Hunt for Steel
Not for Sale
Preface & Reader Response
I was trying to see what all had happened. My grand kids were saying, "Don't look grandma, don't look."
HOME IS HERE SOMEPLACE.
by Mary Dodson
My son was visiting me. He says, "What do you plan for tonight?" I tell him, "The same old things: read, watch the news, play bridge, and go to bed." After he left, I got to thinking. Kind of feeling sorry for myself, I took my coffee on the front porch to look at my flowers, all the crape myrtles, all the birds. Then I thought, God forgive me: I have so much to be thankful for. Just five years ago, I was sitting alone in the crawl space in my attic for eleven hours.
At that time I was 83 years old. I had a 4-hour back surgery a few months before. I decided I would stay in my home, as hurricane Katrina was supposed to hit New Orleans, which is 65 miles away.
But I was watching closely. My neighbor had insisted that I leave. I told him if it got bad, I would go to the attic. He was nice enough to put a five-foot ladder in my house for me, so I could climb up if needed. You can say I needed it: about 6 a.m. there came a storm surge, I mean fast. I grabbed a few things and headed for the ladder. The water by then was about three feet high in my house. I grabbed my insurance papers, my medicine, and some food and drink. I dropped my bread. I dropped my milk. But I made it.
My son-in-law thought it was funny (this was later) that an 83-year old climbed that ladder. Was it Johnny Cash who sang that song? "How high is the water mama? One foot? Two foot? Three foot?" And so on. I know what he means. I told my son-in-law that when the water got that high, I learned to climb.
I was up there in the attic alone for eleven hours. I had orange juice and Sprite, so I drink one and used the other for a chaser. I also had a little door, maybe six inches by ten inches, to sit on. The attic was insulated all over with rockwool. My body was wet, I had shorts on, and I was barefooted. It was a long eleven hours.
My ladder and other things were floating under me, around and around: they were making a circle through the house. Strange thing, the ladder was still standing up. I did wonder if I could lie flat on my belly and catch it. Of course what would I do with it when I did? I could look down and see my bread and my milk, making a circle over and over below me. I even had a five-gallon wine bottle with artificial flowers still sitting up, sailing with the rest under me, over and over. I just had to try to sit on the little board and watch my life's work and also worry about my children, who were as close to the beach as myself.
My daughter and grand kids came screaming for me about 6 p.m. They were yelling so loud, they could not hear me answer. I finally made them hear and told them to find the ladder.
When I got down, my yard looked like a lumber yard. My dining room suite was out the front door. And the breakfast room suite was out the back door. They were standing up, like we were having dinner outside.
I was trying to see what all had happened. My grand kids were saying, "Don't look grandma, don't look."
You can see the mess we had to climb over. Some places you could not even see where the street was. I had on shorts, tennis shoes, wet with rockwool sticking all over. We climbed, went around trees, tin roofs, and other things. What was supposed to be one mile to my daughter's house must have been two by the time we got there. That shows you do what you gotta do. Needless to say, it was something no one would want to go through again.
I was so glad to see them alive. I sill did not know if my other daughter and her family had made it until later.
My other daughter managed to get her car through next morning and pick me up. I am a size 10. I had on a pair of shorts about a size 60, an extra-large shirt, and my granddaughter's flip flops. I did not even think how I looked the 18 hours getting through to Memphis. My son was there and he did not know if any of us were alive until we called him to meet us with gas about six at night.
We are all so lucky. It could have been a lot worse.
* * *
by Eldest Daughter, Gail
Mom kind of blended her facts, if you want to be accurate. On Monday evening after the storm died down, Chet and I started over on our bikes. (Pass Christian to Gulfport is around 6 miles). The National Guard (I think they were New Jersey as our guard including Jesse and Rusty were in Iraq) would not let us through. It was getting too late and dark to try to take a back way due to the debris. The next morning we got up and cut through yards and alleys on our bikes to avoid the guard and get to Gulfport.
When Chet and I finally made our way through the debris on our bikes, after finding Mom's house devastated, we rode to my sister's house. She was there with my two nieces, my nephew, and other young people who rode out the storm with her. They saw us coming and started shouting, "We've got
Momma." Everyone was crying and hugging, and it was precious and unforgettable. We agreed that I would come get her the next day and take her to Memphis.
The trip to Memphis was like something out of "Road Warrior." There was no gas, people were on the side of the road without gas, and with no cell or other phone service to call anyone. We stopped at every major town, including Jackson, and found no gas. I finally pulled over at a truck stop about 100 miles south of Memphis to insure that we would not run out on the road. I called Don and found him at work. They had to find him and call him to the phone. He was silent for a moment and then said, "I thought you might be dead." It was two days after the storm and no one had any phone access. He drove to us with gas and gave some to another military guy who was out. I bought generators and gas cans, and a tent for us to sleep in, and items neighbors had requested, and drove back to the coast.
