Remembering Katrina – Ten Years Later

Published on Saturday, August 29th, 2015

On this weekend in 2005, I had just met my husband. I had just started back up with a beloved client again to finish more of what we started. I also had just finished designing my mother’s new Gulf Coast house and was there in Gulfport, enjoying the sultry breezes, a few cocktails and amazing gulf seafood, catching up with family and friends. We knew a hurricane was out in there, but we consulted with all the neighbors who were, along with us, veterans of Hurricane Camille. We even knew where the water went up to in our neighbor’s house, and the storm surge wasn’t going to be that high. We would probably hang out upstairs with the shutters closed and the worst that could happen would be six inches of water on the newly refinished pecan wood floors. We scoffed at the idea that we would need to evacuate – there had been so many false alarms in the past, here and when I lived in New Orleans. In a flash flood one day in the early 90s I was stuck on the interstate for nine hours within spitting distance of my Garden District exit, so there was no way we were joining an exodus of people onto Highway 49 to get out, only to be turned away.

And then it got serious. My new almost boyfriend (now husband, who had been in the U. S. Navy) called and asked the address of mom’s house, and when he found the place on the map, he started getting emphatic. “Do you realize how serious this is? You have got to get out of there!”. So the denial slipped away, and we called Robby’s mom who still lives in the old nighborhood that was well out of the storm to see if we could stay the night, then packed up the supplies we were going to use for the storm and headed over. The last thing my mom said about the house was “do you think we should get sandbags for the windows? If there are only a few inches of water reaching the house, they may stop it – I am so worried about ruining the floors…” I think I rolled my eyes or something and told her that it’s time to go. I had become sufficiently convinced that the storm was going to be bigger than we thought.

Robby’s family was fantastic – they had all sorts of systems for survival in place for once the water and power inevitably went dead, and in between watching the wind in the trees predict how close Katrina was coming we ate a lot and watched the news on the solar powered tv, took naps then awakened to ride the storm out in the wee hours of the morning. The storm proceeded to pummel the Coast for an entire night and day, many hours longer than Camille did. We all sort of went into a type of shock, because we didn’t need to see the news to know that there would be nothing left. It took a while for us to get back to the beach, because the destruction from the storm had blocked streets and intersections. We did arrive at what was left of our house just before the National Guard, the press and the looters got in, the latter two before the former. All of a sudden, there we are, talking to Harry Smith standing on the pecan floor, and noticing women rifling through the massive debris that was now our neighborhood.

The reality then became that we needed to get the hell out of there, because it was crushingly obvious that there was nothing to be done or saved. We managed to get up Highway 49 over countless downed trees and power lines, shocked by how far inland the destruction was all the way back to Jackson, where my mom’s primary residence is. We noted what a luxury it was that her building had a generator so we were able to be cool and get clean, after almost three days of hurricane experience. We were very fortunate to have that luxury, as it was not so for so most. Our friends and family suffered extreme hardships and many lost everything. People died during and in the aftermath from the stress and fear and seeing the world look like the apocalypse had happened. None of these are happy memories.

I am very grateful for the few days before Katrina ruined everything, because my childhood hometown looked more beautiful and lush and graceful than ever before, and I got to relive the best parts of my memories by driving down Highway 90 with my mom, commenting on every house that we loved to talk about since I was old enough to say veranda. They lined the beach drive like beautiful ladies in a row, having an afternoon cocktail and watching the water. It hurts to know that they are not there anymore – gone along with the surge of the tide of a natural disaster. I only wish I’d taken a “before” video.

Mother’s Day redux

Published on Monday, May 10th, 2010

The holiday was first about my killing myself to get my mom’s gift to Mississippi in time for the exalted day. In spite of the fact that Joel from Brown’s Fine Art and I had conspired in the fall of last year to deal with this issue, I did not find the time to do anything about it until, oh, Monday before Mother’s Day. I painted this canvas awhile ago, but it never naturally found its home. My mother collects very fine art, so when she casually mentioned that she would like to have the painting I was very excited. I’ve painted quite a few works, and the one other painting she really liked was lost in Hurricane Katrina. I was quite eager to get this to her – but in classic fashion, I had to make it extremely complicated. First, the painting is quite large – three feet by five feet. And I didn’t really want a frame for it so much as I wanted a nice fastener to complement the provencial French antiques in her bedroom – there was enough hardwood in the room already. The solutions? Send Joel the unstretched rolled canvas. Buy thick gallery stretchers for the canvas and have them sent directly to Joel. Buy fabulous two inch wide cotton velvet ribbon and send directly to Joel. Send Joel directions for the perfect bow to festoon the top of the painting. Buy one and a half inch nailhead to attach the ribbon around the edges of the stretched canvas in a wonderful hand gold leafed finish. Great!

Not great – there is no such nailhead finished off in this way, so I have to find the size and then do it myself, since you know I am an expert at gold leafing techniques (not). When it dawned on me that I had exactly two days to arrange purchases and deliveries, get the nailhead finished and get it all to Joel with time to spare for his work. I called Troy, the concierge of my mother’s condo building, to ask him if Joel could access my mom’s condo when she wasn’t at home, and he was enthusiastically helpful in playing our little spy game to surprise her.

