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Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Christmas Story 12/14/2005

 
A Christmas Story
My sisters' husband of 20 years moved to the Midwest many years ago and was one of 11 children raised by a loving Mother and Father from New Orleans Louisiana. Seven girls and 4 boys expanded to four generations that lived, worked and grew in New Orleans before the hurricane and floods. My brother in-law shared many stories about his life in New Orleans and the South with our family.

After each and every Sunday service at the family's Baptist Church, the four generations of New Orleanians would gather at my brother in-laws mom and dads home, where all of the daughters would crowd into the kitchen and cook up the biggest feast. Shrimp and chicken gumbo, baked macaroni and cheese, stuffed bell peppers with shrimp or hamburger and everything was spiced up hot.

Evidence of my brother in-laws enormous love of fiery foods, his little bottle of hot sauce was placed carefully in front of him at the dinner table each night. He was not allowed to spice up the food for the weak and faint of pallet, namely our family who hails from the westcoast. The best homemade grits and collard greens with bacon, I have ever eaten, made by my brother in-law and skillfully learned from his mother.

My brother in-laws mother, thee matriarch, turned 71 years old in October of this year, a widow since the 1980s. She now resides with 9 other family members squeezed into a small 3 bedroom apartment with a limited 6 month lease, in Houston Texas. The thirty or so other family members are all grouped up in large numbers scattered about in other apartments located in Texas. The family home, where everyone would gather to rejoice and join in, is now gone.

Each and every family member (40 plus people) lost their homes, their rightful place of their birth. The family is very close, very religious, very spiritual and very, very unsure about their future. Together in daily life before the evacuation, sadly some of the family have been forced to go to other cities in Texas to find places to live. They are separated for the first time.

Many of the family crowded into 3 family vans and several cars, leaving behind many other vehicles, to head for Houston before the storm. They had to rent motel rooms to stay together, before and after the hurricane, they hadn't anticipated anything except a quick return home to New Orleans. One of the husbands who worked more than one job before the hurricane, was in New Orleans after the levees broke working up to 16 hour days doing construction, to generate enough money to send to his exiled family in Texas. He suffered an accident several weeks after starting the job when something heavy fell on him and broke both of his legs. Other family members are working jobs in Texas and all contribute what they can, to the needs of the entire exiled family.

At this date, no one out of 40 plus people have been able to return home to their neighborhoods to live, their homes and everything in them, lost to the floods and standing water. A small group of family members had become trapped in the city of New Orleans during the collapse of the levees and did make their way through waist deep water to the Superdome, where they were safely evacuated to the Houston Astrodome. It is these family members that are suffering flashbacks of the things they witnessed and have yet to find a peaceful sleep.

The husband who was working the 16 hour shifts, had tried to prepare the entire family as much as possible as to what they would see upon their return visit. He was the first to return to New Orleans in the aftermath and the first to see his family's beloved city changed forever. Only a few members of the family made the short journey to what used to be their life long homes.

They are hard working and proud people who paid their taxes, followed the rules, took care of their own and were part of a historical community. Quiet reserve and southern dignity mask an enormous fountain of tears and worry that outsiders do not see, nor hear. Many of the family have never known any other place and they all yearn to go home...to their beloved New Orleans.

The family have reluctantly resigned themselves to stay in Texas for the time being, all four generations. There is so much to this four generational family and their history in New Orleans, that the pain and suffering they must endure, may unfortunately not ease with distance from their home. Christmas is going to be very, very important to them and they are striving to find a way to bring everyone together, somewhere, somehow, no matter what.

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