Where Gratitude Abides

Hurricane Ike innundates the Galveston Seawall Memorial to victims of the 1900 Storm

Two months after Hurricane Ike ravaged the Texas Coast, ferry service once again connected Galveston Island with the Bolivar Penninsula. The primary link between the island and coastal communities to the east, the ferry is both a luxury and a necessity. Each trip carries a combination of residents, fishermen, commuters, and sightseers intent on nothing more than the simple pleasures of crossing the water: feeding seagulls from the after deck, or watching dolphins off the bow.

Hurricane damage to the ferries and their landings was significant after the storm. Even the channels required dredging, filled as they were with sand and silt deposited by the surging water. The need to transport heavy equipment and emergency supplies to communities like Crystal Beach and Port Bolivar was primary. But in time, even before full service was restored, anyone could come along for the trip.

One day, a woman ahead of me in a grocery line mentioned to the checker that she’d made a special trip to Galveston to ride the ferry, I asked her why. “Because I could”, she said with a laugh. “It sure felt good.”

In the beginning, there was much that didn’t feel at all good. Twenty-foot-high piles of debris weren’t good, nor were the boats dry-docked in front yards and parking lots. Homes reduced to empty, concrete slabs evoked despair in families displaced without adequate temporary housing. The bureaucracies drove everyone crazy, and more than a few people became convinced their insurance adjusters, FEMA officials, or state insurance pool administrators were the devil incarnate.

But in time, the mountains of debris began to disappear. Waterways were cleared, and marina slips sounded. Shrimp boats began working the bay, and new fences appeared around yards. Young, wind-bent trees were straightened and staked, even as leaning and broken power poles were replaced, one by one. Though individuals continued to suffer, and suffer grievously, it became clear: for the communities of the upper Texas Coast, the time for relief efforts was over. The road to recovery had begun.

Portofino Harbor ~ September 15, 2008
Portofino Harbor ~ November 15, 2008

Shocked by the level of Ike’s destruction,  many people initially had despaired of recovery.

Entire neighborhoods had been wiped off the map. The Topwater Grill in San Leon was gone, as was the fishing fleet that supplied area restaurants. The Classic Cafe, Skipper’s Café, Okie’s Liquor, and Joe Lee’s restaurant were nothing but shells. Even Maribelle’s, an infamous waterfront bar with a history of dead bodies in the restrooms and live bodies competing for the title of “Miss Wharf Rat” was swept into the shallows of Galveston Bay.

But by November,  despite some small business closings, the Classic Cafe had reopened, the Topwater Grill announced plans to reopen, the shrimp boats were trawling, and regular progress reports were being posted throughout the area.

As restaurants began re-opening in Galveston, an important announcement was made. One of the Island’s traditional holiday events, Dickens on the Strand, would take place as usual, though events would be limited to daylight hours, partly to allow people to see the progress  being made toward restoration of the city’s justly famous historic district.

Even in small communities like San Leon, Bacliff, Crystal Beach, and High Island, restaurants and gas stations opened. High-end bed and breakfasts may have been traded for rows of mattresses with granola bars tucked under the pillows, but time and effort were stitching life back together.

Once basic services were restored, an unorganized but effective grass-roots economic recovery movement developed, as people began to put dollars available for hurricane relief back into the local economy.

Groups with regularly-scheduled luncheon meetings traveled to Galveston, and ate in the reopened restaurants.  People made a point of heading to the Island for weekend recreation, buying gas for their cars in the little towns along the way, or in Galveston itself. Needing something from the grocery, people patronized the smaller Mom-and-Pop stores that were trying to survive, rather than going to Target.

Now and then, someone would criticize the emphasis on reopened restaurants, bars, and shops by saying “That just benefits people with money to spend.” But no one heard the merchants or their employees saying that. Everyone knew what it took to get “back to business,” and what it took was customers and their money.

September 14, 2008
November 3, 2008

The weekend that Benno’s on the Seawall opened, a friend and I drove to Galveston for dinner. As we waited for our meal, the door opened again and again. Each time another customer stepped in, pure joy washed across the faces of the owners and staff. Customers meant dollars; dollars meant hiring; and hiring meant independence and stability.

As the owner said, “Don’t give me a thousand dollars. Eat in my dining room, and pay me ten dollars. While you’re bringing me that ten dollars, you’ll park your car out front, and other people will know I’m open. When you’ve finished a good meal, you’ll tell someone you enjoyed eating here, and I’ll have another customer. I don’t want a hand-out. I want business.”

Buying “local” has its costs, of course. For some months, gas was more expensive in Galveston. A sandwich there could be a dollar or two more than in Houston neighborhoods, and prices at the Mom-and-Pop stores certainly were higher than at Wal-Mart.

But as those businesses met their payroll and paid their suppliers, the entire community benefited. When it comes to recovery, cheaper isn’t always a bargain. Sometimes, more expensive has terrific side benefits for everyone in town. The businesses knew that, and they helped one another in every way they could.

Still, recovery is more than reopened businesses and rebuilt homes. A deeper recovery begins when people are able to take a breath, give a sigh, and finally sense the stirrings of new life.

