By the time I get back from dinner (and, tonight, an extra beer run to make sure that when everyone hits the dorm after working that there *is* beer in the shiny new walk-in fridge) I'm not really up for much expressive stuff, but that doesn't really serve you who are following this journal all that well.
The return feels more routine this year, perhaps because it's so familiar now, the place, the stories the people, but I need, perhaps, to revisit a little of it to introduce all this to those who haven't seen the previous years' trips.
I've been coming to Biloxi for the last three years. Mississippi was in the eye of Hurricane Katrina and Biloxi is built on a thin strip of land between the Back Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. When Katrina came through, they'd survived Camille and thought they could get through a Cat 5 storm, no problem; but the difference between the two storms was how quickly they moved once they hit land.
The wind speeds were the same, that is how the categories of hurricanes work; however, Camille moved so quickly in terms of how quickly the storm covered ground that it was into the Atlantic and then back to threaten the Eastern Sea Board within days.
Katrina, on the other hand, moved far more slowly, so the strength and the power of the storm really concentrated all it's force on the Gulf Coast. The storm surge between the Gulf and the Bay put the coast line under dozens of feet of water, and even miles inland they had water take out forests, towns, and the Shed (which is 20 miles inland) had a water mark of 5 feet. The "high" ground of town (a full 15 feet above sea level) still saw 10 foot flooding, and the smashing power of the debris took out more houses than the water itself.
Two years ago there was an electrician whose house we rebuilt and we were having lunch with him and he pointed out the empty concrete pads of most of his neighbors and told us how each of them had died or simply moved away once they found out what had happened to their homes.
It's almost frightening the amount of destruction there was. And even today, five years after, the reconstruction is only about 70% done. The amount of devastation is just staggering. And the money is drying up because so many people have forgotten. The Back Bay Mission is the United Church of Christ's only presence in Mississippi, we are a really liberal church and the very conservative South really, literally, doesn't want our kind down there. Most of our roots are New English and very, very Yankee to the point of having helped defend the Amastad and been a major supporter of the Underground Railroad. There are no UCC churches here, and there would be no support for one so far as we know. The South Eastern Conference of the UCC is fairly small, but has a huge stake in Back Bay and a fairly large influence on how it is run.
But the Back Bay Mission has a waiting list that's now nearly 16 months long of folks coming from all over the country to stay here for a week and work.
It says something about the UCC that it supports this as wholeheartedly as it does for a region that has no members, but has a great deal of need.
The volunteers, of course, have all levels of experience or capability or willingness to do certain things. Some groups they have don't want to do anything more complicated or strenuous than painting five feet up inside a house. And the Mission loves them for wanting to give their time and the effort that they can give.
Our group prides itself on not just its abilities but also on how freaking much we get done. We have half a dozen folks that either are or were professional contractors and construction folks. One was a building inspector, two are handymen that made their living building nearly anything. The rest of us are married to or associated to those folks, and all of us work like there is no tomorrow. We want to get things done, and we all know what are limitations are and what we are really good at as well as what we won't do and how to make use of each other.
So this morning, after a 7 am wake up, I managed to get my breakfast and make my lunch as one of our ladies, Jennifer, decided that her strengths were in cooking and coordinating meals, not with doing quite as much of the construction. She did all the prep, all the cleanup, and then worked in their soup kitchen, Loaves and Fishes, for the rest of the day.
I drove to the site with four guys in the giant Buick Enclave that we'd rented on the money we'd earned from the Biloxi Bash. We needed the huge thing to haul people and all their equipment. There was a lot of equipment. We got there, and Judy and Lysa went to 'Tato-Nut for coffee and donuts for everyone, and the rest of us got to work unloading the tool trailer that the Biloxi folks had provided to hold our tools as we were in a neighborhood where their trailers have been broken into. They'd driven it there before we got there, which was nice.
I had to adjust layers as it was cold and breezy this morning. Jeff was coordinating Karen, David, John, Lysa after she got back from her errand, Max, sometimes Don, and myself up on the roof. It was just bare wood, the last slats under the roofing material, and some were replaced with good wood and a few sheets of plywood. Beams had been replaced that had rotted through, so that they were solid enough to support what was put on them. We put a whole layer of plywood over that, nailed each one down with a nail every six inches along the edges, and every eight inches through the 'field' of the board. They were on solid.
