Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Now Harvey!
As we prepared for Hurricane Harvey last night, I was reminded of our hurricane excitement, 12 years ago.
In August of 2005, evacuees of Hurricane Katrina filled Houston's Astrodome. I lugged my Quilt and a load of "kid supplies" to the temporary shelter.
I had no idea how I would be able to help.I remember being intimidated when I entered the eerie Astrodome. I found a spot in the sea of cots and tried to create a playful oasis for the children.
Red Cross Shelter
A few days later, I lugged my quilt and supplies to another shelter. A church in Sugar Land had been set up by the Red Cross, to house more hurricane victims. The smaller shelter was more relaxed than the big dome. I gathered children on the quilt for games and stories. I hoped I could also offer the parents a brief break from tending to their anxious or bored children.
I returned another day, but the atmosphere was very different. As I approached the building an anxious evacuee saw me carrying my quilt. "Oh, you can't stay here!" She warned me. "We're evacuating!"
I obviously hadn't been keeping up with the news of Hurricane Rita, which was headed for Houston. Parents began gathering their families outside the building, where buses would soon arrive to carry them, once again to a safer location. I saw the big tree in the yard and spread the quilt.
Songs, Games and Good-byes!
I tried again to give the kids a positive distraction, with puppets and books and games. Parents readied themselves nearby, getting instructions and information about their new evacuation.
When buses pulled up, parents came to get their kids. I discreetly handed bags to moms, with toiletries and a few surprises. I felt bad that I didn't have a bag for every adult and child on each bus.
Evacuating My Mom
When I got home, there was a message on my phone telling me I needed to come pick up my mom.
Her assisted living residence was evacuating to Tyler, Texas. If we didn't get there soon, she would be put on the bus.I raced to get Mom and her best buddy, Tucker. She was fairly giddy about riding out the hurricane with us at the house. Her bag had already been packed.
Preparing for Rita
After hearing the horrific stories about New Orleans, Houston residents took Rita seriously.
As the hurricane headed our way, half of our neighbors packed up and hit the road, while the other half prepared to stay put.
It helped to have decent weather as we boarded up and moved lawn furniture inside.
We decided to sacrifice the beach ball and used a Sharpee to write a message with our phone number.
By late evening, the skies grew dramatic, but there was no rain.
A Positive Sign
The rainbow seemed like a pretty positive sign, even if the predictions were awful.
After filling up bathtubs with water and eating a feast of barbecued chicken, we settled down to games.
We headed to bed, wondering if sleep would be interrupted.
The trees and clouds looked eerie in the morning light, but all was in place... except the beach ball. It was gone. Sadly, we never heard from any "finders".
We hadn't lost power. Our bathtub water wasn't needed. We hadn't even wasted any gas, like some of our dear friends who gave up on evacuating and headed home after hours of standstill traffic. We lucked out... but there were many who didn't fair so well.
Back at the Women's Shelter
In a few days, I was back volunteering at the county shelter where I regularly did programs with kids.
When I arrived at the shelter, I was met with a number of children who had recently moved in, after evacuating from New Orleans. Once again the quilt became a safe and cozy spot for children who had been through so much more than I could ever imagine.
Last night as Hurricane Harvey headed for landfall, we watched the news with somewhat giddy anticipation. I sipped my wine and felt relieved that the eye was far south. I jumped and sometimes laughed, when numerous tornado alerts blasted on the TV. We sort of enjoyed our hurricane party and I feel a little guilty about that, now.
What Did I Learn?
It was odd 12 years ago to volunteer with hurricane victims, then suddenly realize I might become one. I'm glad we didn't become Rita evacuees. Even if we had dealt with more damage and drama, there still would have been no comparison. We had options about staying or leaving. We had a strong levee and cars filled with gas. We had resources and support available... at least I'm guessing that we had more than the people I met at the shelters. Natural disasters affect everyone. But there are so many people who have limited options about how to deal with a sudden disaster. That makes me sad.
I wrote this post yesterday, but woke this morning to the news of Houston flooding. At this point our home is safe, but there are so many homeless in the Houston area!
As soon as roads are safe to travel, I'll take the quilt and head for one of the newly opened hurricane shelters... and see how I can help.
Update #2! After posting this blog, our neighborhood ended up with a mandatory evacuation. My husband and I ended up becoming Harvey Evacuees for 4 nights. We were lucky and our house stayed dry. We're back home and the quilt is making rounds.
