October, 2005\r\n\r\nThe Evacuation\r\n\r\nWhen Hurricane Katrina entered the gulf, I figured it would be another one of those useless evacuations, so I just waited. The thing wasn\'t going away though, so we planned to go to church Sunday morning and then hit the road. Everyone we knew had already left; it was very late, and only 7 people attended mass that Sunday morning of Aug 28th. The Saturday before the storm I went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor for the perpetual novena to implore Our Lady\'s intercession. I was surprised that there were not more people there, only the usual crowd, pretty sparse. That afternoon I went to confession at 3. This is how I prepared for the storm. Of course I did the regular stuff, like picking things up and boarding up the windows. \r\n We had planned to go to Wanda\'s sister Sylvia\'s house in Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. So after mass that Sunday we went out towards 1-10 east and waited for 2 hours in gridlock. It was miserable. Wanda pleaded for patience, but each time I passed an exit I felt like we were driving deeper and deeper into an endless pit, so finally I jerked the car onto one of those exits which led us to Downman Rd or one of those thoroughfares. Of course Wanda was screaming at me the whole time, yelling every kind of curse, bringing up all of my faults and failings, sins and shortcomings. I knew she was right, and I felt sorry for her because after all she was probably going to die in the hurricane whether by wind or by worry. So I was very patient, praying for some kind of intervention to take place. \r\n It took us 2 hours to get as far as we did, but only 15 minutes to get back home. I watched the news, and there were no changes. Things were only getting worse. I guess I should go get the saw and the crowbar and hammer to break us out of the attic, I thought. All of Wanda\'s brothers and sisters and nieces were calling to tell her they didn\'t want us to die. They were crying desperately. This whole experience was wearing me out, so I went and took a nap. I slept for a while and when I woke up, I felt refreshed and was ready to start out again. So I left the Bible open to the 91st Psalm: You who dwell in the shelter... and then I placed my St. Joseph bread at every doorway and left the house in his hands. Let me make one thing perfectly clear, although reluctant at first, at this point I was ready, willing and able, definitely \"in the zone.\"\r\n It was 4:30 pm and raining when we got in the car and headed up Veterans highway. When we saw Causeway, Wanda said let\'s try the Causeway, but I heard on the news that it was blocked up. We went that way anyway, and the sign at the entrance of the bridge said something like, traffic backed up ahead. I tell you at this time Katrina was lapping at our heels. The Lake was ominous, dark and threatening. It was swollen and it felt like we were entering into a great unknown. We drove on into the squalls with that small car swaying back and forth across the lanes. The warning sign flashed ahead, and every few miles we encountered the same warning: Traffic ahead, but guess what, we never found any traffic. It was just me and Wanda on that desolate 24-mile bridge alone against the storm. \r\n So we drove on farther and farther from the curs-ed city and its Lake Pontchartrain. We got off the bridge not knowing which way to go, so I took 59 to Abita Springs. Ever since I got out of that gridlock on the I-10 East, I swore to take the back roads, so I headed north where no one else was going; the roads were empty, and all the headlights were pointing at us going in the opposite direction. Most people headed out west because the hurricane was expected to veer northeast after crossing the coast. The roads were desolate, and there was nowhere to buy gas. Every station was closed until finally up in Bogalusa I found an oasis. We waited for a long time to buy gas, but it was worth it. We got to go to the bathroom and get snacks, and for the first time in many hours I began to see the light. We were making some progress, but still not knowing exactly how to get where we were going. The enemy was gridlock, avoid at all costs.\r\n I was sitting in the car alone when a black lady walked by headed for her pickup truck. I compulsively said, \"Excuse me, but do you know how to get on the interstate from here?\" And this angel responded: \"I\'m headed that way; just get behind me.\" Wanda came back to the car and she met our new friend, Twanda. She was with her small son and they were headed to Atlanta to stay with relatives. Atlanta was a heck of a long way to travel at 6 in the evening. The rain was still coming down when we got behind Twanda hell bent and heading north to freedom.\r\n Now I just realized that this was one of many references to slavery that we experience throughout the trip. We were evacuees, some say refugees and we felt like it. I don\'t know, but this feeling was mysterious how we felt like we were victims like so many peoples of history. We were having some kind of strange identity experience. \r\n So we were off again for many miles and many hours on the back roads up to Columbia. It was time to make a decision about our direction, so we called Twanda on her cell phone and we couldn\'t get through, neither could see get through to us. I tell you these cell phones were pretty useless. So she pulled off the road and jumped out in the pouring rain and asked us what did we think. \"You know what the traffic was like coming out of New Orleans, do you think it\'s OK to get on I-49 yet?