“Are you planning on writing anything about Katrina?” My friend Missy posed the question to me during one of our quasi-regular coffee dates two weeks ago. The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up on August 29, and my social media timelines are saturated with links to articles from both local and national news outlets.
I have mixed emotions about “K10”. I acknowledge the importance of commemorating the struggle, the lives lost, the frustrations felt (no matter if you stayed in town or high tailed it out of here), but I find rehashing the experience on a yearly basis exhausting.
I’ve shared snippets of my Katrina story with everyone from friends to total strangers, but I’m not ready to write my entire experience down yet. Instead, I’ll share an excerpt from Allons, a longer essay I wrote this summer. The piece is about growing up in a house that was situated on the cusp of the swamp in an otherwise nondescript WestBank subdivision. This particular part of the essay explores what it was like going through adolescence with the constant threat of hurricanes. If you enjoy it, or even if you hate it, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.
I was eight weeks old when I took my first pirogue ride. The levee was just a glorified dirt mound then, and a storm brought enough rain to flood our house, requiring my parents to bundle me up and float us out. The levee was still inadequate when my brother was born two years later. Whenever Nash Roberts would announce a hurricane was coming, neighbors would join together to fortify the levee with hundreds of sandbags, most likely purchased with their own money. The Army Corps of Engineers finally built the levee up and installed a pumping station that would suck the water out of the streets. However, the levees could only do so much. Whenever Nash predicted a really big hurricane was projected to make landfall, we got the hell out of town. If Nash said it was bad, then it must be bad. Everyone trusted Nash.
My sister was born seven years after my inaugural boat ride and by then me and my brother were evacuation pros. We could each take three toys with us, but no more. Mom would bring photo albums and important documents, such as our birth certificates, to my maternal grandparent’s house, since their house never flooded. Dad would board up the windows with sheets of plywood, which protected the glass panes and blocked light from coming in. We put all of our furniture up on wooden blocks, as if those extra two inches would make a big difference if significant flooding occurred. Anything that could get ruined would go on top of beds, dressers, and closet shelves. I would put my most prized possessions at the highest points, which forced me to assign value to everything I owned. Sometimes I thought about the worst case scenario, imagining our house filled to the roof like an aquarium. I imagined Sac-au-Lait and Redfish doing circles around the wooden dollhouse my paternal paw paw built me. I never worried about my own well being, but worried about my precious belongings, like what would happen to my microscope or my roller skates. Mom and Dad took care of the bigger things that my adolescent mind couldn’t quite comprehend, such as personal safety in the midst of a natural disaster. We also stocked up on canned goods and filled the bathtubs with water just in case water sources became contaminated after the storm. We never needed the water, but once every few years we would have to live without power for a few days and subsist on canned beans and PB&J sandwiches.