July 19, 1928 - December 6, 2008
He is already sorely missed.
Click to read more: Pappy
It took us a long time to find my husband’s parents’ driveway.
It looked pretty much the same as it always had, with its unique half-moon added onto the left to allow for an extra car to park. It’s just that it’s hard to single out any one driveway in a row of many that no longer lead to a house. As many a Katrina victim can tell you, all the lots look the same these days.
We did eventually pick it out, then spent a few more minutes debating whether this was really it or not. This was after we had spent several minutes going up and down Waveland’s nameless streets trying to find it.
Our doubts were wiped out quickly, however, as we made our way up the walk to where the front door had been. The red terra cotta tile was still on the ground where the foyer used to be. And so was the linoleum tile. And then we noticed that we could still see the outlines of all of the walls that used to be there, like a weird life-sized architechtural model. That was the dining room. That was the kitchen. This is where my husband used to lie on the floor for his post-turkey nap.
That’s about when my 7-year-old daughter, who still is traumatized by visions of the “big red storm” on our TV screens, asked what in the heck we were doing here on this block of cement among the tall grass, under the blazing sun. My husband turned to her gently and said, “This was Grandma and Pappy’s house.”
An outline is all that is left of the last home owned by Valsin and Jane Luquet, native New Orleanians, who had retired a half a block from the Gulf of Mexico after living, working and raising three sons in California and Illinois. One son remained in California, another moved to Texas. The youngest, my husband Marty, is a high school teacher and coach in Destrehan. When Val’s job with American Cyanamid ended in North Carolina in the early 1990s, they decided to be near him and the grandchildren.
They, and we, all consider the Mississippi Gulf Coast to be a second home. This is where Jane and Val spent summers at Camp Onward in the middle of Bay St. Louis. Later, my parents bought the house that once served as its chapel. This is where Marty would take his children on his weekend visits after his first marriage ended. This is where our daughter, Lora Leigh, first met the beach.
While Marty was growing up in California and Illinois, I was spending nearly every summer on the beach in Biloxi, swimming, playing in the sand and going to the amusement park with the big green dinosaur out front. My grandfather’s sister had inherited the family’s summer home in Biloxi, a lovely victorian just half a block off the beach. Once upon a time there had been a little family-owned hotel that fronted the beach in front of her house. It had little individual cottages and a swimming pool, so we would stay there and walk to Nannie’s house, named “Heartsease.” It – and Nannie -- survived Camille. The hotel did not.
It was just days after that other storm that our family made its way past the huge piles of debris and the hundreds of steps going to nowhere to see for ourselves that Nannie was all right. She had ridden out Camille in her church in downtown Biloxi. Upon her return home, the telephone was ringing – with my grandfather on the other end. Being all of 7 myself back then, I was thrilled to see that the big green dinosaur had survived – even if the bumper cars had not.
To the Luquet family, Camille was just another hurricane that hit close to their hometown while they were living the life in California. They had no pictures in their heads of the beautiful mansions that had been washed away, the broken oak trees, the crumbled roads or the tugboat that landed next to the beach road and was converted into a souvenir shop. I’ve had them my whole life.
Being New Orleans natives, they certainly were hurricane wary. When Ivan threatened in 2003 we survived 13 hours together in the car to Houston – and another 12 back. And when Katrina headed in, they headed out again, on their own, to a relative’s house in Kiln.
It was three days before Marty and I, from our haven in Natchitoches, learned that they were alive thanks to a slew of Internet message board postings. A week later, they moved into my spare bedroom with everything they still possessed in one plastic shopping bag. They stayed for a year.
A few weeks after Katrina they went home to see what was left of their lives. My mother-in-law came back with a plastic tub full of sandy treasures – a Christmas ornament, a plaque from their wall, a piece of china. There have been a few more trips back, mostly quick drive-bys just to check the progress of things, to see how the grass is growing.
This week, as we all mark the third anniversary of Katrina, they will move the few possessions they have reaccumulated to yet another relative’s house, in Kenner, to live out what remains of their golden years, far away from the beach in Waveland.
Just recently, my father-in-law got a nice grant from Mississippi’s version of the Road Home. Being the man he is, Val wrote a note back to the Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississipi, thanking him for having such a program. Val explained that, being in their 70s now, it’s just impossible for them to rebuild, but that the family still owns two lots. Maybe, someday, someone in our family will move back there and rebuild.
Maybe someday, someone will. If we can find them.
So, we dodged a bullet. Again.
Our house is fine. No flood. No wind damage. The pool is said to be filled with trees. That's no surprise. And we'll be without power for a week. Or more. So they say. Our phone line also was knocked out.
So we sit here in Natchitoches, debating whether we want to stay here and enjoy little luxuries like cable TV and air conditioning and a cold refrigerator, or go home to sweltering heat, a smelly refrigerator, no grocery stores or gas. And no Internet. For a week or more.
Hmmmm. Tough one.
We've become slugs here. We spent all day Monday in our pajamas, flipping channels, looking for news. Lora Leigh spent the day on her sister's computer, happily chatting away with her friends on Miley World. Today we got dressed and ventured out for a while in the rain. I was surprised to see all the tree limbs on the ground. I never heard a thing.
Jim Cantore picked the right spot, apparently. He did his live remotes from just outside St. Francis de Sales Church in Houma, the big one in town, and excitedly reported as the roof peeled away throughout the day. That's where my grandparents' funerals were. And my Baccalaureate Mass.
