10 years later

When people find out I'm from Louisiana, they usually follow it up with one of three questions: (1) What's the food like? (2) How's the weather down there? or (3) Were you there for hurricane Katrina?

I was in 7th grade when Katrina hit. Let's just pause from the Katrina story and talk about 7th grade for a second. That is a tough year. You are trying to figure out who the heck you are while surrounded by 100s of other pubescent kids who are trying to figure out who they are. You're experimenting with wearing makeup for the first time (most likely doing a terrible job, which does not help since you probably already look pretty awkward). You're probably a little boy crazy. People are mean, and you care too much about what people think. Especially the mean people. Brand names are important. You've lost your childhood confidence, and you haven't quite learned to love your quirks yet. Never have I ever heard anyone say, "Man, I miss 7th grade."

Add to that having both grandpas die less than a month apart only 2 months earlier, and you've got a pretty good idea of where I was when Katrina hit. We knew it was going to be a big one. Our first really big one since moving to Louisiana the summer before 5th grade. School was cancelled for a week to encourage people to evacuate. We lived far enough inland, away enough from waterways, and high enough up that I don't remember being scared our house would be destroyed, but the thought of not having power for a week in the middle of Louisiana August sounded absolutely terrible. Mom, Liv and I packed up the car and decided to go to Grandma's house (in Indiana). Dad and the boys decided to ride out the storm from home.

I remember going to the junior high in Indiana to meet up with my cousin and elementary school friends for lunch. I felt like a celebrity because when you move away from a small town and then come back to visit during school hours, you're a pretty big deal. I went to the Friday night football game and thought about how if I had stayed in that little bitty town, I'd probably be popular (which was a very big deal in 7th grade). I'm sure I milked every ounce of "your home might be destroyed by the hurricane" sympathy I could get.

...watching the news was scary. Waiting to hear from Dad and the brothers was scary.

Katrina was more devastating than I had anticipated. My family, friends, and home were fine. But watching the images on the news...seeing all the people who weren't fine...that was scary. Hurricane Katrina did change my life. But not in the storm. I was one of the lucky ones. We lost a little siding on the house, maybe a few shingles, and a branch went through a window screen. We lost power for awhile. Nothing major.  We were so blessed.

At the time, my family owned two businesses. Our ice cream shoppe was still pretty new, and with the loss of all our inventory we decided not to re-open.  We tried to keep the other business, LaDon's (a Cajun seasoning and sugar-free jellies and jams business that sold to restaurants and grocery stores), going--turning it into a real family affair. I remember Mom picking me up from my now over-crowded school (we welcomed a lot of New Orleans students into our classes) and taking me to LaDon's where I would do my homework and then go out to the warehouse and start sticking labels on jars of sugar-free jellies and jams until it was time for bed. Strangely enough, despite how dang cold that warehouse got, those are some of my favorite memories from junior high. We were there in a small room with just the family, love songs with Delilah on the radio, and plenty of time to talk while our hands were busy trying to keep our business alive.

A year later, my dad drove me down to New Orleans. He took me to the lower 9th ward. The watermarks from Katrina were still visible on the remaining buildings. So many people returned home to New Orleans, but many didn't. A lot of the restaurants and stores that helped keep LaDon's in business didn't reopen--or at least not soon enough. So we moved on to our next adventure.

7th grade was a stretching year. And although I have no desire to re-live that year, I am so grateful for the things I learned.

"...the tests of life are tailored for our own best interests, and all will face the burdens best suited to their own mortal experience... We can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed, and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way." 


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