On Monday, we had the opportunity for all three groups, i.e. the students in my New Orleans course, to work together on one project. We went out of town to a collection of trailers (FEMA, and otherwise), rusted tools, scrap lumber, and remnants of the storm surge brought on by Katrina. In New Hampshire we’d call it a “New Hampshire yard,” where anything and everything that could possibly come of use in the next two generations is kept, often in the front yard.

The shell of Cappy’s house was burned and the rubbble was cleared about two weeks ago. Our task was to clear the rest of the lot for a “Katrina Cottage,” a more livable answer to the ubiquitous and thankfully disappearing FEMA trailer. Cappy’s lot was along a canal, five or more miles from the Gulf, but still close enough to sea level that it was brackish water.

Cappy is going to be 76; he’s lived on that site for 21 years. He was once a barge captain on the Great Lakes before opening a boat repair business on the Gulf. He has since retired, but he is never retiring. A shade over five feet tall and shaped like a fire hydrant, Cappy tried to ride out the storm in his frame house. After the 20+ storm waters receded, Cappy was found clinging to a tree. He was luckier than most of his neighbors, many of whom drowned and a number, never found. He says he won’t do THAT again.

The students cleared rubble, sorted lumber, raked the glass and remnants of the storm, and helped finish a tool shed that Cappy had started. The results were remarkable, but given Cappy’s stubbornness and acquisitive nature, you wonder how long it will last; even when there is permanent home in place. Cappy was very appreciative and enjoyed talking to the groups; however, the biggest thanks we received were from his long-suffering neighbors.

After a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and chocolate cake, the group headed into the Quarter for yet another St. Patrick’s Day parade. This one ended-up on Bourbon Street, where the students got a small taste of what Mardi Gras is like. Many beads were collected, with the drunken Irish marchers kissed — needless to say, the girls had the advantage here and ended up with considerably better beads and throws. Afterwards, some returned, some danced, and some went to listen to music. I suspect they’ll go back before the week is over.

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