\" \"Let\'s go for it,\" I said. So we drove into Hattiesburg, and I was thinking, this would be a nice place to stop, but good thing we didn\'t cause Hattiesburg got hit real hard the next day. Everything was proceeding smoothly as we followed Twanda to the onramp of the interstate, but suddenly we realized that she was in the wrong lane trying desperately to get over. She couldn\'t make it in time, but we did, and in an instant our angel had departed. \r\n Once again we were all alone on that dark and desolate highway. We drove and drove and tried to get in touch with Twanda, but no luck, she was gone. We were only half way to Birmingham, and it was already 9 o\'clock. My eyes were blurring trying to see through the dark and the rain on that long ribbon of highway. We were surprised that for all this time we seemed to avoid the traffic jams. Wanda got through to her sister Sylvia and said we were on our way. How lucky we were so far, but that was about to change in Meridian, MS. Up ahead the traffic was slowing down, slowing down to a crawl and then to a stop. I was faced with the thing I dreaded the most, the thing that almost made me stay at home to die a horrible death. It had met the enemy, and it was gridlock. Woe is me, I moaned... and it was going so well. So for next 2 hours, we inched our way into the city of Meridian. Exhausted, I pulled into a gas station where people were camping out all over the place. \"Can you believe that traffic jam, I told some stranger.\" I asked the clerk at the cash register if he knew of a good place to eat, and he told me, and the Spirit spoke: \"House of Pancakes,\" somewhere up the road a proverbial stones - throw or something, but I did manage to find my way there, and that turned out to be another oasis with other angels. \r\n I was very tired at this point and needed refreshment. I know Wanda could have driven, but this was my responsibility. Anyway I ordered the biggest breakfast they had, and while we waited, the waitress gave us the bad news. \"There\'s a traffic jam all the way to Tusculousa,\" she said. Another road block in this odyssey, how discouraging. The owner of this Howard Johnson\'s House of Pancakes spoke up, \"I purposely kept this place open for all the evacuees,\" she said. \"You see that booth back there; you can camp out there for the storm.\" O my, how inviting, I dreaded.\r\n The breakfast came and it was glorious, but guess what, I couldn\'t eat. I just wasn\'t in the eating mood. \"What are we going to do now?\" I bemoaned. Wanda said, \"I know! Let\'s see if we can get through to Twanda.\" So she called her on the cell phone and this time, ureka, there she was! And Twanda spoke the words I longed to hear, \"It\'s all clear up ahead; I\'m right out of Tuscalousa.\" Now where did she get those wings, I thought. So we packed up those eggs and rolled out on the highway, not looking back. \r\n The weather had cleared up by now, it was pretty smooth sailing and we eventually got to the Garner\'s house at 1 in the morning. And from the time I left our house at 4:30 \'till 1 am, I tell you I was running a race, never letting up, relentlessly forging ahead, but now we were there, at last. And it felt great, I mean really great.\r\n\r\nMonday Morning\r\n\r\n Now Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the gulf coast the morning of August 29th, but for us in this beautiful place, that was the farthest thing from my mind. When we woke that Monday morning it was like a resurrection. How beautiful it was compared to the harrowing experience of evacuation. I mean we went from preparing to die, to this oasis of peace and pleasure. Without bothering a soul, I awoke and stuffed by Howard Johnson\'s breakfast in the microwave; now that was glory. How funny things turn out. Really the reason I left New Orleans was basically, not because we would die, but because I figured it was going to be a major inconvenience. So we watch the news and it seemed like the city had dodged the bullet. The news guys were trying to find some destruction and it seemed like a joke. I\'m thinking all this for nothing; we could have stayed. But the next day it was a whole different story; the levees broke, and so did all hell break loose. No, it would not have been a good idea to stay back home, because the city had gone mad. Every few hours you heard a new horror story, and men had to guard their homes with guns, big guns. \r\n But for us in Hoover, Alabama that was another world. Let me explain something, Hoover is a place that\'s make-believe where all the people are friendly and bright. It\'s very idyllic there, you see. For the first week we had it great in that basement room, the lap of luxury. I don\'t get out very much, you know. But just like that road block in Meridian, when all is well with the world, that\'s when the next calamity comes. Now Wanda\'s sister, Sandra and her clan were doing fine in Lafayette, 120 relatives, I think it was. Somebody even wanted to give them a town, a miracle, I thought. But NO, that wasn\'t good enough for them, they wanted MY bed! \r\n So here they come, all 8 of them. I was having too good a time in my little lap of luxury. I was glad to have a family, don\'t get me wrong, glad I could be of assistance to these poor refugees, but I didn\'t think we should give up our beds. That\'s right we had 2 beds in that room, but we needed them. No, let them figure it out, that\'s not my problem. Well may be we should have given up that room, because the next morning our sleep was interrupted by the pitter patter of little feet, amplified by the little feet putting on someone else\'s great big heavy shoes and stamping all over our ceiling. The children of the storm have arrived. So immediately the conflict begins, the complaints and innuendoes, a great churning lake of discontent. Hey, but it was OK, anything\'s better then the looters back home, right. I can put up with this, and we did. My complaints were small, like a little small knife.