged but still partly usable church (and they did have electricity so got the washing machine), and travelling to what was actually the smack-dab center of Katrina's landfall, the little town of Waveland, MS. Waveland had been demolished. We saw only one home that looked like it might be habitable. Every single business was completely destroyed, except for one heavily damaged gas station that did manage to stay open.

What we saw was nearly indescriblable, and this was about two weeks after Katrina visited. I cannot even begin to fathom what the days immediately after were like. When we arrived it was still largely chaotic. I wrote a series of posts about our expereiences. If you should feel inclined to see them, and the pictures, you can click on "current events" in the sidebar, then scroll down and click "older posts" till you reach the Katrina series. I took many pictures, a few of which are posted in that series. As I said to a family member as I watched the National Geographic special, "Pictures just don't do it. Even these shots from people waiting out the storm and refusing to evacuate (!) don't do it. You can't imagine the stench, the piles of garbage, the eerie sight of orange grass and totally bare trees in 90+ degree heat and Mississippi humidity."

Sometimes I think of people we met in Waveland. I see the faces of my fellow workers, exhausted and drawn from hours of being on our feet in temperatures most of us were not accustomed to. I see the faces of children--Steven (called Bubba), the Alecia Keyes wannabe, the beautiful little blonde with the haunted eyes--and of people like the gorgeous 91 year old who sat down, exhausted and asked for ice water. I recall the nurse in a little makeshift clinic at First AG in Gulfport who almost cried when I brought her a glucometer. She was trying to help a diabetic woman, but she had no way of knowing what her blood sugar really was.

I remember the smiles and joking of doctors and nurses who were staffing a M.A.S.H. type tent in Waveland for hours on end with few supplies, the young National Guard soldiers, the two kind and very young policemen who had come to the Gulf from Ohio, FEMA volunteers who were really just ordinary citizens who had enlisted for the duration of the emergency and were trying to help with little backing.

Convoy of Hope worked in the K Mart parking lot. There was a makeshift store and a food tent. We handed out groceries, tents, clothes, "shoeboxes" to people from about six area towns. We saw some of the worst of human nature (hoarding, greed, selfishness) and some of the best.

I also was stunned by the level of invisibility and even disrespect from some church leadership there that seemed to happen just because I was female. I never wrote about it (seemed petty to write about it at the time, in the face of such misery), but it was eye-opening and disturbing. I sadly determined that I would not be leading a team there anytime soon, and I hoped that my male counterparts would do so instead.

I lost part of my heart to some of those dear, gracious, kind people who had nothing but still smiled, thanked us, and said, "God bless you people." One woman cried because I gave her a tee shirt that fit. She was pregnant, had nothing but the (filthy) clothes on her back, and it was her due date. I wonder where that baby was delivered?

I wonder about First Assembly, Waveland. It was completely destroyed by mold, and the pastor did not know who of his congregation had even survived. The Presbyterian Church was spared (a strange story indeed). Here is a bit of the story, copied from one of my blog posts from five years ago:

We stopped by to see how they [the AG pastor in Waveland] were doing, having been told that the church was a total loss. It was standing, but completely destroyed by mold and will have to be torn down. The pastor and his family are living in a little camper. The Presbyterian pastor was there too, and his beautiful, white-haired wife. The two families are good friends. The Presbyterian pastor's wife was the only woman I saw all week who had a "full face" of makeup on. Her hair was neatly combed, and she was casually but impeccably dressed. It was so unusual as to be striking....she showed us her only remaining possessions, five decorative plates that had been a present from her grandmother. She was trying to remove the remains of Katrina's mud, a sticky smelly substance that stuck fast. The AG church had some running water, so she was there using the garden hose. It was a very sad sight. Tears filled her eyes as she told us they had lost everything, but she smiled when she told us that the Presbyterian church had, miraculously, been totally spared--an amazing story. A man who was not part of their church, in fact had not darkened the door of a church for many years, was riding out the storm from somewhere near the church. He told the pastor and his wife that he watched the storm surge coming in, watched it part and go around the Presbyterian Church, and come together again as it passed!

I wonder if that pastor's wife got her plates clean?

