There are a few monumental days that divide our lives. Some are happy—a marriage or the birth of a child. Others are horrifying—that knock on the door or that phone call with bad news—the death of a spouse, child, or parent. There are days when we remember exactly where we were when something horrific happened—September 11, the Challenger explosion, a president being shot.
August 29, 2005.
Hurricane Katrina was a horrifying day that divided the lives of most Mississippians. The destruction and loss was staggering.
Though my home is three hours inland, Katrina’s storm winds still howled and moaned for hours, uprooting trees in every yard in my neighborhood, many of them crashing on rooftops. We had no power or phone service for a week, which was nothing compared to what happened south of us. I had dear friends from the Coast, and for weeks on weeks, I had no idea whether they were safe, due to the damage to communications infrastructure. The storm hit in August and caused the Gulf to surge up to twenty-seven feet in places.
Six months later, I traveled with a rebuilding team to hang sheetrock. The surreal mutilation of the landscape I witnessed, even months afterward, is forever branded onto my mind. No street signs, no landmarks, food still being served by members of churches under tents, because there was nowhere else to get it. I’ve done my best to honor the people who lost so much in this disaster.
This book is dedicated to my friends and all the Mississippians who went through the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina.
A Coastal Hearts Novel
Janet W. Ferguson
Maggie Marovich couldn’t save her father or her home from Hurricane Katrina, but she’s dedicated her life to meteorology so she can warn others when the monster storms approach. Except…she works three hours inland and rarely risks returning to her childhood hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Both her single-parent sister and the ship pilot Maggie once loved refused to leave the Coast, despite Maggie’s requests. Now a hurricane’s headed toward Mississippi, and Maggie’s sister is seriously injured, leaving Maggie little choice but to head south—into the storm.
The water and tides flow through Josh Bergeron’s veins, and he can’t imagine giving up piloting—even for the love of his life, the infuriating Magnolia Marovich. He tried to move on without her, marrying and having a child. But after his wife abandons him and his little boy, his career choice is threatened by the weight of his parental responsibilities. Moving next door to Maggie’s sister and sharing their child care seems like the perfect set-up. Until Maggie blows back into town.
Being forced to lean on Josh for help washes up the wreckage in Maggie’s faith. Where was God during the destruction of Katrina? Why do some prayers seem to go unanswered? Between the hurricane looming in the Gulf and another gale raging in her heart, can Maggie overcome her past and find the trust to truly live?
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When I married, I dreamed I’d be this remarkable wife and cheerleader for my husband, a wife who cooked fabulous meals and kept the floors clean enough to eat on--all while staying in good shape, being a terrific mother, and volunteering with the church or other worthy causes.
Um... that was not quite how things went. Okay, that was not at all how things went. And don’t chance eating off my floors.
Maybe a few meals tasted okay, I was in shape now and then, volunteered here and there, but never were my lofty goals/fantasies achieved at the same time … or even in the same year.
A question has pestered me because of my failures. I’d made a vow to love and to cherish my husband, and I’d loved him. But had I cherished?
Disasters had interfered. Distractions, too. Some were important and urgent—like children, aging parents, work. Some were because I’d overcommitted myself elsewhere. But many times I was simply tired and lazy.
My husband and I both knew, deep down, that time away as a couple was important--part of cherishing each other. So when my youngest left for college, we decided an anniversary trip, even a close/cheap one, was in order.
We travelled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a few days to just hang out together.
One area we enjoyed walking around was Bay St. Louis. Quaint and full of character, I wanted to know more about the town.
I checked with my friend, Donna, who grew up there. The following is a bit of info she had to offer.
Bay St Louis has lots of festivals considering its size. The annual Crab Festival started off as a small church fair to raise money for Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic church but now has grown to 100 arts and craft booths and attendance of around 50,000 people over the 2.5-day festival, not bad for a town with a population of 11,000. Bridge Fest is an annual festival to celebrate the re-opening of the bridge over the Bay of St. Louis which connects Bay St Louis and Pass Christian after the bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. They also have Harbor Fest which is a weekend music festival. Over the past 20 years they have enjoyed Second Saturday Art walk where shops in downtown stay open later, Main Street is blocked off so that people can gather and enjoy live music. There are no “chain” stores in downtown BSL. All of the stores around the beach road and the beach end of Main Street are all local shops with antiques, art, crafts, and unique restaurants.
