When I was a boy in Abbeville, back in 1940, a hurricane surge put a foot of salt water over the kitchen table. Grandma’s little house was on two-foot piers, on a piece of land with eight-feet elevation. If we wouldn’t have been rescued and evacuated in a hand-paddled skiff to a large, high barn, we probably would have drowned because the water got up to the ceiling.

We didn’t have many things in that old house, but it was all we had. We had no running water, just a hand pump, so with a soapy rag Mom and Grandma wiped everything down. The bedding, blankets, sheets, pillows and clothing were put out to dry and we used them even after the storm. We couldn’t afford to throw anything away and we had never heard of mold. We just poured a little lye and water on the mildew.

In my life I never personally witnessed more than a river coming out of its banks, or the floor of a house flooding after a 20-inch rain.

It has been nearly 70 years since I witnessed wind-driven salt water, not natural floodwater. An unnatural disaster is just that. A hurricane named Ike brought it. Most everyone who had homeowner insurance was covered for hurricanes but the insurance companies found a loophole. They covered the hurricane but not what it brought: debris, alligators, snakes, water, mud, etc.

Everybody was screwed and the government looked the other way. A lot of people were hurt badly, some wiped out totally.

I never would have imagined that every structure we owned; home, rent houses, offices and commercial buildings would be destroyed in one clean sweep, plus all of our vehicles, including antique cars.

Only one car was covered totally.

On Dec. 31, Phyl and I will be married 54 years. On that 1954 rented first apartment I paid the $50 a month rent and had $7 left.

We started our family; Phyl washed clothes on a scrub board and hung them out to dry on the line. Mosquitoes were so bad when we moved into our own Bridge City home, she had to wear thick clothes in the heat of a humid summer to do her outdoor chores.

The little furniture we had was mostly hand-me-downs. A small black and white television was our first luxury. We worked hard and struggled to make a better life for our family.

Along the way we were fortunate and our efforts paid off. As our resources grew Phyl added better things to our home. Being a collector, I gathered unusual and some expensive, irreplaceable things. I put together many museum items to preserve for the future.

Meanwhile, for years Jimmy Conn, without my blessing, helped Phyl get some nice furnishings. I paid him $100 a month for years. When one item was paid off he’d added another. He never let me get out of debt. 

Over the past two years, after Rita’s crush, we had finally finished remodeling our home, improved the grounds and added a courtyard with many beautiful plants, which we both enjoyed caring for along with our small vegetable garden. We had made the decision that this home would take us to the end or until one of us had to go and the other would have to move on, probably under someone else’s care.

We were totally satisfied. All this place needed was living. It wasn’t a mansion but we are not flashy: we simply wanted our things to be nice and comfortable, surroundings that were us, roomy and homey.

Phyl was raised in a modest middle-class family, my early years were spent in a farm storage shack and I grew up with hard times.

Along the road of our long life together we have seen ups and downs. I’ve gone busted before and Phyl learned what it was like to go from riches to rags. She has a high work ethic and I’ve always had confidence in my ability. We never worried much; we just tightened our belts and headed up again. 

There’s a huge difference in then and now. Back then we were looking ahead to a long road not in our rearview mirror to a road traveled. It probably wouldn’t have been very long before many of our possessions would have ended up on the curb anyway but it would have been nice to enjoy our things for the time we have left.

Fifty-four years of marriage discarded on the side of the road is a heart wrenching experience. It was extremely saddening to watch Phyl stare at the pile of rubbish that had been our treasures hoping to maybe find one more picture of her mom or dad. We saved some valuables but even our jewelry, in the bank safety deposit box, was ruined. The “small print” said it wasn’t covered by insurance. They handed me the box with salt water still in it. 

A few years ago I would have said, “Oh well.” Today, with so much loss, I don’t know where to start. Thanks to some generous friends and caring family we’ve been able to see some daylight and keep the newspapers going. The response has been heart warming.

I knew I would work as long as I could, because I wanted to, not because I had to. A little coasting in old age, in a comfortable home ain’t bad. Those things however, are just material loses. Phyl and I have each other and that has sustained us all these many years and won’t let us down now. We have a great family: we’re enjoying watching the grandkids come into their own and our friends are most valuable. If our health holds we’ll be blessed and keep on moving Down Life’s Highway. Our load of treasures will be smaller and lighter. We took a hell of a lick. Ike wasn’t one of my bad deals or anything we bargained for, life just dealt us snake eyes. 

We are not alone; this situation is facing many. Ike wiped out an entire community that we helped build. It’s so overwhelming. We pray for our neighbors and all the children who are devastated. It will be a long haul but some day we will get to go home. Keep looking and moving forward, and in time Ike will just be a bad memory.