6 years

Posted: 30th August 2011 by Duality in History, warm fuzzies

Grace first came to visit me when I lived in Tennessee in February of 2005.  She stayed a couple of weeks and needless to say we hit it off rather well.  She came again at the end of July of that year and was to stay until August 31st.  I lived in Sevierville, Tennessee at the time and worked in hotels.  At some point I’ll have to share some of those stories as I have a few interesting ones especially since I worked 3rd shift.  Anyway, by the time the first week of her second visit was done, we had more or less resolved for me to move from Tennessee around the end of the year and to move to the Pacific Northwest where she lives and to get married later in the following year.  I’d like to tell you there was this big romantic moment when this happened, but it wasn’t.  Instead it was just this progression of thought where one thing led to another and we had both decided to do this at roughly the same time.  It was natural and no real decision went into it.  Anyway, once we made this decision we decided that the next step would be for her to meet my parents.

So we decided to drive down to see my parents around the middle of August, visit with them for a couple of days, and visit the nearby big city that had a great many cultural landmarks of interest to Gracie.  The reason this is significant to the title of the post is my parents live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the nearby big city of cultural note was New Orleans.  Gracie, by a margin of two weeks, got to see my hometown the way it was.  Well, it had obviously grown quite a bit from my youth, but still the landmarks were all still there.  And she saw New Orleans the way it was.  She saw it all before Katrina.  Its something I’m grateful for, really.  Even if the trip to the Audubon Zoo was a major disappointment.  That place was sad before Katrina.  I’d hate to see it now.  They actually had an empty display where a hippo had lived.  Past tense.  It had died some years before and they had left it empty, overgrown, and a cheap sign proclaiming the hippo died and they hadn’t gotten around to replacing it yet.  Quite the fall from the place that at one point rivaled the San Diego Zoo.  Bit I digress.  The visit was good.  Gracie fell in love with New Orleans and my parents loved her.  The news was broken about our plans and all was good.  It went about as well as a trip of that nature can go really.  Eventually it ended and we headed back up to Tennessee.

Grace’s visit was to end on August 31st.  August 29th Katrina came ashore.  Now my parents went through Camille.  If you don’t know hurricanes then that name means nothing to you.  Camille was a Category 5 storm that had wind gusts exceeding 200 mph that came ashore on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969.  Camille also is the reason why several hundred people died on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with Katrina.  We locals had sort of a benchmark with Camille.  If a house stood during Camille and no flooding happened then your home was safe.  You didn’t need to evacuate.  I mean, 200 mph gusts?  If you go back and look at the pictures of the coast afterwards you understand why people thought that.  It looked like a bomb went off.  If a home survived Camille, that was a damn good home because not many did.  There’s this one video that was sort of famous that shows a couple looking for their house.  They find it, except its not where they left it.  It was tossed off its foundation and was like a street or two over.  That was Camille.  Katrina was worse.  So very worse.

The 29th was the longest day and night of my life.  My parents had chosen to ride out the storm and communication became impossible sometime around 9 am that morning.  I wouldn’t talk to my parents again until after Grace had gone home I think.  I didn’t find out they were okay until the 30th when my Aunt who lives in Houston called to let me know they were okay and heading towards her to stay for a bit.  Their home had taken minimal damage and things got really bad for a good long time.  My mom seems to think they had hurricane force winds for about 10 hours straight.  They had to bar the front door closed with a 2 by 4 and propping it against the fireplace that was next to the entrance to the house.

All through it, was Grace.  When all I could do was pace and worry, she was there.  She always seemed to know when the right time to talk to me was, when she needed to be near me, when I needed distance… she just did it all right.  If you ask me when I knew I loved her, I couldn’t tell you.  There was no one moment.  It just sort of happened.  If you ask me when I knew I hadn’t put my love and faith into something that wasn’t real?  August 29th and 30th, 2005.

The postscript to this is in between moving from Tennessee to here, I stayed a week at my parents house during Christmas of 2005.  By the time I got close to where the damage started, which is pretty far inland with this storm, it was dark and I was tired.  I could tell things were off, but it was difficult to tell in the darkness how off.  And the areas of complete devastation were black at night.  No lights so you couldn’t see.  The next morning I got up and followed my mom to the airport to turn in the rental car I had used to drive down as I was flying and not driving up here.  The drive was… all I felt was numb.  Even 4 months later, it was just a wreck down there.  I was glad Grace wasn’t there to see what I saw.  I’m glad she didn’t get to see the coast until 2007…I think.  Dates are fuzzy with me still, as I guess you know.  By then it was green again.  The trees, which had been stripped clean by the storm, had come back and there was a sense of life returning to the area.  In December of 2005?  Not so much.  There was still barbed wire on the railroad tracks keeping people from venturing too far into the no man’s land of the area near the beach.  I’m glad she got to see New Orleans before the storm.  I’m glad she got to experience just a little of my childhood before most of it was wiped off the face of the Earth.  But most of all I’m glad she was with me during it.  And I’m glad she will be with me during all my trials and tribulations from that point on.