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.” Continue reading

Galveston Rising – The Light

Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum.  Confronted by any sudden or unexpected absence she rises, turns and looks about, seeking remedy, overcome by her own irrepressible urges to fill, replenish and restore.

Ironically for coastal dwellers, it’s Nature herself who often empties out their lives by means of great, unpredictable weather systems that arrive complete with names and histories. The storms are spoken of so often and with such familiarity they could be members of the family: Carla. Andrew. Gustav. Hugo. Ivan. Gilbert. Opal. Katrina. Rita.  Some are massive, maintaining their destructive momentum for hundreds of miles. Others are smaller, with more localized effects, but all arrive as harbingers of emptiness, desolation and loss.

Galveston’s most recent losses came courtesy of Ike, a storm apparently determined to consume not only a city but an entire coastline.  In some places, he left great piles of debris – homes, boats and businesses splintered and collapsed, heaped up and tumbled down, a beach-comber’s horror. Continue reading

Galveston Rising ~ The Trees

As the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Ike’s September 13 landfall approaches, most Galveston homeowners who still are engaged in rebuilding and reconstruction don’t need any reminders about the complexity or frustrations of the process.  Still, reminders are everywhere, posted primarily by high-minded attorneys concerned that the poor, benighted people of the Texas Coast understand the statute of limitations and its role in ensuring they receive fair and just compensation for their losses.

There’s nothing wrong with a gentle reminder, or with fair settlements for that matter.   But this is America, and contingency fees being what they are the attorneys’ messages have taken on a distinctly apocalyptic tone.  Every local freeway and road that skirts the water has at least one of the fervent billboards: The end is near!  Are you prepared?  Time is Running Out!  The door is closing!  (Request a free case review now!!!)

Reading them, it’s impossible not to think of tent revivals and tv hucksters.  The billboard advertisers seem to suggest they can save our psyches and mop up lingering insurance messes with the legal equivalent of the ShamWow, but Galveston residents aren’t naive. There are some problems no amount of legal wrangling – or money – can solve. Continue reading

Raise High the Floor Beam, Islanders….

The very definition of “heart-tugging”  is a toddler or young child standing in front of an adult, arms outstretched, begging to be picked up.  Confused, frightened or hungry for attention, they’ve already learned a key to unlocking the resistant adult heart: the single word, “Up!?”   Spoken with authority or pathos, it’s a word that brings big, strong arms down to a child’s level, enfolding the needy little bundle of humanity into a blanket of security, raising it in a flash and ensuring its safety “up there”.

The urge to flee upward seems as instinctive as our impulse to run from danger.  On my third birthday, our neighbors decided I should have a pet.  Invited to share cake and ice cream, they appeared at the back door with a tiny black puppy in a box.  It may have been a cocker spaniel ~ I remember black, glistening curls of fur and long, floppy ears.  The pup wriggled in paroxysms of pleasure as Mr. Ramey rubbed its belly and scratched its ears.  I was entranced, until they put the puppy on the floor.  Turning a few quick circles, the creature produced a cascade of wild yips and headed straight for me.     

I don’t know what I was thinking, but what I did became the stuff of family legend.  In two bounds I was onto a dining room chair and up on top of my mother’s prized mahogany dining table, shoes and all.    Down below, the puppy tumbled and jumped, trying to follow.  I screamed in terror, refusing a chorus of entreaties to “be quiet”, “come down” or “pat the nice puppy”.  Eventually, the well-meaning neighbors collected the pup and made their way home.  I came down from the tabletop after being promised more ice cream, and eventually received a turtle for my birthday. Continue reading

After Ike: A Surge of Gratitude


Just prior to the two-month anniversary of Hurricane Ike’s arrival on the Texas Coast, ferry service for passenger cars was reinstituted from Galveston to the Bolivar Penninsula. The primary link between an island and coastal communities that can be awkward to reach even under the best of circumstance, the Galveston ferry is both luxury and necessity. Prior to the storm, every trip across Bolivar Roads carried a combination of residents, fishermen, tourists and sightseers. Most came in cars, but many walked onto the boat just for the pleasure of crossing the water, feeding seagulls from the after deck and hoping for a sight of pelicans or dolphins playing off the bow.

