Growing up on the water
By now I’m sure you are all stormed out, especially the people who actually had to deal with Isaac and all his rain.
The strangest part of this week, for me, has been the fact that Isaac hit the same day as Katrina. As a South Mississippi native who grew up in Long Beach, right there on the water, August 29th is sacred. You don’t mess with it. Every year I remember what we all went through that day in 2005.
I was messed up for many months after Katrina.
I wasn’t on the coast when it hit. My parents were. We didn’t lose our home — THANK GOD. Still, the loss those of us felt who just called the Mississippi coast home was extremely strong.
I was in my last semester at Ole Miss.
Long Beach :: it was this bad
The day before it hit my parents finally decided to evacuate. They would be so embarrassed that I’m telling this story, but the chaos I felt was so terrible. The visual image I have now is pretty funny, though funny it was far from that day.
My parents picked that day to not communicate. Mom, Dad and Steven (little brother) were all in separate vehicles. Dad wanted to drive north to his parents house in Waynesboro, MS in central MS (still hit VERY hard), Mom wanted to drive east to her Mom’s house in South Alabama on I-10 which was jam-packed. Poor Stevo was just stuck somewhere on the crowded road between the two adult lunatics. Here is the kicker. For some reason their phones wouldn’t let them successfully talk to each other while driving. They could only call me and then I would call the other parent to negotiate their evacuation plan. It’s true. No clue why. Mom was threatening to break off the Brown family evacuation train and go to her mom’s house alone! Sitting — 6 hours away– at the kitchen table in our crappy little college apartment, I truly felt everything I’d ever known was falling apart. I knew, and I think many other people knew, in those hours that this was the real deal. All the false alarms we’d experienced growing up on the coast were over. The gig was up. We’d lived our lives hearing about Camille and — at that moment –36 years later it was our turn.
This Wednesday morning I woke up to the above text message from my college boyfriend who is from Jackson, MS and also a lover of our state. The fact that he doesn’t mention Katrina is funny. It’s understood. He gets it now, but the night of Katrina, after we knew what had happened, he picked the silliest fight with me as we sat in the quiet dark of my powerless Oxford apartment. I don’t have a clue what it was about. Probably a girl or politics. He has long since made up for that. About six months after it hit, he lived on the coast for weeks volunteering just down the road from my house. There is a part of me that thinks he did it because he saw how hurt I was over the loss. His parents gave me this painting of the Biloxi light house that I still treasure.
My good friend Kate Taylor just this month reminded me of another strong post Katrina memory. September of 2005, just weeks after the storm, she and I were at this Oxford Film Festival party on a balcony on the square. We were care-free and chatty. Stumbled upon this man who was there promoting a film I remember nothing about. The storm came up in conversation. Mississippi came up. I don’t remember what he said, just that what he said broke my heart. Sure I was already emotional. Sure I’d probably had one or two too many glasses of wine, but I let that poor man have it. Had to have been just about the worst Mississippi tourism pitch ever, but boy was I passionate about it. Kate Taylor grew up in the Delta and was right beside me as we told that Mississippi hater exactly where he was and where he could go.
I went home that night and cried harder than I’ve ever cried. That kind of cry where you can’t catch your breath, you know? Where you ask lots of questions out loud. Kate Taylor texted me a picture of that man’s business card she found the other day while moving.
Just months later I graduated and moved back to Long Beach. That was just four months after the storm. It was a hell hole. Awful. Terrible. Depressing. Everyone was like the walking dead. We had the collective wind knocked out of us and it wasn’t going to come back for a while. I couldn’t take it. I bailed. Made the decision to move back to the comforting dream world of Oxford and left the next day with one bag and Belle and Sebastian’s (a band) syrupy sweet pop songs taking me all the way north. Mom and Dad understood. Though, I had a lot of guilt about it for a long while. I could have helped, but I was instead totally paralyzed. I’ve since forgiven myself. We all handle grief differently. That’s what it was, grief. Even though I hadn’t lost a home or a loved one, everything I knew and had loved was gone — from the structures, businesses to my favorite fishing pier I always went to alone once I started driving–one at bottom of blog. I’ve never told anyone about this guilt. I suppose seven years is long enough to hold it in.
There was also a lot of good. All the people who showed love and support for the coast. My bosses at WTOK-TV in Meridian who sent me and a crew down to the coast for the first 5 anniversaries with a live truck.
Long Beach 2007 :: HW 90/beach behind me. Houses lined this street
Sidney came to know Long Beach through the years ::
The last one I covered they sent me alone with a camera and car. Mom and I had so much fun. I was a one man band (doing it all), but she functioned as my (terrible) camera woman. She drove the tiny cavalier while I rode in the passenger seat, camera and tripod in hand, ready to hop out and grab an interview or shot. When I say she was a terrible camera woman I mean it. Her job was to stand to the side of me while I did the interview. I wanted the person I was interviewing to look at her and not straight into the camera as they would if they were looking at me. Problem is..she would get so in to what the person was saying that she would start saying things like :
“oh my” “ohhh” “you poor thing”
All while they were in the middle of sentences. It took me forever to edit her comments out — at times they just had to be included!
I’m so thankful my General Manager Tim Walker and News Director John Johnson saw the value in sending me to my hometown every year. In fact when I started at WTOK in May of 2006, my first story to air on the news was a three-part series on the first anniversary. My first professional story was about Long Beach and the people I knew. Very special to me.
16-year-old Lindsey did some serious thinking on this pier (rebuilt in this photo)
Seven years later Mom and Dad have moved about 40 minutes north of Long Beach to Stone County partly because of the constant threat of another Katrina. We’ve come to really love that part of South Mississippi. Stone County — Pearl River County and all the beautiful rural roads between them that we didn’t know much about growing up. I don’t go to my real home often, at all. I still see it like it was. I see people on facebook talk about the changes, but I still see our main drag, Jeff Davis, like it was on the day I rode on the back of a convertible as homecoming queen. The way I remember it from driving around having just gotten my driver’s license. Passing all those houses in Pass Christian as I day dreamed.
Love my water
I have to say — I’m still pretty protective of the coast (MS in general). Through my job I’ve learned to be very quiet when people say things I don’t like, disagree with or want to yell at them over, but you talk bad about my Mississippi and this little small town girl will as nicely as possible remind you it’s my home or if I’m outnumbered, as I often am, say nasty things about you to myself.
— Felt good to write this. As always :: everything I do is accompanied by music. As I write this.