Friday, April 15, 2011

Shark, Sausage Biscuits and Storage Bins

For the past two days a friend I don't get to see very often has been staying with us. 

Despite time and distance, he's still one of my heroes.

We've had so much fun reminiscing about the week the boys and I lived at his house.

With no power. 

A natural gas leak

And 15 other roommates in 100 degree temperatures post Hurricane Rita. 

We were living in Beaumont at the time. At only 40 miles away from the coast, with Hurricane Rita barreling through the Gulf of Mexico in September 2005, we knew city officials were going to call for an evacuation. That was a given. The only question was: where do we go?

Rita was expected to hit the Corpus Christi area far west of us, which made going east a great idea. 

So the boys and I fueled up the car (the day BEFORE the evacuation was called when people sat parked in their cars on IH-10) and headed east to DeRidder, Louisiana. 

I'll be honest. I DID NOT WANT TO GO.

You see, Brian had arranged for us to stay with David and Susan Broussard in DeRidder. I'd only met them ONCE and here I was barging into their home with two toddlers, an air mattress, a case of diapers and the two boxes of valuables that couldn't be lost if our home in Beaumont was destroyed.

They were relative strangers. 

We arrived at the Broussard home in DeRidder Wednesday before the storm hit Thursday night. And let me tell you, David, Susan and their two boys were only "strangers" for about 5 minutes. They are probably the most warm and welcoming people I know. Full of energy and life, David and Susan are "good peoples."

Wednesday night was a blast. Susan made spaghetti, we tracked the storm on the Internet, watched movies and talked until wee hours. Their son gave up his room to the boys and I and bunked with his brother. 

Thursday was a little more tense. The storm, tracked to hit Corpus, had swung to the east, making a beeline for the Galveston area, less than an hour from where we lived. Brian had stayed back in Beaumont, of course, as the managing editor of the Beaumont Enterprise.
By the time a suggested evacuation of Beauregard Parish, where DeRidder is located, was called, there was no where to go and no time to get there. We were going to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm. 

As the storm swung east, the Broussard's relatives in Port Arthur and in the coastal parishes of Louisiana evacuated, heading for Hotel Broussard in DeRidder. I don't know how many people ended up staying with David and Susan that week. Maybe it wasn't 15. But it sure was close. And they welcomed everyone with open arms and found a room or floor space for them.

Ironically, that afternoon, a pickup truck with a drunk driver hit a utility pole near the Broussard home and we lost  power HOURS earlier than we would have had the storm knocked out lines and electricity. It was funny at the time; little did we know power wouldn't be restored for weeks.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and in retrospect, heading East probably wasn't such a good idea. The storm tracked right up over Beaumont and headed right over DeRidder. Luckily, DeRidder was far enough inland that the storm was "only" a Category One by the time it passed over us in the early morning hours of Friday morning. 

We'd gone to bed that night in the upstairs bedroom of the Broussard's historic home, listening to the winds picking up outside and rattling the windows. The boys (Curt was 3, Luke had JUST turned 2),  fell asleep immediately. There was no way I was closing my eyes. Around midnight David and Susan tapped on the door. It was time to move downstairs to an interior room.

There we all were, huddled on blankets, chairs and couches in the living room. Somehow, most of the others slept as David, Susan and I sat quietly, staring at each other wide-eyed as the winds and rain ripped through the city. Somehow, Luke stayed sound asleep (as he did three years later when we rode out Hurricane Ike in our Sour Lake home). Curt woke up, but was largely unperturbed by the percussion of falling trees, snapping limbs and the rattle of the doors and windows under the dangerous winds.

When the rain eased and daylight limped out from behind storm clouds, we emerged, a bit shell shocked, to survey the damage. Mercifully, the house was largely untouched. Trees were down everywhere. The yard looked like a jungle of tangled power lines, fallen trees, limbs strewn everywhere and littered with blown branches and foliage from other yards.

But what this post is really about is the aftermath of the storm. I know it took me long enough to get here but you had to understand the events leading up to those days post-Rita.

But after Rita, there was no power.

No hot water.

Cell phone service was out.

Land lines had toppled. We had no communication with anyone outside DeRidder.
A gas main had somehow been compromised behind the Broussard home, so there was a natural gas leak.

It was 100 degrees that September in 2005 with probably 90 percent humidity. The mosquitoes swarmed. The National Guard rolled into town.

David worked hard in the yard to start the clean-up. Susan mothered all the refugees. I remember wandering aimlessly and should have done more to  help the clean up efforts.

A neighbor who was leaving the area to try to find a hotel room somewhere within a 12 hour drive with power brought over a cooler filled with the contents of his freezer, which would be rotten by the time he returned.

We opened the cooler. It was filled with shark meat. 

David and Susan, always up for a party and always rolling with whatever life throws their way immediately fired up the grill. None of us had eaten shark before. I wasn't going to try it, to be honest. But food was food and that was the day's offering. I don't know what David did to that shark, but it was seasoned and grilled to perfection and absolutely delicious.

Of course nothing in town was open. You lived off the resources you had available when the storm struck.

We had a cooler of by what was then warmish beer stashed in David and Susan's upstairs closet. We shared warm Shiner in their sweltering upstairs bedroom and didn't share with our other 15 roommates....shhhhhh.....

By day three or four, we were all pretty cranky, stressed out, bug-bitten, tired and the close quarters were wearing on everyone. But David, his father and his brother got up in practically the middle of the night and used precious gas resources to drive to Alexandria, Louisiana, which was over an hour away. Alexandria wasn't hit as hard and was rumored to even have POWER. They brought back ice, which was a hot commodity during that time, filled gas tanks and, by the time we were waking up that morning, greeted everyone with a McDonald's sausage biscuit. I can't even tell you. HOW. GOOD. THAT. BISCUIT. TASTED. And it wasn't that we hadn't been eating well; we certainly were grilling everything we could possibly put over a flame, but that biscuit represented our only contact with the "outside" world since the storm. With modern convenience and civilization! Spirits soared that morning.

With our bellies full, our loads shouldered seemed lightened somehow. Since the heat was overwhelming, Susan filled plastic storage bins with water, put them in the shade of the front porch and my babies stripped down to their diapers and "swam" in the cool water of the bins. Bliss.

Finally, when it was time for the boys and I to drive several hours to Shreveport to catch a plane "home" to my parents' house in Virginia, the Broussards got up in the middle of the night again to drive several hours to lead us to the main road, knowing I was (and still am) directionally challenged and would never find my way to the interstate myself. 

There were plenty of other bloggable moments during that week, but certainly the shark, sausage biscuits and storage bins stand out in my mind. David and I were laughing about that last night, visiting on our back porch, before going inside to our air conditioned house to enjoy our meal.

It really was the little things that week but the BIG thing was the size of David and Susan's hearts.

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