I had Brenda’s contact information and e-mailed her occasionally for several months. She only ever replied with polite responses so I eventually stopped. But I’ve thought of her often these past ten years. I remember her as a woman who had just come through horrors that I can barely grasp, yet still carried herself with pride and dignity. I’ve wished deeply for her that her cancer has remained in remission and she has been able to regain the semblance of a normal and happy life. I’ve hoped she met a good man who loves her.
During the national insanity of late 2009 and early 2010 that passed for a debate over the “Obamacare” Affordable Care Act (ACA), I kept remembering Brenda’s cancer story. I know us as a nation should do better, and I believe the ACA is a small step in the right direction.
During my entire military career I had made monthly payroll contributions to the Red Cross through the Combined Federal Campaign. I’d heard unflattering stories about the Red Cross over the years but never any personal experiences, so I had a neutral opinion of the organization. Experiencing first-hand the Red Cross management of an emergency shelter was unsettling.
I witnessed that the Red Cross spent essentially nothing to manage the shelter I stayed at. The use of the school as a storm shelter was free to the Red Cross, all the staff were volunteers, and the pittance of food that was served while I was there was all donated by local businesses. The generator was donated by a local business and the Red Cross as an organization didn’t provide a qualified electrician to connect it or fuel to run it.
I began to question what the Red Cross actually did with the money they collected.
After surviving Katrina the following year, experiencing how little the Red Cross did for us after receiving over one billion dollars in Hurricane Katrina donations, my opinion was set. I will never again donate even one penny to the American Red Cross.
Evacuating from Hurricane Ivan proved to be a painful decision that provided no good result. My evacuation experiences was the basis for my decision the following year to not evacuate for Katrina. I honestly did not believe officials who were screaming about the seriousness of the approaching storm, as they were saying the same things I had heard for Ivan and even Georges. I also had my new Rodeo in the shop for some bodywork and my old truck was our only transportation. The truck never ran right after the previous year’s engine repair and I wasn’t about to trust it again on a long evacuation trip.
So we rode out Katrina at a Gautier home with friends, which proved once again to be the wrong thing to do. At the peak of that hurricane there was four feet of flood water inside the house with my wife on an air mattress raft struggling to not drown. After Katrina I knew I could never again face the decision of whether to evacuate from a hurricane. In September 2006 Winnie and I moved from our Mississippi home to northern Virginia.
In April 2006 Winnie and I took a break from Hurricane Katrina recovery and made a trip up to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to visit family. On the way home I made an impromptu detour through Brewton. I saw that in the 19 months since Ivan the town had mostly rebuilt. There was an occasional crumpled building and blue tarp-covered roof, but otherwise it was difficult to notice any remaining storm damage. The town had recovered and moved on.
I have not forgotten that when I was in a desperate situation, the people of Brewton graciously offered me shelter and hospitality when they themselves were endangered. I owe them a debt that can never be repaid for their kindness during those awful days of Hurricane Ivan.