Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Rhett



I should be calling you.


I should be singing that stupid little song. The one you used to sing to me in that big brother way that made me want to cry.

Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
You look like a monkey
And smell like one too.

I should be meeting you for dinner at La Casa.

I should be bringing you a funny, silly card that took me a whole 10 minutes to pick out. And some goofy Saints paraphernalia for a gift.

You should be getting sticky kisses from your grandchildren.

Instead, I lit a candle for you in my church. I'm talking to you in my head. And I'm sitting here missing you.

I'm wondering what you would look like. Would you have any of your hair left? Would your skinny little butt finally have showed its true DNA and started packing on the pounds like the rest of us?

I'm wondering what you would be doing. I know you wouldn't be working for that stupid company that almost killed you by itself, because they went out of business a long time ago.

I know you would be kicking all of our asses at Wii bowling. And I know you would have been first in line for Guitar Hero, then Rock Band so you could play the drums. 

And I know you would have LOVED the new Saints.

And I know you would have loved my pool.

I hate not having a big brother any more. Mom would have been able to call you when the storm broke all of her trees. And you would be able to help me help her move.

Instead, I'm missing you. Wishing you had left five minutes earlier. Or five minutes later. Or a day later. Wishing you had just buckled your damn seat belt. Wishing you were still here with us.

Wishing I could wish you Happy Birthday for real.

Lo


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Listen ...

Can you hear it?

It's called normalcy.

The Shell Norco refinery is roaring.  And the generator that has been keeping my backdoor neighbors cool for the past five days is not.

And my couch is empty (until I go lie on it).

And we're all checking the computer models. Again.

Hurricane Checklist

Thanks to my niece, Lena for this.... I stole it from her Myspace page.....

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If you're new to the area, you're probably wondering what you need to do to prepare for the possibility that we'll get hit by 'the big one.


” Based on our experiences, we recommend that you follow this simple three-step hurricane preparedness plan:

STEP 1. Buy enough food and bottled water to last your family for at least three days.


STEP 2. Put these supplies into your car.


STEP 3. Drive to Nebraska and remain there until Thanksgiving.


Unfortunately, statistics show that most people will not follow this sensible plan. Most people will foolishly stay here in Louisiana .


Therefore, we'll start with one of the most important hurricane preparedness items:

HOMEOWNERS' INSURANCE:
If you own a home, you must have hurricane insurance. Fortunately, this insurance is cheap and easy to get, as long as your home meets two basic requirements: (1) It is reasonably well-built, and (2) It is located in Nebraska .


Unfortunately, if your home is located in Louisiana or any other area that might actually be hit by a hurricane, most insurance companies would prefer not to sell you hurricane insurance, because then they might be required to pay YOU money, and that is certainly not why they got into the insurance business in the first place.


So you'll have to scrounge around for an insurance company, which will charge you an annual premium roughly equal to the replacement value of your house.


At any moment, this company can drop you like used dental floss. Since Hurricane Andrew, I have had an estimated 27 differenthome-insurance companies. This week, I'm covered by the Bob and Big Stan Insurance Company, under a policy which states that, in addition to my premium, Bob and Big Stan are entitled, on demand, to my kidneys.


SHUTTERS:
Your house should have hurricane shutters on all the windows, all the doors, and -- if it's a major hurricane -- all the toilets.


There are several types of shutters, with advantages and disadvantages:

Plywood shutters: The advantage is that, because you make them yourself, they're cheap. The disadvantage is that, because you make them yourself, they will fall off.


Sheet-metal shutters: The advantage is that these work well, once you get them all up. The disadvantage is that once you get them all up, your hands will be useless bleeding stumps, and it will be December.


Roll-down shutters: The advantages are that they're very easy to use, and will definitely protect your house. The disadvantage is that you will have to sell your house to pay for them.


'Hurricane-proof'' windows: These are the newest wrinkle in hurricane protection: They look like ordinary windows, but they can withstand hurricane winds! You can be sure of this, because the salesman says so. He lives in Nebraska .


'Hurricane Proofing Your Property: As the hurricane approaches, check your yard for movable objects like barbecue grills, planters, patio furniture, visiting relatives, etc. You should, as a precaution, throw these items into your swimming pool (if you don't have a swimming pool, you should have one built immediately). Otherwise, the hurricane winds will turn these objects into deadly missiles.


EVACUATION ROUTE:
If you live in a low-lying area, you should have an evacuation route planned out. (To determine whether you live in a low-lying area, look at your driver's license; if it says ' Louisiana ' you live in a low-lying area.) The purpose of having an evacuation route is to avoid being trapped in your home when a major storm hits. Instead, you will be trapped in a gigantic traffic jam several miles from your home, along with two hundred thousand other evacuees. So, as a bonus, you will not be lonely.


HURRICANE SUPPLIES:
If you don't evacuate, you will need a mess of supplies. Do not buy them now! Louisiana tradition requires that you wait until the last possible minute, then go to the supermarket and get into vicious fights with strangers over who gets the last can of SPAM.