After the storm, ferry service stopped, but not only because of damage to the boats. There was storm damage to the ferry landings themselves, and sand and silt deposited by surging water had to be dredged out of the channels. When it became possible to operate the first ferry, the convenience of commuters and pleasure of sightseers was the last thing on anyone’s mind. The first priority was getting heavy equipment and emergency supplies to communities like Crystal Beach and Port Bolivar, where the devastation ranged from unbelievable to horrific.

But now, anyone can use the ferries. It takes patience, because full service hasn’t been restored. But the fish are biting, dolphin are swimming, and the seagulls seem delighted to find occasional popcorn and bread crumbs in their air again. When a woman mentioned to a grocery store checker she’d made a special trip to take the ferry, I asked her why. “Because I could”, she said, looking at me as though I were a bit dim. “It sure felt good.” Continue reading

Voices and Visions


Truly good advice rarely comes accompanied by trumpets and tympani. It doesn’t light up the sky with neon colors, or advertise itself like a hot new product with a crack marketing team.  Truly good advice – words of wisdom, if you will – is simply spoken.  It doesn’t need to be remembered because it’s never forgotten.  It applies in circumstances so far removed from its original context you can’t help but be amazed, and its ability to bear time’s testing is absolute.

One of the best bits of advice I ever received was so simple, and so simply put, I’ve never forgotten it, even when I’ve chosen to ignore it or attempted to reject it outright:

Be careful who you listen to, because their voices will influence your own.

The influence of the voices around us is utterly pervasive and often quite surprising.   When I first moved from Iowa to Texas, the Texans with whom I lived and worked asked “Where you from, girl?  You shore do talk funny!”  After three years,  I returned to Iowa from Texas only to have friends and relatives ask, “Why in the world are you talking that way?”   Phrases like “ya’ll”  (and its plural, “all y’all”) and “fixin’ to” had become a part of my speech simply because I heard them on a daily basis.  That’s the power of voice.

To put it another way, what surrounds us, becomes us.  If we listen to hatred, we are more likely to speak in a hateful way.  If we continually hear cynicism and negativity from those around us, we are more like to become cynical and pessimistic ourselves.  If we listen only to Homer Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants, we’ll speak in one sort of voice.  If we listen only to Shakespeare, we’ll speak in another.  The point is not that we should choose one voice over another – Homer Simpson and Shakespeare both have a place in my world – but we need to be attentive to and aware of the quality of the voices around us.  We have the ability to choose which voices we attend to and cherish, and we need to make those choices in order to nurture and protect our own true voice. Continue reading

Surviving the Guilt, Reclaiming the Gift

Sometimes, we don’t have a choice about whom we entertain.

I don’t remember making a call and I surely didn’t send out invitations, but suddenly a new problem has come to visit.    Sitting cross-legged at the corner of my mind, riffling through my thoughts like so much junk mail and looking for all the world like a bored ingénue who’s misplaced her nail file, my problem doesn’t seem inclined to leave.  So, it’s time to set aside the social niceties, and cope with this uninvited guest.

My problem is a sudden inability to write.  Since Hurricane Ike, I’ve produced a few blogs,  including one or two that pleased me very much. But the joy of writing, the sense of unfettered creativity, the easy flow of words simply has stopped. Ideas continue to pile up in my head, notes get jotted and beautiful, fragile phrases flit through my mind like clouds of rare verbal butterflies, but none of them lands on my paper.

The experience is passing strange.

For someone whose home experienced the eye of a hurricane, I’m unbelievably blessed.  My house is secure, and my business will survive.  While I’m getting things back on an even keel, my mother not only is being cared for, she’s rather enjoying herself on an extended midwestern “vacation”.   The stray kitty I worried over survived the storm perfectly well with some help from the neighbors, and the camphor tree I planted and love lost hardly a leaf.

My possessions are intact, including a little antique china collection I fuss over every hurricane season.  I experienced no financial losses because of the storm, apart from evacuation expense,  loss of income and the need to throw out a refrigerator-full of food.  My flowers are blooming and my bills are paid.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, I have no problems.

And that, it seems, is the problem.  Continue reading