If not for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I am pretty sure there would be no such thing as the Roaming Parkers.
I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe in a woman’s intuition, and wholeheartedly believe in miracles. This is a part of my Katrina story.
In 2005 the Magnolia Parkers had three small sons and were living in a cozy, convenient, very affordable house on Highway 51. This historic house was a few blocks from Nanna and ten minutes from Parker grandparents and Pat’s work. Both of us were employed, and we had started making plans to buy land and build in the northern part of the county, in a more desirable school district.
God laughs when we make plans!
My intuition was extremely strong/loud/powerful regarding the safety of my family during the weekend as Katrina approached. I refused to stay in that house in Magnolia; instead we waited out the storm at my little school office in McComb, conveniently located across the street from the fire station, on a grid with major businesses and the hospital. It was a one-story structure built in the 1950’s. Strong. We listened to my intuition and I was right.
We lost our house in Katrina, to trees. One car received tree damage, but because all insurance claims on cars associated with Katrina were flood related, we had some challenging paperwork in proving it was not water damage and still sell-able. We shared a car because we could not afford a second vehicle.
Today, as I faced Throw-back Thursday, I pulled out the album with our Katrina pictures. As a photographer, it goes without saying that I am a “visual” person. The days of Katrina and afterward, however, for me and my family – it was not about taking pictures and recording. I wanted to get through it and re-secure a safe place for my young sons. I shot only one roll of film, so here it is. (This was before cell phones had cameras – we may have had the tech, but those phones were expensive or low quality.)
I did not want to “see” what else was going on in other places. I was living it. I was hearing the horror stories coming out of New Orleans. The Magnolia Parkers were in survival mode, like so many others.
My house was bisected by two trees. We salvaged what we could, but lost most of our sons’ bedding and toys, as well as family heirlooms and antique furniture we’d been collecting. My kitchen had separated from the main house. One tall armoire held up the roof in the living room. We lost most of our Christmas decorations and ornaments.
Katrina hit during love bug season. The hurricane wiped them out, and it was years before these pesky fliers returned in the droves and black clouds we’re used to seeing.
The hummingbirds migrated through this area in huge numbers right after Katrina. My mom didn’t have electricity restored at her home for weeks, so she sat outside and watched them. It was too hot inside without AC (plus the residual smell from lost groceries in the fridge stank); we’d sit on the front porch, listen to the radio and watch the sweet little birds fight over the nectar.
As time passed, we put the pieces back together. We closed on a house less than a month after Katrina, because we didn’t want to live in a FEMA trailer. We were blessed because our employment was not disrupted, even though we went months without furniture. We even helped box supplies for displaced hurricane survivors (I mean, we were displaced too, but only about a mile).
We stood in line for supplies. We waited in line for gas. We received a Red Cross check, and it made a huge difference for my family.
When it was time to be evaluated for government housing, we met the man in the ruin of what used to be our house. He was surprised that we’d already moved into a new place, and would not need a FEMA trailer. He lifted his face from his paperwork in surprise and said, “Really? You don’t need any help with living quarters?” Really.
Later, for our date nights, Pat and I would drive to the bookstore in Hammond, LA – about as close as I would get to the Katrina zone. For so long there were racks and displays of picture books, magazines, and print media, but I did not open them, I could not look.
It was three years before I returned to NOLA, even though this city is only a little over an hour from my hometown of Magnolia. That trip was for my kids, an educational outing to the WWII Museum. It was still devastating to see the pockets of decay, the flood lines on buildings, and the spray paint on houses. More than a decade later, did you know there are still neighborhoods with dwellings that have the X’s on the walls, from the emergency responders who searched dwellings for the living and the dead? I noticed several on our first Roaming Parker outing, the first weekend in July of this year.
A few years ago I watched the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Nowhere in the description did it mention it was framed in the telling of an elderly woman, who is trapped in a nursing home as Katrina approached. I was half-way through the movie myself before I realized, and it was too late – I was too into it to stop watching. It made me physically ill, but I made it through the movie. I was glad I watched it alone.
This morning, I opened the photo album. My students and I prayed for Texas and the Harvey victims before we started class. It was only a year ago that we spent time in Denham Springs helping a family demo their home, days after the flood waters receded. I reminded them of the smell. The mountains of mess, road after road. The heat, the mildew, the loss.
If it had not been for Katrina, we likely would have built a big house, limited our family size, and would have sons enrolled in the public school system. We would be anchored to a 30 or 40 year mortgage, living the “American Dream,” driving luxury cars and wearing name-brand labels. Mired in debt, fat on gluten, drinking from disposable bottles of water…. nah, maybe not!
Because of Katrina, the course of our lives changed. We live simply, humbly, homeschool, and have vast amounts of survival skills, but not a lot of material possessions. We look forward to the day, just a few years from now, that we can walk away from it all. Wow, genuine gratitude from a national disaster! Miracles are real.
Now Irma is coming. My mother has a bad feeling – her intuition is telling her it is going to be bad. I shared these Katrina images with my students, and we talked about Denham Springs, and Harvey. We discussed what we would all need to do over the weekend, in the event that Irma turns our way.
My mom showed me the weather info as I was writing this, during my lunch break. There are no coincidences. We will “Be Prepared” for Irma.
Thank you for reading my story, if you made it this far – it is likely the most I have ever, and will ever, share about our Katrina experience.
Elise Parker 8/31/2017