The news this week has been all about the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and how the residents of New Orleans have or have not moved forward with their lives. I remember watching the coverage, both ahead of time and real-time, on tv. I remember wondering why everyone in the area didn’t evacuate. The officials in charge were providing buses for rides to evacuate people. The warnings came several days in advance. And yet many didn’t evacuate or waited until what they believed was the last-minute to leave. Did they think they had a better plan? Did they think they knew better than the forecasters and emergency personnel? Or did they just not realize how quickly life can change?
Our lives had taken a bit of a change that very week and that’s why I can remember so much of the pre-hurricane coverage. On Saturday, August 27, 2005, we were weaning calves, sorting cows out and hauling the weaned calves to my in-laws’ feedlot. We had accomplished a lot of our work and were actually down to the last pen of cattle. We needed one cow-calf pair to put in a different pasture. The calf was too young to wean so we just needed them in a different lot and we could turn the rest of the cows out. Our gomer bull (a bull that has been surgically altered so he can’t breed but does heat detect) and our breeding bull were both in the pen. Normally we would have made sure to get them out. We even said something about it, but they were off in the far corner of the pen and the pair we needed was in the near corner so we decided to get the pair and then deal with the two of them. Hindsight is 20/20. We should have done what we knew was the right thing and gotten the bulls out of the pen. Chris, who was almost 13 at the time, and Mike headed over to start walking the pair to the gate. Paul, Mike’s dad, was manning the gate and Jesse and I were forming a “human alley” to get only the pair into the pen. And here is where my memory cuts out a bit. I don’t know if it all happened so fast or if I was distracted by the bulls. All I know is the bulls went from growling at one another to fighting in an instant. I remember Jesse and I headed to the fence closest to the gate as did Mike. I’m not sure if Chris was going to climb the fence he was closest to, or if it happened so fast he didn’t even realize the danger he was in. I remember Mike screaming Chris’s name and somehow me being across the pen and by Chris and Mike’s side. Chris was laying quite awkwardly in amongst the oak board fence remains. He was unconscious for a short time which scared us even more. At this point my brain kicked back in. We realized the gomer bull had gotten the breeding bull turned sideways. The gomer bull the gave a sharp head shot to the breeding bull’s side. The breeding bull turned to get away from the gomer bull and Chris happened to be in between him and the fence. Once the bull was away from the gomer bull, he stopped and looked back at the chaos he had caused. If ever a bull looked remorseful, I believe he did. He didn’t keep running – he just stopped and watched us. Mike’s dad and Jesse walked him into a pen and I guess they must have gone ahead and kicked all the cows out where they were to go. Mike came to the house to call for an ambulance while I sat there with Chris, who was now conscious. For all the trips to the ER Chris has taken in his life, this is the only one that required an ambulance so far. Mike was going to help his dad and brother and Jesse finish loading the weaned calves then he would head on to the hospital. I was fairly certain Chris was going to be ok when he got upset that the doctors were going to cut his 4-H shirt from the state fair and his jeans off.
While he was in the x-ray room and I was in the waiting room for x-rays I got a call. I recognized the number as a friend who was in both our 4-H group and our homeschool group. We were to be at a homeschool picnic that evening and I thought she must be calling about that. She wasn’t. She was calling to tell us that another good friend from 4-H had a tragic death in her family and was looking for help in providing food for the family. The family had been planning on attending the wedding of a nephew that day. The nephew’s mom and sister were on their way to get ready for the wedding when they were involved in an auto vs train accident. Both were killed and the family went from wedding preparations to funeral preparations in an instant. Suddenly, our life was put back into perspective. Chris was injured but God had spared his life. I couldn’t comprehend the loss that the Fountain family was enduring. I didn’t have the words to express our sympathy then. I still don’t. What do you say to dear friends when their hearts have been ripped in two? Less than 2 years later, we would experience the loss of Mike’s sister and we understood a bit better.
The day Katrina hit, we were a little wrapped up in our own lives. We had learned to listen to that little voice in your head that warns of danger. We were preparing food for a funeral dinner. We were managing pain for Chris and had followed up with our family doctor (who called us to set up an appointment, by the way) and an orthopedic doctor. We were rearranging our plans. And yet, we watched the coverage of Katrina. We listened following the storm as people were asking why there wasn’t more help from the government. We watched as churches and other civic organizations stepped up to offer aid and assistance. And I struggled to understand. You see, in our community, I don’t hear people asking the government to step up and help them when a tragedy strikes. I see neighbors, friends and community members stepping up and offering help in whatever way they can. I understand that we’re in a small rural community and therefore there’s likely fewer people needing help. I also understand there’s fewer resources to draw upon for that help. But, it amazes me how far those few resources can go.