Leroy Perego

I’ve never really believed in miracles, which only seem to happen on

television or at the movies. I’ve often told myself, “You might as well

believe in the Tooth Fairy or just wish upon a falling star, as to

believe in miracles.” Am I wrong?

A few days ago, I made a trip to a small town. The residents were busy removing furniture and sweeping out homes and businesses, dusting off sidewalks and porches. Fall was in the air that day and if it were not for the fact that the furniture and personal items were piled two-men high forming corridors along the streets, it would have looked very much like a communal spring cleaning.

There were police officers everywhere along with laborers, business owners and repairmen. The town was a beehive of activity.

Hammers, saws and nail guns filled the air with bangs, rasps and pops. As I made my turn I noticed a water-stained office chair in front of a business on the main street. In it was slumped a small blond-haired girl with smudges on her face, half dozing from her labors, holding a broom upright with one soiled hand and clutching a rescued doll with a missing arm in the other. I was there in search of a story, though it was evident by the activity, I was now in the midst of one.

 My quest would take me to the other side of town. I was drawn, not to a house but to the edge of a pasture. As I snailed my way down Myrtle Street and turned left onto a drive that led to a field, I found myself face to face with a not-so-prominent member of the community, the reason I had made the trip in the first place.  

Bridge City’s people are a combination of Texan and Louisiana Cajun cultures with a neat mix of other personalities thrown in. Amid the debris and desolation of Hurricane Ike, the community struggles to survive.

I was there to see Elvis, a name we all came to know through the world of music. Since his passing in 1977, we’ve heard the news media ask, “Is Elvis still alive?” There have been numerous unconfirmed sightings of him wandering in nearly every state or basking in the sun on some remote island. Human nature makes us want to believe in the unbelievable.

The Elvis I had heard about though was not the legend of rock and roll, but a small chocolate brown donkey not more than four-and-a-half-feet high. His long, soft, fuzzy ears present a comical look, all the while, making him more affectionately loveable. His name was derived from the song-like braying sound he makes as his master brings his food bucket each afternoon. It is one thing he joyfully looks forward to.

Elvis’s home is in a pasture owned by Bud Doucet. Before Ike, Elvis resided with three horses that did not belong to Bud. Elvis adopted them as his family. They mostly ignored Elvis but he loved their company anyway.

 Each time, during Gustav and Ike, the horses were sent to another pasture. Each time, Elvis was left at home. It is heart wrenching to not have a place to take a large animal when danger lurks. Elvis had a barn for shelter and Gustav proved to be not too threatening. Then along came Ike. Because of the trouble it took to evacuate for Gustav, a couple of weeks earlier, residents were tired. Many of them decided to stick it out at home for Ike. It wasn’t until it was deemed life-threatening that some of the last holdouts decided to leave. Elvis was left alone inside his fenced pasture. Neither Elvis nor his owner had any idea of what was about to happen.

As Ike moved in, a wall of water was being pushed ahead of it. Nearly every home in the town was inundated and made unlivable or destroyed. It is hard to visualize what Elvis had to go through.

Pictures taken from a house on stilts, across from Elvis’ home, showed a torrent of water. No one knows what danger the donkey was really in or how high the water reached. Elvis was probably frantic but must have had a great will to live. As the water came in, Elvis had nowhere to go. The dirty water and marsh cane pushed against him. He was fenced in with the rising flood and probably floundered in desperation for a while. 

I had heard about Elvis before the storm, before I made the trip to Bridge City and I was aware that he had to be left behind. When I heard reports about the water coming in and how deep it was on the houses, my heart sank for him. I feared the worst! Surely they would find Elvis’s body in the pasture tangled in a fence where he tried to escape. 

Elvis treaded the surge but suddenly his hooves touched soft dirt. As he moved further the water began rolling off his fur, as he found a small mound of soil that had been dumped to fill in low areas of the field. From Friday until Monday he probably stood there wet and hungry unable to get to the soggy food left for him in the barn.

If possible, he wondered why all of it was happening to him: why he had been left behind to begin with. 

When his owners returned, they found Elvis in the field, with a water line on his side a few inches below his back. He ran to them happily braying as he moved, hoping for a fresh bucket of feed to settle his rumbling stomach. He was alive and not alone any more. 

The first time I met Elvis, I realized the humanity of him. All one has to do is look into those dark, soulful eyes to see straight through to the heart. It is a heart as large as the Gulf that tried to take him. It is the same heart that resides in the other residents of the city, a heart that refuses to give up to the tempest. It is a heart that speaks loudly “I will stand on level ground or upon a hill and if no one stands with me I will stand alone. I will survive to stand another day and if it is required of me I will stand yet another.”

Elvis is alive today, in the street cleaners and the store owners and the ditch diggers and carpenters. Elvis is alive in the office’s that keep the streets safe and in the ministers and preachers and caretakers that comfort the weary and homeless. Elvis is indeed alive in the dirty face of a little girl asleep in a chair, tightly holding a broom and a broken doll secretly pulled from the heap.

That night, as I lay down with the thoughts of the day running through my mind, I was reminded of how foolish it is to not believe in miracles. After all, there is one thought for inspiration: As the sun goes down in that little city by the Gulf and the purple twilight of the marsh begins to fade into complete darkness, before sleep overtakes me, I can still see the indelible outline, a silhouette of a lonely beast-of-burden standing on a hill, songfully braying for his supper.