I arose early on Monday morning, September 5, 2005, to meet my friends Amos and Russell as we attempted to tackle the roof, or keep the roof from tackling us. We all showed up at my Dad’s house with chain saws, gloves, rakes, and some food. Fortunately, my Dad had several sheets of plywood in the garage and roofing material, such as felt, shingle, tar, roofing nails, etc. This was really amazing. This stuff had just collected over the years for no apparent reason, but now it would be used to save the house. It’s almost as if God had allowed my Dad to keep all this stuff at his house for such a time as this. Yet another example of God’s Providence.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at time. That’s how we went after the trees on the roof. Russell was the main one operating the chain saw. He kept cutting limbs and trunks of the trees. Amos and I kept pulling the cut parts of the tree off and throwing them down. Little by little, we made headway. We just kept cutting back, and after a couple of hours, we had cleared the roof of the trees! It was quite a feat, because we had to keep from falling through the broken down roof as we worked. The good thing about it was that we were able to be together. It was great being with those guys, even in the midst of a miserable situation. We worked together well, respected one another immensely, and were able to joke and laugh while we worked. It was blazing hot on that roof, but there is no place else I would have rather been.
At one point, Amos made an interesting observation. We were standing on the roof working and we were able to get a good view of the neighborhood. Every yard was cleaned out, cut, and raked. My Dad’s yard was a mess. He was disabled and couldn’t do much for himself. But, the real issue was that no one had offfered to come over and help him. No one had come by to ask how he was. Everyone just took care of themselves and left everyone else alone. I got pretty angry when I saw this, but it has really spoken to me of the selfishness and loneliness of suburbia. Picayune is a small town, but it still has the feel of the suburbs. People know others, but are still isolated. They don’t really know their neighbors well. Each one looks out for themselves. It was a shameful view, but as I looked at Amos and Russell, I thanked God for true friends.
Russell’s father, Don, came by before lunch to inspect our work and to help out. We ate lunch together and then started covering the wholes with the plywood. We cut the plywood to size with chainsaws (not perfect, but all we had), and we began to patch the holes. There were beams broken in the roof, and we had to brace those as well. We just kept covering, cutting, nailing, and fixing all day. We applied the rolled felt over places where the shingles had been ripped off and there were cracks in the roof, and then we put shingles over a lot of the places. We covered our nail holes with roofing tar and kept covering and filling the holes. We kept getting more and more tired. At one point, I quipped, after I dropped a roll of felt off the roof again, "Man, gravity is getting worse and worse as the day goes on." It did seem that way, since the wearier I became, the more I dropped stuff. But, little by little we made progress, until a job that we had started at around 7am was finished around 7pm. We were up on that roof for 12 hours, but we patched it enough to keep the rain out. Of course, we were filthy and exhausted, but it was a job well done, performed with good friends.
After we finished, we went to the American Legion building that was right behind a really good seafood place in town called Dockside. Amos’ mother, Mrs. Ginger (one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever met) works for the Picayune Police Department. Dockside was feeding all of the emergency workers and those doing recovery work in town each evening with fried catfish, shrimp, sausage, hush puppies, fries, slaw, etc. I don’t know where they got it from, but they had a ton of food. We were invited over, because they always had a good deal left over. It was the first decent meal I’d had in 4 days. I ate quite a bit, but it was incredible. It was also an incredible feeling to be with people who were helping rebuild a city, little by little. We came in filthy and sweaty after having repaired a house for a 62 year old man who couldn’t do it himself. We were thanked for what we were doing to help others by the people serving. We thanked them for serving us. I just had a sense that people were coming together and things were happening. People were working hard and Picayune was going to alright. That’s the same perspective I’ve gotten in many subsequent trips I’ve made down to the Gulf Coast. The area will survive because the people are so resilient.
After dinner, I said goodbye to Amos and his father, Mr. Buddy, and mother Mrs. Ginger. I said goodbye to Russell and Don. I’d secured the house, but I knew I had to get my Dad out of Picayune. His health was not good and we needed to get him someplace where he could rest, get out of the heat, and be taken care of. This was not the place right now. I also had a new baby at home and a church to lead. It was time for me to go. I’d be pulling out the next day, and I wouldn’t see these guys for a while (the next time would be when they, accompanied by David and Trey and his wife Crystal, came to spend several days with us in Birmingham when my son Caelan had surgery to remove his tumor in April). I didn’t know how to thank them. But, like always, words could not express what they meant to me. Thank you, as insufficient as it was, would have to do.
I went back home with a plate of food for my Dad. Katrina had hit one week ago. He had eaten crackers and vienna sausages since then, so he was happy to get the fish. The house was a wreck, but it would make it. I was tired, but I was seeing the end of my journey coming near. The phones had started working, so we were able to call out. I called home and heard that the missions pastor at First Baptist Montgomery, Harold Hancock was wanting to speak with me. I called him and we talked about our churches working together some in the future to help folks. I gave him a good perspective of what was going on down there, and the groundwork was laid for a future partnership that would see us working together in Waveland, MS a few months later in the establishment of a work camp at a sister Baptist church.
I went back to my mother’s to sleep. I was really tired. The events of the past few days were so overwhelming that I couldn’t really process them. That time would come later. But, little by little, hope was returning. People were starting to see progress. FEMA was arriving and people were getting out of the area. Relief organizations were coming in with food and water. Electricity was actually starting to come on in select places so stores could open. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t a train! People were beginning to experience hope. Tomorrow, we would say goodbye. But, our journey was just beginning.
Tomorrow: Katrina Remembrances Pt. 9: Heading Back to Alabama