We're back in Birmingham for a few more days. Overall, the outlook for us is very good. The only reason we did not stay is that we won't have power for at least another week -- the storm completely ripped our meter and breaker box from the house, even taking parts of the weatherboards with it! So no electricity until we have that repaired. Our neighbor who drove in with us is in the same boat, so we decided pretty early in our day to do a few things, deal with the refrigerators, and head back to B'ham the same day. We left the places boarded up -- they are dry inside, and removing so many screws without power tools just didn't seem to make sense. They will also be a bit more secure until we can return.
All of the happy news:
- Traffic -- very minimal -- no giant lines of people coming into nola. No trouble on the Causeway, no trouble anywhere!
- Interior of house -- as if we had just left, almost. A little stale, but not smelly. Bathroom smelled like soap. Closets smelled like clean clothes. Everything just where we left it. No spray paint on outside of our house (did see it in the neighborhood, though) -- no breakins, no looting. Same for our neighbor.
- Tap water -- looked great, smelled normal, no weird odors, colors or anything. Looked like you could bathe with it; we did not try, however.
- Neighbors and businesses -- people on our street, cleaning up, mowing lawns, dealing with debris. Lots of signs of life uptown -- businesses opening up or preparing to open, little signs on the neutral ground advertising clean up services, or stores open -- our vet is open, a few food establishments open -- just real hope for renewal.
- Our school looks just as we left it with the exception of my favorite magnolia tree. Even some exterior bulletin boards still had paper and letters on them! My classroom is a time capsule of August 27. No smells. Fish even surviving. Fed them and watered the plants.
- We finally met the guy down the street from us (a former board member at our school, with a granddaughter there in second grade) -- he is a contractor, and he had an electrician at our house that day to assess the damage -- we feel very lucky to have an electrician lined up so quickly!
- No signs on our street of unsavory behavior or looting of houses. Did find two abandoned still packaged Speidel watch bands on our sidewalk. Someone must have dropped them after fleeing Wal Mart, perhaps?
- The air smelled great. No weird odors -- unless you are within a few feet of an abandoned refrigerator, and the breeze is blowing your way.
- No packs of abandoned animals, no corpses, no rats, no death and destruction, no crying by me!
And a very magical moment for me -- as we approached the house for the very first time, I saw a red bird in the bent-way-over tulip tree. I thought it was a cardinal at first, which would be cool enough. But it turned out to be a summer tanager, a much rarer bird. It stayed for a minute or two. It looked a bit confused. Tanagers like to stay high in the treetops -- maybe it was surprised at how many high treetops in the city were no longer there. The first picture I took was of that bird. It's not a great shot, but I will always remember the kind of child-like happiness I had at discovering this cool bird in the yard, before I paid close attention to the loss of most of our trees.
Less happy news, but none devastating:
- Our yard took a beating. Back yard fence down. Fence poles sheared off at the base. Wow. Two out of three palm trees gone, redbud dead, tulip tree fallen over, all shade trees in back yard out of commission -- basically every large thing we ever planted in our yard is in bad shape. Giant timber bamboo all fallen down. Jasmine arbor twisted and busted. However, flowers were blooming, lots of stuff was green, the grass is fine of course, and the pine tree is still standing. The key lime lost a major limb, but looks like it will survive.
- Ceiling fell down in one small part of the house. Did not cause damage to anything below it, though.
- One window with a small part of the pane broken.
- Bunches of shingles off of the roof, some small patches of daylight coming into the attic. We have lots of work to do with the roof. But hey, it's still there.
- A lot of trees in the city are down. The ones that are up lost a lot of limbs and leaves. I hope that they recover. Part of what makes uptown so appealing to many is the shade. It is significantly less shady right now.
Ok, the refrigerator deserves its own tribute paragraph - or two. The air within a foot of the fridge had an awful, putrid smell. There were fruit-fly sized pupae (like little cocoons) on the outside of the fridge. Probably a couple hundred of them, clustered in clumps here and there. Lots of 'em in the nooks and crannies in the rubber gasket around the doors. These tiny maggots are apparently able to work their way in and out of the refrigerator. Maybe the adult flies are small enough to find their way inside too, to begin the whole life cycle process. Maybe they get in through the ventilation system. Maybe our food is not pre-egged after all.
We did not open it. At all. Ever. We duct taped that sucker shut, loaded it onto the hand truck and wheeled it out. On the way out it had a terrible bout of fridge diarrhea. And that's exactly what it looked like and smelled like. Extremely watery, with a few lumps. Dark brown, almost black. Like something died, which I guess it did. Unbelievably foul. There was no way that I was going to open that fridge and deal with that odor further, and have that odor ingrained in my smell memory in association with the place where I keep my food. Two work guys helped us move it out onto the street. Goodbye, fridge.
Our day passed quickly. It was hot, even with the slight relief of a "cool front". It took a while to remove the refrigerator liquid from the deep spaces between the wooden floorboards in our kitchen. It took a while to take pictures of everything. It took a while just to soak in the scene. We got hungry, but we didn't eat. Shaw propped up the outside fence and took care of a few other yard things.
We didn't drive around that much. We didn't go to the devastated parts of the city, the parts that took on water. We didn't feel right about driving around gawking at people who lost so much. We didn't drive by houses of friends -- I don't know why. In fact, on the drive home that night, I was kicking myself for not checking on friends' houses so close to ours. Maybe it was a subconscious way to avoid ending up being the bearer of bad news? Maybe it was a way to avoid looking at some but not others? At the time I didn't think about it in terms of making a decision. It just happened that way. Part of it, I think, is being mentally overwhelmed. I forgot to do just about everything that I did not have written down. It was like nothing was sticking in my head.
So, what now, Post-Katrina? We go home, we do a ton of yard work, we rebuild the fences, we repair the roof, and we go back to being teachers. I have no trouble any longer picturing myself riding my bicycle to school and having a "normal" day. I know in my head that the hard part is not over, and just because our little swath of the city looks so great doesn't mean that there isn't major loss and difficulty elsewhere, but right now it's enough for me to have hope and envision a return to a place I love. We are so grateful for the outpouring of offers from so many friends and family of places to stay, help of all kinds, and general good wishes during this tough time. Part of me would love to be traveling the country to see everyone, but I think it's time to go home.
So, let us know if you'll be in town for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras. You can stay with us. You still get your own bathroom, the TV and the stereo. Or come back and see us sooner. If you like to do roofing or fence repair, we'll see you next week!