‘Brook-heaven’ – remembering Katrina

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There were new kids on my son’s baseball team the spring after Katrina came through. They had regular names like Andrew and Max, but they were different somehow. I guess it wasn’t so much them as it was their parents, who, in between innings, spoke of hard times in heavy accents, slurring “N’awlins” into one long string of syllables. Katrina had blown away their homes, blowing them here instead, and it wasn’t just little league players, but a host of others, including my temporary neighbor, Loretta Guidroz.

Having Loretta and her husband, Eddie, in our lives helped my family put our post-Katrina inconveniences (no air conditioning, candlewax puddles) in perspective. We saw her box of water-soaked photos, heard her hassles over home insurance. We watched as they agonized over where to finally land – back home, where the daughter had stayed? Or Houston, near the son who had set up housekeeping in Texas?

Karen Behan, a former resident of the hard-hit West Bank in Algiers, also understands what it’s like to be suddenly transplanted. “One day I was at the country club, sitting by the pool, and the next I was leaving my home of 35 years, never to return,” she says.

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When Karen and her husband, Dennis, arrived in Brookhaven nine years ago tomorrow, it wasn’t the first time they’d evacuated to the Homeseeker’s Paradise. Because of family and roots here – Dennis’ grandfather started Columbus Lumber Co. in 1941 – they had come during other hurricane scares. “But if someone had told me that I would ever live in Brookhaven, I would have said, yea, right,” laughs Karen.

Three weeks after Katrina, the Behans were finally allowed back into their West Bank neighborhood. “When we saw the devastation and confusion there, we decided it just made sense to move,” explains Karen.

“You never know what tomorrow will bring, but God always has a plan. This is the sweetest community. We call it Brook-heaven,” Karen says, describing differences between living in Brookhaven and in New Orleans. “Here you can get an appointment at the doctor and drive there two minutes later. I call it microwave living.”

Ruth resident Suzon Lester was occupied with a different type of post-Katrina housing issue. She worked for FEMA.

“For a while I was at the Purvis office, traveling to check on people with FEMA trailers to see if they were making progress finding more permanent living situations,” she says. She goes on to tell of one heart-breaking story that stood out from the rest.

“There was this elderly lady from Biloxi who had lived in the same house half of her life, but after it flooded she had to move to Florida with her daughter. She was notified that a trailer would be arriving for her to live in so she went back to her property and waited all day long, but it never came. I did some checking and found out it had been delayed,” Lester says.

“I hated to tell her. I mean, here’s this 80-year-old lady who had lost everything, crying at my desk. I couldn’t help crying, too,” she added.

There were enough success stories, however, that when Lester sees the occasional white FEMA trailer now she feels proud. “When people had nothing, these trailers provided them a home – not intended for forever, but they did help. So when I see one, it brings back memories. It was an unforgettable time in all our lives.”

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.