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John and I are baby boomers who have been married nearly forty years. We were both raised in the deep south, he in Louisiana, and I in Mississippi. The only thing more important than being born in the south, your mother's (pick one) fried chicken, pecan pie or gumbo recipe, is family.

It doesn't matter if they are crazy, criminals or both. In fact it can raise the gossip value, plus be entertaining. My mother had an almost obsessive desire to find out about her ancestry; consequently I spent many weekends with her going to various cemeteries, recording names and dates from headstones. We also went to various courthouses, and archives to search family connections. Genealogy is like an intricate picture puzzle where each piece (name) fits to another (name) until you have the picture (history) of an individual.

It was while living on the Gulf Coast that I started designing and making family trees to sell at craft shows. John made the plaques, and I painted them. In 1984 I registered my copyright. I continued to do shows as far west as Texas and as far east as North Carolina. I was also teaching painting, mostly watercolors and decorative art. I taught first through the Gulfport Community Education Program then through various decorative artists' chapters, private studios, and at Michael's Arts and Crafts.

In 2005 we were living in Gulfport, Mississippi, when Katrina came through, and our lives were forever changed. I can accurately describe the devastation of the homes and landscape. The mammoth amount of debris everywhere. I can tell you about miles of live oaks along coastal highway 90, stripped of their foliage, naked limbs reaching toward the heavens. Concertina wire stretched down the railroad track to keep out looters. Yet there are no words to describe the desperate desolation one feels at the initial impact. To realize that the life you had is over, and, for better or worse, your life starts now. The bad thing is that you have to start over; the good thing is that you get to start over, and maybe do better.

Compared to thousands of other people, we were blessed that the only thing that happened to us was that a couple of trees came through the roof directly between two bedrooms. Rainwater then came in causing the ceilings to collapse. The roof over the garage had been lifted up allowing water to get to the ceiling there Because we had evacuated (about 4 hours ahead of the storm) to Greenville, Mississippi, it was ten days before the highways were cleared of debris to allow us back to our home. Ten days is not a long time unless you are a kid waiting for Christmas, or someone wanting to get back to their home, but ten days is long enough to allow the combination of heat and moisture, and the lack of ventilation to cause a great deal of mold and mildew to appear everywhere. To get into everything.

Your days are spent trying to find a starting point, trying to contact friends or relatives to find out their status. Did they survive? If they did, did their home? What do they need? What help is available? What type of hoops do you have to jump through to get it? I cannot stress enough the gratitude felt for the volunteers that came to the aid of the residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They were there before the government even thought of getting there. And they were there later when the government folded up their tents and their formaldehyde ridden trailers and left town.

I spent two weeks trying to get through to a number given for the Red Cross. When I finally got through I then spent four hours on hold (this was between 3a.m. and 7 a.m.)before I was allowed to register for assistance. Because of pulmonary problems I had I was allowed the use of a Fema trailer to avoid the mold and mildew in the house. It was parked in the front yard. Whether the formaldehyde caused more problems, I don't know. but I was glad to have the use of it at the time.

The worst was dealing with the homeowners insurance. It was all a crap shoot. Depending on what adjuster you got and how they felt when you met with them. Again we were fortunate that trees came into the roof. There wasn't a question of wind and storm surge. The companies knew that the wind and tornadoes came in first and destroyed ninety-nine percent of everything before the 40 foot storm surge came in and sucked it all out into the Mississippi sound. That was a tactic that the insurance commission and the courts allowed the companies to use to avoid paying legitimate claims This is all done in the hopes that people will get tired and worn out and give up. That some of the claimants will die. That others seeing what their friends and neighbors go through will just take the offer and go else where.

Due to the massive amount of destruction it was difficult to find reputable contractors to do the work. They were working on bigger jobs, like the casinos, or new apartment buildings, or new construction. A year after the storm, volunteers provided the labor to replace our roof and some other exterior damage. John and I had to do most of the repairs to the interior. Because we were inexperienced it took us much longer The only positive aspect of John's job being wiped out with Katrina, and another not being available, was that there was so much to clean up and repair, it would have been difficult to do had he been working at the same time.

About six months after the storm we realized that it would take twenty-five to thirty years for the area to really come back. Even then it wouldn't be what we had been familiar with, but we would be dead or in a home by that time anyway. We decided we needed to move where the air was cleaner; the cost of living wasn't as high. (by this time the cost of home insurance looked to be doubling or tripling in the near future) and a slower pace of living.

We spent several weeks looking, both on the road and on the internet, when we came to Mountain Home, Arkansas and fell in love with it. The people and the area. We've been here four years now. We miss our friends on the Coast, but every June first I am grateful I am not down there worrying whether there will be another Katrina. Eventually there will be, but I will not be there.

We have made many friends here, and I have gotten involved with several art groups and galleries again. I enjoy the family trees. I always like hearing a name I realize I've never written before, and that's not that often. I've made about three thousand family trees and written about one hundred thousand names. I hope to make the family trees for many more years. John is always so supportive and helps me every way he can I could not do it without him.

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