Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tree Limbs all OVER the Tomato Plants

Subject: Tree Limbs all OVER the Tomato Plants Date: 10/19 5:32 PM

Hi all,
David and I were absolutely drunk with frustration. Giddy in fact, after having spent five hours in a WalMart in Boutte, LA to get a new tire. We'd gone there because we heard the line wasn't as long as it was in Marrerro, where a woman had purportedly waited eight hours. Anyone who knows me knows that five minutes in a WalMart can make me pissy. Five hours was beyond the pale. We bought a few things we needed and a few things others needed, but hey, that was all done in the relatively short period of 45 minutes. Then we bought reading material, Vanity Fair for me, a Patricia Cornwell for him and that was only because I couldn't remember how far behind I was in the Harry Potter series! A little Hogwarts would have made the time go faster. I plowed through the pages and pages of Vanity Fair ads wondering if everyone but me really WAS a 15 year old waif with unlimited income, then ranted about the image politics and psychiatric/plastic surgery bills that would become some kid's baggage if they looked at these too long. Checked out the new Turquoise something or other perfume that the magazine was pretty much soaked in thanks to the ad for the perfume, decided it was not bad but probably not for me and finally found the table of contents. Good articles as always but my god, you have to WORK at finding them. I thought it ironic that I was dressed haphazardly sitting on a pallet of landscaping bricks outside a WalMart in Boutte, LA where trees are still leaning precariously on power lines looking at baby women dressed in 7500 bucks worth of clothes if you don't count the handbag!

But when all was said and done, we had one new tire and had patched the rear tire in which David found five nails. No big surprise really given what we'd been driving through. One more chore out of the way and we'd laughed as much as possible throughout at our really bad WalMart jokes.

The road to Boutte (about 20 miles from here) is littered for miles with Katrina debris. Some of it was damage from the storm itself that hasn't been attended to yet. A daunting task given the scope of this storm and the additional miles to the West decimated by Rita. But some of the mess is from debris being hauled to the Jefferson Parish Landfill. Trucks for miles filled with debris. Small pickups straining from towing gigantic walled trailers filled with the former contents of their destroyed homes---couches peeking up over the top of the plywood walls, huge scraps of carpet, a toybox, clothing, books, everything you can think of. Much of it blows out on the way to the landfill, as a result side of the road is a strange combination of broken trees and baby car seats spread for miles. There are the bigger commercial trucks filled to the brim as well, but they seem to have their loads secured a little better and for them, it's not personal. For them it's a paycheck. The smaller trucks were mostly driven by the contents' former owners with numb faces after their second or third trip down there. We saw one truck full of nothing but refrigerators. Clearly a freelancer, he had filled his open trailer with about 15 refrigerators. David wondered where all the freon was going. It's supposed to be evacuated according to some EPA regulations, but we're hearing that that probably isn't happening.

Our little street looks almost normal, well that's not quite true---normal by post-Katrina standards. Contractors, power trucks, various city vehicles up and down regularly and still mountains of debris but the debris is at least concentrated into the mountains rather than scattered all over the place. People are talking on their stoops at night if the mosquitoes aren't too bad, complaining about the "little flitty things" that have joined the fly population thanks to the garbage everywhere. Rumors and gossip fly through the air with the insects, along with complaints about intermittent broadband, a neighbor who hasn't seen fit to get someone over to remove that tree from a power line, and the standard FEMA stories. There are now so many newly minted versions of what the acronym FEMA stands for that I might start collecting them.

We talked with a real Southern belle of the Scarlett O'Hara type but of an older vintage. When asked how her house made out, her response was given in a beautiful molasses tinged accent. "The house was fine, but there are tree limbs all OVER the tomato plants!" We were stunned. People had lost everything and this woman was overwrought about tree limbs. So subjective and insular, we thought.

We're finding that there is a strange unspoken issue in the wake of this storm: Grief and guilt as concurrent emotions adding to all the other tensions. "How's your house?" "Gone." "How's your house?" "We were very lucky, only the back wall is gone." "How's your house?" "Hey, we can't really complain. A little water damage and the roof will need to be done, but overall, we did great."

Given that so many lost so much, those who only lost a little feel guilty feeling the grief of the losses they did incur. "We're all still alive and that's what matters." Yup. Totally true, but that print of Nantucket that they bought 30 years ago when they vacationed there that was drowned in water dripping down their walls is now residing on top of the carpet from the front room in the street. A memory gone. A shared experience. A little treasure that made them smile every time they walked by it.

David and I have much of that in storage. We don't even know the extent of the damage yet. Twenty years of artwork, collected and created. Almost half of our treasured book collection, including the rare copies of Zola that we searched for and bought piecemeal over years, antique Peter Rabbit books I'd been saving to give my grandson. Boxes and boxes of books. All the family photos from my 50+ years and before my birth--all in storage. Three steamer trunks full of personal treasures. All the Christmas decorations, including a little cookie bell that Meg made for me in kindergarten and then the can full of ornaments that she picked out every year of her childhood. A lot of Meg's stuff is in there too. Her childhood treasures, her yearbooks. None of this compares to loss of life or loss of a family home. Doesn't come close. But still there is grief, enormous grief over the loss of those memories.

We're not the only ones--our mantra these days. We're not the only ones who've lost personal treasures and grieve, and we're not the only ones feeling guilt over grieving about such small stuff in the scope of things. It's nevertheless a weird combination of emotions.

Read today about a woman whose son had been in a motorcycle accident ten years ago. She had taken care of him ever since. He was wheelchair bound and brain damaged. His family had been evacuated, first to the Superdome, then the Astrodome. At some point he had been with his father, but his father had a medical issue. When the curtains around his father's bed were opened, his wheelchair bound son was gone. The son knows his name and date of birth, but that's about all he can communicate. The family is frantically searching to find their lost son.

These are the stories that cause the guilt over grieving about books. I wish I could tell the people I hear feeling the guilt that mourning the loss of their memories is okay, normal in fact. Grief isn't reserved for catastrophic loss only. Some lost family members, some lost books, some had tree limbs in their tomato plants. Everyone sustained loss of some kind and if we don't address that loss emotionally and quit turning it into guilt we're gonna be in trouble down the road.

I think I'll sit here and be grateful for our relatively minor losses while concurrently mourning that little cookie bell ornament with Meg's name on it. And I'm not gonna feel one bit of guilt about it.

I'll let you know how that works out!
Love and Light,
Bec and David


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