Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Reverend - Lead me

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.
Benny's story - the shortened version...

A link to the "For Benny" video, as well as Benny's story can be seen on my video page. Many people have asked about him. Our initial encounter was emotional. It has been almost a year and I still cry when I think about it.

I've got your back Benny....and I know you have mine. Love you always.
I did an interview with our local newspaper, 3 weeks before my last trip to the Gulf Coast. It appeared the day before I left..
photo by Virginia Hart

Let me tell you about my boys.. My new friends that quickly became good friends. The guy on the left is Kizer, also known as Black and the blonde is Nathanial. We are standing in front of what used to be Nathanial's house. Katrina did some remodeling, as you can see and like everyone else in Pearlington - the boys lost everything.

I met the boys while I was looking for their grandmother Miss Elsie. Miss Elsie is a diabetic and since the storm she had been without a glucometer so I was going to check on her and to give her some medical supplies. As I walked up to her FEMA trailer (one of the few in town at that time) I heard some little voices yelling "she ain't home". Looking over I saw the boys in the back of a red pickup truck. They were getting a rope. I asked when she would be home and the one I would come to know as Nat told me that I had to talk to his Daddy. So I did. Nat's parents are Wendy and Joseph (aka Ticker - but pronounced Tigger!)

Ticker told me that Miss Elsie was doing ok and that she had managed to get a ride to the store. As we talked I noticed the boys yelling and carrying on in the woods near the house. When I asked Ticker what they were doing he said they were "roping Hawgs". As you can imagine that just tickled me to no end and I had to ask "so, are ya catching any?" "Oh yes Mam!!" was the rapid response. This of course led to another must be answered question... "what do you do with 'em when you catch them?" They both answered "we wrastle 'em!". "This I got to see" I said, and that was it. My fate was sealed. Those boys were determined to catch me a hawg to wrastle before I left Mississippi.

I stopped a visited with Nathanial everyday. He was always outside, amusing himself with rocks, ropes, trees and snakes. Most things that little boys enjoyed. His mom told me that he went off in the woods everyday, I thought he was playing and sometimes he was, but mostly he was looking. Nat and his family had evacuated prior to the storm, but they couldn't take their animals including two horses that were Nathanials pride and joy. And every day, Nat would go out looking for those horses. He still looks. That little guy had lost everything. Everyone in Pearlington had, but for the kids it was especially hard. They wanted to go to school, but their school was gone. No television, no game-boys, no board games - everything except some ruined bits of nature and their imagination, all gone. I would play with him for a short while everyday. There was so much work to be done that a little while was all I could manage, but it was important. He needed to know he was important. He needed to be a kid and to have a grown-up let him just be an ordinary kid and see things from his point of view.

One day we went off in search of the "hawgs" that were real close, too close to wait for a better day. I still had on my scrubs, but we went off into the swamp. I learned the difference between a bog and a wallow and how to tell if a track was fresh, and that a very large hoof meant a very large hog was nearby. After half an hour of traipsing through the woods I told him that I would have to turn back for the day as I still had work to do. I was informed that I was making a mistake, and Nat knew this because "it's still fresh" (the hog poop he squished in his fingers). In fact there was a tunnel through the underbrush that the hog had probably just gone through! But, I had work to do. I did make a promise that I would spend my last afternoon in Pearlington with Nathanial and his friends and we would wrastle a hog.

The last day came sooner than I wanted. It was so hard to know that I was leaving and while I had been absent from my life for 3 weeks, I didn't feel like I was done in Mississippi. But on that last day Nathanial and Donovan his cousin were waiting for me. Nat said that the hog was just down the road - and I could even ride his new bicycle! Well his new bicycle was an old bike that had been rescued from someones debris pile. It had two flat tires and the seat was bent. I told him he could ride and I would run along beside. We got to the area were the hog was and those boys were ready. There was a small dirt road with thick underbrush and woods around it. And what do you do with two boys in the woods?... you go over trees, crawl under brush, climb over piles of debris, etc... for a good fifteen minutes. But it was worth it, there she was, sleeping under a canapy of low branches. She yawned and the boys giggled and I thought oh my God I'm looking at the jaws of Satan. Its mouth was huge! Thankfully, as we were 4 foot away, it went back to sleep. However, as you may recall that wasn't the plan. We weren't to merely watch the hog sleep. "We'll poke her in the butt and wake her up and she'll run and you can wrastle her", was the grand plan. I told them to at least let me get into a cleared place where I could run, before they woke her up. "Ok" said Nat, "but be sure and get a big stick and if that hawg tries to bite you club it!" "she could take your arm off". So I went to the road, and got a big stick, and waited. After much rustling of the brush, giggles from the boys and loud snorts it emerged from the brush - and took off. With the three of us hot on its short, curly tail.

I didn't get to "wrastle a hawg", because I couldn't catch it. But I don't feel too bad about that because they couldn't either. But we had an excellent adventure. For a little while they were just kids, on a grand adventure and it was good to be able to give them that. Time was all I had to give.

I've been back twice, and both times I have "played" with Nathanial and the other children. Once Ticker even had to haul us out of the swamp with a four-wheeler. We were in it up to our waists, but having a blast. Guess I didn't think about the snakes..

Nat has a special place in my heart. He just turned 10 and he is all boy. He likes to hunt, to help feed the family (when he has bullets), in fact he got his first deer when he was six. A Mr. Gene Butterfield, a contractor out of Virginia (someone will correct me if I am wrong) is building them a new house. The kids are back in school and Nat has braces, and a girlfriend. But he still looks for those horses. I want to give him a horse. If anyone has a nice horse for a great kid I will pick it up and deliver it!

A Song of November (Chanson de Novembre)