This weekend, a “non-Georgia” piece for readers as a headline. This explanation may be unnecessary. Katrina is a big story but generally That’s Just Peachy tries to stick with just Georgia-centric stories, particularly in that top spot. This weekend however, I thought it worth taking a moment and highlighting a little bit extra. My wife is from New Orleans. My best friend from college is from there and lives there now. I have been going there on a semi-regular basis for 15 years. It is a wonderful town with more charm than any other American city and it’s really not even close. The music, the food, the “sense of place” that some folks in Atlanta are so desperate for. I can’t spend too much time writing this so I won’t really do it justice but trust me. I could relate several stories coming out of Katrina that are personal to me, or my wife especially, but I’ll just do one.
A few months after the hurricane, people were getting the chance to try to rebuild things and some of the people who had been evacuated, particularly the elderly, were finally getting to come back home. My friend, the now-lawyer, wanted to try and find a way to volunteer and asked if I and another friend wanted to join him, I said sure. He contacted a few different groups to try and see where we could help. We got a couple different things to do while we were there but one of them was to help at the house of a little lady named Ms. Peters. She had been evacuated and had only recently been able to come back. In the time she was gone, a neighborhood guy, probably 40-ish, nice enough but an occasional crack-smoker and, thus, kind of crazy, had been watching over her house and living there. There were trash bags piled in her kitchen and the place was just generally a mess. Anyways, another elderly couple who had been evacuated to Oklahoma or wherever who had not yet returned worked out something with the charity to live at her house when they came back in town. The husband however was in a wheel chair. We were supposed to build a ramp for them so they could get in and out of Ms. Peters’ house.
One problem. None of us are carpenters per se and her property definitely did not have space for an ADA-approved wheelchair ramp. But we were going to do the best we could. We went to the very busy Home Depot and got wood and supplies and spent the next few days working on that ramp and helping her with other things around the house. We would spend all day with her. We took her to lunch and brought her food at other times. She was a cute, little old lady and was a real New Orleanian. They don’t make too many like her anymore. She had such a great attitude and was so nice and funny. She told us about the neighborhood and all the places she liked to go. The same places she’d been going to for decades. All she knew was New Orleans really. And all she knew when she got back from being evacuated was a wrecked neighborhood and this crackhead guy who was a total nut but who had helped her somewhat as her home was still standing and not looted. We finished the ramp and a railing on her front stairs and some other things and had to go on to the next thing which was handing out food in St. Bernard’s Parish which had been totally obliterated.
In the end, they didn’t even end up using that wheelchair ramp. The ramp was likely too steep (there just wasn’t room in her tiny little backyard for the grade needed) and the house likely too cramped to move a wheelchair around in. Who knows why they didn’t come. But it didn’t really matter. For a few days, we were able to hang out with and provide a little laughter into a pretty grim period for a little lady who didn’t have much else. I don’t know what happened to Ms. Peters’ after that. We didn’t have her contact info. This was before I knew the city like I do now and I don’t really remember where we were. We used a map. This was before everyone had a cell phones. I’d like to track her down but it’s not that easy. I think of her fairly often though. Whether or not she ever thinks of us or even remembers us, I like to think we brightened her days just a little bit.
This was us:
If you hear a story come on the news about Katrina (or see one on your favorite website * wink wink*), it can be easy to just click ahead thinking you’re tired of hearing about it or have heard everything about it. I encourage you though to pause for a second and think about what it would be like if the entire city of Atlanta were emptied. The actual City of Atlanta is comparable in size to the size of pre-Katrina New Orleans. Imagine if Buckhead and Reynoldstown were empty. And then imagine most of it was flooded. The Varsity had 10 feet of water in it. Souper Jenny’s had a car slam into it during the flooding and was mostly gone. Every house in Garden Hills had 6 feet of toxic sludge inside it and they all had to be completely rehabbed and were in unlivable.
That’s a little bit what it would have been like. With that in mind, read the stories, watch the news and maybe get a little better understanding.