When I got back I posted about it all, saying I'd likely never be the same. And I am not. I expressed a hope that one day I could travel to the place of horror I saw and view it in better times. I am thinking of that again, and I would love to take a trip to Waveland, Mississippi. The photogrph up above is from Waveland--my favorite of those we took. Please stop for a moment and join me in praying for the people of the Gulf Coast. Many neighborhoods in New Orleans are still ravaged, overgrown, uninhabited. Many people have lingering physical and emotional struggles because of what happened.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dorm Life Fridy Five

Yesterday Songbird returned her middle child for his second year of college and some of what she saw there got her thinking about dorm life. Here are her questions for todays RevGalBlogPals Friday Five.

) What was the hardest thing to leave behind when you went away to school for the first time?
I didn't go very far. I moved in with my sister who lived about an hour's drive away from my house. What I left behind was a comfortable bed!

2) We live in the era of helicopter parents. How much fuss did your parents make when you first left home?
None. That is because, sadly, my family was disintegrating and was in so much upheaval that me heading off to school was a minor blip. My poor dad, who was probably close to a total breakdown, was probably releived. Not happy memories.

3) Share a favorite memory of living with schoolmates, whether in a dorm or other shared housing.
I never lived in a dorm. I left school and got married, and then later both Ken and I returned at the same time so we lived in married couples housing, us and our two small children. But those were, looking back, delightful times. The kids were totally safe and all ran up and down the little street lined with mobile homes with impunity. We made wonderful friends and had good times.

4) What absolute necessity of college life in your day would seem hilariously out-of-date now?
HA! My cassette player?

5) What innovation of today do you wish had been part of your life in college? Computers. Small computers, not PCs yet, were new. No one had one. A laptop would have been heaven. And how much easier to type and produce neat papers with a computer and printer instead of our clunky typewriter!

Bonus question for those whose college days feel like a long time ago: Share a rule or regulation that will seem funny now. Did you really follow it then? Doesn't just feel like a long time ago, it WAS a long time ago. LOL! As for the regulation, NO JEANS! Imagine no denim on a campus? Yes, I followed it, or I would have been in trouble. Oh, maybe I should mention the NO PUBLIC DISPLAY of affection rule at our strict church-sponsored college. Ken and I flouted that one regularly. I mean, that even meant no hand holding. We were married, and Ken pointed that out to one prissy prof.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Little Big Foot: The Tree

Dee Anna and Phil rested in companionable silence, Phil at one end of the grey plaid sectional couch, and Dee Anna stretched out at the other end, legs swinging over the sofa’s worn arm. They had turned the lights off and were gazing with satisfaction at the glowing Christmas tree that stood in the opposite corner.

Their mother had gone to bed a couple of hours before, but neither of them had felt sleepy. Phil had tromped down to the basement and Dee Anna had heard some bumps and scrapes, along with vague exclamations from her brother. A short while later he had appeared at the top of the stairs with three large boxes stacked precariously in his arms, light strings trailing down the stairs from the top box.

“Careful!” his sister had exclaimed, rescuing the light strings, but then she had laughed.“Bro, you have dust webs in your hair.”

“You would too, if you’d been down there. I don’t think anything’s been moved in about a decade. Leastways, not judging by the cobwebs and dust.”

His loud sneeze had made Dee Anna laugh again, and she had impulsively ruffled his hair, shaking the dust into the air until she too had sneezed. Her gesture, reminding them both of days when they had been inseparable, had made Phil smile. Not long after, the two of them had dusted the boxes and removed the lids, half in expectant pleasure and half in dread. It had not been difficult to find a rhythm of working together. Phil, taking his father’s usual role, had checked the light strings and draped them over the branches while Dee Anna found hooks for the ornaments.

After they had placed everything on the branches, Phil had decided that the tree still looked bare and Dee Anna had headed for the kitchen and rummaged in the cupboards until she located a jar of popcorn. She’d popped it the way they always had, shaking a saucepan of kernels vigorously back and forth over the gas burner. She had dumped the fragrant popcorn into a large metal bowl and Phil had returned to the basement where he had found his mother’s needles and thread in a cigar box atop her long-unused Singer sewing machine.

It had taken time to make two long strings, and the conversation had flowed easily between them, dispelling the last vestiges of awkwardness. Phil had surprised himself by talking about his new A.A. friend, Sarah. He had hesitantly asked about Madeline, and this had led to Dee Anna sharing a little of her life in Madison and her sorrow at Michael’s untimely death. Phil’s eyes had grown soft, listening to his sister.

“I’m sorry, Dee Anna, so sorry.”


“I should have been in your life, should have helped you, should know my niece…you know. I’m just…just sorry, that’s all.”