The people of BSL are very down to earth and friendly. You can tell that they are resilient too by looking at how they rebound after each Hurricane. I witnessed the devastating effects of Hurricanes Camille and Katrina to BSL, and the entire MS coast, but in both cases, the residents shared what they had with their neighbors, even when what they had left after the devastation was not much, and helped each other rebuild without whining about it or waiting for someone else to come and take care of them.
“Resilient.” “Rebound.” I like those words she used for her hometown. Perhaps when life throws disasters and distractions my way, I can be resilient and rebound. I can work on cherishing by being deliberate and intentional. Rebuilding relationship.
I have to plan not to be lazy and not to neglect my vow to cherish my spouse—even if it’s just a cheap date like watching the sunset or walking along a quaint, resilient harbor.
I'll take all the help I can get! Do you have a favorite cheap date or way of cherishing your spouse?
My home church's Christmas project this year is to donate funds to Touch A Life (https://www.touchalifekids.org/), a ministry that rescues exploited children from slavery. Our theme leading up to Christmas naturally became "Rescue." Members shared their personal rescue stories for a daily devotional, and I contributed the following.
I once owned a ski boat. My husband says I owned it three years and talked about it twenty. But, hey, they were a great three summers! (He’s probably just jealous because we weren’t dating then.)
Back to the rescue story…
People can lead you astray when you don’t follow what you know to be true.
The second day I took my beloved vessel out for a ride, I wasn’t supposed to pull a skier. Since it was brand spanking new, I had to log hours to break in the boat. A friend, her boyfriend, and I took her up river, and then, as the afternoon dwindled, we headed back down. Two people came into view, jumping and waving on a sandbar, so we swung by to see what was wrong. They happened to be a married couple that we knew, and their boat was dead.
I was pretty sure that if I wasn’t supposed to pull a skier, pulling a boat was a no-no. But… the other people involved were positive it would be a good idea to tow the boat. I reluctantly agreed to pull them to the closest dock. But … everyone thought I should just take them all the way to where they parked. I gave in. The sun was setting as we neared the turn for the last gas station before our dock. We still had a ways to go, so I wanted to stop and fill up, but again, the rest of the crew thought my worries were silly.
Until my boat stopped. In the middle of the reservoir. At sunset.
One other boat passed us in the distance, and we went nuts, waving for them to stop. They waved back and kept going.
Most April nights in Mississippi aren’t unseasonably cold—like this night where the temperatures dipped into the low forties. The temptation to jump ship and try to swim toward a glowing light a couple of miles away pecked at me, drove me mad, but the risk of hypothermia was too great. By midnight, I lay flat in the hull of the boat to get out of the wind and cold, while the other two couples huddled together for warmth.
One of the worst nights ever. All because I didn’t go with what I knew to be true. My whole life at that time seemed to be following that same pattern in other areas. Instead of following God’s truth, I followed man’s.
At first light that April morning, I heard a distant rumble. I scanned the surface of the misty water and spotted a lone fisherman. We waved and yelled until he quietly neared in his little boat and tugged us to the closest dock. Yes, he looked at us like we were idiots, and I finally understood why someone would kiss the dirt.
We all end up in situations where we need to be rescued, sometimes because of friends or culture or self-centeredness, other times, through no fault of our own. Whatever the reason, when we call out to Him, our gracious Lord quietly comes alongside us, rescues us in our disasters… pulls us onto solid ground. Sometimes, He may even be looking at us like we’re idiots, but He still loves us just the same.
Do you have a rescue story?
Pass Christian, Mississippi, which residents lovingly call The Pass, is the charming beach town I had the opportunity to fall in love with through my college roommates. With diverse architecture, from Greek Revival to Creole to Victorian, I adored the gorgeous homes and beautiful live oaks that lined Scenic Drive looking out toward the Gulf of Mexico.
The small, quiet town boasted a family oriented Mardi gras and an upscale Yacht Club. The residents refused to allow the touristy businesses that marred many coastal towns. They did have a couple of restaurants, one I specifically remember called Pirates Cove, which served up delicious po boys, and there were quaint gift and antique stores. I always looked forward to visits where we’d dine on fresh seafood and go out to stroll the beach.
