Friday, August 25, 2006

Part 18: A summer of fun tinged with trepidation...

June 1 is the official start of hurricane season. So, naturally, a lot of fear crept into the city's psyche. Even though the world's weather patterns don't have an alarm that rings and says, "Oo...June 1. Time to go to work!" we still feared the date more than usual.

When camp started, I was happy yet sad. I was happy because it is my favorite time of year. I also was going to be the assistant camp director. But I was sad because my beloved travel camp was laid to rest, a late casualty of Katrina. I was going to be stuck in town all summer. And, while I was back at camp, it was the first year I didn't have a group.

As camp director, I had to keep track of attendance, create flyers and notes, generate the camp newsletter, take pictures, spend time with the groups, set up and clean up for our morning breakfast staff meetings, handle discipline problems, set up staff functions, visit each group, keep track of schedules, and chaperone field trips.

In July, Pam, the new camp director, who used to be my supervisor for travel camp, asked me to accompany the oldest groups to Houston for their annual trip. However, the Monday before we left, I developed my FOURTH sinus infection since March. I packed and went to work Wednesday morning, and Pam took one look at me before telling me she didn't want me to go. It took a lot of phone calls to the assistant director of the JCC before I was told, one minute before the buses pulled out, that I was to stay back. Pam even drove me home, because my dad brough me to work so that I wouldn't have to leave my car behind all week at work. She wanted me to get in bed and stay there. So I did.

At the same time, I was supposed to be in a murder-mystery-comedy-musical-improv-dinner theater production at my grammar school. My friend is the theater teacher there, and she asked me to do it. I was very excited about it, because I hadn't been in a play since doing Dracula at Nicholls back in 2001 (I was Lucy!), and had found that I missed theater immensely.

But I missed a lot of rehearsals for work, and for illness, and, finally, I bowed out of the production.

It bothered me to have to do it, but along the way, I realized that I did not have the energy or the heart or the state of mind for an almost entirely improv show. I'm not who I was a year ago. None of us are, any more, but I have changed dramatically. I'm even starting to look closer to my age now. I don't get carded any more since "The Thing," as one local columnist calls it.

Come to find out, it was a good thing I didn't go to Houston. I was very sad, as it was as close to my travel camp as I would get. But, between Wednesday afternoon and Friday at 3 p.m, more than 10 kids caught a stomach virus. The last 6 kids? ON THE BUS RIDE HOME. More people ended up sick over the weekend. It then continued to run rampant through camp, knocking out almost half of our staff and many of our campers.

Camp is 9 weeks total: 1 week of staff orientation, 8 weeks of camp. It was so sad to have to end it. Our staff, for the most part, was absolutely amazing. I realized early on that, while I didn't technically have a group of campers, I actually had a group: the staff, which included my younger cousin Kate as a CIT. And she was amazing. She is only 15 (as of this week), and our age gap made us not very close. But I really got to know her and enjoy her.

The end of camp also found us watching, nervously, Hurricane Chris. Luckily, he fizzled out and did not pose any problems for us.

I had the weekend after camp, plus Monday through Thursday, off before reporting back to school. On Monday, Mark and I brought my friend Jenifer to see Houma and Thibodaux. She is also a Nicholls alumna, and she hadn't been back since graduating in 2000. We drove around, ate donuts at "Mr. Ronnie's Famous Hot," went to the Southland Mall, visited Student Publications and the bookstore, had dinner at Pepper's Pizzeria, and went to Rene's Bar. (They both used to love it there.) We met up with brother-in-law Phil, who graduated from Nicholls in May and now works in Thibodaux. We even made a pitstop over at Mark's (then Phil's) old apartment before heading home. It was a lot of fun.

Tuesday was school supply shopping. Wednesday I got my oil changed and did a few things in my classroom. On Thursday, we were supposed to have lunch with Anne and Ricky, who were in town, but that fell through. Friday found me back at school for orientation.

I can't begin to describe what it's like. We're back at the first campus. Every day, I drive 35 minutes to work and over an hour home from work. But I drive through my old neighborhood, which is still pretty much in ruins, and through City Park. It's so very sad. I practically retrace my steps of one year ago. My classroom looks great. I'm teaching 7th and 8th grade reading and writing. My schedule stinks (six classes, plus afternoon and recess duty, plus a club that meets twice a week, and my only off period is 2nd period. Blech.). The kids are fun, and I teach all 54 students in my grade levels this year. I don't have a home room.

But every day....through the desolation. The area around school is coming back faster than Lakeview is, but it's not great. Plus, it sustained less damage. School was fine, if you remember.

I had Mark make me a CD of "happy songs" to listen to on my commute. It's to take my mind off of where I'm going and what I'm looking at.

But it doesn't work that well.

And now today is the anniversary of that last Friday. As I sat in traffic, I couldn't help but think about how a year ago, I was running errands with Melissa, preparing for our class pet, which was to be a hamster. We tried to get Caroline and Keith to get dinenr with us, but they were hungry right then, and we were going to be a while, so plans fell through. We ended up going to dinner with my friends Carol and Sam, from the JCC. Then we hung out at Sam's apartment complex. We were in the courtyard, and my friend Ilyse and her girlfriend Claudia were there, because they lived in the same complex.

That morning on my way to work, a huge raccoon walked out of the park and into Harrison Ave. We had a staring match; not even my horn deterred him. He finally moseyed back into the park. I had my radio on on the local modern rock station. They discussed Katrina having hit Florida, then the theory that she was going to loop back, hit Florida, and leave us alone. That afternoon, our principal, Mike, had gone around to wish us all a nice weekend and see if we had plans.

Saturday, we woke up late, then dressed and went to Lakeside Mall for lunch and shopping. It was closed and we were turned away. We found out Katrina was headed for us, and spent the rest of the day cleaning and packing.

The rest is history. Infamous history. History I wish I could erase.

And now, we are full circle.

But this morning, there was no raccoon. Animals are only starting to return to the park, and none are as large as a raccoon. In fact, there generally aren't any other cars as I drive through.

Tonight, Mike was not there to wish us a happy weekend, as he was at the act of sale for his new house, having lost his home in Arabi last year.

Today, I am wearing my Mignon Faget Anniversary Amulet ( It's a silver circle with a hurricane in the middle, with a fleur de lis engraved on the front and 8-29-05 engraved on the back.

Tonight, we will celebrate our friend Chris' 21st birthday.

But we will, once again, keep our eyes on the Weather Channel, as Tropical Storm Ernesto continues to strengthen and heads to the Gulf.

Keep sending us goods thoughts.

Next time, I will "close" with a tribute wrap-up. Assuming Ernesto doesn't have other plans, of course.

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