Sunday, July 02, 2006

Signs of Progress, Signs of Hope

Charlie Holmes at the Palode rebuild

There are signs of progress everywhere in Pearlington. Houses that were abandoned and have been sitting in mute testimony to Katrina's wrath, have been cleared off their lots by the Corps. The sound of hammers and saws competes with the piercing call of cicadas and the smell of fresh cut pine and spruce is in the air. The Pearl*Mart is chalk full of canned goods and necessities and Pearlington now has perhaps the only air-conditioned cook tent on the coast, thanks to Larry Charbonneau's Texas Team of a few good men - John Eppright, Charles Dudley and Kelly Green. Suddenly young volunteers are lining up to serve therein....

Warren Tidwell and his pretty wife Jennifer call me on their way to the Ladner home, to deliver materials for their rebuild. This earnest and dedicated young man has been deeply moved by his experiences in Pearlington and works hard from home in Alabama, assisting Jennifer Johnson's BRICK Layers in any way he can. Friday night, fresh off the plane from Toronto, I am met by Susie Sharp - a pillar of the Pearlington community - and we are summoned to Turtle Landing to meet old friends and sing a Karaoke tune or two.

It's good to be back.

As I sing, I think of John "Johnny Rae" Watts and I aim my voice at his widow Liz, standing ten feet away. John passed away from a heart attack in June and singing was his passion as much as it is mine. Johnny Rae was the first to line up, back at my original Karaoke therapy nights in the fall, and had a wonderful country voice. He and Woody cooked our original crab boils and made a valuable contribution to the spiritual and mental health of this community, as we raised our voices amid the ruins of this small town.

I miss you John, but I know that Heaven has a Mississippi Man now to anchor its choir.

It was Canada Day back home yesterday and what better a way to celebrate than to reunite with Mary and Wilf Wityshyn, my countrymen from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Pearlington says goodbye to them both, for now, as Mary relinquishes her post as Camp Manager and moves on to Biloxi, where she and Wilf will serve in Logistics. Like all of us, their commitment and determination to see this through has changed and enhanced their lives and Mary and Wilf have done an outstanding job in Pearlington. We will miss them both and we wish them Godspeed.

Mary is succeeded by David Robinson, an Oregonian who helped erect the first 25 pods at the Camp, back at the beginning of the year. He fought long and hard to be posted back to Pearlington, affected as we all were by the needs of the town and the strength and good nature of its people.

Welcome, David, to the volunteer community of Pearlington.

David Robinson, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

My reunion with Charlie Holmes of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi is warm and touching. Charlie and I are professional colleagues and close friends, who share a mutual respect and love of Pearlington that has inspired our lives and empowered our work back home. I am once again amazed by CBF's commitment to this town and all the money and hard work they have dedicated to its recovery. I take a tour with Charlie, as he proudly shows me CBF at work in the community, rebuilding the homes of Pam Kirkland and Mike Aultman, Glen and Karen Bazor, the Palode clan and Vicki Netto.

Glen and Karen have been living in a small FEMA trailer with their three young children and can't wait to have a home for their children. Ada Palode is a wonderful woman with eight children who I met back in November. Cheerful and optimistic always, I discovered she was washing clothes for her husband and her kids, hours every day, in the tiny tub in their FEMA trailer. I made some calls from the Pearl*Mart and Moe Grez, of Loving Neighbors, pulled some strings and got me a brand new washer for her - at that point, perhaps the first one in Pearlington. Ada was thrilled and Charlie Holmes personally delivered it and set her up. On my last day as Facility Manager back in November, Ada showed up at the Pearl*Mart with a big pan of Jambalaya for me and later sent me an awesome picture of her family, which I treasure. I am so happy they will have a home again - all thanks to CBF and that very same Charlie Holmes.

Pam and Mike are salt of the earth Mississippi folk who are among my best riends in Pearlington. Like most, they lost everything in the storm and have been adopted by Jim and Susie Merritt of Beaufort, SC. Their small and cosy home is going up in record time, thanks in part to their own enormous hard work and determination. I was dining with them one night, in the shed that served as the kitchen out at Susie Sharp's place, and Mike was sharing with me how he was growing peppers and tomatoes in pots beside their FEMA trailer. As he spoke, we all looked over, only to witness the dog visiting each pot in turn and marking his "turf" with a good long pee in each and every one. I promptly named them "Piss Peppers" and told Mike that if I were ever going to eat one, they had better be scrubbed with Lysol first.

Upon my arrival at Susie's beautiful rebuilt house, the first thing I noticed was a small bowl of Jalapeno Piss Peppers on the kitchen table, looking green and pink and curiously clean....

Tim Goodnow - of the Dog Soldiers - and his wife Leslie are also here and I am meeting with him later today, concerning the Diaz home. Tim is a very good man and another close friend and partner in Pearlington.

Then there is Laurie Spaschak. As usual, she is everywhere, keeping things organized and running smoothly. Her remarkable daughter Maureen is here for the summer and she, and Mike Aultman's daughter Dominique pulled off a very cute and well-organized Karaoke Night here at Susie's, where some of C.O.D.R.A.'s members enjoyed an awesome steak BBQ.

There are currently some challenges with volunteer amenities and later today, after I meet quietly with her and Bob Putnam, I will post an appeal and a Call to Action. She is working on a new Needs List and I will have a major announcement this week - so watch for it - concerning the First Annual Pearlington Volunteer Reunion in late August, that I am planning with Laurie and Susie Sharp. We will commemorate the anniversary of the Storm and catch up with each other. I am really hoping that some of the original "Renegaides" from September return to help us celebrate the progress and indomitable spirit of the good folks of Pearlington.

Signs of progress.

Signs of Hope are measured in human terms and I will share those with you, as well, as my time here unfolds.

Canada Jon


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