In recovering communities, people talk about more than grief and loss. A woman whose home was damaged provided shelter for a homeless family — but also partied at the Renaissance Faire. A retiree whose fishing boat was carried away by the surge signed on with a demolition crew, worked sixty hour weeks, and returned to wade fishing at San Luis Pass. After days spent repairing the landscape around their church, a group of women stopped to exchange cuttings for home gardens yet to come. None had forgotten the storm, but they understood there is a time to move forward.

While water still surrounded piles of debris, confusion and a sense of helplessness were understandable. But in time, people began to say, “There’s still a lot to do, but we can do it. We got help. We were given a hand when we needed it. But now we can go on, and build on our own success.”

The Beached Whales Boat ~ Clear Lake Shores

By the time Thanksgiving arrived, holiday banners were flying in Kemah.  After services of Thanksgiving, dinners were served at community centers and schools around the area. In Dickinson, a woman whose home had been destroyed drove to Houston to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. In Bacliff, a couple living in an RV smoked turkeys and briskets for anyone who wanted to stop by.

Even in the midst of so much pain – even with houses swept out to sea, businesses destroyed, families separated, jobs lost, lives disrupted and dreams destroyed — much remained. Hope rose with each day’s sun, and fears ebbed away with the tide. Was a sofa sitting in a ditch at the base of the Kemah-Seabrook bridge? Did a dollhouse still wait to be plucked from a bed of seagrass? Was that a Mercedes buried in the beach sand, or a piece of pink planking washed up from Maribelle’s bar? By Thanksgiving, such oddities often went unnoticed and unremarked.

Instead, it was the signs of recovery that counted: literally as well as figuratively. One of my favorites, a row of plywood turkeys with surfboards, proudly proclaimed, “Thanks to Ike, We Finally Got Our House Cleaned.”

Other signs were less humorous, but more significant. A restaurant marquee posted the longed-for phrase, “Now Hiring.” Optimistic signs tucked into windows promised, “Open Soon.”  But best of all were the simple signs — hand-lettered or spray-painted, vibrant on fences or nearly hidden in debris — that invited celebration.

“Thanksgiving’s Coming,” said one. “Give Thanks for Whatever’s Left.”

Comments always are welcome. I’ll be traveling later this week, so my responses may be a little slow, but I will respond. In the meantime, a happy Thanksgiving to all.

88 thoughts on “Where Gratitude Abides

    1. Some do give up, but I’d say most don’t. I do think it’s true that events like this bring out the best in people. That’s part of the reason people still tell the stories, around here. It’s a way of reminding ourselves just how well we did cope — and how we could do better in the future.

  1. The destructive power of Mother Nature is something none of us wants to experience first-hand. The power of man to rebuild truly is an inspirational story of resilience and it’s one you told beautifully.

    1. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that coping techniques are transferable skills. You’re right that none of us wants to experience such things, but if we can begin to cope with whatever is coming down the pike this time, we’ll be even better equipped the next time — whatever that “next time” might be.

      Beyond all that, I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say, after Ike, “I wouldn’t have wished this to happen, but watching the recovery is amazing.”

  2. Linda, you wrote this with so much finesse, empathy, hopefulness, and accuracy. I enjoyed reading this although I didn’t enjoy reading about other people’s plight. But your story shows that if people pull to together and remain positive, things can always get better. The before and after photos are great.

    1. The interesting thing is that things still are getting better. It’s not so noticeable here, though new houses continue to appear, but in Galveston, every trip reveals another Victorian house being worked on, new trees, old trees suddenly showing a bit more life, and so on. It’s a little ironic that drought did so much damage after Ike, but even the refuges and nature centers are looking good.

      As I was writing this, I looked at my photos with real amazement. It’s hard to believe how much was accomplished in such a short time.

  3. I remember this tragic event. It was fearful. People died, people lost their houses, etc. And time passed… life goes on. I can see the difference how they built again and the recovery. Your writing as always so nice and I loved the people how and what they expressed… Especially about come and eat and give ten dollars… Such a beautiful people… If life goes on just because of these people… and you are too among these people… Blessing and Happiness to you all, Thank you dear Linda, love, nia

    1. It’s true, Nia. These stories always are the stories of ordinary people, doing what they have to do to carry on. And just like the restaurant owner who was happy for the ten dollars, everyone learned to be happy for the little things.

      I still remember the day the Tide laundry company parked their Loads of Hope mobile laundromat down the street from me. It was absolutely wonderful. So many people had no way to wash their clothes — no electricity, no washing machine, no house! — and being able to get laundry done was quite a blessing.

      Every day, there’s something to be thankful for, even at the worst of times.

  4. Hardy people. Give thanks for what is left. Amazing attitude from people who know that the best values they can have cannot be taken from them as long as they have life, health, each other, and the grace of God.

    1. I’ve never quite gotten over the impact of that hand-lettered sign, Oneta. It brings to mind a house out on Todville Road, along the bayfront in Seabrook. It was nearly demolished, its landscaping was ruined, and some of the trees had been twisted and torn, but hanging from one of the tree branches was a string of pearls that belonged to the woman who lived there.

      Isn’t it true that life, health, companions, and grace are “pearls of great price”? They help us cope.

