Lundi Gras Party
Musician Coco Robichaux tells me "there's more musicians than there are gigs now. I made more money when I was a kid." But he's still playing.
Doug, a high school teacher before Katrina in Plaquemines Parish has seen 45 Mardi Gras. Now he lives in Texas but is back for his 46th. He tells me that North Plaquemines has schools up and running and has kept teachers on but that "South Plaquemines is no more." He decided to take early retirement so other teachers would be able to keep their jobs.
There is laughter and small talk but the stories creep in as does the weariness. Someone will relate a small part of their Katrina story and the usual questions are asked. "What day did you get out?" Answers are not given in dates but days of the week....That week. When they say Sunday or Thursday everyone knows exactly what date they are talking about. Tom and Coco were here for much of that week. They tell of how the animals all began howling one night. The cats, the dogs, all the animals "screamed." Coco tells of how he was stung by a bee on his eye and didn't have the heart to swat and kill it...."There was so much death. I just couldn't kill it...there was going to be too much death already."
Louis Armstrong and Ella sing in the background as everyone digs into a platter of shrimp. I'm given an ear of corn on the cob. Out of the corner of knowing eyes they watch as I take a bite. The hot spice bites back and I start blowing on my lips to cool off. We laugh as one says..."that isn't Wisconsin corn on the cob now heh." No indeed.
Tom tells only a part of his harrowing story. Their house filled with water in minutes. He swam to get their kayaks. But tossed by waves and 100 mph wind he struggled to unleash them and keep a hold of the ropes attached to them. "I knew I needed to grab something or I'd die. I could see a truck in the water below me. It was clear ocean water but I couldn't even grab an antenna from that truck. I just swam."
Gumbo is ready. They all laugh when one says "can you see next summer, the first hurricane .... there will be no one left in this town."
Linda tells me about the wonderful old Catholic Church across the street. There is the story of how a piece of the steeple had landed in front of the Compound and Linda made Lisa take it back over to the Church as surely they'd need it to restore the steeple. It wasn't necessary though as now there are to be no repairs. The Diocese won't be re-opening the church. They can't afford to. They say they lost 3 or 4 churchs in this neighborhood that way now. And they wait for more of the steeple to fall.
Ray Charles' "Baby What'd I Say" comes on and everyone joins in on the Aah's and Ooh's.
They are weary. Many depressed. There is worry for one amongst them that hasn't been eating and is losing weight. Well over half have lost their homes. There is so much uncertainty here. But they KNOW Mardi Gras. Tonight and tomorrow they do what they have done for years. This is their party. It is living their New Orleans. They have that for now. Come Wednesday it will be more of the hard uncertainty once again.