Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Fence

“Y’all always wanna learn things the hard way.” My father would say this repeatedly, referring to his four children (I’m the second oldest) and our perceived hard-headedness. I recalled these words as I stood in my yard about two weeks ago (wow, I can’t believe it’s been 10 days already), sledge hammer in hand, funky and sweating like a pig under the hot sun. I thought about the raised-eyebrow-soft-chuckle response I got from my then-supervisor Chris Kuwata (a former construction worker) when I announced why I’d be leaving Blue Sky. And all the looks of surprise and bewilderment from people when I tell them that I’m fixing up my house with my own hands. Why AM I doing this? I guess I am just a hard-headed woman. I must learn things first-hand. I must see for myself.

So, I’ve learned that busting up concrete with a sledge hammer and digging 2-foot holes with a manual posthole digger is not really that fun. Fulfilling, yes. Fun, no.

And the thought of doing that 13 more times (that’s the number of posts I need for the fence… I’d decided I was going to put the damn thing up myself, instead of waiting to get a reasonable estimate for installation) made me second-guess what the hell I’m doing here.

I am CHOOSING to do manual labor every day, y’all. Am I crazy? Maybe I should go back to New York and get a desk job like a normal person. Then again, most “normal” people are unhappy with their jobs/lives. But putting up a fence is hard work; it’s the kind of hard work you don’t want to make mistakes with. There is a reason people hire professionals to do this stuff. I stood there alone in my yard and looked at my property and all its glaring faults. Needless to say, I started feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I went home and made a TO-DO list. It is currently 2 pages long. Feel free to check it out. I feel that I should start with the priorities – fence, shed roof and door (workspace and storage), and wood siding. Originally, I thought these would be secondary (well, except for the fence for security), but I am realizing that I need security immediately and protection of the house for the long-term. If I don’t repair the wood siding, all the drywall work we did will be for naught. There are literally open holes in the exterior. That won’t do in a climate where rain is sometimes blown horizontally. Also, I need an enclosed shed - a secure place to work and store my tools that is outside the house. Finally, someone tried to steal my hot water heater or the copper pipes a few weeks ago.

I'm not sure what they were after, but this is what they did.

So I really need a secure wood fence.

Sometimes logic and reason have to win out over passion and sheer will. Not only will it take a LOT of physical labor and time to put up that fence by myself (or even with a few helpers), but I wouldn’t be sure about the fence’s structural integrity and security. I concluded that it made sense for me to hire this one out. So I found another company, Budget (ha!) Fence. I liked that the owner lives right around the corner. I liked his demeanor and that of his assistant. I liked that he arrived when he said he would. I did not like the $2499 estimate he gave me for the work. Budget, huh? So, I don’t know what I’m going to do about this fence situation, y’all. I decided to focus my efforts on the shed roof. Last week, I framed the open part of the roof so that I can attach the metal roofing sheets.

My first foray into carpentry!!!

In other news, I had more volunteers come to help!! Why didn’t I get THEM to help me with the fence, you ask. Well, this was in the last week of August. My home hadn’t yet been vandalized and I was still focused on finishing the drywall. A local organization called Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA) sent me a church group eager to make a dent in the effort to rebuild New Orleans. Boy, did they get a lot done in my house. Many hands make light work, y’all. It’s so true. We finished mudding the last room and a half; and sanded the walls and applied a second coat in the other rooms.

The UU's (Unitarian Universalists) sanding the walls. Go team!

I was so grateful to have them. And they ended up coming back a couple days later! More sanding and mudding. When this house is done, it will be filled with so much warmth and memories. A handmade house. So many people have given so much of themselves to it.

After a hard day's work, we still had energy for a photo shoot.

The following week, my friend Jared stopped by and lent a hand with the sanding. He just called one day and came over! It was a totally unexpected blessing. It's difficult for me to ask for help sometimes, so I'm glad he took it upon himself to offer.

Good to have some muscle!

On the neighborhood revitalization front, I’ve begun organizing neighbors to breathe new life into a neglected community garden that had fallen into disarray after the hurricane hit. A few entries ago, I spoke of acquiring a plot of land on my block and turning into a garden. But again, logic and reason won out after I spoke to Macon Fly from Parkway Partners (an organization that assists communities with creating and sustaining gardens). A garden will not tend itself; if people aren’t taking care of the existing one, what will happen with a new garden? I decided to start with rehabbing the existing one. If there is enough interest, perhaps it’s feasible to create another. I organized a group of Holy Cross residents and supporters to come out (yesterday) and clear out the overgrown weeds. You can actually see the ground now!!! I’ll attach a couple pics.

Dedicated neighbors hacking through the jungle that was the Laurentine Ernst Community Garden

Look what we accomplished!!! You can actually see the ground now!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Thinking About Grandmaw

Two years ago today, my grandmother Leoma Sordelet died. When the storm hit, none of us knew where she was; I breathed a sigh of relief when she called me a few days later. She had evacuated with her sister's family to Atlanta. Worry took relief's place as our conversation went on, however. She was in pain; she had difficulty even speaking. On her birthday almost a year before, she'd told us that her breast cancer had returned. But I'd never been concerned that she wouldn't make it. Even as I spoke to her after the hurricane hit via telephone from New York, urging her to see a doctor, I couldn't imagine that she would die. It was only when she began speaking about being "ready to go" and "letting the Lord take her" did my fear set in. And she insisted that she did not want medical attention. A few days later, my father (a firefighter who remained in New Orleans through the storm) took a bus to Georgia and my mother (who had evacuated to Memphis, TN) flew down. They forced my grandmother to go to a hospital. Still, she died on September 9th at about 6pm. For the first time, I saw my father cry.

I feel grateful that I was able to hold her hand before she passed (literally hours before). My co-worker, Angela Macias, generously gave me her frequent flyer miles so that I could get there. I will never forget that. After Grandmaw passed, my brothers and sister came down and we said goodbye. There was no way to plan a proper funeral... 470 miles away from home and unable to return, our relatives scattered across the country in temporary homes. My father decided to have her cremated and return her ashes to New Orleans. I still feel sick when I think about us standing in the parking lot of that crematorium, where they kept the incinerator, watching the cardboard box that held grandmother's body being shoved into that machine. She would not have wanted it that way.

I do blame Katrina. She made no exceptions for the most vulnerable of us. Even those elders who made it out of New Orleans before she hit experienced great stress and profound loss. My other grandmother suffered a stroke that January (2006). And I just got word that my great-aunt, Auntie Dot, died from a heart attack. Katrina's arms are long and her affect is wide. It has been over two years and she's still stealing lives. About a month ago, my cousin Caroline (who is 4 years my mother's junior) passed away due to complications from surgery following a brain hemorrhage. One cannot help but connect these stress-related deaths with that unprecedented disaster. We say, "The sun is always rising; we cannot hold back the day". The world does not stop for tragedy, but we will never forget. It seems she's not letting us forget either.

Updates on the progress of the house are coming soon, y'all. I just needed to post this as a tribute to my dear grandmother. I miss you, Grandmaw.