RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Natural disasters call us to keep one another’s needs in mind in mind

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

For a couple of years, my late husband Don and I kept a small, aptly named houseboat, the Green Queen, on the Butte LaRose Canal in Southwest Louisiana. It bobbed on the canal that runs alongside a road that may soon be under flood waters, along with the rest of that colorful, Atchafalaya River community.
My friend Helen Boudreaux was the first to tell me of the Butte LaRose evacuations. She sent an email saying the sheriff had been around with a warning. Helen lives alone there in a raised, red cottage with a wraparound porch. Every time I see it I tell Helen what a great porch it is, possibly the best in the South.
On that sweetheart of a screened porch, Helen keeps cages of mourning doves, and a radio tuned to a local station that plays mostly Cajun music, including some of her own hits. The sounds are heavenly, trust me.
Helen did most of the work on the old house herself, with some help all along from family. It was in rough shape when she was given the cabin as a gift and had it moved to her land, situated in the swamp, directly across the road from Butte LaRose Canal. But with Helen’s labor, green thumb and artistic touches, it’s become a quaint and beautiful dwelling.
Because the Morganza Spillway has been opened to divert some of the Mississippi floodwaters, Helen’s little red house is in the line of fire, bound, at best, to get water. All she can do is camp out with relatives – and wait. I imagine her fingering her rosary.
I saw a big, tough oil-rig worker interviewed on the network news. The television reporter asked the Cajun what my old journalism professor, P.C. Burnett, would have called “a dumb question.” She asked him how it would feel to lose his Butte LaRose home.
It took him a moment to answer. He fought back tears. Then he said he had built the cypress house himself. But the flooding was the fault of Mother Nature, he said, and there’s not much you can do about nature.
That’s a charitable way of looking at matters, considering that not only Mother Nature has a playbook. Humans decided to open the Morganza Spillway that will divert floodwaters from the more populated areas like Baton Rouge and New Orleans and consequentially flood other, more rural communities. It was a tough, but human call. He, for one, was not whining.
This spring few have been spared. There’s been none of the dismissive attitude some living far from the coast had after Hurricane Katrina. I’ve heard nobody say, as I did after Katrina, “Well, they chose to live there.” Because nobody, it seems, has been exempt from disaster this spring, no matter where he “chose” to live.
Whether it’s a Japanese tsunami, the tornadoes that tore through the Deep South, a brush fire in the West, a flood along the Mississippi or a hurricane in New Orleans, extreme weather has been the norm, not the exception, the past few years. If you can find a place immune from storms, earthquakes, floods and fire, let me know.
If not, we should prepare to help one another when it’s our turn to watch a lifetime of work and memories float away.

Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.