\r\n But life goes on...\r\n\r\nHurricane Rita\r\n \r\n Can you believe it, another hurricane comes, and Houston is scrambling to get out of its way. Sylvia has a son, Jason in Houston, and guess what, he decides to come to Birmingham. O great, another 10 guests. I know... they want my bed, right? So here comes these people who can\'t even speak English, and they just max out the house, so me and Wanda figure let\'s be charitable and leave. We went to the Marriot Hotel which was quite luxurious, but a little damp on the carpet and a little smoky from the guy who\'s not supposed to be smoking next door. So next morning I complain, just a wee bit, \"Excuse me, I\'m not one too complain, but I thought you should know...\" OK so we get this beautiful breakfast on the house, best one I\'ve ever had, just like my mother used to make us when we were on vacation. \r\n So the next night we stay at Pam\'s house. Now all along I had longed to take a train ride, and I worked very hard on getting this trip together. We were going to take a train from Birmingham to Washington, D.C. the next morning. Pam drove us there and had to push us into the station. It looked like a chop shop on Airline highway. This can\'t be the train station, we thought. But oh yes it was. What a dreary place. They had some maniac waiting for the train with his shirt off, and I was thinking you could walk in this place with an AK 47 around your shoulder and nobody would bat an eye. How dreadful, but Pam kept insisting, \"It\'ll be an adventure,\" she said. An adventure indeed, with the conductor yelling \"All aboard,\" then \"Never mind, everybody back to your seats, damn it, the train is late again.\" Was this a sign of things to come, I wondered. So later on the conductor puts me on the baggage car which had to be a hundred years old if it was a day, and he wheels me out to the open track with Wanda running behind. Then we had to sit out there alone waiting for a train, like Jimmy Rodgers, just me and Wanda and that conductor. \r\n Eventually it came, and it was exciting. The porter was very nice and took care of us very well. The room was the biggest room on the train with two bunks, a bathroom and a shower. We went to dinner that night, and it was fabulous, but I don\'t know how they keep steady with those trays. Now I don\'t know if trains have gotten worse since I was a kid, or may be I never notice back then, but man, was that a rough ride, so rough that I never slept but one hour that night. I just stared out of the window for 5 states. The next morning the breakfast again was fabulous, first class you know. On a train you meet a lot of nice people, and that makes it adventure. Well 21 hours later and 2 hours late we arrived in the capitol. \r\n\r\nWashington D.C.\r\n\r\n We rolled into Washington station around noon. We walked for what seemed like miles with that heavy suitcase, and eventually we met up with our dear friends Bonnie & Coleman O\'Donaghue who were waiting patiently outside. Our stay there brought back a lot of good memories; it was great to see them again and go on some band jobs and see the capitol. \r\n Coleman had a band job in a really nice restaurant downtown. We were freaking out at the prices, but the band got half off. We sat at a table next to the band with the bass player\'s two daughters and later his girlfriend came to join us. After that Coleman took us for a nighttime tour of the city. That was truly amazing. We walked through the Vietnam Memorial in the dark. Then we continued on to the Lincoln Memorial, and that was indescribable as we gazed out over the Washington Monument reflecting pool. We did get busted up there for using the elevator after hours, but who would\'ve known? We got in the elevator and started pushing buttons, and nothing was moving, so we pushed some more and it took off. When we got to the top, the elevator door opened to the astonishment of this Barney Fife-like deputy who was flabbergasted and didn\'t quite know what to do with us. He said nervously, \"Hurry up, hurry up, you shouldn\'t be in here!\" But that cooled down quickly, and we went out to see the gigantic statue of Lincoln lit up in the night. Then we went to look out at the beautiful scene of the reflecting pool, and as we stood there on a star-shaped spot, Coleman said, \"You see that little star down there by your feet, that\'s the exact spot were Martin Luther King gave his \'I Have a Dream\' speech.\" It wasn\'t by chance that we stood in that spot, I thought. No, this is our way again of experiencing what it means to relate to people who are \"tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.