Saturday, January 30, 2010

Beards on the Bayou

Last week I found myself living in makeshift dormitory at the First Methodist Church of New Iberia, Louisiana, a small town outside of the roaring metropolis that is Lafayette.  Well, it might be anyway - I didn't make it up to Lafayette.  We were there to work, courtesy of our AmeriCorps program with Rebuilding Together. We were there to rebuild houses.

And we did.  We did siding, decking, demolishing, painting, roofing, framing, nailing, screwing, sawing and some people spent a lot of time playing with caulk.  No caulk for me though.  I had my hands full screwing on the porch.  We screwed that porch right onto its frame!  Bam!

It was a blast.  By the end of the days our hands were dirty, our hair was sloppy from sweat and hard hats, our muscles ached, our skin was burned, and some people even shed blood to ensure a better life for these homeowners.  I'm sure they'd just as soon as not have shed blood, but ask me if that two-inch long splinter through my finger was worth it, and I'll proudly nod (while cradling the wound, which I can still make out).

What's a splinter compared to a family with a severely disabled daughter being able to move back into their home which was all but completely destroyed when Hurricane Rita got mad and threw a tree into it?  As we finished securing the ceiling joists and roof rafters, I caught a glimpse of the happy couple walking through the newly re-framed middle portion of their wrecked home, picking out spots for furniture.  The few words I overheard then kept me warm all night.  Which was good, considering I didn't have much of a blanket in our over-stuffed barracks.

Some of us waited for hours to shower each night.  God bless our hosts who cooked for us every evening, went shopping for fresh fruit and bread every day, and arranged a field trip to Avery Island, home of Tabasco.  We spent way too much time at each of downtown New Iberia's four bars just about every night.  An elite crew of us explored the graveyard behind the church one night, and then climbed through a not-quite-entirely parked freight train to get home afterwards.  We danced, we wandered, we made out with each other (just a little), and made friends with the locals (Pete - I hope things work out with your girlfriend leaving her husband in Dallas and all).

Most importantly, we deepened friendships that already were far more important to each of us than the short amount of time we've all spent together would normally suggest.  It's a rich incongruence of which I am a lucky part.

There is no word count bloated enough that could suitably convey the sensations of that week, so rather than understate the case myself, I'll borrow from a tombstone that never existed outside of Kurt Vonnegut's books.

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."  Thank you, everyone.

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