one disaster to another

by Susie Applegate

I’ve Johannsen Housejust finished the story about the Budreau fire. It’s 7 a.m. and I’ve been up since 3 ‘clock this morning when Renee, the sheriff’s dispatcher, called me to tell me that the Old Arlington house was burning. I keep thinking about what Shaherazade said and the way the little ones just moved in close to their parents and had that look in their eyes like you see in the eyes of the depression photographs. A look of pain and resignation that should never be present in a child of eight like Shaherazade’s sister Salome, much less in Juliette who isn’t even two years old.
 
    “I spent my whole life going from one disaster to another.”
 
    At least Shaherazade didn’t sound defeated when she said that. She sounded angry and I have to say, good for her.
 
    Hugo Budreau kept talking about how thankful the family is for what Germaine has done for them. I’m sure that he and Rita and the children, all eight of them, are thankful, but I can see grief in their faces, too. Shaherazade is the only one who has shown a capacity for anger to anyone outside the family. I don’t know if the rest of the Budreaus control it or just don’t feel it.
 
    It seems like everyone in Germaine really was excited about bringing the Budreau family to our little town. I think we all just felt so helpless all the way up here in Oregon, thousands of miles from Louisiana and Mississippi, from New Orleans and Biloxi. Every time we saw the news on TV, or a picture spread in The Oregonian, or surfed the net, we struggled to comprehend the enormity of the devastation left by hurricane Katrina. We looked around us and tried to imagine Germaine reduced to a pile of sticks and tried to grasp what that would mean to us. Of course we never could because Germaine wasn’t a pile of sticks. Old-timers leaned back in their memories to talk about disasters they have known. The Mitchell Flood, the Silver Lake Fire, and the stories their grandparents told them about the death of little Germaine.
 
    Two weeks after the hurricane, Lucy Charlebois-LaPlante called The Germaine Truth to announce that Germaine’s local Catholic Church, Mary of the Immaculate Heart, was hosting an evacuee family from the Gulf Coast. They planned to place the family in the Old Arlington House out on North Plains Road. Since the house has been empty for years and has thus been a magnet for local teens to explore, party in, and generally abuse, there was a great deal of renovation that needed to be done to make it habitable.
 
    All the anxiety and dismay the citizens of Germaine had been feeling now had an outlet. As soon as the story ran in the Truth, people came out of the woodwork to volunteer and donate materials and money to the effort. It was a good thing too, because the Catholics didn’t have much time to prepare as the family was expected to arrive by mid-October. Everyone with a slight connection to the inside circle working to bring the family to Germaine was badgered by questions. What is the family’s name? How many children? What are their ages? Did they lose everything? How much was their house worth? Where will they work in Germaine? Where did they work in Biloxi? Are there any pictures of the family, of their house? Before or after? We did finally get the name of the family, Budreau, and the size. We were to expect a couple and their eight children. We were given their ages and warned that they were going to arrive with only the clothes on their backs.
 
    Lucy loved it. I know she did. She beamed the whole four weeks between the announcement and the arrival. Lucy is probably the best organizer I have ever encountered. She put it all together, from fund-raising to supervising the crew of volunteers at the remodel. And it was Lucy who stepped into the church van and drove off through the lightly falling first snow on October 20th to meet the Budreau family at Redmond Airport.
 
    I had an anxious moment as the van disappeared down the road and I stood among at least one hundred of my fellow Germainers. What will they think of us? How will they possibly adjust to this place? It is so absolutely foreign to where they come from. There isn’t an ocean for two hundred miles. There isn’t a swamp, a bayou, a real river. Let’s face it–there isn’t any water here. Unless you count Tamarack and Nine-Mile Creeks and Germaine Lake, which is really just a big pond. We don’t have moss, we have lichen. We don’t have alligators, we have blue-bellied lizards. Humidity is an alien concept. We have below zero weather, wind, and dry snow. The forest side of Germaine gets a little more rain and the snow there is deeper and wetter, but I doubt it would put anyone in mind of Mississippi.
 
    Harlan McCoy was out in his field stretching fencing when the church van passed on the road by his field on the return trip loaded down with Budreaus. Harlan called Sarah at the cafe and within ten minutes there were two or three hundred people gathered along Van Bibber Road and more people coming. People were waving little American flags and signs saying “Welcome to Germaine.”
 
Lucy had no intention of stopping in town. She waved at us and kept going. Since I was covering the arrival of the Budreaus for the Truth, I had a legitimate reason for hopping in my car and following the van out to the Arlington house. Actually, I was in my car as soon as I saw the van approach and I did not see the family as I was trying to keep from running over people. I was surprised to find that I was almost alone in following the van. Looking back on it, I don’t think the lack of welcomers at the house was a reflection of bigotry. At least not on everyone’s part.
 
 I pulled up behind Lucy in time to see the family disembark. Budreaus spilled out of the van like water. Or like coffee heavy with cream. Extraordinarily beautiful children with hazel eyes and caramel skin.

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