Yay! We slept in today! Everyone stayed asleep until almost 9:00. We stayed at the Stella Maris Center for quite awhile, to clean up our sleeping room and bathrooms in preparation for a fundraising fish fry that evening. We emptied our whole little NOLA world into a storage room in the back, dressed for work, and then headed out. We got a little lost (Shawny's fault), then made our way to the Hippie Camp at around 11:00. (Again, the Hippie Camp is more appropriately known as "Emergency Communities" [www.emergencycommunities.com] and they have provided incredible levels of service in St. Bernard Parish since the storm. We love and respect all that they are doing, and we use the phrase "Hippie Camp" as a real term of affection.)
We met up with Jenny there to check out the tools that we would need for the day. Happily, many of the tools we found in the shed were the ones that we had left with them when we returned to California in January. We borrowed back some of our old shovels and rakes, along with one of our big blue wheelbarrows. We got other tools as well, and then drove toward our destination farther out in St. Bernard Parish in the town of Chalmette. We worked on our very last house in January in this same place (Connie and Jerry LeRouge's house).
It would have made sense to eat lunch at the Hippie Camp, but they weren't ready to start serving yet, so we decided to start working and then send someone back for lunches later in the day. As we headed for the house, we noticed two amazing sights: 1) an open Home Depot store and 2) an open lunch counter that served po-boys and muffaletta sandwiches. Both of these sights are amazing because the landscape out in St. Bernard is incredibly desolate. Collapsed buildings are everywhere, and broken-off signs or piles of debris surround most buildings that are standing. The only signs of life are the cars that move along the streets and the trailers that stand in front of damaged or destroyed houses. Thus, to see an open business is quite striking.
We drove through the Home Depot parking lot and Chris ran in to buy a push broom that he was convinced we would need. (He was right.) We then went to the lunch counter and decided to go ahead and eat so that we could start and finish the job in one big push. We had shrimp and catfish po-boys (big sandwiches on crunchy rolls) and muffalettas (lunchmeats with an olive relish that is really, really good). We ordered a bunch of food, ate it, ordered more, ate it, and then were ready to work.
This time, we went to the home of a woman named Esther, and found the place virtually untouched. Someone had gotten the refrigerator and stove out in to the front yard (but not to the street, where it would be removed), and a few big pieces of furniture seemed to be missing, but otherwise, the layer of crud that settles at the end of a flood was still there, about a foot deep everywhere and higher where furniture remained.
By the time we actually got started, it was about 1:00 in the afternoon. Most agencies plan for two days to finish a job like this one, so we decided to get it started and then let Emergency Communities finish it later. We began by moving the appliances out of the yard and onto the curb. Then we started shoveling and running loads across the street, where there was a big vacant space unattached to anyone else's property. The temperature was in the low 90s, so running wheelbarrows was a harder job than ever. We downed water so fast that we had to make a call to Emergency Communities to bring us more.
We quickly reduced the piles of debris inside, and began to bring down the walls and tear up the floors (again, at least four layers, including carpet, floor tile, and linoleum). Johnny and Aaron have become our bathroom specialists, so they worked on tile removal, as well as ripping out the toilets and sinks. We got our first exposure to rodent infestation, as we encountered dozens of mice hiding out inside every possible nook and cranny. It was gross, but not dangerous.
When we were too hot or tired to run wheelbarrows, we didn't take breaks; we just turned to a more low-key job: pulling nails. There is a meditative state that can be reached while pulling nails that is very restful. In fact, anyone who pulled nails for a long period of time noticed that at bedtime, in those moments before we actually drifted off, we were pulling nails in our heads.
Though we had gotten a late start, we were in a working frenzy. Ashley perfected a "wheelbarrow vault" where she would get a running start from the front door, fly across the street with the wheelbarrow, then launch it onto the pile at just the right second to land all of her debris right on top. Rebecca conquered the toughest floor tiles of all, in the kitchen, and a whole mini-crew, including Lyndsay, Elijah, Caitlyn and Kate, took on the stinkiest food pantry of all time. No one slacked.
Before we knew it, we realized that it was almost 6:00. Even more surprising, we realized that we were almost done. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to pack a ladder from the Hippie Camp, so we couldn't do the last few steps of nail removal on the ceiling and the highest parts of the walls. It was too late to run and get the ladder, so we left that job undone. Thus, tomorrow, a small crew can come in, pull a few nails, and spray bleach, and this one will be done. We got it that close in five hours. Wow.
This was a great house on which to end our labors. It was the first time that we did every step of the gutting process from beginning to end. Jenny's response: "Where have you been all of my life? NO ONE has ever done a job so well so fast! How many of you are there again?" We were very proud.
We hurried back to the center to join in on the last few minutes of the fish fry hosted by Deacon Ernie. We met some other members of the parish there, and heard some more stories from the storm. The fish and other foods were great, and we got showers taken care of quickly enough to make one last collective run: to the river beachhouse owned by our friend Macon, from January.
Macon's house is one of the most pleasant and comfortable places we could ever imagine. It's right on a bend in the Mississippi and there is a perfect place to light a bonfire, roast marshmallows, stare out onto the river, and talk about the week that has just passed. Some of us just sat on the rocks and talked, some tended the fire, and some played the cleanest-ever version of "I Never."
Macon told us that the garden we prepared for him in January is unbelievably productive now. He says that it is full of thriving vegetables, and that he is almost ready to begin selling his produce at local farmers markets. He invited us to visit as we drive out of town tomorrow. If we can move fast enough, we would love to see how it looks now.
We stayed at Macon's until after midnight, then headed back for our last night at the Stella Maris Center, this time smelling like wood smoke instead of wet carpet and stinky pantry items. We talked about how much we would like to stay, especially now that we know just what we are doing and can do it so well. Still, we are ready to head home, perhaps to see our families for the holiday weekend. A Good Friday indeed.