Sunday, September 03, 2006

photo by Virginia Hart
JD & Sanny:

My first afternoon in Pearlington I didn't know which way to go as I took off from the Pearlington Clinic with my van hastily loaded with "stuff that needs to get out to the people who are too sick, too old and too depressed to get in here"... So I just started driving and stopped whenever I saw people. It was hot, humid and smelly and yet they were picking through the remnants of their lives or resting in tents on driveways that used to lead to homes. No gloves, no masks and no cold water in sight. I had put my gatorade for "lunch" along with most of the stuff that would actually feed a family of 4 in my cooler and I started handing it out. I would plan better tomorrow... but for the first day, I mostly just talked to the people.

I would ask "do you need anything" and the reply was most always "oh no missy, someone down the road surely needs it more than I do". But, they were quick to add, be sure an check on s0-an-so he has a bad heart. Or he has been feeling poorly. But never yes I need, give me whatever you can. One of the people I was asked to check on was Mr. JD.

Mr. JD, it was said, had a bad heart. In fact he had bypass surgery just a year or so ago and had lost everything. Well I found him. A large black lab barked a greeting, his name was Buddy and he had survived the hurricane by sitting on top of a van - at least that is where he was when they came back.

When I first met Mr. JD and Sanny they were sitting at a picnic table, under a canopy with a tent behind him. That was home. It was set-up on his neighbors concrete drive, they were gone and not coming back. When I asked Mr. JD what I could give him he said - nothing. I got all I need and I'm sure you'll find someone who needs it more than me.

Well I sat and talked with him for a little while. He had evacuated to Stennis. They wouldn't take pets so he had left his two dogs behind and taken only what they could carry. But he said he felt good, and didn't need nothing. We talked awhile longer, about his job as a boat captain. A paddleboat I believe. He had even traveled up into my neck of the woods on the Ohio river. He sent Sanny into the tent to search for a plate they had salvaged that had a picture of a boat like he had captained. His eyes lit up when he talked about that boat, and his life on the river.

As I got up to leave, he said there was one thing I could do for him "get rid of that over there". He pointed to the house that used to be his home. It had risen off the foundation, been held by the trees and drowned. "I can handle all of it but looking at that everyday just takes it all out of me" "my little dog drowned in that". He told me about how that little chihuahua used to come running when he rode up on his motorcycle. A Harley. How he had even put a box on that bike for the dog to ride. "they wouldn't let me take her, said no pets allowed" "she was just a little thing, not more than a couple of pounds" "and when I got there somebody had two great big dogs with him" "they told me that it was okay because he worked there" "there was room for my baby - she wasn't no bigger than a minute..."

Then he told me about the bike. It seems that the Harley had been his friends, a good friend who had died. He had stored that bike in his garage. Keeping it safe for the widow. And then one Sunday she told him to go on and take it out for a ride. Sanny hopped on and off they went, to the ocean. While riding along the beach his son called him on the cell "How did you like that ride out dad?" he said "well I liked it just fine" then his son said "you are going to like the ride home even more because I bought that bike for you - Happy Father's Day and I love you".

The bike, like the house has been beaten by the storm and so I fear has JD. He walked me around the house, pointing out the antique dining room table that had been in the family for years and had been a sore subject. "At least Katrina did that, ain't nobody fighting over that table anymore" As we walked around that house words spilled out of him like the water after it had ruined their house. He was pale, and shaky and I don't think he had told his story to anyone yet. When I asked again, before I left I could get him anything, he again declined.
"Just come back and see us again, and if you have any troubles while you are down here you come see me and I'll do what I can" It took several visits before they would accept anything other than my friendship, and they always kept a bottle of cold water ready to offer me.

The day I left was a good day for them - October 21st almost two months after the storm, they finally got their FEMA trailer. Out of the tents and into the camper, still camping with no end in sight.

I just returned from my third visit and they are still in that FEMA trailer. JD has managed to get that Harley going, and he and Sanny go for long rides out where they can pretend life is normal - before heading home to the box.

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