  5. It’s inspirational to see how a community rallies under such overwhelming circumstances.

    I’m interested to hear more about the waterfront bar “with a history of dead bodies in the restrooms and live bodies competing for the title of “Miss Wharf Rat.” Ha! Colorful stuff.

    1. You would have loved Maribelle’s. If you were lucky, you would have shown up on a night Willie Nelson was there. More than a few high-rollers (of every sort rolled through there. Red Adair, for one, and a good number of the NASA crew.

      The Portofino showed in the photos up above was my home marina. A guy who lived aboard his boat there was a judge for the Miss Wharf Rat contest for years. Maribelle’s still exists, and I think the contest does, too, but they’ve moved inland to a strip shopping center, and now it’s just another bar.

      Oh: the body in the bathroom. Rumor always has had it that it was a mob hit. It’s not impossible. You can see some photos here.

  6. People are resilient. They want their familiar places around them. They want to sit down and talk with friends and neighbors on a regular basis. Take those things away and soon they try to fill the vacuum.

    There are hundreds of thousands who have lost everything around the world in places like Syria. They’ve had to leave the places they called home. I can imagine that even with that, there are expressions of thanks for still having some of the things important to them like their families and some friends.

    1. My own experience has been that a return to “normalcy” isn’t so much a goal as a by-product of coping with hard realities. There’s so much to do, there’s nothing to do but keep focusing on the next task. Then, one day you realize you’re not waking at night any more, or the sound of the wind doesn’t make your heart race. It’s an interesting process.

      Your use of the word “vacuum” recalled one of the worst things about post-hurricane life: the silence. There weren’t any birds calling, or fish jumping, or insects chirping. I’ve mentioned before that the first thing I heard after Ike was a fish, splashing around in the marina one night. I can’t even tell you how relieved I was. That was the exact minute I knew the natural world would recover, too.

  7. I’m always in amazement at the resilience of our people who live in the front line communities; their faith, tenacity, and appreciation for the tiniest hint of progress … year after year, and hurricane after hurricane! They offer examples for many lessons. Thank you for sharing!

    1. It’s not just hurricanes in Texas, of course. Yesterday I came across a list of the ten worst Texas tornados, and was reminded that people in the Panhandle and elsewhere have had their own challenges to meet. Honestly, if I had to make a choice, I’d take a hurricane over a tornado — but of course, it would be better if we could avoid both!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I hope it’s peaceful, and filled with good memories.

      1. I agree with you — if only we could avoid both — thankfully, we haven’t had to contend with any the past couple of seasons — I always breathe a sigh of relief when the season officially ends!

        Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours — mine will be the quietest yet! Ray is visiting his mom in TN. This will be the first without mine! And as my mom’s home will “close” this week — my time in south-South Louisiana is over! Much to digest this time of year, but thankful memories are portable! :)

    1. Some of the work that needed to be done took much longer, of course. Here’s an article about the damage to the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge. All of the marshes, sloughs, chenier plains, and shoreline were terribly damaged. But today? There’s a new visitors’ center, restoration projects galore, and scenes like this, that would warm your heart. It’s such a beautiful place — you’d love painting there.

      1. I’ve often felt the urge to go down there. Hopefully one of these days I’ll manage it.
        Out east I read that there is a Cape (Cape Anne??) that is expected to have problems with sea level rise so the government is offering to buy houses. Some people have accepted and their houses are torn down and the area turned into wetland habitat that will help absorb storms. I was impressed with this program…so long as it isn’t Eminent Domain!

  8. You write so well, you make me sad. I spent most of the summer destroying what the gophers worked so hard to build… I guess I have become a force of nature.

    Many years ago, during my walkabout years, I fell in love with ferry boats on an early morning ride from Plattsburgh NY to Burlington Vt across Lake Champlain. I wanted to work on that boat more than I have wanted anything else, so I asked the captain about a job.

    “You know how many times a week I get that?” he said.

    1. I’ve heard people described as “a force of nature,” but I’ve never considered what that might mean to gophers. If you need a new challenge, you could take on the rodent (rat? squirrel?) that’s been chewing up a rocker panel on my car. If it’s not one thing, etc. I did learn today that they make duct tape saturated with capsaicin. Once I get the car repaired, I’m going to run some along the inside of the panel, just in case my little friend still is around.

      I understand your ferry boat story. I fell in love with sailing the same way: instantaneously. There’s something about being on the water that makes perfectly reasonable people do funny things.

      If you take a look at the second photo of Portofino, up above, you’ll see a bridge in the background. That crosses the Clear Creek channel, where it enters Galveston Bay, between Seabrook and Kemah. Here’s what the old ferry used to look like.

  9. Thank you for this moving post, Linda. Resilience is probably one of the greatest human attributes…I love sculpture, which I personally think is one of the greatest art forms. What a wonderful statue; thank you for the photo since I will never see the original…

    1. If you do an image search using “1900 Galveston storm memorial,” you’ll find quite a selection of statue photos: many quite good. I found an image of the top photo as it appeared on the front page of the Houston Chronicle just before landfall. I still can’t look at that newspaper without feeling anxiety again. We were well away from danger by that point, but that single image is iconic for so many people.

