Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Katrina Grief Observed

Every morning, she appeared in the yard beside the house we were roofing – 70-year-old Eddie May – shuffling among the piles she’d rescued back from the street after the first wave of Katrina clean-up crews.

“They threw my stuff away,” she muttered, surveying her piles, wearing the same green skirt that looked suspiciously like an old towel, the same stained t-shirt, and different Mardi Gras beads every day.

“Is there anything we can help you with?” we asked.

When she said she’d like some help cleaning up her yard, I thought she meant cleaning up the bags and piles cluttering the front of her FEMA trailer. And so I sat with her for several hours as she picked through rusty necklaces and wrinkled photos and ruined cassette tapes. This was harder work for me, I found, than lifting shingles. Each item held, considered, remembered – most simply moved to another pile. In my logical mind, she wasn’t making much progress. But for her, these things could not be thrown away. Holding on to each small trinket, she held on to her life and her memories.

Then she wondered if we might rake her yard. I knew her house was scheduled for demolition the next week; flat and low, it had filled to the brim with Katrina’s fury and had been condemned. Why bother with the yard?

But we raked, Emily and I, and we tidied, and we brought to her treasures found beneath the leaves – clippings pressed in a soggy book, plastic toy animals, more beads. It would have been easy – and more “practical” – to toss them along with the leaves. But by then, we had seen that these things, for her, held great value.

And then – the image that will forever be etched in my memory – Eddie May picked up a broom and began to sweep her mildewed, broken front porch, the porch that would probably be demolished first. She picked up a rake and began to rake the dirt yard around the porch – gathering broken glass and bits of trash from who knows where. The swish of the broom against faded Astroturf, the scrape of the rake across concrete and dirt, the swaying motions – familiar sounds and familiar strokes from 30 years of living in this place

“When they come to tear down my house, they won’t have to deal with all this trash,” she said, raking out the old flower beds – carefully, tenderly – as though preparing a body for burial.

Molly Garnett
Quebec Group, Team 3
January 1, 2006


At 6:43 AM, Blogger quirin said...

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