August 29, 2005, forever changed the landscape and life for the delightful town and its residents. Eighty-five percent of Pass Christian and virtually every single public building was damaged or destroyed. The monster storm tore through with a thirty foot storm surge, ripping away homes, including the one where my former roommates grew up and their parents still resided. The town they’d known was no more. They lost their very way of life. There were no Sunday lunches at Grandma’s, because there was no place to go.
With no infrastructure, no street signs, and dangerous debris (like boats, trucks, school buses and more) littering the landscape for miles, mainly just work crews were allowed to enter the area for months. Wreckage piled thirty feet high in some places. I came with a church work crew after the storm, and there were very few landmarks left to even recognize where you were. I felt as though I was walking through a Salvador Dali painting.
This week, my husband and I cruised down Highway 90 that treks along the Mississippi Coast from Ocean Springs to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. There are still miles of empty coastal property, sidewalks and driveways that lead to nothing but empty lots. It’s mind boggling to see, ten years later, a place that I cared about forever changed.
However, though wounded and scarred, the Mississippi coast and Pass Christian are slowly showing signs of recovery. We walked around downtown Pass Christian and enjoyed a latte at the Cat Island Coffeehouse and Bookstore. New homes are being built on some of the empty lots. Shops have returned—The Pass Christian Soap Company and The Purple Pelican are a couple of lovely examples.
The people who endured one of America’s worst natural disasters and survived often feel as though Katrina’s devastating impact on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is forgotten or overshadowed by the deadly flooding in New Orleans.
I lived three hours inland, and the storm howled and roared uprooting trees in every yard in my neighborhood, a number of them landing on rooftops. We had no power or phone service for a week, which was nothing compared to what happened south of us. My heart and my prayers are still with my coastal friends.
For more about Hurricane Katrina and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I’ve attached links below.
I was a painfully shy child. If you’re my friend, you might find this hard to believe, because I have no problem talking … once I know you. Still, every now and then, the social anxiety takes control of my brain, tongue, and body. Like making small talk—that’s hard for me.
My husband and I spent our honeymoon in the small Southern town of Natchez, Mississippi. We wanted a low key time to hang out and relax. Our bed and breakfast, The Briars, was an antebellum home situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
During the Civil War, the fires and destruction that ruined most other Mississippi towns skipped Natchez, therefore it retains beautiful examples of antebellum architecture. Not only that, you can revel in the view of the river, ride a horse-drawn carriage, and discover the abundant antique shops and good eats. If you’re lucky, you can get a ticket in November to the elaborate Angels on the Bluff Cemetery Tour, where actors play the part of the deceased and give a live history lesson.
All that said, we enjoyed Natchez enough to return for a few anniversaries over the past twenty-something years. (We didn’t get far from our kids very often.) On one of these occasions, I made reservations to eat at a mansion. Excited, we arrived to find other couples waiting in a side room, a sort-of den, eating hors d’oeuvres. That was fine.
But then—a door opened, giving us a peek into the dining room—one long table where all the guests would sit. Together.
Immediately my anticipation of the romantic dinner tanked and my anxiety spiked. I'd have to talk to strangers on my anniversary. I nudged my husband and whispered, “Let’s sneak out and go somewhere else.”
He’s probably one of the most introverted engineers you could meet. He said no. We had a reservation, and he was eating there.
It became one of those stories we laugh about, or rather he makes fun of me about. Blundering through with my nervous chatter, I survived.
We dined on delicious gourmet food with lovely people I don’t remember.
You’ve heard of house divided, but we’re a bit convoluted.
I come from a family of Mississippi State grads, as does my husband. But …
I started out at MSU in Starkville, then transferred to Ole Miss after my sophomore year when my favorite MSU roommate decided to move and finish school in Oxford.
My husband received his engineering degree at MSU, but ended up receiving his masters from Ole Miss.
My daughter followed in my footsteps by attending State a year, then transferring to Ole Miss.
My son has rung a cowbell since he could wrap his fingers around one, but is undecided about where he’ll attend next year. Considering both schools.