\" \r\n As I stood there I could feel there pain, their desolation, and I think that\'s probably what these monuments were meant to do. I could almost hear the weird music like in that Patton movie when he stood looking out at the ancient battlefield. It was all very eerie. I\'m glad we came to Washington, it made my prayers so much more valuable. \r\n When we arrived in D.C. the train was late, so we missed Sunday Mass for the first time in a long time, but the following Sunday we attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception which is the largest Catholic Church in the Americas and is numbered among the largest churches in the world. After a visit to this magnificent Shrine, one can easily get the sense that this is, in fact, the Spiritual Capital of the United States of America. In 1792, John Carroll, the Bishop of Baltimore and America\'s first Roman Catholic bishop, consecrated the newly created American nation under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Immaculate Conception. In 1847, Pope Pius IX formalized Bishop Carroll\'s acclamation as the pope himself officially proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as patroness of the United States. In subsequent years, a few priests imagined an elaborate shrine in honor of their country\'s patroness. \r\n As I prayed in that church I felt a great joy in the presence of God. I gave thanks for God\'s Providence. \"The breakers of death surged round about me, the destroying floods overwhelmed me; the cords of the nether world enmeshed me, the snares of death overtook me. In my distress I called upon the Lord and cried out to my God; from his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.\" (Psalm 18) How good it was for us to be here in that awesome place.\r\n We lived for a week in an apartment in a little college section where weird scholarly people lived. I heard a violin practicing out of an open window, and there was a very cool health food restaurant that had live music where we spent a lot of time. They even had a music festival to benefit Katrina victims. We did go to Bruce\'s Blaylock\'s house and jam one night, and he was very gracious to us like a long-lost relative. We played music for the first time 25 years ago. It didn\'t seem like that long ago. Who would have thought that we would have made such good friends with these Yankees. Like Bruce says, \"I\'m just so proud of myself that I have such good taste in friends.\" He wanted us to stay in D.C. longer, but Wanda was anxious to get back home. But how was that going to happen; the train was miserable and planes were not for me. Well another angel came to our rescue. Bonnie offered to take us back to Chattanooga, a 700 mile trip to visit her friend, Holden who recently had breast cancer surgery. \r\n So at 6 am Bonnie drove us down on Skyline Drive which was the highlight of the trip. We saw many deer, turkeys, chipmunks and even bears in the Shenandoah National Park. They had no fear of us; it was an amazing scene. The Blueridge Mountains were spectacular. We stopped in a great place for yet another memorable breakfast and that night we stayed in a place called \"Meadows of Dan\" and spent the night in a nice cabin. Virginia is a beautiful place. We continued on to the Blue Ridge Parkway and wanted to go through the Smokies, but decided to draw the line. \r\n\r\nChattanooga\r\n\r\n We arrived in Chattanooga that evening and had a fine dinner with Holden, her ex-husband Mark and their little boy, Hatch named after the Indians. We didn\'t quite know what to expect, and we didn\'t know where we would stay that night. I was ready to get a motel, but Holden was very kind to us. She brought us up to her mother\'s house to stay the night on Lookout Mountain. Her mother was out of town for the weekend, so we had the house to ourselves. Now who could have planned it better. The night was cool as we drove up that mountain past Ruby Falls, higher even then Rock City. We felt like we won a contest or something. The next morning was beautiful and the house was too. Holden took us to tour the city, but before that we went to Hatch\'s school to take him out at lunchtime. He was a very friendly kid, and he really wanted to be a part of this. \r\n They took us to the Tennessee River and to eat, and then they took us to the monument that commemorated the \"Trail of Tears.\" That was the exact spot by the river were all the townspeople gather up the Cherokee people to begin there journey west. There was a pool were everyone waded which represented their tears. Now this was another spot where you could cut the emotion with a knife. You could really feel what it meant to be an evacuee, a refugee. It\'s amazing how these monuments move you. I was getting that eerie feeling again.\r\n It was time for us to say goodbye to our friends, so we went to pick up a rental car at the airport. It was sad to tell Holden goodbye. One never knows how the cancer grows. In her case it metastasized and spread to her limp nodes; that\'s never a good sign. So I put her on my long prayer list. And we said goodbye to Bonnie who is such a good person to leave her family to go so far away, or may be she just needed a little adventure. Bonnie is one of a kind.