The Angels of Picayune, Mississippi
After Hurricane Camille hit Waveland in 1969 we lost everything we owned. We also lost much of our faith in humanity as we witnessed many acts of looting, greed, and cheating. Housing was impossible to find. Agencies were inadequate. We endured endless, hopeless lines in the hot sun at the Red Cross, HUD, SBA. We felt disheartened and demoralized.
But a woman and her family in Picayune disrupted their own lives and opened up their home to my husband, 5-year-old daughter and me. These extraordinary people shipped their own sons off to the grandparents so we could sleep on their bunk beds, they cooked and fed us, they loaned us a car, they helped us survive during those first terrible weeks. But after a month, it was becoming a difficult situation for everyone. We had imposed too long on their generosity.
One day I got a ticket for speeding 5 miles over the limit. The clerk stamped my ticket and indelicately shouted, “Twenty-seven dollars!” At that moment, weeks of emotion, sadness and exhaustion caught up with me. I began to cry. I pleaded, “I don’t have twenty-seven dollars. Everything I own is in the Gulf of Mexico!”
A small, grey-haired grandfather with soft eyes and compassionate sadness on his face appeared at my side. He introduced himself as the City Manager, pulled out his wallet, paid the ticket and led me to his office. Like a lost girl, I sat there, quietly sobbing and talking. Mine was only one of thousands of stories; he had obviously heard many of them. But his kind heart reflected in his eyes and voice as he sympathized with our plight. He asked where we could be reached. He would be in touch.
One week later he called. He had an FHA repossessed house with some storm damage. It was ours for $1 a month, for six months. Once again we were staggered by this generosity and kindness. A small 3-bedroom house in a quiet cul-de-sac, the patio door and kitchen windows had been blown out by the storm and the house was dirty. We flattened out large cardboard boxes and taped them over the window frames. We moved in with a few clothes, a mop, broom, and some cleaning supplies. Every word we uttered echoed like a canyon in the empty rooms, but it was dry, air conditioned and it was ours.
To acquire the basics we shopped in Picayune and nearby Louisiana towns. Some stores gouged us knowing we had little choice, but many others allowed us to “charge” our purchases in full trust, basing their faith on the disaster loan we had applied for. By Christmas, our little home didn’t echo; by January I was pregnant.
In late August he appeared at my door and said time was up. We had been living there for almost a year and no one had ever asked us for a penny of rent. Now I was six weeks from delivery. I heard the angel’s voice say, “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it.” We were granted another 6 months. Shortly after, we transferred back to California and I never saw or heard from the Angels of Picayune again, but their enormous hearts changed my life forever.
To fill an empty stomach when it’s empty is important. But to feed the soul and restore faith in humanity is the best gift of all. This I believe.
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