  10. Linda, I think those of us who have lived along coastal areas and survived the numerous storms that blow through can best appreciate this lovely post of yours. Seeing the hurricane’s devastation through the lens of your camera brings back all the sights and sounds of powerful Mother Nature.

    I have to admire Texans for their resiliency and independence — too often, folks become so enamored of freebies that they fail to take into consideration the strings that are attached to them. Then they wind up wondering why the officials got rich, yet the coast still looks like a bomb went off there. I’m referring, of course, to the mess that’s still visible along the Miss. Gulf Coast, seven years after Katrina. And to think y’all had so much real recovery just two months later!!

    Happy Thanksgiving, my friend. Enjoy the feast!

    1. As I mentioned to Becca, hurricanes aren’t the only threat people face. Texas has had tornados, fire, and drought in recent years, and of course other areas of the country have had them, as well. The nature of the disaster may vary, but the need to cope is the same.

      I smiled at your mention of Katrina being seven years ago — but the only reason I smiled is that I was sure Ike was five years ago. In fact, Ike was seven years ago, and Katrina and Rita were ten years ago. Just for grins, I asked some people this afternoon how long ago Ike hit. Every one of them said four or five years ago. I think these storms make such an impression, they truly do seem to have happened “just yesterday.”

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, too. Are you going to be able to share it with Domer? If you’re traveling, be safe.

  11. Happy Thanksgiving, Linda!! Going through devastating events like hurricanes can bring out the best in human nature rather than the worst. I’ve seen the coming together with neighbors here in Florida too to help each other out in ways we hardly do on normal days. You can forget there is community and when you are reminded, it has a sweetness to it. We had some lovely experiences when the power was out for three weeks after Wilma…oddly to say.

    I have to say that people who would think that a restaurant that has reopened is not an important thing…only for people with money to spend….just do not understand how healthy businesses contribute to the health of the community as a whole.

    But, let us be grateful for what is left, what we have, what the future holds and what friends we have to share life’s joys and uncertainties with!!

    1. Judy, that’s one of the things I remember most about each of the storms I’ve experienced: the kindness of people toward one another, and their willingness to pitch in and do what had to be done. There is something about sharing adversity that seems to bond people — at least, it can. I suppose it’s not always true, but I’ve seen good things happen far more often than the bad.

      I’ve been thinking a good bit about a poem I’m sure you know: Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” In fact I think it seeped into a line or two of this post, especially where I wrote, “even in the midst of so much pain…much remained.” In any event, I think Tennyson got it exactly right.

      “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
      We are not now that strength which in old days
      Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
      One equal temper of heroic hearts,
      Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
      To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    1. Oh, Kayti — my first political commitment was to Ike. I wore his button to grade school with pride. I didn’t have much of a clue about him, except that people seemed to think he was a good general, but I certainly did like the sound of that slogan.

      Not only that, one of the truck drivers who helped haul away damaged boats from the yacht club where I worked after the storm also was named Ike. He took a good bit of ribbing about that. I have a wonderful photo of him standing next to his truck, somewhere, but I can’t find it right now. I’ll look when I have more time.

  12. Things will never be like they were before, but they can be normal again. The people who can understand and accept that are the ones that make it through OK. God bless all those people who came and helped because they could and because it was the right thing to do.

    1. That’s exactly right. People talk about “new normals” as though they’re a joke, but they aren’t. It’s like having kids. What was normal before children differs considerably from what becomes normal, after. Being diagnosed with a life-long medical condition brings a different “normal” way of being. What was normal before Mom came to live with me as different from what developed, and once I’d adjusted to that new normal, she was gone. So it goes.

      And, yes: those who came to help were recognized as the blessing they were. I’ll never forget the surge of gratitude I felt as I was driving Mom up to Kansas City just after the storm, so she could stay with her sister while things sorted themselves out. The highways were filled with power companies from Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota — not to mention the Salvation Army trucks and such. It’s hard to put everything into a single post, but they were an essential part of the picture, too.

  13. Thanks for this blog on recovery. What we’re going through is far different from the cruelty of nature… and it’s hard for me to talk about it, really. But as I read of the recovery you witnessed, it gave me a moment of hope.

    1. Then every minute I put into writing it is worth it, Shimon. Surely there will be an end to cruelty, one day. Until then, we support one another with our stories, and offer one another hope.

  14. Beautifully done, Linda. I am always amazed how people can work their way back from disaster. I remember driving through New Orleans shortly after Katrina hit and wondering how the city could ever recover—and yet it has. People are often at their best when tragedy strikes. –Curt

    1. And yet Louisiana still is suffering in many ways. What happened to the coast was terrible, but decisions made to help prevent future flooding in areas like NOLA or Houma are going to bring even more destruction. It’s an age-old problem: sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. And of course, rebuilding a city is in many ways far easier than restoring wetlands or prairies.

      The good news is that some smart decisions were made. Here, areas close to that flooded sign up above were closed to rebuilding, in order to allow for greenspace that could function as a retention pond. Roadways and bridges were raised, to ensure evacuation routes, and the process of restoring marshes is ongoing. A lot of lessons were learned with that trio called Katrina, Rita, and Ike, and it seems as though they haven’t yet been forgotten.

