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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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I’ve put off writing something for the second anniversary of Katrina, because I don’t quite know where to begin. We have a lovely home now and lovely neighbors. I’ve become accustomed to the idea of not living in my former neighborhood. At least when I’m busy I don’t think about it as much. I think that has a lot to do with healing around here — if you can stay busy, it makes things so much easier. It gives you something to focus on.

Most everyone I know is in some stage of rebuilding. I feel like we are living in some house flipping or design show. It’s funny to see this rural area embracing such modern trends. I never thought I’d hear my father use the term “cut in” when referring to painting. And I never thought he would have anything on his walls besides paneling! I never thought I’d hear my curmudgeonly uncle debating stains and finishes and chair rails. Stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, deep sinks, ceramic tiles, bi-level counters and bamboo floors are everywhere. But even with all the rebuilding, there are still so many places that haven’t been dealt with yet.

        My grandparents’ home in Pearlington was finally torn down two weeks ago. It has been sitting there all this time in quite a state of disarray, to say the least. It took probating of wills and scheduling and rescheduling of demolitions, and finally it is done. My MawMaw and Papa moved out of Logtown when NASA built the rocket testing facility in the 1960s and needed their community as a buffer zone. They rebuilt their house in Pearlington (My Papa was a carpenter who built houses and boats and even churches).

        Camille hit just a few years after that. I remember a stain on their walls about three or four feet up from Camille’s floodwaters. Looking back, armed with my newfound awareness from Katrina, I realize that they didn’t gut their house and redo it. It never occurred to me before. They just cleaned it out and went on with their lives.

        It gave me chills to walk on the slab last week, knowing that I was seeing something my grandparents saw when they were first building it. In the slab, I saw the end of their home, where they must have seen the beginning. I walked the perimeter, walked through the rooms and marveled at how things seem so much smaller without walls. I remembered having coffee and biscuits in the kitchen, shelling crabs in the dining room, snapping peas on the back porch. I remembered family get-togethers and dyeing Easter eggs and sleepovers with my cousin before early-morning camping trips. I remembered my grandmother’s rocking chair, and where she kept all the photo albums, and the spot where my Papa was waked the night before his funeral. (It takes living away from here for a while before you realize that some people find it odd to be asked of a deceased person, “When are y’all waking him?”) The night we sat up for Papa’s wake was one of the last nights I ever spent in that house.

        I went into the house a couple of times after the storm, to help salvage a few things. It was a mess. My grandmother would have cried to see her house in that condition. We salvaged a rocking chair from the back porch that was miraculously in one piece (it’s now on my back porch, cleaned and repaired and painted blue). I stood where their back porch was and looked out like I had so many times during 30-odd years. I pictured our rope swing, the artesian well, the old house out back that they had moved to make way for their own house, and Papa’s shed. The old house and the shed had been torn down already. Now I looked at swamp grasses and vines reclaiming the land, and I felt like I was witnessing the end of a cycle.

I didn't want to leave

        I turned around and saw the slab again, and I didn’t want to leave. Then I noticed something imprinted on the concrete. Bending down, I inspected it more closely and found that it was the impression of Papa’s shoe. He always wore the same kind of tennis shoes, and the sole was unmistakable. I looked around, and saw the same imprint here and there all over the slab. How funny, I thought, that these footprints had been hidden all these years, and now that the house was deconstructed they were as visible as they had been during the construction process.

        I walked back over to my youngest sister’s forthcoming house, located on the site of a house that was torn down after Katrina. My dad was removing chunks of concrete from her lot. He climbed down off the tractor and I told him what I had seen, and he said “I’ll be durned.” We chuckled about Papa’s footprints a little bit, and he said he had thought it was strange that the demolition crew didn’t just take the slab when they took the house. Then he said that if he were going to build a house on that land, he would probably save the slab to use as a shop.
I don’t know what will happen in the ongoing adventures of that slab, but I’d like to think it might go on to become part of a new cycle.

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What a lovely and eloquent story. You are a good writer, and, I think, do well with a book. Look, you've already got a chapter written! I hope you took some good photographs of those footprints in the slab... just in case.

Best of luck to you and yours.

Hey Heather! Great diary entry. The end of an era is always poignant; you've given it a great expression here. Give a hug & kiss to Mr. Rodney when next you see him. And do take pix of the footprints in the slab!

Love, The Bongo Wizard

Heather, Carolyn in Denver is right. You need to write a book.
Ann, Baton Rouge, LA

Heather, what a beautifully written essay. I think it answers, with one word, the much asked question of "why do you stay?"... ROOTS!

Great post. We miss you and Steve (and many others) very much. We look forward to seeing y'all when we visit - probably early next year. We'd love to have you visit us in Sacramento ANYTIME (close to the wine country, San Francisco and Tahoe (and not too bad in it's own right)).
Love, Scott & Linda Budd (formerly and proudly from Bay St. Louis)


Thank you for the poignant trip down your memory lane. I agree with the others - you should make that a chapter in a book about your family's legacy. With all this upheaval in your lives, now might be a good time to do it when every-day life gets too stressful.

As with all progress, there is sadness about what is left behind. Thank you for being willing to share that journey with you. I've missed hearing from you and Steve!

God Bless you and your family, I think he already has, what memories! Be sure that slab is saved!

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