The last time I saw Gulfport, MS, was in June, not quite three months ago. It was as it usually is: part beach town, part tourist town, part trashy town. I see what I always see there: souveneir shops with shark-mouth entrances boasting cheap swimsuits and beach towels; casinos glittering with neon LCD screens; hotels with blinking vacancy signs lighting up the night.
We're visiting my grandparents - good southern people who will make me eat loads of gumbo and banana pudding, and with whom I will watch the pre-recorded 6 o'clock news at 8 o'clock at night. I will smile as Granny pulls a half-used tissue from some hidden spot up her shirt sleeve, and laugh as Gramps asks me once again how to operate his brand-new digital camera.
Before the trip is over, I will walk with my family along the beach by the ocean, very careful to step over both sand castles and broken glass. I will also take a guided tour of Biloxi, a town we always visit, but have never really known much about. I will slurp a cheap sno-cone from a vendor on the beach, and get tired of it halfway through.
I will do all these thing, and leave, never once giving thought to the possibility that this town I'm so familiar with - this town my grandparents have always lived in - might not be there when I return.
And now it isn't there. It's gone - almost all of it. Watching the news these past few days has not only made me very sad, but a little apprehensive as well. Are my grandparents still okay? Why wouldn't they just evacuate when they were supposed to? How will the town survive? Who will be able to live there now?
The last I heard, my grandparents are alive, and their house (about 3 minutes from the beach) is still standing. Yes, they have plenty of yard damage and debris, a tree through the roof of their garage and one blocking their driveway, and some water in the house, but they're alive. And for that I'm grateful.