In addition to food and water, you will need the following supplies:
· 23 flashlights.


· At least $167 worth of batteries that turn out, when the power goes out, to be the wrong size for the flashlights.


· Bleach. (No, I don't know what the bleach is for. NOBODY knows what the bleach is for.


But it's traditional, so GET some!)
· A 55-gallon drum of underarm deodorant.


A big knife that you can strap to your leg (This will be useless in a hurricane, but it looks cool.
)

· A large quantity of raw chicken, to placate the alligators. (Ask anybody who went through A hurricane; after the hurricane, there WILL be irate alligators.

)

· $35,000 in cash or diamonds so that, after the hurricane passes, you can buy a generator from a man with no discernible teeth.


Of course these are just basic precautions. As the hurricane draws near, it is vitally important that you keep abreast of the situation by turning on your television and watching TV reporters in rain slickers stand right next to the Gulf and tell you over and over how vitally important it is for everybody to stay away from the Gulf.



Good luck and remember: It's great living in paradise! Those of you who aren't here yet, you should come.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Gustav, meet Katrina

This was supposed to run in Tuesday's edition of The Times-Picayune, to coincide with the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Obviously, other news bumped it.

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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.

 

 

 



 

Gustav and After

Post-Gustav. Day  ??? .. What day is it, anyway?

It's Thursday. That makes it Day 3.

My first full day at home. My first day of semi-normalcy. And I am so thankful for the little things.

I slept in my own bed last night, with my own pillow, in my own room, curled up next to my husband.  I still woke up at 5 a.m. Several times I woke up thinking I was still in Christian's room in Natchitoches. I hope that gets better.

My dog, Lollee, was so tired she didn't even get up this morning when Marty did. Nor when I did. I guess dogs are allowed to sleep in once in a while

We're still pretty much the only house around with all the modern conveniences.  Our pool is still gross, but Ryan came today to begin the process. They vacuumed a ton of leaves and branches out. It has gone from "Long Island Iced Tea" to the drink I saw on the menu at Chili's the other night.. Kinda greenish, brownish.

Mom, Lou, Marti Marie, Daniel and Rebecca spent the night last night . I offered a spot to Lora's friend Paige's mom.
Today Marty and I spent the day inviting people to our house for dinner. Only a handful showed up, so now we have 20 pounds of red beans in our freezer.

I did work today, trying to call coaches to find out where they are and how they're doing. And I wrote my first Sunday column of the season. Had no trouble finding a subject.

Mom is still without power. Lou and Marti will go home to Houma tomorrow to see for themselves how things are. Kevin is there running things with generators. It could be weeks before they have power.

It's going to be a long couple of weeks for all of us.

And if there is a silver lining.....

Everyone in Norco has the same complaint. You can't see the stars at night because of the bright lights of the plants that surround us. Tonight we can. Let us enjoy that while we can.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I have the Power!!!

Sometimes we wonder whether it's good to have an old house.

Today, it's good.

Our house, the first brick house in Norco, once belonged to the dentist for Shell Oil Co. Now it's ours. We're thinking those old boys at Shell musta taken care of old Doc Almerico. Cause we got home today and we have power, AC, Internet, Cable TV. Only our block. .. Y'all, the butter didn't even melt in my fridge.... The ice cream did.

It's good to be home. Especially after a hurricane.

There are lots of trees down in our yard. My banana trees took a beating. And the ginger. And the calla lillies. And I'm pretty sure we're going to cut down that young pecan tree that drops nuts in our pool all the time.

And that pool is a really, really ugly shade of brown.

We lost some facia on one side of the house.

And Lora Leigh's little play house needs a new roof.

Oh. And one small, old window in our bedroom upstairs broke. It was already broken. It kinda fell out.

The next door neighbor's metal awning came down. The guy behind us is on a generator. We can hear it.

We are soooo lucky.



So my mom and my sister-in-law and a niece are here. And my stepson and his girlfriend. We cooked spaghetti and meatballs and shared stories. Now they're trying to catch up on all the news they've missed the last couple of days.

And, while I've got everyone's attention (if anyone's), I'd like to say this:

Thanks for NOLA.com, and the St. Charles Parish folks who put up a blog to keep us all up to date. Greg Champagne, you rock. So do you, Pat Yoes. Thanks to Brett Duke for driving by my house and calling me to tell me it was OK. And to Ralph Deroche for doing the same -- and for unplugging the Polaris.

Thanks to Daniel for cleaning up my yard before I got home.

And thanks to all those electric company guys from North Carolina and Virginia and all parts in between for coming down here to help us get power back up and running. And all those military guys we saw headed this way while we were heading out of town.

And, especially, thanks to you Courtney for choosing to go to school in Natchitoches and for letting us take over your apartment and your life -- again.

There's no place like home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hurrication

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.

Lo