Only one thing could make me do something this uncharacteristic: a good-looking man. He is pictured above. Mr. G is hoping to move into his new house within a week. He's been hanging out while the crews are there to drive that point home, as it were. It worked with me. Our crew cleaned, painted, mowed, whacked weed, leveled the yard, and swept like crazy. After I could mow and whack no more I chatted Mr. G up.
The house we worked on was a 3 bedroom deal that is bigger than my house. Mr. G is the same age as my grandma. I asked him his plans for this big place. "I'll roam around in it," was his reply. Sounded good to me. I then thought to ask, "How big was your home you lost?"
"Oh, a lot bigger than this."
After some talk about his life, careers, and family Mr. G revealed that previously he had lived in an apartment that was attached to a lounge. That was the big house. That's right, folks, the good Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Unitarian Universalists of this country were replacing the neighborhood juke joint with a house.
Bummer, I thought.
Mr. G seems to have taken his forced retirement from the bar business well. The neighborhood is full of his family and he is looking forward to being in his own space again. He is also a generous soul. As the crew left in the afternoon he gave them a pile of crawfish. Man, I bet that was a great bar in its day.
After work, the UUs cleaned up and we headed to the local UU church. This felt like homecoming. We had a great time meeting the Mississippi UUs. They have had a rough time of it. We had worship, a class, and some time just getting to know each other. We had a lot in common. This made their stories of post-hurricane struggles seem even more personal. They have kept their doors open through hard work, perseverance, and the support of UUs from around the country. They are nervous about the future, though.
The nervousness of the Gulf Coast UUs was echoed by other Mississippi residents throughout our stay. The FEMA trailers are being taken back without housing to replace them. The aid is only trickling in now, but it has been sporadic and unpredictable all along. The ripoff artists continue their work and people are having their "new" homes condemned or are discovering the shoddy work as houses start to fall apart. Fewer first-time volunteers are working at the camps as the rest of the country believes the need has passed.
Our group encountered this as we planned this trip. Many people expressed their belief that we shouldn't be going, that our energy and money were best used in other ways, that if the UUA is discontinuing their relief efforts why should we bother, that our timing and preparation were not enough. What about the needs in our own city?
There is always a reason not to take the risk to help someone. Who can forget the Live Aid planes of the 80s sitting on the tarmac and full of food that wasn't getting to starving people? No one wants to be on the boat of supplies to Myanmar that sinks. There are better ways to give help than others. All of this is true.
But this is also true. Our band of hopeful and helpful but not professionally skilled volunteers gave 360 hours of service to 6 homes. Everywhere we went the locals made a special effort to thank us for not forgetting them. The Gulf Coast UUs had a fun and uplifting evening with like-minded strangers. Mr. G will move into his own home this week after waiting almost three years.
The inkling was there from the start, but by Wednesday we knew. We are coming back to Mississippi. Soon.