      1. So often, it seems to me Linda, it’s like we are challenging nature to wipe us out. We make assumptions that we won’t get hit by a hurricane, or a flood, or a forest fire, or some other natural disaster and simply fail to plan for it, to invest the money that will limit the risks. Hopefully some lessons have been learned. –Curt

  15. Amazing how quickly everything was repaired and life back to normal. In comparison, much of our flood damaged natural areas here are still not repaired even up to now. Your neck of the woods sure is beautiful, love that pic of Portofino Harbor.

    1. Part of the danger of a post like this is that it does present a bit of a false picture of recovery, Arti. It’s always a process, and it can be a slow one, as you’ve indicated. First, the water has to go down. Then, the debris has to be cleared out and picked up. Although Portofino looked spiffy fairly quickly, there still were marinas that were a total mess, because of the way they were built. Portofino has floating docks, so as the surge came in the boats went up, and then came down. In marinas with stationary piers, the surge pulled many boats loose from their docks and tossed them into places like trees and parking lots. That was more difficult to deal with.

      In Galveston, one of the issues that took years to deal with was their trees. Many were killed by salt water, and figuring out which would survive and which had to be removed took time. In the same way, the re-shaping of the coastline itself had to be dealt with. A good bit of Galveston’s sand ended up closing roads and filling up bayous. And the restoration of delicate marshlands is ongoing.

      As I mentioned somewhere above, rebuilding a house is relatively easy. Helping nature regain her balance is something else. A storm like Ike certainly does reveal the kinds of interrelatedness we generally take for granted. One tiny example: until the fish came back, the fishing birds couldn’t come back. One thing builds on another — and still is.

  16. A few people have already said this, but it certainly does bear repeating…it is amazing how quickly some folks rebounded from this wreckage. I am sure several did not, but the rapid turnaround is impressive. What is even more impressive is what might be categorized as an indomitable spirit of the communities who have experienced this before and must know that it is quite possible or even likely that they shall again. But home is home and the majority want to stay home.

    1. I’ve come to realize there’s a great difference between a problem and a fact of life, Steve. How we define something makes a big difference.

      Some people see hurricanes only as problems, and wonder how anyone would live in such a place. Some see them only as a fact of life. They’re the ones who sometimes are found on the front porch with a drink, listening to Jimmy Buffett and refusing to evacuate. But for most, they’re a combination of the two. There’s no avoiding them — you only can prepare ahead of time, and then deal with the aftermath.

      It’s funny. Hurricane prep is as much of a life routine now as renewing my car tags, or pruning plants when it’s time. It’s a price I’m willing to pay for warm winters. I do think about moving inland when I’m really, really old, and evacuation wouldn’t be so easy. On the other hand, I may just pour a drink, and wash out with the surge. I certainly understand the old geezers who do that.

    1. I didn’t know about “Small Business Saturday,” but we stopped at a local donut shop before heading home yesterday.They had more than donuts, including some of the best kolaches I’ve ever tasted. A fairly young couple that I think are Vietnamese own the shop, and are its only employees. They do all the baking, the cleaning, the counter work, and so on. They’re open from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m. and no doubt are tired by the end of the day. But the steady stream of customers attested to their popularity. I was glad to give them some of my money.

  17. What a marvelous story of loss and fighting back. It just goes to show how resilient some people are when the chips are down,
    I am always so inspired when I see communities pulling together.xxx

    1. It happens over and over again — communities pulling together. Sometimes the problems are big, and sometimes they’re smaller, but it’s always heart-warming to see.

      It occurs to me that people pulling together can be a way of life, too: as with the rescue. It’s always “something,” but you and the others seem always able to cope. Even when the chances of success are in doubt, you still try. An unwillingness to even try in the fact of almost-certain failure has kept more than a few people on the sidelines.

  18. Beautiful tribute, Linda. Made me think of all those people who rebuilt after countless wars, and other travesties. Two years ago, I was struggling to feed the children, and not because of hurricanes, just my own stupidity, and a friend came over, bringing a turkey and bread, and some goodies for Thanksgiving. I do not think I had ever had a Thanksgiving meal as sweet or as warming as that year.

    Your story about the rodent eating your car, made me giggle (sorry, I know it is not funny), but for some reason I pictured you as Cinderella, and the car – a carriage made out of pumpkin. :) (You can tell I had been reading too many kids books lately).

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    1. It doesn’t matter how we come to the difficult places in life. Having a helping hand extended is one of the greatest blessings there is.

      I’ve known a person or two reluctant to contribute to charities, personal appeals, or needy families, concerned that they might be helping someone who didn’t “deserve” it. I have no doubt I’ve given aid to a consummate rip-off artist or two, but I’d rather error in that direction than end up stingy and judgmental.

      As for that rodent: well. It’s one of those things that makes life interesting, that’s for sure. It’s also another great example of the law of unintended consequences. I’ve been told that the increased use of thin fiberglass and eco-friendly materials in cars has made them increasingly attractive to critters. Air filters become nesting materials, and so on. I suppose that’s always happened, but there was less gnawing on car bodies when they were made of steel.

