It has been six years, five months, and two days since our world was turned upside down in Coastal Mississippi. I am not going to discuss New Orleans, I don’t live there. That was a different kind of hell, that was a man made disaster. Yes, I am talking about Katrina. I know I just lost a few readers because of Katrina fatigue. There have been plenty of horrible disasters since then, here in America and abroad. People move on, everyone except the ones still living among it. For us, it is far from over. This is not what we want. What we want is the impossible and that is for things to get back to normal, normal meaning the way things were before that day.
For those of you not familiar with the area, it is made up of three counties. Two bridges over two bays separate the three counties, and ten cities of various sizes dot the 62 miles of scenic coastlines. All cities were badly damaged, 6 were almost wiped off the map for miles inland. The “Coast”, as we refer to it, is an area rich in culture. The area was inhabited by Native Americans, settled by the French and Spanish, later joined by Croatians, and even later by the Vietnamese. Gambling was strong here long before casinos came in and made it legal. Our brackish waters offer up delicious blue crab, shrimp, oysters, and flounder that will melt in your mouth. Along with New Orleans and Mobile, we have a long history of Carnival. We are an artistic bunch. We like to party. We like to festival. We are Mississippi and we aren’t Mississippi.
We are rebuilding and we are trying to get used to that “new normal” they spoke so much about after the storm. (Oh, how I hate that term). In many ways we are still shell-shocked. In most of our communities, we have lost our sense of “place”. It is hard to focus on what is here because there is still so much that isn’t. It is impossible to see how far we still have to go if you didn’t know what was here before. You can ride down Hwy 90 and see neighborhoods, streets stretching towards you, toward the beach. What you don’t know is that the street is missing 6-8 homes on the beach end, and those homes were the best of the best.
I have been doing a lot of slow-riding in the last few days looking for a house. I like cottages and they used to be abundant here. There are still some but many are broken and abandoned and sit dying in the middle of a small, beautiful lot that is still filled with camellias, lemons, palmettos, and the great Live Oak. I drove by to look at a house that was small but immaculate before the storm. It sat at the end of a long, out of the way lane with direct view of the water. It had a beautiful front porch all the way across the front of the house and beautiful trees and flowers in the yard. I used to drive to it occasionally just to imagine that one day it could be mine. I drove there today and the view is still stunning but the house is unkempt and dumpy. I was turning my car around to go back up the lane and I noticed a funny crunching sound. Looking out of my window, I realized the car was sitting on what used to be someones patio or maybe bathroom. The ground was covered in little square tiles. This is a common occurrence and it is still disturbing.
I often ask myself why I have stayed. It is still a depressing place to live: the concrete slabs, the overgrown lots, the homes that still look like they did on the afternoon of August 29, 2005 . I stay because I can take my grand-baby to the beach quickly and we can put our toes in the sand. We can play together there and enjoy close communion with fish, birds, and hermit crabs. I stay because of the breathtaking sunsets that color the sky and the air golden, pink, or even purple. I stay because part of me believes I will wake up someday and everything will be back where it belongs. The casinos have rebuilt, new casinos are building, a few new homes dot the beach highway, some old ones have been saved, new communities are springing up 10-12 miles inland, the port will be much larger, the parks and marinas are being greatly improved, the two new bridges are award winning, and downtown areas are being revitalized. All of that is well and good, but it’s what’s MISSING, it’s what’s missing that counts.