A Word from Curt
We’re moving through stories in Hearts across the Water. Ten years ago I wrote this book about three live-changing disasters: the Indian Ocean Tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
I’d forgotten about the chapter entitled, “Grandma Rodrique.”
I was moved as I read it again after a decade down the road.
I’m reminded of the writer’s statement:
“No tears in the writer.
No tears in the reader.”
My hope is that this story will move you.
Maybe not to tears.
But to remember.
And soberly celebrate life.
And remember that the disasters of 2005 brought death, destruction, and broken hearts that the years cannot dim.
I first saw her one night when we held a meeting at the Dry Creek White House. The White House is the local name for our Adult Center. When Katrina sent hundreds of refugees our way, this two-story school building-turned hotel was filled with folks from all of the areas in and near New Orleans.
We had different nationalities, languages, cultures, and ages present. As you can guess, problems did crop up as folks under the tremendous pressure of losing their homes and livelihoods lived together.
Todd Burnaman and I held a town meeting at the White House one night at ten o’clock. We were there to iron out a few problems and keep everyone on the same page. It was at that meeting I first saw Grandma Rodrigue. She sat quietly in a rocker in her long nightgown. She was old beyond old. Later I learned she was ninety. Even though she was dressed for bed, her hair and makeup were perfect. She had a simple look of peace on her face—a look that I would grow to love and admire over the coming week.
She sat passively throughout our meeting. I’m not sure if she could hear what was being said or not. When the meeting disbanded I went over and kissed her on the forehead and said, “Good night mother.” I could tell this pleased her. Several days later is when I found out she had lost her husband in the days after Katrina.
As the storm approached her Westbank home of Westwego, decisions had to be made. Some chose to leave… while others stubbornly stayed. It was at this point where many Katrina families were separated. Decisions made for a multitude of reasons sent families in different directions.
Grandma Rodrigue’s husband, Mr. Rodrigue refused to leave. He had ridden out storms before and this would be one more.
I’ve wondered what their last words were as she was wheeled out the door and he sat stock still at their house. She would leave with one daughter while another daughter stayed with him. Did they know this would be their final parting?
Grandpa Rodrigue didn’t die due to the floodwaters or winds of Katrina, but he is no less a casualty of the storm. His death due to heart failure was the result of too much stress. He had ridden out storms before, and I find no fault with his deciding to ride out this one, probably knowing it would be his last.
In the days following the news of her husband’s death, Grandma Rodrigue sat quietly in the dining hall at mealtime.
That same primness and properness was evident in her face.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her—this woman of nine decades—in her own way, in her own time, a casualty of Katrina.
When you see the numbers from Katrina you will see that over one thousand Louisiana citizens died from Katrina.
Is Grandpa Rodrigue listed as one of them? I really don’t know.
But in Grandma Rodrigue’s mind her husband is a Katrina casualty.
In the short years she has left on this earth, Katrina will mean one thing: the storm was the event that separated her from her husband.
Next year’s first anniversary of Katrina hitting New Orleans will be highly reported on.
But somewhere in the New Orleans area, a quiet over-ninety-year-old woman will sit in a rocker.
Katrina’s anniversary will also be the anniversary of the death of her husband:
A parting of the ways brought on by arrival of the waves from a storm to be remembered for all time.
I’ve spent part of the morning trying to trace Grandma Rodrigue and her husband.
The trail turns cold but I’m reasonably sure this is her:
One of the sources shows Eva Rodrigue’s death as early in 2006. This would correlate with her old age and grief over the loss of her band.
No mention is made of a death by the last name of Rodrigue during/shortly after Katrina.
I believe her husband was not listed as a Katrina victim. I couldn’t find any obit.
From the pieces of the story, I believe he was.
I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts.
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