      Just so you know, I’m one of those who names cars, and this one is Princess. She is not amused by these recent events.

      1. :) Well, good luck to your Princess.
        Back to the theme of the blog post though, I watched the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” over Thanksgiving and very much kept thinking about your post all the way through the film. Sweet film on resilience if you had not seen it yet.

        1. Actually, I wrote this post involving the film, and it was linked to by the film’s website. I still get visitors from that link, even now. I loved the film, so much that I bought the DVD. I may watch it again, now that you’ve reminded me of it.

  19. A beautiful post, and particularly for this time of year. It is so important to remember and celebrate generosity and resilience while at the same time recognizing the tremendous, unlooked-for difficulties people must face. “The weekend that Benno’s on the Seawall opened, a friend and I drove to Galveston for dinner. As we waited for our meal, the door opened again and again. Each time another customer stepped in, pure joy washed across the faces of the owners and staff.” Amen to that.

    1. Whatever errors of fact there might have been in the Thanksgiving stories we were taught about the pilgrims, the Indians, and their celebrations, those stories were laden with lessons about friendship, hospitality, generosity, and gratitude in the face of difficulties. Even the hymns we sang in church were centered on gratitude, and an acknowledgement that all the blessings of life come to us as gifts.

      Everyone is so touchy about religion these days, but I can’t help thinking that those hymns provided important reminders. “We Gather Together” and “Come, Ye Thankful People Come” seemed to touch people of every faith, or none. Perhaps we recognized our interdependence in ways that seem quaint now. It’s certainly true that everything we think we know about our self-sufficiency falls away in the face of a true disaster.

      I trust your Thanksgiving was a good one. I found myself thankful I could survive for five days without the internet — but I was thankful to have it available again.

      1. We did have a good Thanksgiving with friends we haven’t seen in a long time, one of whom used to come up to us but is now homebound, and everyone contributed something to the meal. I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one, as well. 5 days without the internet is quite an achievement. Remarkable how hard it is to be unplugged these days. I have been enjoying reading a good bit, on the third of Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy. Not altogether sure what I think, all in all, but she carries one along. Do you know it? (It’s set in Iowa.)

        1. I have a friend who’s been urging, ever so gently, “You really ought to read ‘Gilead.'” She’s been urging it for some time. I’ve been going “ummm-hmmm”, but I just read this review of “The Givenness of Things,” and am suddenly enthused. I’ll probably start with her essays. Apart from the fact that the “Globe and Mail” headline writer got the title of the book wrong, there’s much in the review that’s piqued my interest. Thanks for reminding me, again, that I really ought to follow up on this.

          1. I have been of your persuasion. I couldn’t engage with Gilead when I tried it, so set it aside. I was recently prompted to go back to the trilogy, though I started with the third book, Lila. That, I enjoyed, though I have to say I’m still not sure what to make of the whole project (I’ve now read Gilead, which I found the slowest going, and am on point of finishing Home). I’m not sure I would have explored further without reading Lila first.

  20. My mother’s method of coping with her extreme losses– hearing, balance, husband, job, some vision, and bodily function– was to focus on what she had and not what she had lost. She was a southerner–they seem to have their feet in the bayou and their hearts in the Song of the South.

  21. Your post reminded me of a passage in Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay about death, “Aes Triplex”:

    “We have all heard of cities in South America built upon the side of fiery mountains, and how, even in this tremendous neighbourhood, the inhabitants are not a jot more impressed by the solemnity of mortal conditions than if they were delving gardens in the greenest corner of England. There are serenades and suppers and much gallantry among the myrtles overhead; and meanwhile the foundation shudders underfoot, the bowels of the mountain growl, and at any moment living ruin may leap sky-high into the moonlight, and tumble man and his merry-making in the dust.

    In the eyes of very young people, and very dull old ones, there is something indescribably reckless and desperate in such a picture. It seems not credible that respectable married people, with umbrellas, should find appetite for a bit of supper within quite a long distance of a fiery mountain; ordinary life begins to smell of high-handed debauch when it is carried on so close to a catastrophe; and even cheese and salad, it seems, could hardly be relished in such circumstances without something like a defiance of the Creator. It should be a place for nobody but hermits dwelling in prayer and maceration, or mere born-devils drowning care in a perpetual carouse.

    “And yet, when one comes to think upon it calmly, the situation of these South American citizens forms only a very pale figure for the state of ordinary mankind. This world itself, travelling blindly and swiftly in overcrowded space, among a million other worlds travelling blindly and swiftly in contrary directions, may very well come by a knock that would set it into explosion like a penny squib….”

    1. I’d always thought of Stevenson as a writer of children’s literature, but I recently bumped into “The Art of Writing,” and was entranced by the first chapter. His elements of style aren’t necessarily Strunk and White’s elements, but that’s part of their charm.

      In any event, I’ve obviously never come across this essay, and just finished reading it in its entirety. I laughed more than I expected, given the subject matter, but there were several places where his points recalled recent discussions with friends. I’m not sure, but I think he might have been making another little joke with his title.

