We got to the site by 8, as that was when the organization was opening the site up. Since we were up so early for breakfast we had some time to kill before the site opened, so we went and visited some of the houses that folks worked on the previous year. That was pretty good, all in all. We got to see the house of Sherry, the lady they did most of the siding and porches for last year.
Sherry and her mother lived together before Katrina. Their house was completely destroyed. They got $40,000 from FEMA, one of the few who actually got their money, and she found a contractor who said that he would build them a house for that amount of money. She gave him her money, he gave her plans, and then disappeared. Her son worked for the FBI and a few months later his coworkers got most of her money back, and with that money she went to the HOPE organization. And they got to build her house last year, and we got to see it. It's tiny and beautiful and the yard is nicely cared for. It was cool to get that kind of closure.
From there we went back to the house that we worked on yesterday, and they had enough people to finish the sheet rock work and then work outside to finish the outside enough for the final coat of paint. So they took five of us off to another house. It was a little brick house owned by an electrician who had tried to build it on his own for a while, but he ran out of money. So he's getting the work done on his house in exchange for using his abilities on other houses, which I think is a pretty good trade. In some ways.
So. Most folks probably don't look at the baseboards or the edging or finish work of their houses the way we had to. Every piece of edging at the edges of your walls, right on the floors and against the edges of the windows and doors, is all put on the wall with finishing nails. Nails with little tiny heads that should get set into the edging and deep enough so that it goes under the surface of the wood. Each of those little nail heads makes a little pock mark, and each little mark has to be filled in with putty of some kind. Then the putty gets lightly sanded down to the surface of the wood. After that's done, when paint goes on the edging it looks as smooth as glass.
I spent most of today filling in thousands of those little holes, on ever edge in the house, around every room, every closet, and every doorway. It was an amazing number of holes. Gabe and John did more edging and finishing of stuff around the house. I followed every edge that they put in. Kristen worked on the bathroom which was oddly tiled and finished as well. Teresa got to repaint the doors. For no good reason we could see, the doors had been hung and painted while hung, so that the paint actually dried on the frames they were hung in, so when someone opened the doors the paint peeled and ripped off the various surfaces. Ugh.
We stopped for lunch and kept going with that. I finally took a small break and took two closet doors and peeled off the ripped paint, sanded after the peeling, and then repainted them so that they looked a lot better. Not perfect, but at least something I wouldn't be upset to have in my home. Basically, by doing all the puttying today, it should be dry by tomorrow, so we should be able to do the good finishing work on the baseboard tomorrow. There is a ton of work still to do. It was fun having Gabe relay exactly what we're supposed to do. I'm going to figure out that fascinating dynamic tomorrow.
At 4 we had to stop to meet at the Baptist church to listen to a spiel about the Back Bay Mission, where it had come from and where it was going and trying to do. The main mission for the Mission is to better life in the Back Bay, which includes Biloxi and the neighboring cities. There's been a ton that they've had to do since Katrina and it's been really hard. Since the beginning of the year, the numbers of volunteers has burgeoned, and it's been quite a task for them to keep up since, at the same time Federal funding and private funds have dwindled for relief from the hurricane. It's understandable as it's been nearly two and a half years since the storm and interest isn't nearly as big. But there are still a huge number of destroyed houses that need help getting fixed.
It turns out that the FEMA trailers have deadly amounts of formaldehyde in them, so there's been a movement by the Federal Government to kick everyone out of the trailers. The problem is that there are no plans for what to do with those displaced people, so the local agencies have been the ones to get hit by the brunt of the problem. They have to figure out what to do with all these new homeless people.
So what we do makes a difference, even in the smallest bit. The local are getting tired, and with all the funding dwindling, they've been losing what hope they have. It's going to probably make another exodus from the area as people are going to face up to the fact that even if they want to stay here they may just not be able to as there won't be the kinds of help and money that they need.
That was sobering.
Everyone was nodding off by the time the information session was over. It was late, we were filthy from working, and we were all sore and tired. The volunteer coordinator came and had us sing two songs because we're likely to go to a revival meeting tomorrow, all together, and he wanted us to have something to sing there. It was fun, too. Very repetitious songs with slow, long refrains that were meant to just be loud, not melodious, so no parts to learn or anything complicated, just something with heart.
