Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

House Stories

So the stories of today aren't just about the details of working on Art Coleman's house. Art is the electrician whose house we're working on, and we heard that he not only had already fulfilled his barter time with HOPE Force, but he was on contract with them and a really great guy to work with. He would answer anyone's call at nearly any time of the day or night, so was a really good guy for them to work with.

But Kristen asked him, today, what his flood story was like, as she really wanted to know the stories of the people whose houses we were working on.

The lady, whose house we worked on the first day, had a story of her chow dog. The dog survived the flood by swimming the storm surge and since the house was damaged so badly, when the storm surge went away, the dog was actually able to get into the house. So when she came back to the house days later, the dog was inside it, guarding it from everyone. The dog is still there and still guarding the house from everyone, even though everyone that now comes is a volunteer that is about to work on the house, rather than someone actually trying to damage or steal from it. Still, she guards the house as if her owners depend on it.

Art's story was even more grueling.

He'd just had abdominal surgery on a hernia two days before Katrina. And his daughter had given birth to a baby girl on the 5th and Katrina was on the 29th. When the storm came his wife made him and his family move to her mother's house, which was on Main Street, further up from the shore and beach. They thought they were safe. It rained and rained and then suddenly the water started coming up the street, and after it the water rose and rose and rose. It was the slow, really high storm surge of Katrina. The water came from both the North and the South, from the Gulf and the Back Bay, and it rushed through town to the west.

Art said that it was a miracle that the debris in the water parted around the houses, that there were enough prayers in all the houses to make it all part. But the water kept going up and up. And his mother-in-law and his wife and daughters were on inflated air mattresses, in the house. He ended up standing on a chest of drawers, hanging onto a door to stay up and holding his newborn grand-daughter above the water. He'd found a floating plastic tub, and put her in it, and she slept through the storm. They didn't know how far up the water was going to go, and the ladies in the air mattresses could touch the ceiling at the height of the storm surge.

They stayed there, not knowing if the water was going to drown them in their own house for an hour. Then the water started going down. They were definitely safer in the house rather than out in the storm and debris and it worked out. He ripped out most of the stitches inside him in the endeavor, but they survived it. A month or two later, he went back to the hospital to have the work redone. The next two or three days happened and then water and food were air-dropped into Biloxi. So they did okay, as they were able to get part of that air drop.

His wife wanted to see what had happened to their home, so they tried walking in, but the debris was so bad, and even miles inland from their neighborhood, they could see that nothing was left standing. So they knew that since they were even closer to the ocean, they had no chance of anything being left. When they finally were able to get to the site, weeks later, there was nothing left but a water tank and, perhaps, a few bricks.

They'd been insured, and since it was obvious it was flood damage that destroyed their house, there were none of the disputes that arose in other houses that were destroyed by the storm in other ways. They got the money, but it ran out before they could finish the interior of the house. So that's why we're doing all we can to finish all the trim in the house. It's intensive, hard work, with lots of attention to detail. My legs and knees hurt, but it's only pain, and after hearing that story, there's no way we won't get it done. I think that hearing it has given me the motivation to really work through the end of the week, when I'm aching and tired and ready to be done. When I have a goal, I can work through nearly anything.

Another house that folks are working on is a rebuild of an older house that was eaten from the inside out by termites. They had tried to do something to shore it up, but it was so weak it made it nearly fall apart, so they had to carefully replace all the underlying wooden structure, piece by piece so as not to destroy the rest of the house. So it's not square and it tilts in interesting directions, and they're having a really hard time getting all the sheet rock on; but they're managing as well.

All in all our crew is working on five different houses. We're probably going to get to see a few of the other ones tomorrow, and that would be good to see and know. There's one house that's on twelve foot stilts. I'll probably talk more about those tomorrow.

We got some good progress done. Nearly all the doors are painted. We managed to do all the trim work on three different rooms and a few closets, and most of the other rooms are nearly all prepped and ready to go with the paint and caulk and they should be done. The prep work is the hardest. First getting all the boards in, then doing the putty work and getting all the edges finished, then getting the quarter round down, then sanding, wiping down, caulking the quarter round and any big gaps, and then getting tape down on the wall and floor, and after that, finishing it all with caulk and paint and while the caulk is still wet, getting all the tape up gently so as to not bring the caulk up with it. All of that has to be done around every floor, every window, and every door. It's an amazing amount of work for something that is all done just so that one cannot see how the trim was put on the wall. That still amazes me. Gabe was putting in nearly all the wood. I was doing nearly all the putty and caulking. John and Kristen were doing a lot of the sanding and wiping and taping.

Teresa and Vicki were doing nothing but painting the doors, because the doors were actually quite hard to do, as they were shaped in a way that made it really hard to get the paint to stay even on them. And they had to do one side and then let it dry before being able to do the other side or the edges. So a lot of time has been spent just moving the doors around so that they can dry enough to get to the other side or to another door. It's been a very interesting problem of logistics. But they're now nearly done with all of them, so Teresa is very motivated to help with the trim to get those doors hung so that they can be "finished" with the rest of the trim. So that will be another pair of hands for the morning.

We did that all day, starting at 7:30, as that was when we got there from breakfast, and got off at around 5. My ankles were pretty swollen from spending all day on my feet for the last four days.

After getting cleaned up and putting my towel into the Laundry for the Night pile, we all headed out to the Shed. It was a place that John's brother Walt recommended, and it's basically a tin shed with a bunch of tables outsides. All the food is "To Go" but they'll deliver the to go food to a very haphazard arrangement of tables outside the store proper. It's strung with Christmas lights, there's a stage for the live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and there's all kinds of decorations up in all different directions. It's pretty amazing.

And the food is just absolutely wonderful. It's slow smoked BBQ in the Southern sense. Pulled pork, chicken, sausages, spare ribs and baby backs, and brisket, are all the meats. They've got four sides, cole slaw, beans, mac salad, and a stuffed baked potato salad that basically has everything a super-stuffed baked potato might have, bacon, sour cream, and all. It was all very, very good, and was all served in styrofoam boxes with a layer of foil and soft white bread on top.

The meats were all tender, juicy, smoky, and slathered with just enough sauce. The potato salad was creamy, flavored, and textured with all the things in it. The cole slaw was cold and crisp. The pulled pork was super smoky and the sauce just coated the top of the mound of meat, and it was thick and tangy and smoky salt as well. The spare rib had meat that just fell of the bone, and it had been cooked so long that all the collagen was soft and melted in with the meat. It was amazing.

The ambiance was great, too. They were open just a few days after Katrina, even ten miles inland, the water had reached a height of about five feet there. You can see the water line on their windows, where they'd marked it. They hadn't had to do too much to get back into business, they had to wash out the concrete floored place completely. They rounded up the picnic tables from where they'd floated off to, and had to burn out and clean all their BBQ equipment, but then they were pretty much ready to go.

Everyone was there, and there haven't been too many times when all of us were gathered in one place. So John called a little strategic meeting about when and how to get to New Orleans tomorrow. We're 25 people with car spots for 29 and hotel reservations all in one hotel. So it should be fun to get there together and see stuff together. I need to get to sleep so that I can stay up late when we're in the city rather than here when I have work I really want to get to tomorrow.

I will have work to do tomorrow. Hoorah!
Tags: building_things, katrina, story, travel

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