Tar paper went over that, and every foot to eighteen inches we put a button nail. A nail with a little plastic button around it to prevent leaks through the nail hole.
Then we broke for lunch. *laughs*
It was a lot of work. For me the hardest part was just getting on that roof and learning to walk that far up. The fear at first of just tumbling down the pitches of the roof is big, especially since no one was tied on to the crown at all, and there was nothing that would stop anyone from falling off if they started. So the trick was to just not start. Jeff gave me a few small-item concentration jobs that really were for me to walk the whole roof and look at it. Just really look at it all. With more and more exposure to simply being up there and then jobs I could really concentrate on I gradually got more and more comfortable.
To the point where I was able to take a small refresher on the nail gun from John and then get to work nailing the plywood boards down on what had been the half-rotted roof.
Nailing each board down made it more solid, especially when doing across the planes of each of the big sheets. The nail gun was pretty heavy but with two hands it was easy enough to move it. I couldn't do it one-handed the way Jeff and John could, but I didn't have to, not really. I did tend to pull the trigger with my right hand, but tomorrow I'm going to have to use my left as my right hand is pretty beaten up. So I did most of a whole line of boards, which was hard, as I had to get down to the boards under my feet with every single nail, and there were dozens per board. Luckily, we had boxes of nails up there, and I could just go bang-bang-bang as I went. The hard part was the safety, as there's a safety sleeve on the gun that only allows it to fire if it's pressed up against a board, but it had to be up against the board with a certain amount of pressure each time.
Banging it on sometimes worked, but that was kind of hard on the hands as well.
Then came the tar paper, and the button nails, each of which had to be pounded in by hand. Karen, David, Lysa, and I did most of that, with some help from John, Max, and Don, depending on what else they had to do.
A lot of the tar paper was actually after lunch, as we had to unroll the big sheets of it, Jeff would use a staple gun to bang it into place and fix it so that if someone stepped on it it wouldn't slide out from under them, and then we put the nails in.
Finally we got started on the shingles, just as Clay took out the back wall of the house. It hadn't actually been standing on anything as the whole bottom had rotted through, and it was pretty much hanging from the roof. There wasn't really any real framing under the low-pitch part of the back roof. Oops. That'll get fixed tomorrow... but for the rest of today people weren't supposed to be on that roof at all. So John and Karen and David started the shingling on the front roof, but Don, Max, and I had some side boards that had to get put up, cut to fit, banged into place, and then nailed solid.
And the kicker was that at 4 the Mission wanted to meet with all the volunteers to tell them about what they're up to. Everyone was pretty exhausted by then anyway, so they cut it a little short, though John and I took the tour of the new day shelter, and we all showered and headed off to dinner.
Some of us went to an old favorite, Aunt Jenny's which serves everything family style and it's all-you-can-eat fried chicken, or shrimp, or catfish, or any number of other things, with nice sides, banana pudding for dessert, and is pretty homestyle.
John really wanted to try something new, so for us and about 12 others, dinner was at the White Cap Seafood Restaurant, which had a lot of the local fish dishes, along with the usual sides. John got the soft-shelled crab, jumbo, and I got the seafood platter which had deep fried oysters, fish, clams, scallops, shrimp, and hush puppies along with a salad and potatoes (fried, of course, or parsley potatoes). We also shared another dozen raw oysters with Jeff. It was a lot of food, but pretty well done, and the huge party was a little much for one waitress, so they gave us two. Mine forgot the oysters the first try through, and she forgot my hush puppies but came up with a whole plate of them later. That was good as I'll probably have one for breakfast.
It turned out that the restaurant site used to be that of the old Aunt Jenny's! *laughter*
After Katrina they moved to their new site, and then renovated this when they could, and opened it August 4 of this year!! So it was new, but owned by the same people. That was very cool indeed to find out and we had some good jokes about it tonight.
We stopped on a beer run on the way back, and when I got back I finally loaded the pictures for YESTERDAY up onto my flickr account. There is a Biloxi 2010 set, now, and I'll update it as I can. If there's a revival tomorrow, I'm probably going to sit it out and try and catch this up the way I know I really can when I'm paying attention.
Better get this out before it's tomorrow here... my usual time is set for Mountain Time, but here in Central it's Midnight. *laughs*