Do Not Go Gentilly Into That Good Night
Or What are We, Job?
It feels strange to wish that the tornado had ripped through my husband’s childhood house. But as tornadoes tore through Uptown, Westwego and Gentilly this week, they somehow skipped over my mother-in-law's abandoned home. They also missed us by a block in the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Apartment, but we’re handing it back to a musician this week and best of luck to him.
That leaves an 80-year-old 23 days to either somehow expedite the charity waiting list she has been on for a year and a half, or find the means to pay for gutting the home her late husband built. After 30 days if neither happens, the city will own it. Her home now is worthless and the property underneath it may top out at $40,000. The contents are still in it – with no new residence and $20,000 in insurance offered to start over, where could she have stored her moldy heirlooms?
Her wedding veil. Jeff’s childhood Mardi Gras costumes. I have never met anyone who turned family mementos into a shrine to the level that Miss Gloria does. With this year passing like a bad dream, she is still not ready to deal with the loss of them. And we don’t live here anymore.
Here’s the thing about the New Orleans recovery czar’s exploratory bicycle ride through Gentilly Ridge. It’s a ridge. The homes there were occupied mainly by little old ladies and it’s not likely to flood again. Notices have been pasted on doors, not mailed to former residents. I’m guessing there’s still no inter-governmental list sharing. Whatever the case, of the columns of residents listed in the paper for a hearing on Wednesday four showed up.
A policeman, a woman who made the trip back from Houston, a very quiet couple, my brother-in-law and us. The woman who came back from Houston gave her cane a good swing before heading into the private meeting, and the policeman was carrying his gun. We joked around to relieve the tension, but after hours of waiting they all came out looking numb.
It’s impossible to emphasize enough the level at which New Orleans residents have become Gandhi-like in their ability to not punch someone in the eye when he really has it coming. We told the committee tht Gloria has waited for 18 months for volunteers to gut her home. They said:
“Well I guess that didn’t work out for you, did it?”
Then the moderator pulled out a photo of the home Jeff's father built and said that it’s so modest, "how hard could it be to get rid of?"
Jeff did an admirable job of sitting on his hands and my snappy comments generally occur to me two days later. The tape recorder was turned off for off the record comments that could easily have been on the record. I don’t think this record will be consulted in the coming years.
As far as wishing for a tornado to implode what’s left Gloria’s home and push us to the front of the gutting waiting list, as of this week State Farm will no longer write new insurance policies in Mississippi because that state had the affront to instute criminal prosecution. I hope that insurance companies still consider tornadoes wind. Presumably the laws of physics still apply - Mardi Gras has been known to turn all that on its head.
In this whole nightmare, the thing the most chilling is my brother-in-law’s calm. He has now absorbed that there is nothing you can do about being treated like this on every level. I watched the local news, it probably didn’t get picked up by national affiliates, as a woman wept on camera explaining that a tornado tore through her FEMA hotel room and she does not live in the trailer in front of her ruined home because she still can’t get the keys.
She wondered aloud why she deserves this. It reminded me that packing up and moving across town to a hotel because tornados knocked out our power, cranking the AC and putting our frozen food on it like we learned to do after 8/29 is a minor inconvenience.
To the woman on the news who now has neither hotel room nor trailer keys I am confident that in New Orleans, Job would still be waiting for keys to his trailer.