Note: As this article was being written in Louisiana, Hurricane Dennis, a powerful category three hurricane, was blasting the entire Gulf Coast.
The Louisiana morning in 1965 began like most others, with Mom's tuneful voice calling out, "Time to rise and shine, sleepyheads." I was happy to wake on this particular September morning. It was the best week of my life of seven years—I had finally started school. However, the day would prove to be less than shining. We knew it was never a good thing when the television was still on the weather during breakfast. Especially since the New Orleans weatherman was showing a map with bold warnings for heavy wind and rainfall on the way. All caused by a hurricane named Betsy. We had seen hurricanes before in our few childhood years of living in close proximity to the gulf. The wind would blow and tree limbs would fall, and, of course, there was always plenty of rain.
This hurricane seemed different. It hung ominously over the start of my otherwise wonderful new school week. I liked my first grade teacher, Mrs. Keneker. She had a warm, smiling face, with thin hands that would shake slightly as she held your paper. She had instructed the class to draw a picture of anything we liked, and I had found a giraffe on the big "G" letter card above the board to draw. "It's a beautiful giraffe," she said. I knew at that moment that I liked her, and I was definitely going to like school.
It seemed as soon as we had gotten to school that day, the principal interrupted with the announcement that school was letting out due to the weather, and we promptly went back home. Dad came home early from work that afternoon, with a new toy for each of us, his six kids. I'm sure he was trying to take our minds off the impending weather. My little sister and I had each gotten a doll, and we liked that it could actually stand up, and was even taller than my new baby brother. As the evening drew near, the winds were blowing harder and rains were coming down steadily. Mother came in later to kiss us all goodnight and reassure us that things would be all right. I went to bed with my new doll that stormy night, feeling just a little afraid.
We were awakened by my brother skidding into our room at daybreak exclaiming, "The water is up to the top step!" As I ran to the front door to see if it were true, I was thinking it might be the same as stormy times before—we would have lots of water to splash in. Although, the look on my parents' faces made me quickly realize that playing wasn't what we would be doing that day. They knew the water had come up too fast, and the local news said it was on the rise with a possible break in the levee system. Many neighbors had already left from our little suburb. Dad came back with a small boat almost as quickly as he'd left. I was told to get dressed and wait by the door with my four siblings. As they steadied the boat up to our front door, I stepped into the small space and sat down, squeezing close together so we could all fit. Mother said since I was the oldest girl, I would have to hold my new baby brother. I gulped at the responsibility, and didn't even think about my new doll I had to leave behind as I gazed into my brother's newborn eyes. He grinned as though we were just on another family outing. My parents pushed the boat as we glided softly down our sidewalk and away from our home.
After a short while, we started to see many other boats, and they were all heading to the same place as we were—the foot of the big drawbridge. We had been driven over this bridge many times. We used to try to scare each other and say it was the 'monster bridge' that ate cars, then we would all laugh—knowing it could not be true. Who wouldn't imagine it as the monster we saw, with its old-style drawbridge that would creak and moan as it raised its rusty metal roadway for the boats to pass through everyday?
We would soon reach the bridge. My parents explained that once there, we would meet a friend who had a car on the other side. She would then take us to her house and we would wait there for them to pick us up later. My parents were going back to our home to try to save as many things as possible. As they pushed the boat back toward home, I was too afraid to even think that they would not return safely. The lady was very nice and told us all to hold hands, while she carried our little brother. As we started up the bridge, she was conscious of the grill at the very top and smartly reminded us to put one foot carefully in front of the other, and, more importantly, not to look down. Once on top, as our feet hit the grill, I stepped cautiously and noticed the rectangular open spaces didn't quite feel right underfoot. My brother, of course, just had to look down, and then squealed with delight at what he saw. I thought that it might not look that creepy down there after all, so I bravely looked through the grill into the rushing water so far below. Within an instant, I was frozen in fear. All I could think, as I watched the water's rapid movement was, why? Why did I have to leave school when I was just starting? Why did we have to walk over this terrible bridge? Why did things have to change just when I started to like them? She must have realized that I had stopped walking, and kindly curved her arm around me to gently guide me ahead. It seemed like it took us a whole year to get to the other side of that old monster bridge.
|Tamour, after the storm,
on the Bay Saint Louis beach
Unfortunately, I would never see our beloved home again. I already missed running barefoot in the large, warm green grass yard, climbing the aged crepe myrtles by the street, meeting the bees eye to eye, as I sniffed masses of fragrant pink flowers. I missed strolling down the sidewalk when we were hot in summer, going for cold fruity snowballs, at the neighborhood snowball stand.
My parents returned safely to pick us up that day, and we began to piece together our family's water-torn existence. We were one of the lucky families, many lost lives in this storm.
Our family moved back to the small town on the Mississippi coast, where I was born. I felt comfortable there again, with many friends and family living the quiet country life. Having my favorite beach to sit and listen to the soft waves with the gulf's steady rhythmic surf, quickly restored my world to its original ease. I got new teachers that I liked—at a new school. The welcome challenge of learning to read greatly distracted me from some of my earlier misfortunes.
We eventually moved back to my beloved New Orleans. Now, after many years of life, I still shiver at crossing tall bridges, even in a car. At least, I understand the answers to the panicky questions I had asked myself that day at the top of the bridge, when I was so young and apprehensive.
I am now aware that, as water is the mass that flows under bridges, change is the mass that makes up our very lives. As we flow away from one place, we can only surge on toward the next. Accepting our fear of the unknown allows the adrenalin we need to bring about important transformations. Without change, there would be no movement. Without movement, there is no life. Just as the wind is the force behind a hurricane, challenges are what drive us to live up to our potential. Facing life's challenges, as well as successes, is the substance of life.
Tamour Allen is a writer and artist and is the Editorial Manager at Moondance. She has numerous writings strewn about the net, as well as in print, including the national cuisine magazine, Louisiana Cookin'. Her art has been shown in various galleries and festivals. She relishes in metaphors and the subtle twist of a phrase, and delights in bringing both pictures and words together, blending the synchronicity of nature into our world.