Monday, August 21, 2006

Part 17: The Borderline Merry Ol' Month of May

In the first week of May, things did not seem so bleak. We took our 7th and 8th grade class trip concurrentl with the high school retreat. The retreat was scheduled to leave New Orleans the DAY that Hurricane Katrina hit us. Thankfully, they cancelled the trip ahead of time. Could you imagine having a brand-new high school, open for 8 days in all of history, and have every student ten hours away in Mentone, Ala., where cell reception is non-existant? Luckily, we had paid attention to the news enough that they got on the phone and alerted parents ahead of time.

This trip ended up being fun. Having the now significantly smaller high school with all of our 7/8s was more fun than we expected. We stayed at a sleep-away camp, where we split the two schools into two different areas. We only had the 8-hour train ride and 2-hour bus ride, as well as our closing-night campfire together. It worked out well, except for the sheer amounts of rain we had.

On the Wednesday of our trip, we had a surprise visit from Patty, the school president, and Mike, the Academy principal. Wiley, the high school principal, was on the trip with us. They interrupted all of our activities and called a meeting in the lodge. This is where we learned about our new patron Saint, Reggie Bush. Students and teachers and administrators alike wound up in absolute tears over the news. Happy tears, mind you...tears of relief....and we were all in absolulte shock over how wonderful he was. I managed to place a collect call home to Mark from a landline to share the news with him. And George W. thinks he's the Bush who's got the term "Shock and Awe" down pat.....he's grossly mistaken!

Melissa, who was my original teaching partner, was picked to go on the trip with us ot replace another teacher, Kerrie, who had daycare issues and was unable to join us. That also made the trip pleasant....especially since our train ended up being about 3 hours late arriving back in New Orleans.

Besides being a place where we learned fantastic news about our school's future, and a place to bond with my students, and a place where I got royal treatment by planning the trip with two other teachers (royal treatment being used here as a term to mean "sleeping in a special teacher building and getting chocolate ice cream one day"), as well as a place where I didn't have to work much with my current teaching partner, it was a wonderful escape. We left Louisiana. It was my first time out of state since my trip out West last summer with my travel camp. I stayed in New Orleans for the storm, evacuated to Baton Rouge and Morgan City right after the storm, went to school in Thibodaux for a few weeks, then came back to Metairie. I did not get the luxury of straying far from the destruction the way most people, my parents and brother included, did. I was able to leave the area and watch as the destruction levels decreased....until it reached an untainted perfection in, of all places, Northern Alabama. Until, at one point, on the train ride back to New Orleans, it started creeping back into our psyche and lines of vision.

There's really nothing more depressing than leaving the mess, going somewhere tranquil and beautiful, and then being faced with the stark reality of returning home.

On the train ride home, though, I was informed of the most excellent news I'd heard since August: my father's business was open again!!!! He was open for mild automotive services, like nails in tires, and had the convenience store open again. In a matter of days, they would start pumping gas again. The darkest days were over. A different mood came over the house. While my father came home very late, and usually aggravated, it was all very different from before my trip. He had some of his old complaints -- cranky customers, high gas prices (yes, even service station owners hate the raised prices!), and long hours. Each day was a new record high for gas, for service, and for food sales. The first day he opened, I drove almost 9 miles out of my way to get gas from him. He was the only person I would go to once again. I will fill up on Friday without needing to just in case I drive a lot on the weekend need gas, all because they close early on Saturday and are closed on Sunday.

Thank God.

Suddenly, the end of the school year was upon us. The week after the trip was the eighth graders' last real week of school. The next week was their exam week. Then, they graduated, leaving my classroom with a whopping 6 7th graders, assuming we had perfect attendance. Graduation was really nice. We were able to go to the church on our old campus to hold the Mass and ceremony. They all did so well, and it was a lovely day of happiness combined with sadness. Mark came to the graduation, because in April he switched from the overnight shift to 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. After the ceremony, we went to lunch at Semolina's. We tried to go to P.F. Chang's, but due to Katrina, they are still closed on Mondays. Ah well. I had the rest of the day off, which was nice. Then, it was back to the 7th graders to prepare them for their exams. Once those were over, we had to do report cards, and then we had to pack the entire school and the entire high school and move back to the other campus. We were being evicted, and the administration rearranged the school structure, really, to make us all fit in on the New Orleans campus.

The day of graduation, the school borrowing our campus, St. Dominic, was packing up. It was strange seeing them there. Good strange, though. Their campus had been repaired enough for them to move out. They will have a normal school year in the fall.

Also the week of graduation, we held our Annual Gala. It was a '70s theme: "Stairway to Heaven." They had a band, a silent auction (the adirondack chair my students painted and our room mother designed went for a couple hundred dollars, if I may say so...), and lots of food and spirits. They also worked out a deal for reduced prices on hotel rooms. Naturally, we took them up on that. It was a lovely hotel, and it was a nice break from our cramped quarters in my parents' house. The next day, we wandered around the French Quarter, giving local shops some business. They had given us the next day off, and Mark had taken the next day off, so we made good use of it. It was a nice distraction from the daily routine.