Summers We Remember
I wanted to fill about 10 boxes with crazy memory props. It was tempting to fill a plastic, kiddie pool with watermelon. But I've been trying to remind myself to simplify these gatherings. It's hard holding back.
Games of Summer
Most of our discussions revolved around childhood memories of summer and the games we played. Robert remembered playing baseball, among other things.
Margie shook her head and giggled about playing hide-n-seek. She nearly jumped out of her chair when she demonstrated how she used to leap out of hiding, to shout, "Boo!"
Photos Spark Memories
I unloaded more stuff from my bag, while the morning group amused themselves with photos of picnics, swimming, hammocks and beaches. It was fun to see how the old summertime photos brought laughter and chatter to one end of the table. I couldn't understand the Spanish, but I think stories were being remembered.
At the other end of the table we had summer garden discussions. That of course lead to favorite summer foods, like watermelon and corn. That lead to talk of picnics and barbecues and how wonderful food tastes, when you cook and eat outdoors. We wondered if kids today even know that there used to be seeds in watermelon... and that half the fun was spitting them out!
Where would you relax?
We passed the chair around the group, to help spotlight whose turn it was. We heard about cushioned wicker chairs, in the shade of trees, dripping in Spanish moss. There were imagined rockers and hammocks and loungers, with views of rivers and cliffs and yards filled with family. A few were hesitant sharing in English, but other jumped in to interpret. We took off on a few fun tangents. One was a memory of being a child, picking cotton in the hot sun. "I remember taking a rest in the shade, lying on top of my picking sack." I loved that image of the cotton-filled sack, becoming a child's nap mattress.
Summer's Beginning and End
We discussed what was different about the beginning and the end of summer. Joyce said the beginning was full of anticipation, thinking about all the fun ahead. I talked about how I used to dread summer's end, when I saw store windows advertising "Back to School Sales". Betty laughed. "You didn't want to go back to school?" Betty lived in the country and she said there were lots of chores in the summer. "I couldn't wait for school!" She laughed.
Bikes and Skates
I shouldn't have been surprised that so many didn't have bikes as children. Bikes played a big role in my childhood summers. Surprisingly, more had memories of roller skates. Betty took hers to school and loved zooming down the hill on the way home. In my afternoon group, the skate on the table inspired a funny game, when Sadie balanced a couple of chairs on the metal skate. The funny toy-on-wheels ended up rolling around the table, collecting objects. (I never know how props will end up getting used!)
I had some fun surprises from my afternoon group when I added a little music to the table. Sly & The Family Stone's, "Hot Fun in the Summertime" isn't a song that I expected anyone to recognize. But the easygoing late '60's tune, inspired some clapping and laughter. Bertha started with a slow, sweeping clap and others followed. Before long we were taking turns leading the others with our unique clapping styles. Again, this wasn't a game that had been planned.
Dancing at the Table
The music from the romantic movie "A Summer Place" was recognized by all. Immediately a few began to smile and sway. I was cautious, because this was a popular song, back in the day. Many of these folks were young and in love when the song played on the radio or at dances. Music can make memories surface and sober a group quickly. We kept it just light enough, by talking about dancing and then "dancing as a group" around the table. It's hard to compete with memories of dancing with an old sweetheart, but swaying and swooning and yes, laughing a bit as a group, was fun. Our spontaneous hand holding didn't seem corny or forced, it just seemed to fit the moment. None of us had our sweethearts with us, but we all had hands to hold.
When I played a recording of Gershwin's Summertime, a theatrical mood hit the group.
I grabbed a folding fan and wiped my brow and fanned slowly. The fan made it around the table, with each showing us a little "fan drama". Carol made us laugh as she playfully peeled back her pretend-sticky blouse, then waved the fan. Many sang along with the old favorite. Mary accidentally changed the words. "Summertime and the women are easy..." Without teasing, I laughed. "The women are easy?"
I'm not sure how many caught it, that the word should have been living, not women. But the giddy group broke into laughter.
Sharing Stories, Hugs and Kisses
In my afternoon group, I noticed how the cozy, air-conditioned room seemed to warm up with all our summer talk. But instead of slowing us down or making people cranky, our "heated discussions" seemed to lighten moods. It was hard to pull myself away from both of my happy groups on Tuesday.
But in my afternoon group, I've never felt the need to share about my health. Have the folks in my afternoon group suddenly become more affectionate or am I just now noticing the way they've always been? Either way, it's a nice thing to see. It's a pretty pleasant way to spend a day, observing, giving and receiving hugs! No complaints!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.