By Crystal Graham
(This is the fourth installment in a six-part series on The Valley Responds, an effort that links the Shenandoah Valley with residents of Long Beach, Miss.)
To the average person, a sunflower growing by the roadside isn’t anything unusual.
Marsha Allen, however, found it strange.
Because the bright yellow sunflower had risen among the debris, among the trash that littered the streets of Long Beach in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
It had grown up right where her mailbox used to be – right by her driveway that now leads to nowhere, nothing.
She found the discovery of the sunflower, amusing, to say the least.
“I couldn’t get sunflowers to grow when we lived here,” she said.
Walking up the driveway, Marsha, and her 17-year-old daughter, Corri, still had a look of disbelief on their faces.
Some two months after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, families are left picking up the pieces – literally.
The little things in life
Corri and her family had packed up their belongings and left Long Beach in a hurry.
“We left the majority here,” Corri said.
Looking back, she said, they could’ve taken a lot more.
“But when we came back, we totally expected just to be shoveling mud,” she said. “This house made it through Camille. We didn’t think much about it, and it’s gone now.”
Gone, except for a few memories of her childhood, a few mementoes from their lives just blocks from the waterfront.
“I found a charm off one of my bracelets the first time,” Corri told The Augusta Free Press. “The second time, I found a porcelain bank that looks like a jack-in-the-box. I had it when I was little.”
Marsha said that her husband, Jim, and her had already decided to downsize some.
“We had gone on a retreat a month before the storm, and we were just going to pray through things that were happening in our lives and see where God wants us,” she said.
“I had already started finding out about eBay, and I had a closet set aside for things to give away,” Marsha said, standing just feet from where the front door to her brick home once stood.
Through tears, she said, that she felt God had prepared them for Katrina.
“When we came back, and there was nothing, that was a real sobering moment to see not only our home, but miles and miles and miles … from the beach, three blocks back is gone,” Marsha said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Marsha decided that it was best that the family look at this journey as an adventure.
“We have to depend on somebody for every item of clothing on our body, and the land where our camper is,” she said. “Washing clothes, that’s the biggest adventure right now. It’s hard to go into someone’s house and do your clothes.
“Little things like that may not seem like such a big thing.”
Everything they own fits in their Explorer, including their dogs and their crates, Marsha says.
“There’s so many uncertainties that every day, I would say ‘I don’t know,’ because we would go from relative to relative for awhile,” Marsha said. “We felt like a bunch of gypsies.”
But they at least have a semi-permanent place to stay now.
Four miles from the ground their house once stood on, the family lives in a camper on a friend’s property.
Today, however, the mother and daughter walk their property lines, unsure how to begin to explain the house to visitors.
“Do you want me to tell you about the yard or the house?” Corri asks.
She shares the memories of her home – all that she has left.
Twenty-five minutes into their search, mom found something valuable to her husband, something he carved as a child.
“We’ve gone through things several times so far,” Corri said, taking a break from her homeschool lessons. “We don’t usually come back here as much as some people come back to their houses.”
Keeping the dream alive
“We don’t want to rebuild on this spot,” Corri said, looking around her. “But we do want to stay in Long Beach. Long Beach is our home.”
Mom is quick to point out that a home is not the most important thing in life anyway.
“Our life is a whole lot different in some ways. Our church was destroyed as well,” Marsha said. “The things that really make us rich are very much in place.