Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Final Days (Mississippi Coast)

(front) Kim, Nene, Lee, Matthew, Taylor (back) Lis & me in Bay St Louis, MS on Saturday night

Me, Robin, Mr. Bean & Bruce in Gulfport, MS on Friday night

Me, Audrey & David in Biloxi, MS on Tuesday night

Tonight I am in Slidell, Louisiana, just one long day's walk outside of the eastern edge of New Orleans. My short 6-day stay in Mississippi is over, but I won't soon forget the people who so graciously welcomed me there.

Way back before I took my first step of this journey I knew I had a place to stay in Gulfport. My friend Brian Atkinson had contacted his mother Robin and she had pledged that I would have a place to stay when I arrived. That, as they say, was many moons ago. Yet sure enough, Robin and her husband Bruce were ready for me when I arrived. They had also connected me with their son Brian and his fiance Audrey who hosted me the night before in Biloxi.

I spent three nights with the Robin & Bruce just north of Gulfport. Together we rang in the New Year, if ringing in the New Year can be done nestled in our respective beds, sleeping peacefully. Other than catching up on sleep, I was able to catch up on some writing and Robin & Bruce drove me all around the Gulf Coast - from the Bellingrath Gardens Light Show near Mobile to the casinos of Biloxi. Oh, and lest I forget, I ate like a king. They took me out to lunch on Thursday and cooked an absolutely delectable meal of lamb and mashed potatoes on Friday night and in between we feasted on leftovers from their Christmas celebration.

On Saturday morning, heavier for my stay in Gulfport, I walked my last full day in Mississippi. I started in Long Beach, passed through Pass Christian and then walked across the beautiful new Bay Bridge into Bay St. Louis. There I was welcomed by Lee and Lis Bosarge, a couple of friends, some news media and a few of Lee's firecrackers, set off for my arrival.

All throughout my six days on the Mississippi coast I saw the enduring legacy of the Katrina's destruction. When Lis asked me what day I started my journey I told her August 29. "That is the date Katrina hit," she said. That was 2005. Almost four and a half years have passed and the sections of Mississippi right along the coast are still a mish-mosh of empty lots, mangled trees and the occasional stretch of rebuilt homes. Mississippi is where Katrina caused the most damage. The eye of the storm came right through Pass Christian.

Amidst all the destruction and despair, Katrina has had another enduring legacy: that of kindness. Lee and Lis told me about how many different people had come down to Bay St. Louis and helped them rebuild their house which was totally destroyed by the hurricane. Their peach colored house now sits proud and tall on new stilts, just to the west of the new 2-mile span of Bay Bridge.

Their house is colorful both inside and out. Each room is a different vibrant color, kind of a metaphor for the undying spirit of this region to grow and prosper in the aftermath of one of the greatest natural disasters this nation has seen. My final memory of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church in Bay St. Louis. Lis took me there this morning for the 9am service. How many churches do you know - Catholic or otherwise - which have a full gospel choir and whose congregation is fully interracial? Still thinking? I know this is the first I have been to on this journey.

Buoyed by the enthusiastic praise songs from worship, I walked on. 18 miles to be exact. Tomorrow will be my longest walk to date - 26 miles along Route 90 to the Mennonite Disaster Service headquarters on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. I've never walked a full marathon before. So let me run down my list. Carbs loaded? Check. 78-song iPod playlist? Check. Legs conditioned by 1,600 miles of road? Check. Fun evening with my 100th host of this trip?

Check ....

Me & Melody - my 100th host - in Slidell, LA on Sunday night

33 comments:

  1. It sounds like your trip been a great adventure and I hope this final leg of the journey lives up to the anticipation. Sorry for the unusually cold weather but a guy from NY will probably handle it better than us Gulf Coast natives!

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  2. Hello Garth, I see from your comments on this page that you had a good stay in Mississippi just as I knew you would. Thanks for confirming for all of us that there still are lots of good people in th world. God bless you in whatever else you do.

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