      The middle paragraph’s especially interesting. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot, for one thing: especially Prufrock. But it also called to mind a wonderful passage from Annie Dillard’s “Holy the Firm”:

      “The higher Christian churches come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing… I often think of the set pieces of the liturgy as words which people have successfully addressed to God without getting killed. In the high churches, they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding, who have long since forgotten the danger. If God were to blast such a congregation to bits, I believe the congregation would be genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute.”

      But my favorite paragraph from Stevenson’s piece is this:

      “By all means begin your folio; even if the doctor does not give you a year, even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave push and see what can be accomplished in a week. It is not only in finished undertakings that we ought to honour useful labour… All who have meant good work with their whole hearts, have done good work, although they may die before they have the time to sign it.”

        1. I do believe it, and the thought of what high school used to be led me to versify:

          “You are old, Master Steven,” the young students said,
          “And your hair has become very white.
          And yet you insist on still using your mind.
          Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

          “In my youth,” smiled Steven to all in the crowd,
          “I nurtured and cared for my brain.
          And now that I’ve learned just how useful it is,
          I’ll continue, again and again.”

  22. I enjoyed reading about how Galveston came back after the hurricane. It’s a wonderful story of a community’s resilience. The sign about 89% (not 85% or 90%, but precisely 89%) of the repairs being completed is great.

    1. I wondered if anyone would notice that sign’s message, Sheryl. That’s the way it was the whole way through: 56%, 73%, 94%. It was so encouraging, and humorous, too. That restaurant had been in that location for decades, and everyone really, really wanted it to come back. It’s been bought out now, and although the menu is much the same, the old women who used to do the cooking are gone, and people who want a home-style meal are going elsewhere. I certainly miss their yeast rolls!

      1. Thanks for the additional context. The use of unusual percentages along the whole route sounds like so much fun. It’s too bad that the restaurant has been sold. I really like old-fashioned restaurants with real home-style cooking.

  23. “When it comes to recovery, cheaper isn’t always a bargain.” These words speak a deep truth in those times of recovery, and beyond as well. Cheaper has contributed to a strange sense of entitlement among consumers who expect that they can have more when more is rarely what would enrich lives. And of course, as your tale tells so well, cheaper often contributes to hollowed out city centres, lost jobs, impoverished lives and worse. Everyone loves a deal, including me, but we all do well to count costs with a bigger vision.

    1. Of course, “cheaper isn’t always a bargain” applies in so many contexts besides recovery. I know of a sad situation where a person chose an eye surgeon who offered rates much lower than usual. It seemed like such a bargain, but there were serious complications, and no decent followup. The final cost was much more than dollars.

      Cheaper often means inferior products, as well. I’ve always purchased paper towels for work at Walgreens, because the brand I liked was cheapest there. Recently, I’ve noticed that, even though the price hasn’t increased, the quality has decreased. There are fewer sheets per roll, and they’re thinner. It appears as though the manufacturer has dual standards now, and a cheaper price means poorer quality. It would be interesting to do some comparisons of supposedly identical products being sold at WalMart, Family Dollar stores, chain groceries, and so on, just to see what’s really going on. Actually, someone probably has done that — it’s just that, as a typical consumer, I can too often get in a rut, and not pay attention to changes that have occurred.

      1. Yes, I think many such businesses are counting on us getting into a rut. The other trick they are using these days is keeping the price of a bottle of juice the same while reducing the volume.

    1. I don’t think so, Wendy. I think that the circumstances were different in different areas. It certainly took longer than two months for some of our communities to recover — especially the shrimpers and fishermen, and anyone related to the boating industries. It wasn’t just destroyed boats and facilities. They had to wait for the shrimp and fish to come back, too. And in communities where trailers or small wooden homes were the norm, and insurance coverage was slim to none — well, you know how that goes.

      We’ve been blessed with time, that’s for sure. There are more retention ponds now, and bridges and roads have been raised. The kind of evacuation we had with Rita surely won’t happen again, especially since many people have decided to go back to making their own decisions, without waiting for the government to tell them when to evacuate, and where to go. I think everyone has fingers crossed for a couple more easy years, to finish up some of the big projects. Then? We wait, we watch.

  24. It’s always sad when whole communities are destroyed, whether of natural causes or human imposed causes. But it’s also impressive and inspiring to learn about how those communities are recovering and rebuilding whatever was destroyed. The human spirit at its best. Thank you for sharing this strong story.

    1. It’s so important to remember that human beings can create and re-create, as well as destroy. Even when the destruction isn’t the result of human agency, life has to go on. And of course, not every problem is physical. For example, certain of my readers have found internet access blocked by their governments from time to time. Learning how to work around that can demand as much creativity as rebuilding a house after a storm.

  25. Two things. Being a sailor, there is nothing more awkward than, following a storm, seeing a large full-keel sailboat lying on dry land. It breaks my heart.

    Second, I like the piece about buying local. I went to a small college in an even smaller town in eastern Washington. I took a class in the history of jazz from the music department’s award-winning jazz director. He told his students he bought nearly all of his records at the town’s local record store, because if he did not and others did not, there would end up being no local store. That lesson has stayed with me for forty years now and continues to resonate.

