On Sunday, February 18, 2008, I had a photo session. My photographer, Randy, lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His mother lives in Chalmette, St. Bernard Parish, and that is where we had my photo session – in her newly rebuilt house (because I live closer to Chalmette than to Baton Rouge). St. Bernard Parish was one of the hardest hit places in the New Orleans area. Hurricane Katrina delivered a monster blow to to the parish, inundating it with water from three sides. The whole parish drowned under water.
In driving to Chalmette, I was still stunned by the devastation. Clearly, there is a rebuilding effort but only 30% of the parish’s residents have returned. That leaves 70% of the parish still as it was after Katrina hit. For every house that is rebuilt, there are six houses that are deserted or razed. This is the house directly across the street from Randy’s mom’s house.
On my way home, I decided to stop in the 9th ward. This is the kind of devastation that still exists today, nearly two and a half years after Katrina pounded her angry fist on the Gulf Coast.
My former seamstress, Michelle, lived on the corner of Dorgenois and Flood Streets, right by the Industrial Canal, where the levees breached.
How ironic, to live on “Flood” Street. Just after I moved back, I checked Michelle’s house. It was, of course, completely devastated. I checked to see if there was a phone number or some way I could contact Michelle. Nothing. I often wondered what happened to Michelle and her family. This time when I stopped at her house, all that was left was a slab with overgrown weeds.
But miraculously, there was a “FOR SALE BY OWNER” sign on the fence. On it was Michelle’s name and phone numbers. I called her immediately and she answered!! I hadn’t talked to her since before Katrina. It was an overwhelming mixture of emotions to hear her voice – sadness that she had lost everything, relief that I had found her, and abundant joy knowing that she and her family were okay.
I believe that we have angels working in our midst. Michelle told me this, “Dianne, one of the few things that survived Katrina was your Jambalaya CD because it was in our truck when we evacuated. My granddaughters listen to it so much, they know the whole CD by heart. They especially love the ‘Sweet Potato’ story.” That brought tears to my eyes. Michelle also told me that one of the granddaughter’s teachers has the CD so the class could learn about Louisiana. Michelle, her husband, one of her daughters, and two of her grandchildren ended up in Virginia.
Just before Katrina, Michelle sewed ten new costumes for me. To think, Michelle apologized to me because “Katrina got your dresses.” Of course, I don’t care about the dresses! What I care about is that Michelle and her family got out of New Orleans and ended up safe. She said that generosity abounded in Virginia and that she is happy with her life there. I am happy that she still sees the promise in each new day and that hope continues to thrive. I told her I would send new CDs for her grandchildren.
I never expected that Sunday would be such a miraculous day. I found Michelle and learned that I have been with her and her family all along. There really are angels in our midst.