Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three Years and 45 Days

Greetings from Katrina Country. Two weeks after I left the coast to have a short vacation at home I'm back with our church for our now-traditional week in Pearlington, Mississippi helping rebuild after the hurricane.

This week has become very much like summer camp for adults. We even sleep in tents. There's great food cooked by a rotating group of volunteers and the food is accompanied by announcements from the camp manager and a blessing. And this time it's even better than the camp we knew as kids. We get to have unlimited snacks anytime we want them and there's a whole freezer just for ice cream bars. Our whole day is scheduled for us and we even take our turn at chores like picking up the grounds and taking out the trash. There are devotions every morning and evening and a bible study on Wednesdays if we want to go. Then, for recreation, we have our work assignments. We don't actually get to pick from a list of archery or canoeing but we have a wide variety of other things to learn--sheet rock, painting, siding or roofing. They didn't offer these at the camps I attended when I was a kid but I'm sure I would have had more energy for them fifty years ago than I do now.

Just like summer camp we went to as kids we have old friends from past visits here in town. Everytime I drive past a homeowner I've met from a past trip I have to stop for an update on their house and family.

This is the fourth time our church has visited Pearlington and our fifth trip for PDA. These trips have deepened our relationships with with our brothers and sisters in our home church. A road trip with the folks you spend Sunday morning with provides a different atmosphere. It's good to spend time together outside the church walls. But, since we come as part of the East Dallas Cluster, we also meet a lot of new friends from other churches in Dallas. This trip we have new team members from two other churches. I've especially enjoyed spending the week with Bill Orban from my friend Linda's church. Some of the volunteer groups plan their calendar around the same weeks every year so we see them every time we come. Some come twice a year and I've even met a church that schedules trips four times a year. We were excited to see two volunteer groups we've camped with last year and I know two more groups from when I managed this camp last year. It's Old Home week. We even have a campfire in the evening. This is a lot like my idea of heaven.

But here is the astonishing thing I found this week when got our work assignment: I counted up that we are 45 days past the third year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina yet our assignment this week is to gut a house. Gutting is different from mucking but it's still one of the very first things you do to a house that was flooded.

This house had been mucked out. That's when you shovel out the 3 or 4 feet of dead fish,live snakes, raw sewage and ocean mud that was left when the water receded. The homeowners had gone to the attic when the water rose. But almost immediately after the water receded they started mucking the house out. That really makes a difference because the sooner you can get the house dry inside the less mold you get.

Then, as the wife described to me, they got busy with other things. They spent some time with their kids in another city, almost two years in a FEMA trailer parked on their lot and then the last year in a MEMA cottage that took the place of the trailer.

Phyllis is an artist whose whole countenance lit up when she talked about painting. It reminded me of how I get with words sometimes so I can understand how they were distracted by "life" and didn't get around to asking for free labor on their house.

Then, when they were ready to gut the house and prepare to re-build--when they started asking for help, they fell through the cracks. They just fell through the cracks. This happens more often than you would expect, more often than it should. I think we can all agree that it should never happen. When I called up my friend Dallas to ask how this could have happened Dallas told me that she had told many of the previous worksite managers, including ME, about the house.

What can I say? There's no real defense beside plain old human error compounded by the number of people involved. I have no other excuse. And what made it even worse is that the house is practically next door to the PDA camp. But it's shaded and veiled by large trees and bushes that make it fairly easy to drive right past the house and not pay much attention. I had to take a photo from the side of the house to really see it:

Our team went out Monday morning to find one of the most fascinating houses I've ever seen. It was built about 80 years ago for the owner of a lumber company that operated nearby in a place called Logtown. The interior walls were all made of cypress: walls, floor and ceiling. Cypress if one of the most durable and waterproof of woods. This might explain how it stood up to water that reached to the ceiling for about a day or so. But the sheetrock that subsequent owners put over the cypress had to come down.

I had a great visit with Phyllis and enjoyed seeing how passionate she is about her painting. But that didn't keep me from still being suprised at how many vases she has collected. She paints flowers but the vases in the picture are as important to her as the flowers. I was so overwhelmed by her collection I just had to take a picture.

Our guys have worked so hard we had to make them leave today before they all dropped dead of heart attacks. But now I've seen what happens to a man when you put a crowbar in his hand and tell him to tear sheetrock off walls: it's not pretty.

But the walls underneath certainly are. I would love to have a house this solid..

I have so many thoughts on this project that I think I'll have to wait a couple of days to let things gel on my mind before I can make sense out of it.

In the meantime, I'm having fun helping Mrs Rawls and Mayola cook lunch every day. I now have the secret recipe for their cornbread. I have been inducted into their sisterhood. I am honored.

ps-notes after this evening's devotional: I have a new phrase to enjoy: We should rejoice in such a way that we "ooze Jesus." Our guys certainly oozed this afternoon but I don't think it was Jesus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks like you've returned to Mississippi, not Houston (at least for now). This was a very interesting blog - tks for sharing your adventures. I'm imagining a house built of cypress - from the picture it looks solid and unusual.