Sunday, July 02, 2006

Part 14: A Katrina Kristmas

Recap: We had the first true Thanksgiving of our lives.

December 1 was my father's birthday. It was nice to be here for him, but celebrating was hard. He and my Uncle Dan had finished gutting their business, then pressure washed it with bleach, and were at a stopping point. The building owner was taking care of the carpentry, but until they got an electrician, they could do nothing else. Every few weeks, he would come home and say, "I think I found an electrician." But the electricians would never show up. In early December, he found a guy who would do it, but couldn't start until the first of the year. So the waiting game continued; however, there was a goal set for it. His mood improved as much as it could at that point.

Once again, I decided that my students needed so much more for Christmas. The class had grown to 14 at this point. So I went to town, buying a fake tree on sale at Big Lots for $13, and tiny ornaments at various stores, plus decorations from Party City and Wal-Mart. Stores were slowly starting to reopen, so this was a little easier than I expected. I went to Target and bought boy gifts and girl gifts in the $1 discount section. I made chocolate-covered pretzels. I made cards for each of them. I wrapped and baked and made ornaments for the whole class. I was exhausted. But it was so satisfying.

And my "partner?" She bought candy canes the night before school let out, and pencils. Then she had asked if I was doing anything for them, because she heard that the other teachers were giving presents to their classes, so she supposed we should do the same. I told her about the $1 presents, and she offered to give me half the cost if they could be from both of us. Ok. Fine. Go right ahead. The morning of the last day before break, she signed the tags. I never saw the money. It was only $7, so I don't really care, but it's the principle of the thing. I left out the baking and the handmade gifts. I didn't tell her about those. Then she signed those tags and brought her candy canes and pencils, purchased at a drug store on her way home from the Christmas pageant the night before. I was very glad that I did what I did, and that mine were so much more...if you understand.

The Christmas pageant was a lot of fun. Mark had to work, but I brought my parents with me. I think it did them a lot of good. They were not very into Christmas. They didn't want a tree.

Mark and I bought the tree at Home Depot. You may laugh, but their trees are amazing and inexpensive. We used my Rav4 to get it, and we strapped it to the roof using the luggage rack. I was very excited about my car purchase when I realized we could do that! My parents were out to dinner with their friends. To tell the truth, my dad did not want the tree. My mom secretly wanted one., I think. I told her our plan to buy one, and she teared up. We got home, and they were not back yet. We waited in the den, where the tree stood, like two grinning idiots. Finally, my parents got back. They came in through the front door. The tree was in the den, which connects to the foyer. There is no door. You couldn't help but see (and smell) the tree when you walked in. Yet, my father missed it. For the record, he lost his right eye in an accident when he was very young. However, he sort of had to walk around it to get pst the sofa and into the den. Then, he walked through the den and down the hall to his room. My mom stood there with a bewildered look on her face, then called him. He came back, and we showed him what we'd done. His whole reaction was, "I told you I didn't want a tree."

We said we'd paid for it, that we would take care of decorating and disposing of it. My mom seemed pleased. She told us to use our own decorations, which we had rescued from our attic back in October. That was strange. They were our decorations, on our tree, in my parents' house. Their ornaments, which had never missed a Christmas, rested quietly in boxes in their attic. Maybe next year...

When all was said and done, though, we got a begrudging, "It is a pretty tree" from my father. No more words were said until Christmas passed and he wanted it out of the house.

It may seem like a minor problem to some people, but giving a Christmas list was next to impossible this year. What do you get for the people who lost everything? Couldn't get anything big, because where would we store it? Couldn't get anything small, because what would we do with it? I told people, "Look around your house. If you see something you have that you love, then buy us one of those. Chances are, we don't have one any more and probably need it." We ended up with some gift cards and useless stuff. A few nice things, too. Danny and Connie gave us New Orleans-themed T-shirts. Mine has a crown and says, "New Orleans Rules." Geoff and Mark each got shirts that say, "Save NOLA."

A few months earlier, I would have been embarrassed to wear a shirt with my city on it. Hard to explain. But it's kind of like in the movie "Airheads," where they talk about going to a concert while wearing a T-shirt for the band they're going to see. "Don't be that guy!" they say. Does that help? At this point, I owned two. This one, and one that, instead of "I (heart) NOLA," says, "I (fleur de lis) NOLA." It struck a chord with me. And, these shirts generally give some proceeds to charity. I now own a third shirt, which says, "Lakeview -- If you rebuild it, they will come." I'm wearing it right now, actually.

We had a nice, quiet, low-key Christmas. It was lovely. Dinner with mom and dad and Geoff. Geoff spent the night, and it was like old times. Except I slept in Geoff's room, he slept on the sofa, and Mark was there.

Mark bought me a guitar to replace the one he was going to give me for Christmas. If you look back at the pictures of our house, there is a picture of me holding the destroyed one on our front lawn.

The day after Christmas, Mark came down with a horrible stomach virus. We'd spent Christmas Eve at my Aunt Pam and Uncle Johnny's house. John had come down with the bug right before everyone came, and spent the evening holed up in his bedroom. But, somehow, Mark caught it anyway. It was miserable.

Around this time, my mom tackled the wallpaper in their bedroom. While Mark was holed up in the bathroom or trying to sleep in our room, she and I were spraying the walls with a vinegar and water solution to ease the peeling process. We'd tried steamers and other methods, and this one, while painstakingly slow and difficult, was the best. It took a few months of grabbing some hours here and there to get it done.

New Year's Eve was tons and tons of fun, though, but not all of that can be described. Let's just say it was a night to remember for all involved. We set up the bedsheet on Geoff's house and projected movies again. We had fireworks. We had alcohol. We each brought a dish. And we had all of us reunited for the first time since Kate's birthday in June. Good times, great friends, great food, great drinks. We threw out a big F-bomb to 2005 and welcomed 2006 with open arms and drunken sloppy kisses. New Year's was cathartic. We couldn't wait for Carnival season...that's Mardi Gras to the rest of you. We were curious to see how that would pan out.

Stay tuned for part 15: Mardi Gras...or Bust?

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