\r\n We drove down to Birmingham; it\'s only a 2 hour drive and that much closer to home. Now Pam and her husband Sparky had to go to Metairie to fix her mother\'s house, so they all stayed at our house. They cleaned the freezer out, and they took the boards off the windows. They even went up on the roof to replace the chimney cap, more angels. We picked up our car, stayed another night, ate more mushrooms, said goodbye and thanks to the Garners and headed back home for a long drive. This time Wanda drove halfway. \r\n \r\n\r\nDo You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans\r\n\r\n After five and a half weeks we arrived home. Our neighbors were so excited to show us the St. Joseph bread that was still in the bowl outside of the door, but it was no longer there. OK, but I have faith that St. Joseph was watching out for us none the less. The house was alright with minor damage, but it was Bucktown that I wanted to see. Bucktown is a fishing village on the northwest end of New Orleans. We lived in a stick house on Lake Pontchartrain for 16 years. My son Michael was born there, and last year he moved there to make his home while he attended the University of New Orleans close by. It was the fear of hurricanes that made us leave our happy home back in 1990. They used to knock on the door and say, \"You have 15 minutes to get out before we sandbag the road.\" And this time what we had dreaded for so many years really happened.\r\n The next day we went out there to find nothing. We found no wood, no furniture, no bed, no clothes, no artifacts, no nothing, not even the refrigerator, just somebody\'s car in the spot where the house once stood. What kind of wave was this that took out a whole village in one swoosh. All of Bucktown\'s history was gone. It was no more. Strange, but I felt a sense of relief, one less thing to worry about, I guess. So much has changed around here; hopefully it will be for the better. We all have our tales to tell. Yes, the hurricane\'s long gone, but Katrina stories will continue on for years to come.\r\n Really our family was very lucky. There are so many people not so lucky. I assure you as an evacuee, I\'ve spent many hours praying for the victims of this hurricane. The one thing I\'ve learned since returning to New Orleans is that so many lives have been affected by this tragedy, so many families disrupted and so many hearts have been broken. It\'s hard to conceive of the devastation. You know there\'s two ways to look at this, and people have been hurt on both sides. There was that toy train display in Lakeside shopping center for Christmas with all those little blue tarps on the roofs of all those broken little houses. What one man thought was funny, really did hurt others. I played music for St. Michael\'s Special School\'s Christmas play this year. They did a skit to the music of Fats Domino\'s Walking to New Orleans. The kids came out with mops and buckets and chemical face masks and bottles of bleach. The audience roared with laughter. Many of those very kids in that skit had lost homes, and one boy even had to swim to survive. But most people don\'t really put themselves in somebody else\'s shoes until it happens to them. I\'m sorry that I have had so much when others have so little. I\'m really kind of ashamed to even write this diary in the face of such utter despair. \r\n\r\nWas Hurricane Katrina a Chastisement from God?\r\n\r\n There was a prayer written years ago and in that prayer was a prophesy. It says: \"... deliver us from the tide of evil threatening to drown our city...\"And that prophesy surely has come to pass. So what do you think? Was hurricane Katrina a punishment from God as Mayor Nagin so boldly pronounced in a speech on Martin Luther King Day? \r\n In his speech Nagin attributed the recent hurricanes striking the United States to a God who is \"mad at America...\" Was Mayor Nagin wrong? Was he talking crazy? Archbishop Hannan, the retired Archbishop of New Orleans and a wonderful man preached very strongly that this was a chastisement from God. He believes that we as a nation have a destiny and are responsible whether we cause it or not for the course of morality in our nation. \r\n Of course Archbishop Hannan is giving his own personal opinion. It isn\'t the official teaching of the Church, and unfortunely their isn\'t a whole lot written in any Church documents or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church about this subject. \r\n \"Whenever the Church speaks of situations of sin, or when she condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins.... The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals\" (John Paul II).\r\n If the responsibility lies with us as individuals then we need to put our own house in order by living lives of holiness. Then and only then will our curses be transformed into blessings and our crosses into crowns.\r\n \"God would not allow any evil to exist unless out of it he could draw a greater good. This is part of the wisdom and goodness of God.\" (St. Augustine) \r\n \"But let all who take refuge in you be glad and exult forever. Protect them, that you may be the joy of those who love your name. For you, O Lord, bless the just man; you surround him with the shield of your good will. (Psalm 5: 12-13)\r\n \r\n\r\n

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Jimmy Gennaro, “[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed April 18, 2019, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/42439.