He could have gone to Lena's house. Her shed is gone. Clayton's truck bed cover flew away too.
Kevin, Samantha and baby Job rode it out at Lou's house in Lisa Park. They are reported to be fine. Lou lost some fence.
Baton Rouge got hammered too. I talked to my sister, Jo Lee. She said it was bad. "Real bad." I think I detected some fear in her voice. Over on the other side of town, my mom, my sister-in-law, two nieces, a niece-in-law, a nephew-in-law and two grand-nieces have a hole in the roof and stories to tell.
I think we chose the right place to ride out Gustav. We didn't get rain until late Monday. Lost power for about 20 minutes last night -- not even long enough for the beer to get hot. We did have a little trouble finding food today as the entire town of Natchitoches lost power for a couple of hours. It's back now. We went to Chili's tonight. They were serving a limited menu. It wasn't very good.
And we weren't the only refugees there. In fact, there was a little family there with a baby boy. According to his mom's personalized diaper bag, his name was Gustavo...
This is hard, you know. This evacuation thing. It's hard enough leaving everything you own to the mercy of Mother Nature. It's just as hard knowing when to goback. The parish will allow folks to go home tomorrow, knowing not everyone has a kid in college somewhere. Lots of people are doling out lots of money for hotel rooms and meals. We have lots of canned soup and Little Debbies.
But, we also have cable TV. And we see Hanna on the horizon. And Ike coming up behind. And Josephine forming off the coast of Africa......
Save our spots, Courtney. We might need them.. Maybe we'll just leave our suitcases here. We'll move out when you move out.
Here we go again!
It's a familiar refrain among the people in my family, in my town, in the bottom of my state.
With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on us, we're all saying, "Here we go again." Literally.
After much debate, much angst, much thought and many changes of plan, Marty, Lora Leigh and I, plus the two super poodles, are in Natchitoches, hunkering down with Courtney in her college town apartment. It's the same thing we did three years ago when a bitch named Katrina headed our way -- only, that apartment was a lot more crowded and on the third floor. Courtney only has one roomie now, and she has politely gotten herself out of our way. I'm not sure if that's for our benefit or for hers.
This was our first plan all along, to come here. But then a lot of people started to plan to come here -- Courtney's mom and stepdad and stepbrother and sister-in-law and nephew and brother and his girlfriend, not to mention Marty's parents. So, we started to rethink.
Then MY sister offered us the use of a big old vacant house in Baton Rouge. We jumped on that. We could just camp out for a couple of days on the floor.
Then Gustav headed right for Baton Rouge. And he started to weaken. So, for a fleeting moment, we decided to hunker down in Norco. I went to the grocery store and carbed up. Then Gustav got bigger and redder out in the Gulf of Mexico.
So, we thought we'd go to Lee and Regina's in Slidell.
But Gustav got bigger and redder.
So, here we are in Natchitoches. We left Norco at 9:41 a.m. Me, with every outfit I've worn in the past 10 days, Lora's baby books, scrapbooks, school memory books, four boxes of old pictures, my wedding album, all of my sentimental jewelry, the French family silver, all of the family videos and my hard drive. WE also took the Wii and the Playstation2 so Lora and Courtney can challenge each other for as long as we have power.
It was a surprisingly smooth ride. We took Hwy 61 (Airline) through Gonzales and Prairieville, where it gota little sticky because Ascension Parish refused to put deputies on the intersections, and Baton Rouge, which had slightly higher than normal traffic. Then we turned on 71 north through Bunkie, to Alexandria. After a little more traffic at the Interstate, it was smooth sailing. We got here after 2 p.m.
Of course, the intersection at Natchitoches and I-49 was jam-packed with refugees, looking to fill their tummies and their tanks.
My mother, my sister-in-law, two nieces, a nephew-in-law, a grand niece, an ex-brother-in-law and his wife and, I believe, her daughter, son-in-law and child, are hunkered down with a nephew, his wife and child in Baton Rouge. Oh, there's a poodle and a chiuaua there too.
Marty's mother and father, meanwhile, the ones who evacuated Waveland, Mississippi for Kiln, Mississippi for Katrina, and lost everything they owned, are staying put in Kenner.
Daniel and Rebecca went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It's raining where they are now.
So, here we are. High and dry. The sun is shining here at 6:55 p.m. There's a gentle breeze. The WEather Channel is locked and loaded and they're talking about my home town. In fact, Jim Cantore is in Houma. And there is a tornado warning at home.
All we can do is pray that we have a home to go home to when this is all over.
It was six years ago today ....
In a courthouse in Hahnville, Judge Emile St. Pierre declared that this gorgeous, beautiful, funny, precious gift from God -- and from her mother -- would be ours forever. We signed papers, we took pictures, we laughed and we cried. Then we came home and celebrated as a family.
There is a young sapling in my backyard, a Japanese Magnolia that just turned from pink to green. That day our family planted it in its spot, surrounded it and offered up our prayers of thanks that this child managed to find her way to us.
Instead of gifts, I asked everyone to write on a piece of paper a wish or a message for Lora to read someday. We read them all and put them in a box. Someday Lora can sit under her tree and read them. I hope then she realizes just how loved and wanted she was on that day and this one.
After so many false starts, and too many false promises, the LSWA finally broke ground on its long-awaited Sports Hall of Fame Museum on Thursday. It should be open in 2010 -- which is about the time I am due to become the president.
You can see it here: (you may have to cut and paste). I'm in the blue sweater. Click Play.