At this point you may wonder why I would go through all this when I could have just sent a lovely card and flowers, but the designer in me had go ahead and finish this mission. I realize most people don’t care how many steps go into a thing hanging on the wall in someone’s house. But I knew it would be fabulous and Mom would love a surprise! So I surrendered to my project addiction and got it all together.

Mission accomplished per Joel at 4:30 PM central Saturday before Mother’s Day. The Eagle landed Sunday evening when she returned from visiting friends on the Coast. In these photos you can check out the process of leafing the nailhead, and the photos of the painting installed in her bedroom. My Mississippi conspirators pulled this off without a hitch and I can’t thank them enough!

Part two of Mother’s Day here in the ‘hood focused on relaxation, snuggles, kisses and a killer two hour mani pedi with massage. Accents of the day were flowers, tear inducing cards, and a fun three way conversation with my mom and my brother. It was perfect – thanks honey xoxo

Art and Learning in the time of Covid

Published on Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Thank you Brandy McGill for taking the time to chat last week and for producing this story!

I find I’m writing more blog posts here than usual, because I tend to want to write when I feel grateful. Words cannot express how much our family appreciates that Noah Margo listened to the plight of displaced families like ours, got together with Laura Chism, Dr. Michael Bregy and the entire Board of Directors made it a priority to help us continue our children’s learning path in this unprecented time. I understand that the Board voted unanimously to allow our boy to take his 100% online ILC from our home in the Bay – an enormous relief! My son is sitting at his desk as I write this, as today is the first day of school!

That’s the news and here’s the backstory:

Practicing ballet on the Bayou Bernard

The week before Katrina hit, I had the thought that I’d like to spend more time on the Coast. I’d been in Beverly Hills since 1999, fully immersed in the single girl in the city lifestyle with nonstop work on my career, so it was a mere flash. Growing up on the Bayou Bernard in Gulfport, Mississippi was a really sweet childhood of summer sailing, Marine Life, snoballs, sweet tea, shrimp boils, fish frys, shopping at Godchaux
on day trips to New Orleans and buying Sunday school shoes at Pappagallo.

Four years ago, we made that momentary flash a reality and began to spend summers in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, where we had lots of dear old friends, one hour from the New Orleans International, and an easy drive for my mom. Last year I found the place we would ultimately buy and then set about driving everyone I knew crazy because I could not talk about anything else. I was driven to get the house ready in a way that I’ve only ever experienced when I was pregnant and preparing the nest for my son. I remember saying to my friends and family (my mother confirms this) at the time that I had a feeling something might happen.

With mission accomplished, I planned a fabulous Christmas at our nest in the Bay, and was SO happy to be able to enjoy our holiday. Of course, as things happened, my entire family became really ill with a something like a flu that did not test as flu and stayed sick, essentially until Valentine’s Day. I can’t ever remember being that ill. We managed to get back to Beverly Hills for school, and plodded along until we began to feel better.

I was so excited when we left Beverly Hills on March 11th for Spring Break! After spending the first few days of their spring break with us in Beverly Hills Elise and Lola travelled with us to the bay to spend the remainder. We had big plans for doing nothing in the balmy weather and I brought some leaf ephemera I had been working on to use in some artwork.

To say that the following days felt like the apocalypse is an understatement. I have vague recollections of watching Tiger King, shaking my head, listening to Elise tell me all the news, because my nesting instinct came full circle. If we wanted to avoid illness, we had to isolate in Mississippi. No amount of figuring could make our place back in the ‘hood seem like a safer option, particularly since my husband and I can work remotely. At the end of the break BHUSD announced distance learning, and our new normal really began. It was a bumpy start, but my kid can teach himself how to do anything using Youtube (actually we all can and do), and learning online seemed like a no brainer. Our boy turned thirteen, Memorial Day happened, and then our regularly scheduled summer commenced, which would have brought us back to the bay anyway. Instead of the summer I imagined with shrimp boils on the patio, lots of California friends visiting and sleeping all over the house, seven hour lunches at Galatoires, and fantastic fireworks on July Fourth (Coastal residents are patriotic as all get out), we worried about Covid-19. I watched the numbers rise and the deaths being described as drowning. I bought numerous styles of hats and masks, and ordered everything I possibly could from Amazon and Walmart.

In the time between spring break and the announcement of the ILC, we had a really great groove going. I finished an entire collection of art, set up offices for hub and the boy, and a studio for me in the garage. I’ve never been so happy in a plywood room in my life! Online learning for school really is the new normal and a natural for us. Band practice, Taekwando lessons and Boy Scouts are meeting online too!

People ask us when we are returning to Beverly Hills, and we really can’t say. At the beginning of the ILC applications, we committed to an entire semester of the program, and are just forecasting to be here through Christmas. Maybe there will be a Christmas miracle that a regular household tonic can cure Covid-19. Until then, we are hiding out in the Bay and very grateful to do so. Thank you again BHUSD and Brandy McGill of WLOX TV for inspiring me to spark up the blog to tell what’s happening.