From there we went to a grocery store so that Kristen could find some yogurt. John and I wandered the store, too, and I almost bought a whole box of Moon Pies, but remembered that I can actually buy those back in Colorado if I really wanted and carrying a whole dozen of them was just a bit too much to contemplate.
Instead, I bought a five pound bag of White Lily flour. The all-purpose light on protein, soft summer wheat flour which I just can't find in Colorado. Nearly the whole of the Colorado wheat crop is hard winter wheat, which is great for bread, but not so great for light and fluffy biscuits or really light pie crusts or cakes and things. I know that one can use cake flour, but it isn't the same as real White Lily without the self-rising agents. I know, I know, I traded a light box of Moon Pies for a five pound bag of flour? But the problem with the Moon Pies are that they're fragile and easily broken, and there isn't really any protection in their box. A bag of flour can get through luggage bashing, no problem.
Kristen got her plain yogurt, no problem, and Teresa got some lightly sweetened fruit yogurt, no problem either. So both of them got their fix.
From there we got back to the dorms, got our showers, did some laundry, and then headed off to dinner. It's been pretty remarkable, for me at least, the way the laundry loads just keep coming.
The Blow Fly Inn was recommended by one of the locals working on the first house we'd worked on, and so we all went there. It was absolutely fantastic. The waitress, Helen, had a come back for every bit of humor that our crew sent her, and she enjoyed the exchange immensely. She was sharp as a whip when John and some of the other boys got a bit too rowdy and she put them handily in their places.
The food was really excellent, too. They carried two local beers and I think we went through nearly four pitchers of the darker one and one pitcher of the light. For an appetizer we ordered the fried green tomatoes, and they arrived right out of the grease. They were crisp, tangy, and I slathered mine in their special mayonnaise, they were simple and deep-fried and quite good. I got a cup of the she-crab bisque and a oyster and shrimp po boy, thinking that a soup and a sandwich would still leave me room for dessert. The bisque was fabulous, thick and creamy and filled with big chunks of crab meat and flecks of the rich, salty orange roe, it was a lovely soup. The sandwich was amazing, too, the soft white roll toasted with mayo and lettuce and tomatoes surrounding big, fat, tender oysters crisp fried along with medium sized sweet, firm shrimp also crunchy and fried. It was heroic in proportions, too, so I couldn't eat it all, but I did manage to search out and eat all the tender, juicy oysters.
Then, for dessert, John and I shared a piece of the pecan pie. She cut us a good four inch wedge of the monster, and it had a big cookie crust and when I took the first bite I realized it had a good shot of bourbon in it as well. It was absolutely fabulous with a ring of whipped cream after being warmed for us. It was so good the two of us demolished it after our huge dinners. I was amazed.
The conversations were wonderful as well, just talking about everything and anything with the folks around us, everything from the OUR center garden to the situation here in the Back Bay, from the food to books, from kids and it being a good thing, sometimes, to be away from the kids to "screwing around" with the sheet rock and the jobs we were doing and all kinds of jokes. The food was all served with little plastic flies, and when Don asked for some for his grandkids, he got a whole handful of them to take with him. The waitress really liked us.
After dinner, John got a call from home, and he took it out into the rain. It was a slow, lovely drizzle, reminding me of so many of Seattle's rains, slow and not so much wet as just oozing water from the air. I basked in it while John talked with Jet on the phone. Eventually he handed the phone to me, and Jet babbled happily about his scoring against Mikayla as he played a game with her while he was on the phone. He was happy and didn't seem to mind that we weren't there, though he was happy enough to talk with us while he could. He didn't care one way or another if we were talking or not, so when I said good-bye he said good-bye happily enough and hung up when he was done. Happy boy. No separation anxiety while he has someone else to play with. I think my job as a mom has been done well up to this point. I'm glad to know it this way.
The drive home was interrupted with one of the dads getting a call from his son filled with Star Wars references and we talked Star Wars all the way home. That was fun, too. "Hey, I told my wife I was going to a church retreat, you can't laugh so much!" Wrong church. *giggles*
I am full, warm, and happy. I got rained on! I'm probably going to bed so that I'll actually have eight hours of sleep, and I didn't have my contacts in today to get all dusty and irritated. So it's been a really good day.