I sit and watch, waiting to see if Gustav makes landfall near my hometown.
Cousins, aunts, my mother... all at 'high' ground, for what it's worth. Everyone waiting....those who left early, those forced to leave, those in cars driving for hours to go a few miles as they opened up I-10 and I-55 to go one way... out of the City.
I've ridden out a few major hurricanes as a child. Hilda I don't remember. Betsy, yeah, I remember her full on fury. Camille... not as wide as Katrina, hit hard, hit small. Each of them left behind ruined houses, ruined lives.
When you are a kid, a hurricane is almost fun... we'd ride our bikes, raincoats held open to catch the strengthening winds. It meant your parents were home from work, and you did silly things, like fill up the bathtub, pile up ice, have batteries and candles and we got to sleep in the hallway of our 800 sq ft house. All six of us... blankets and pillows and a transistor radio.
No one evacuated, you stayed with your house, you rode out the storm... levees held back then, and we simply waited until it was said and done, then, went on with our lives.
We played games outside, as parents struggled to put up plywood over the big picture windows, over sliding glass doors. An air of excitement ran though us... no concept of what a hurricane could do, just picking up the energy of our parents, who stood in groups, smoking and drinking a beer, keeping an eye on the clouds. They start to swirl a bit... the wind is stiffer, rain starts to fall... by then, we are hunkered down, already in petty fights over who gets what blanket and oh, no! Someone left their bike outside! You hear the wind slam it against the house, and it's gone.
The rain moves in a horizontal fashion, surreal in it's beauty. We leave a window cracked, so the air pressure won't cause problems inside. We are limited to our water intake, and consume all the snacks we want, it's like a party.
The eye hits... we dash out, to compare stories with the Boudreau and Hecker families... the kids stretch and dash about, running off steam. Windows and boards are checked, a fast inventory of what damage is done so far... birds start to chirp again, in the blue sky of the eye. The wind starts up, we drag our dogs back inside, give a cheery wave and retreat into our separate homes to wait out the other side.
I am sent to check on a window in the back of the house, where my grandmother's room is... it looks out onto my favourite tree, an elm I've read in since I can remember. As I stand there, looking... mesmerised, the wind rips it up, tips it towards the house where I'm standing, unable to move. At the last minute, a gust grabs it, flips it the other way, and I run back to the safety of the hallway, of my family.
The parents continue to smoke, we fall asleep to the sound of rain and wind and murmured prayers.
In the morning, the damage is done, trees, cars, roofs... we sit on a roof of newly constructed, and now critically damaged, homes... watching the sky for tornadoes. One is spotted dropping down, and we all yell with excitement. It is far from us, still, with the flatness of the area, we can see it hit a house. We are jumping up and down on the roof... in the mad dash back to tell parents, I slip off the boards we set down on the deep mud, sinking up to my waist.... I'm pulled out, all of us laughing about the enviroment, how our woods are changed, the mud, the stink, the wonder.
I find out later my aunt and uncle had to be evacuated.... pulling out four children and my uncle's mother floating on boards and a baby mattress--wading waist deep to reach rescue boats. I was overwhelmed with their adventure, not thinking of what they'd gone through.
Two of those same cousins lost almost everything in Katrina. They just rebuilt, and my cousin in law, Leslie, says if Gustav hits, she's not going back to see what is left. She is one of those who stayed in a hospital, saving whomever she could... while they waited for help that was so damn long in coming.
That house near the lake withstood Betsy and Camille....my Aunt moved across the Lake, and then, Katrina removed most of that neighborhood.... where a group of children used to run, yelling and playing games, is now filled with FEMA trailers and old dreams.
I don't know how things will go... if the storm hits west of the City, the surge can still go up 20 feet.. the levees may not hold. If it hits, well, I'm not sure New Orleans will survive.
I'm keeping an eye on Lance, too... he's down in Mississippi rebuilding thanks to Katrina... he took a two year sabbatical, he left his family behind, and came down in a little trailer, to do what he could to help. This is after he brought in food and water and clothing a few weeks after Katrina.
Cross fingers, say prayers, hope Gustav dies before he hits... the mess on top of the mess I saw there just in May, well.... we'll need a ton of people like Lance.
Selfless, concerned, caring for people he'd never known before. Be careful, my friend... stay safe.
You are indeed, my hero.
photo of Lance from okayfinedammit.com