They were not letting people south of Hattiesburg, so I took a back route. I made it to within a half mile of my house before the guard stopped me. I convinced them to let me through in large part because of the cargo I had: I smelled like a bomb with all the full gas cans in the car.
For approximately six months thereafter, south of the tracks was blocked by concertina wire and we had to have a pass signed by the Mayor to get in and out. I still have it.
My mother is the quintessential survivor. Her father was a sharecropper who burned to death in a tobacco barn fire when she was around six. Her mother "took to the bed" and was an invalid thereafter. Mom, her two sisters, and three brothers went to live with, as she calls them, "two old-maid uncles" and her grandmother. She and her siblings were treated like servants.
She finished high school and moved to Memphis to work at an airplane factory during the war years. She met my dad when he returned from the war. They married in 1949. They built a house on the land in front of the spot where they met. They had the most wonderful baby girl in 1952. Then a son and another daughter.
Mom worked at a dry cleaner, delivered telephone books and Sears and Roebuck catalogues, collected freight bills and checked them for errors to collect a percentage, was a safety crossing guard at school, sold Mary Kay cosmetics – on and on. She was a whirling Dervish!
When the Tennessee Dental College rejected me for braces as a child, she cried and refused to take "no" for an answer until they relented and let me in. She always thought her teeth were ugly and was not going to let that happen to me. She did it again a few years later for my brother.
Dad said it was foolish for me to go to college because I would "just get married." She was a fortress behind me and always believed in me.
She sat by my dad's side and nursed him without fail during his fight with lung cancer, which killed him when he was 66 years old. She then began all over again, creating a beautiful home and garden in Gulfport, which she lost in Katrina.
She helped my sister raise her children when my sister was deployed in the military. She has always been 100% behind my sister's children.
At 88 she is living on her own in a house with a perfect garden. She drives, plays bridge, and serves as surrogate mother to her grown nieces and nephews whose own parents are gone.
I have never heard her tell a lie. She is no nonsense – will tell you what she thinks. And she is one of the most remarkable humans I have ever known.
* * *
Again by Mary Dodson
I wish you would not tell people I never lie. I have plenty of them when they are neccessary.
You make me sound like super mom. I do remember painting our home inside and out – and falling off the extension ladder down concrete steps still holding the paint pan. I was skinned and bruised everywhere. (We went camping the next day, sleeping on air floats that would not hold air all night. Man, you talk about being black, blue, and hurting all week.) I also made our dresses and coached junior bowling; my junior bowlers won the city tournament and then went on to win the state. I also bowled in three leagues a week and subbed in as many as three more. When not bowling, we played pinochle at nights with friends. Did I do all that after cooking for seven, keeping hardwood floors cleaned and shined? Well maybe I am super woman, if not super mom.
When we played pinochle back then, we would take turns playing at each other's home. They would feed us; it was quite a noise but we had fun. A strange thing, we four women all had birthdays in June. Last year one of the women called me. All four of us were still living; all the husbands were dead. We met for lunch and had birthday cake and ice cream. Now I have switched to bridge. I learned bridge on the computer at about seventy years old. The typing was the worse part, I had not typed since 1941. I have learned though, and now I play bridge with people all over the world.
Now about that night in Gulfport, I did leave out a part I want to put in. A cold chill runs over me when I think about trying to lie or sit on that little board that covered the hole in the ceiling, moving from place to place to keep out of the rain. There is no way to explain how household furniture, the ladder, even a big wine bottle holding silk flowers, were still sitting up, sailing right under me.
The part that I left out is when Gail and Chet came the following morning, not knowing if any of us were alive. Jan, Gail's sister, Jan's three children, and two boys she had let stay there, were out moving tin roofing and other things off their cars. She had five cars there and none of them was damaged. None could be seen for the junk covering them. I heard Jan yelling, "We got Mama, we got Mama." I thought for a minute: was that the name of a new song or what? Then I heard everyone laughing and yelling at once that all of us were safe.
I am sitting here now with cold chills on me, living through it again.
My car and my home, everything was gone. I came to Memphis in a pair of extra-large shorts, wearing an extra-large T-shirt, and flip flops. I never gave up. My insurance finally paid after two and a half years. So now, I have bought me a home and a car, and planted flowers everywhere.
When my children gave me an 88th birthday party, 27 people, seven states and about eleven different homes were represented on my back lawn. I swelled with pride that I was loved that much. I have a lot to be thankful for.