So, we cheer for both Mississippi teams—until we get to the game between the two—the Egg Bowl. And I’m not an expert, but I can’t imagine better tailgating anywhere.
On both campuses, many fans hire companies to set up their tent, generators, and large screen TVs. A wagon is suggested for hauling food and coolers, as well as chandeliers, flower arrangements, or statues of the mascot, if you’re so inclined.
Starkville is a nice small town with fun areas like the Cotton District and Main Street. The campus is large with plenty of grassy areas to set up. The Junction is the main area for the tents. They have the Dawg Walk there for the players to walk through. The area is attractive wrapped in Maroon and White. If you have sensitive ears, bring earplugs for the game, though. The cowbells can get loud. Oh, and don’t forget to buy some cheese from the Ag department, check out the Chapel of Memories, and maybe go to the Barnes and Noble on campus.
The three manuscripts I’ve written so far are set in Oxford. The Square is in the center of the quaint town, and visitors should check out the shops and restaurants there, and especially my favorite place, Square Books. It’s a very cool book store. Game day, everyone wants to be either in The Grove or The Circle. The area is smaller, so the challenge for a spot between the large red and blue trash cans is quite competitive. The magnificent oaks and magnolias provide plenty of shade and a nice atmosphere for the red and blue canopies. The team enters under the arc near the Union for the Walk of Champions.
One side note. Both teams provide nice portable restrooms, called Hottie-Totty Potties or Junction Johns/Janes. They’re pretty fancy for portables.
My husband and I attend only two or three games a year, and generally depend on the hospitality of those who have their system in place. We’re admitted lazy tailgaters.
Beyond the sports and the school support, I find that tailgating is more about food, friends, and fellowship.
What’s your tailgate experience?
Why would I catch the train in Meridian, Mississippi to go to Atlanta, Georgia when I live in the Jackson, Mississippi area?
Because the train that runs through Jackson is called The City of New Orleans, which travels only north and south, not east and west. To head east, you ride The Crescent, and there are a few important things you should know before you catch the train called The Crescent.
First, the stations in Meridian and Atlanta are vastly different.
In Meridian, the station is attractive and provides plenty of parking. The location is easy to find and houses a nice little snack shop.
In Atlanta, on the other hand, there are six parking spots for the metropolis of almost six million people. Be ready to jump from your ride’s moving vehicle when they drop you off. No snack shop in the Atlanta station or nearby. Bring your own or buy your coffee from a vending machine. Quite a problem if the train runs late. Which brings me to my second point.
Train travel is normally on time, but not always. Once we waited four hours in the Atlanta station. Good thing I brought protein bars and sour gummy worms. Yes, I bought crummy coffee from the machine. Live and learn.
Now for the fun part of train travel.
Hey, you’re on a train. How cool is that? No traffic. No driving. No scary takeoff or landing. The gentle rocking and whistle, lulling you into a nice nap. When awake, the changing landscape passes your window: fields, streams, rivers, hills.
Here’s where it gets tricky. We’ve ridden in coach. The seats are roomy, but the area could use some new upholstery and a lot of spit and polish, as they say. Okay, it’s not real clean, and, depending on who your neighbors are, not real quiet. Potluck passenger can be wonderful—or not so wonderful.
When my son had ACL surgery, we decided to try the “Roomette.” When we first saw it, we were happy for the privacy, but stunned at the small size. The porter saw our confusion and offered to make up the beds. This was great for the two of us. Essentially, the room became bunk beds. My son could plug in his laptop and phone and watch movies or play games on the top bunk, while I read or typed on my own laptop, reclining on the bottom bunk.
Another plus with the roomette, you meals are free. You can eat in the dining car. If you’re an extrovert, you’ll enjoy the fact that you share a table with other passengers. If you’re an introvert, you might want to order the food to go.
For every trip hereafter to Atlanta, we’ll go for the roomette.
Give it a shot! Hop on The Crescent. The price is right depending on the days you travel.
My goal is to ride The City of New Orleans to New Orleans or Chicago this year. If going to Chicago, I’ll definitely reserve a roomette. Going to New Orleans, I’ll probably be with a group. You have to embrace the crowds when going to The Big Easy. I’ll let you know how it goes. Have you ridden the train? What’s your experience?
Under the Southern Sun
Janet W. Ferguson