Living Below Your Means
A Christmas Story

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By BlueGrits
December 21, 2007

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Ed. Note: The Post of the Day will be on hiatus until after the holidays. See you next year!

If water is the "gift of life," then our family owed its life to Barbara and Richard B.

The well in our home was too shallow for the water to be palatable so one of my jobs as a kid was to haul water from our neighbors, Barbara and Richard (whom I'll now refer to as B&R). I'd walk about a block to their house, fill four bleach jugs with water from their hose, and then carry them home.

But B&R were more than that. Barbara was a friend and source of consolation to my mother and often helped when emergencies - major or minor occurred. Richard loved the Gulf and many a time he brought over fish, crabs, or oysters. For a family struggling to make ends meet and which sometimes ate courtesy of food stamps or the church poor box, this meant a lot.

Both our homes got slight damage in Betsy ('66); in Camille ('69), their home was okay while we lost about 1/3 of our "new" tin roof put up after Betsy. Fortunately, all the water we got in the house (9") was courtesy of the roof being gone and not flooding. In Katrina, both homes got about 14 FEET of water, and there this tale begins.

B&R finally listened to their children and evacuated, but when they got home all they could do was look at the remnants of their home and cry. Richard had built the home himself in the 50's using scraps of wood and other supplies he could scrounge. The home was modest, yet built so substantially the post-Katrina demo team remarked on it. There, B&R raised three children while Richard supported the family as a painter doing both residential and commercial work. It was now all gone. Richard, terminal with cancer, would say, "Please don't let me die in a FEMA trailer."

[Note: The Post of the Day will be on hiatus until after the holidays. See you next year!]

�Government assistance was very slow in coming, and it seemed that every new day brought a new form and a promise -- but only that. Individuals and groups began stopping by to ask what they could do, but the city had yet to set building standards so construction couldn't even begin. And still they remained in the FEMA trailer.

At last some money did come in but even coupled with donations it wouldn't be enough to meet the new city building codes which required them to be up about 14 feet in the air. B&R stopped to talk with a group of Amish volunteers which had come down from PA to help storm victims, and then got on their list of people needing construction help.

Construction began, but it nearly killed Richard not to help as he'd been in or around construction all his life. He did, though, really like the Amish because they worked like him or, as he said, "They don't fool around - just show up, pray, work, eat lunch, work, and go home." That was high praise from Richard who had such a reputation as a hard worker that he had difficulty finding help who could keep up with him.

But B&R are now in their home -- and a nice home at that. Since Richard can't do the stairs, they put in a one-person elevator and are hoping that'll be paid for with some aid money, should more still arrive. When I went over in August and saw them, they were so happy about how everything had turned out. I told them, "You built your first house of wood and nails; you built this one out of faith."

Richard's health continues to decline, but he won't recognize it. A couple of weeks ago he was doing something in the yard and fell over into the ditch. Passersby helped him out and he made it to the elevator under his own power. Barbara rushed him to the hospital to get stitches and shots. Barbara has also begun having problems and recently had a radical mastectomy. When being fitted for the artificial breast, Barbara told the doctor, "I told Richard that he can have it at night to play with, but I need it during the day." She said the doctor laughed so hard he fell off the stool.

This December they will celebrate Christmas in their new home. I'll be in MS visiting a sister of mine over the holidays, then I'll swing down and spend a few days with B&R. Here are their pictures.