    1. Oh, your heart would have been in pieces after Ike. I must say, there were some remarkable landings. One of my customer’s boats ended up wedged between two palm trees, one landed in the middle of a parking lot, and several at the Houston Yacht Club were swept all the way through the parking lot to the clubhouse. They looked for all the world as though they’d bellied up to the outdoor bar. The process of untangling it all was something to behold. And, best of all, many of those boats are afloat again.

      Buying local is so important, and your jazz director had it exactly right. It’s why I buy from independent booksellers whenever possible, and prefer small, local shops for gifts. I buy produce, eggs, and fruit in season at the farmers’ markets, or pick my own. I haven’t been inside a shopping mall for at least two years, and maybe longer. It’s not a point of pride, exactly. It’s just that the experience is so unpleasant, I don’t put myself through it any more.

  26. Linda, this is (as always) so beautifully written, really touching on gratitude, self reliance, courage and resilience. I loved the guy who said “Don’t give me a thousand dollars — give me ten and eat at the restaurant and park your car out in front!”Right on. I remember how Charlie hit Rick’s dad’s area, Sandy the northeast and yes, I remember Ike. This is indeed the perfect Thanksgiving post.

    And, as others have commented, the buy local really makes a difference. Small business Saturday (or any day, for that matter, in my book!). It’s hard to do with food here during the off season but the summer and fall are so abundant. Local bookstores are few and far between and you know my feeling about artists (and theatre and musicians). Always a wonderful reinforcement!

    1. Anyone who thinks small gestures don’t count, or that there’s nothing they can do to help with a recovery, hasn’t seen the impact of even a bottle of water offered with a smile. Just as the rainbow can be the gold, the smallest gesture can be utterly grand: as with the restaurant owners.

      There are some things that aren’t easily obtained locally. Sometimes, even the very definition of “local” has expanded geographically, with larger towns serving as commercial hubs for tiny communities within even sixty or more miles. Still, the point’s the same. Given a choice between Home Depot and our local hardware store, or our locally owned grocery and Kroger, I’ll pay the bit extra and go local. Besides, the local grocery is cleaner, and the local hardware store has staff who actually can answer a question.

  27. Worst hurricane we had was “Hugo”. The whole island was without water and electricity due to major damage to the infrastructure of power plants and the water dams which were all malfunctioning. We had to bathe with water from bottles. Sometimes I go back to this experience in my mind to remind myself of how many of us had to adapt.

    1. I remember Hugo well. I had friends who rode it out on their sailboat in Charleston. They agreed that once was enough for that sort of experience.

      I think everyone who has been through a storm like Hugo also has the experience of reliving it: sometimes by choice and sometimes not. In some ways, we’re like old veterans, telling our war stories. But it’s also a good way to prepare ourselves for the inevitable next time, as we sort through what we would have done differently: what worked, and what didn’t.

      One thing I’m grateful for is this year’s quiet season. I’m sure you are, too.

  28. The last major trial I handled involved the Charley-Frances-Jeanne trifecta of 2004. I remember that we wondered if that kind of thing was going to be the new norm for Florida. Yet amazingly this season marked a full ten years without a direct hit on Florida. Of course it will happen again. And when it does we’ll despair and then once again we’ll get up, dust overselves off (or wring our clothes dry) and get down to the business of cleaning up and helping out. I enjoy seeing your hurricane reminiscences because they remind me of our human capacity for good. Some days we especially need those reminders.

    1. I get so confused when they repeat names. We had a Frances and a Jeanne, too, but they were lesser storms (unless you happened to be in their path, I suppose) and different years. I remember Charley because of the concern that it was going to go farther north, and hit Tampa. I just looked it up — it’s been 94 years since they’ve had a major storm. Amazing.

      You’re right of course, that another one will arrive. Saying that one is “due” is silliness — as far as I know, the storm gods don’t have a quota to meet. But one day, the conditions will be right, and all of the lessons we’ve learned and forgotten will need to be re-learned. And we will.

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? Gratitude is foundational, for so many things. What I love are the sudden surges of gratitude that don’t seem to be attached to any particular event, or thing. They simply are — and they call for our response.

      When I think about it, there’s another important trinity that could be talked about more than it is: gratitude, grace, and gifts.

  29. I remember Ike. On TV in CA. But I also remember going to a restaurant with my husband and 5 mo. Colic ridden son. The wait staff took him off for a tour of the kitchen so we could enjoy our meal. My daughter was conceived that night. Thanks Galveston and shoreacres for the memory.

    1. I’ve seen many little miracles in my life, but I think waitstaff taking a baby off to allow its parents to enjoy a meal is a bigger-than-usual miracle. Good for them! And thanks for sharing the memories. There can be such great pleasure in looking back, and remembering.

    1. Thank you, so much. If you do a search here using “Galveston hurricane,” you’ll pull up two of my favorite posts — “Galveston Rising: The Light” and “Galveston Rising: The Trees.” Another one i like is “Raise High the Floor Beam, Islanders.”

      Your house on the beach is lovely. I’m eager to explore your blog, too, and pass it on to some other passionate animal lovers I know.
      Many thanks for stopping by, and for the comment. You’re always welcome here.


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