The following week, we had a barrage of parents and students needing service hours help us pack, caravan, lift, reach, and unpack. In a matter of three or four days, we were completely moved over. All that was left was unpacking and organizing.

However, in the midst of all of this, my maternal grandmother took a horrible turn. This is the grandmother who was in Houston for months and had been transferred to Hammond, La. She was 87 years old and suffered from Alzheimer's. She fell ot the bed and had a HORRIBLE black eye. My Uncle Mike flew in with his oldest, my cousin Cristina, who was going to be a college sophomore this year. He had been in around Easter with my aunt and their younger daughter, Stefanie, to visit, and he wanted Crissy to get one more visit in. One week later, roughly, he was back in town to say good-bye.

The last day I was supposed to report to school, I had a frantic call from my mother. Her youngest brother, David, called her to say that Granny would not make it through the night. My mother had already spent the weekend in Hammond watching over her. She needed me to bring her an hour away to Hammond, because my father could not leave work, and my brother had started a new job on the Westbank and couldn't leave. I ran downstairs, told Patty that I had to leave for the family emergency, and ran to my dad to get gas. I ran home, changed my clothes, freshened up, grabbed a snack, and flew out the door with my mom. When we got to Hammond, my grandmother was in horrible condition.

Part of Alzheimer's is that your body shuts down. As a result, your body undergoes physical changes. She was already working on being unrecognizable; with her black eye, vacant and glassy stare, and constantly open mouth breathing shallow, rasspy breaths, she wasn't even a shadow of what she once was. At one point, she was a hearty 5 foot 7. Over the course of her almost 10-year batle with the disease, she seemed to shrink in height, stature, and definitely weight. When the nurses came to turn her, she was literally skin and bones. She looked like the Civil War prisoners you see in pictures of the Andersonville camp. Barely alive and hardly human.

My brother got our messages and drove down, too. He met us there, and we bought food for my mother for dinner. She was staying the night in Hammond. My Uncle Dave came by for a while, too.

A few times, there were some freaky moments. She would seem to stop breathing for long periods of time, and then would start again. A couple of times, she tried to sit up, made a strange noise, and feebly lifted her arm while staring over our heads. What was she seeing?

I went to follow Geoff home, but he missed the turn to head back to New Orleans, and I didn't. I remembered where to turn. Nerd.

The next day, my grandmother was still alive. My mom's three brothers worked together to persuade her to go home, that maybe Granny was hanging on because she was around. Dave brought her home, and my mom was as okay with that as she could be. Sure enough, on June 7, my grandmother died. They checked on her hourly; the last time was 6 a.m. Mike called the Assisted Living Center a little after 7, and when they checked on her, she was gone.

The phone call came minutes before I had to wake up. I had just started back at JCC Camp, as assistant camp director, and it was our orientation week. Yet I got up, got dressed, and went to work feeling relieved.

Am I inhuman? No. If you had seen her....

In addition, my grandmother was not a very grandmotherly type. We were not close at all. She and my mother had a rotten relationship until Alzheimer's altered her personality completely.

The stresses her illness and longevity placed on our extended family was astounding. My mother and her oldest sister were no longer on speaking terms. But my grandmother's looming death ended most of the bitterness, and they were able to make up.

All of this was just in time to celebrate the birth of the fourth generation at the end of April. My oldest cousin, Erin, and her husband, Jim, had a baby...sweet little James. We met him at the funeral.

On June 9, we held the funeral at St. Philip -- the church I grew up in and was married in. In fact, our wedding was the last time our whole family had been in that church. Before that, it was Geoff's christening. We buried her in Greenwood Cemetery, then had an "Irish wake" at my Aunt Maureen and Uncle Lance's house. This means that from about 2 in the afternoon until midnight, my entire family ate, drank, and laughed. Everyone from my older aunts and uncles to my 15-year-old cousin was drunk. Even Erin, Jim, and James stayed until 11 p.m. He's a great baby. So good and so patient... It was a raucous time. All of my mother's cousins were there, and at one point, Geoff's two roommates and all of our friends showed up.

The day ended, at it was Saturday, June 10. My birthday. I didn't realize it was coming until about 2 weeks previously when Mark mentioned he was out birthday shopping for me. I was confused until i realized how close the day actually was.

We spent the day at Audubon Zoo. It looked good. A lot of trees were down, but otherwise, it looked okay. Almost all of the animals there survived Katrina, unlike the Aquarium, which lost almost everything. We went with Geoff, Alicia, Kurt, Mike, Jean, Crissy, and Steffi. That night, we set up Chris' inflatable waterslide at the Cabin and had a fun party. In all, it was a pretty nice birthday.

Monday was the first day of camp, which meant my days were fun and action-packed.

Stay tuned for the Summer months....


misti said...

Hey there. Catching up on the reading. I hope you print these out and save them!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. Even if you knew it was coming it's still a loss. I recently had a 97 year old grandmother die and completely understand the mixture of grief and relief. She also had an awesome funeral. I tell people her funeral was great - the best I'd ever been too.

Anonymous said...

Oh the above comment is from Maryland Anne

Anne from CA said...

What?! Two posts in less than two weeks? Unbelievable!