Sunday, November 05, 2006

A collection of thoughts written during my visit to Gulfport, Mississippi

I sit down to write at the old lift-top wooden desk, the same desk my father used once upon a time. It's a desk that calls the boys room home - the room my brother and I stay in when we visit and the room my father and his brother at one time shared. There are remnants of their childhood here: an assortment of foreign currency framed and hanging on the wall, a musical instrument oddly resembling a wooden shoe with a handle and pegs, brass knuckles buried at the bottom of a dresser drawer. The desk I sit at bears scars from aged pencil stabs and slices, worn corners and a slight wobble. This desk, this room, this house on Kendall Avenue - they have a history. It's the history of a family, a story of 4 lifetimes - a delicate inheritance passed down to me through dinner table stories, dusty drawers full of treasure, and timeless tradition.

It's my history, too.

I think these things as I sit at the desk to write, my parents breathing contented sounds of heavy sleep in the next room, my grandparents in separate beds now, sleeping in the best positions they know how.

History builds a place, anchors and roots it.

And now it's gone for so many people. This town has suffered immense loss in the last year, but more than the houses, more than the casinos, more than the fishing boats and souvenir shops, this town has lost history. I almost feel insulted personally as I drive past places I've frequented for years, now utterly destroyed. The devastation is immense, and nearly unimaginable an entire year later. It has been 14 months since Hurricane Katrina, and I am appalled by the amount left undone. I drive past countless homes, boarded up and unlivable, with small trailers parked in front yards. FEMA trailers, I'm told, for those lucky names on the list that actually got one. The trailers are everywhere, literally sitting in the middle of halfway cleared now-empty lots.

People here, they are now defined by the hurricane. It's a clean sharp-blade cut through the fabric of their lives. Two separate pieces, divided into "before Katrina" and "since Katrina." Life goes on, but it's different now. There is nowhere to go, no corner to turn where the devastation isn't evident. There's no way to ignore it, and no chance at forgetting it. Acceptance is the most prevalent approach at this point, laced with guarded hope and the occasional bitter sense of humor. "Camille was a lady, but Katrina was a bitch" reads one bumper sticker, referring to the 1969 category 5 hurricane that also wreaked much havoc on the Gulf Coast. Katrina was the true bitch, though, destroying or majorly damaging over 90% of the structures within a half-mile of the coastline. Katrina also ranks as the costliest natural disaster to ever occur in the U.S.

But there's hope, too. Hope for a new history, a second-chance timeline of reconstruction and future. I see it in the countless "now open" signs printed on plastic banners and hung proudly across storefronts and restaurants. I see it in the lives of the teenagers tossing a football back and forth along the almost clean beach. And I see it in my grandparents who drive us 30 miles to eat at a newly-relocated previously-beachfront seafood restaurant.

I hope for a new history for the people of the Gulf Coast. It won't happen quickly, and it won't ever be the same. But I think time is probably history's best friend.


after katrina5
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lone flower grows in the yard of an abandoned house on Second Street in Gulfport, Miss. The utter destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was far greater than I ever could have imagined, even more than a year later. Katrina ranks as the costliest natural disaster to ever occur in the U.S. It is estimated that over 90% of the structures within a half-mile of the coastline were destroyed.

after katrina4
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A spray-painted message is still visible on the side of a destroyed and damaged abandoned building in Gulfport, Miss.

after katrina3
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A man walks past another abandoned building bearing spray-painted messages to tresspassers in Gulfport, Miss.

after katrina2
Originally uploaded by emster214.
What was once a home is now a pile of rubble along the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi.

after katrina1
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A staircase leads to nowhere at a destroyed homesite on Second Street in Gulfport, Miss.


Justin Cook said...

you know what? youre a good writer! never knew that. :) nice entry, very thoughtful and mature!

diseuse said...

"History builds a place, anchors and roots it."

That part was so beautifully poignant it sent chills down my spine. You are a really amazing writer, Emily. And I love the way you see things.

Steven said...

Amazing writing Emily. Not only can you capture such life in your photos but you have a flair to write about it too.

Katrina said...

You know what's funny about all of these pictures? They all say "after Katrina..." and your last post was about Katrina. Pretty funny.