Dee Anna had patted his arm, smiling reassuringly. “Oh, Phil…” she’d stopped, fighting tears. “I’m the one who is sorry. I mean where was I when you were working out west, when you were…in trouble?” She’d paused and shaken her head. “I wasn’t an angel, sweetie. I was boozing it up and acting like a fool down in Dallas. Maybe I didn’t end up in rehab…” She’d stopped, afraid she’d hurt his feelings, but he had nodded. “But Phil, I had my own stuff to deal with. Not so different, really.” She had blown her nose and continued, “Thanks to an anonymous Catholic priest and a friend who lived in Wisconsin--and thanks to my sweet Michael, God found me.”

“God never lost you, Sis.”

“Well, no.” She had smiled, “You are right. God never lost me. I just finally realized, I guess, after all my running and trying to forget this town and this house and…all of it, I guess I found out that God was still there. Still waiting.”

“Right.” Phil had nodded again, encouragingly.

“And you know what else?” A kind of joy had filled his sister’s face. “God’s calling was still there.” She paused, and shook her head, looking a little dazed. “After all the--all the crap.” she grinned,
“After all of it, God still had a place for me.”

That had led to talk of Eastside Methodist Church and then, as they had draped the popcorn strings across fragrant branches, of Little Big Foot.

“Dang it all, Phil, “ she said now, swinging her feet, “I already did the small town thing.” She gestured vaguely. “You know about that, same as me.”


“And there was no way I was gonna go back to some hick town…you know?”

“Yep. Sure do.”

“But I did. Can't say why, exactly. It's an odd place, but I think I really kind of like it. Still kind of finding out about people and stuff.” After a pause, she added, “ And I’m starting to miss them all. And Maddie, of course.” Her voice trailed off as she realized just how much she was missing her daughter. ]

“Are they being nice to you?”

“Um,” she paused. “Mostly, so far.

"Ha! Just wait till they start actin' like holy rollers!"

Dee Anna pulled a couch pillow from under her head and flung it at him. "That is so not happening!"

They both laughed. The tree lights touched their faces softly as they grew silent once more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dog Days Friday Five

I'm hosting the Rev Gals F.F. today.

Here in the snow belt state of Wisconsin we long for the first signs of spring--perhaps a crocus poking up through the snow, or a pussy willow bud popping out even beneath ice. The first appearance of robins, that most cheery little hopper of birds, causes widespread rejoicing. Spring is followed by summer, a time for home-grown tomatoes, watermelon, corn on the cob, all sorts of "fests," back yard "fry outs" (what they call a barbecue here, for some reason) and trips near and far.

I love summer, and wait anxiously for it every year. So how is it that we have arrived at the hot and humid "Dog Days" of August, and I have not done nearly enough of what I planned to do? I want to pack in as much as I can before snow flies once again.

How about you? And what is happening for those of you who are in a different hemisphere than I, and it may be cold?

1. What is the weather like where you live?
One would think we were in the southern states instead of cool Wisconsin. It has been hot and steamy for days on end, and almost constant rain. Mosquitoes are dive bombing us. People are grumpy about it. ;-)

2. Share one thing you love about this time of year.
It isn't cold. I am a California girl, born and bred, and it doesn't matter that it has been many decades since I was a "girl" nor that I have lived in Wisconsin for about 30 years (how did that happen?) I still get very cold in the winter and I still like heat. Humidity--not so much.

3. Share one thing you do NOT love about this time of year.
Did I mention mosquitos? I mean, it is very frustrating, the way we long for spring and summer and being able to go outside and then when the summer months finally arrive we can hardly go outside. Very irritating. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin consider the mosquito to be our "state bird." Not nice.

4. How will you spend the remaining days leading up to Autumn?
I am still trying to get my home office organized. The summer has not gone as planned. We do have a couple of camping trips planned, other than that it is working at home and trying to get it all done before snow flies.

5. Share a good summer memory.
Ah, I have so many. One that is vivid after nearly fifty years: Heading down beautiful Malibu Canyon towards the Pacific Ocean in my late sister Darlaine's little red convertable. We were singing at the top of our voices along with the radio, a bag of Italian meatball sandwiches was in the back, and we were anticipating a day of sun, sand and surf. I will never stop missing her.

Bonus: What food says SUMMER to you?
Watermelon, corn on the cob, tomatoes from the garden, oh, just one?