Licton Springs Review

Coast to Coast By Jane Jessie Smith

On August 29, 2005, hurricane Katrina, a category-five storm, pounded the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and covered the entire Gulf Coast of Mexico. I was in the town of Bay St. Louis, MS, where my daughter Randi, 11, and I were pummeled by 175-mile-an-hour winds and a 30-foot surge of water that came up over the shore and took three hours to recede. We went through the eye-wall of Katrina, which is the most concentrated source of a hurricane. The aftershock was horrendous; I felt raw in the 102 degree heat. There were downed trees everywhere and no radio or cell phone signals. My car was gone, my apartment destroyed, and I was in a state of shock and could not recognize many people. We walked around for days searching for water, food, help—anything. The helicopters whopped over our heads, dropping down MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat) and cases of water. After scrapping around for days, pillaging anything I could, I managed to get to a Red Cross shelter with what little belongings we had. We contacted my mama in Seattle, who wired us plane tickets to go there.

We arrived on September 5, 2005. My daughter saw mountains for the first time, and I was back to a city of my childhood. Everything here is so clean and organized! No downed trees or nasty smells! The bustle of this place is quite apparent. I see so much construction and movement around me. I am exhausted with relief at the togetherness of a place that is run like clockwork. My daughter remains by my side, and is quiet with all the commotion. Tears of joy, shouts of exasperation, and the pure lifting of a burden, once thought to have a negative connotation, explodes with every hug, kiss, smile and acknowledgment of life sustained.

Now here nine months, my daughter and I have felt such an outreach of love and helping hands. A traumatic event, once thought to have been a horrible disaster, has manifested itself into accepting the change and rebirth of two very unparallel locations.

The food here is much healthier; full of whole grains, organic, lots of omegas, as opposed to saturated fats, oodles of salt and carbs that will stop your heart. I never realized that pizza, French fries and a dinner roll with a diet coke, was not a balanced meal! Imagine my surprise, 30 pounds lighter! Along with such health, and the fact that EVERYONE seems to be exercising on a daily basis, YOU CANNOT SMOKE IN THE BARS! I purchased two mountain bikes, one each, for the both of us, and I pretend when I am riding that I am smoking in the fresh air instead. It works from Seattle Mental Health’s point of view. I would rather smoke incessantly; however, my daughter’s high school graduation may be more important to live for. What a love-caring city!

North Seattle Community College has also been a positive haven for me. The last time I was in school was over twenty years ago. Coming back has been challenging and intriguing. I feel like a big kid sometimes, trying to fit in, just like in high school, but I am grown now. I have run households, businesses and taken in plenty of rent-a-kids. Nothing compares to having a second chance at a life that bears meaning. No longer am I Mrs. Vidrine, Robert, Chris or Randi’s mama or someone’s wife. I am Jane Jesse Smith, an individual who has been through hell and high-water, literally, and embraced the idea of beginning in such an opposite place.

Sometimes I am torn between Seattle and what I know as home down south. This city seems to hold promise for me and opportunity for my daughter as well. I miss my neighborhood and the people who were my friends that perished in the largest hurricane ever recorded in the United States. I am grateful to be alive with Randi and for the eclectic life that happened in such a capricious fashion. The feeling of going upstream in a canoe without a paddle, has been diminished by the special influence of this Northwest territory.