Sid Navis and Joe Navis
Retired Electrician and High School Teacher,
St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
Interviewed December 28, 2005, By Abe Louise Young
JOE: I was at the Convention Center--I told you how I was met when I got into Austin and how I fought all week to take my dogs and how they had told me no dogs on the bus. And I had asked them, "Then which way do I start walking?" And had a whole load of people that were protesting. We finally got our dogs on the bus and the whole way I was expecting them to try to separate me from my dogs. When we got to Austin and was met by the Humane Society, first people off the bus, and I broke down in tears at that time. It was finally over, we got here I got my dogs, they were going to be safe, but I was not uncomfortable, I wanted to see where they were.
So the first day I asked a young man if I could get the bus route to the Humane Society. He couldn't find it for me, and said, "Listen, I'm going to hook you up with a ride. I'll get you a ride." I said, "You don't need to do that." He said, "I want to do it." And the ride was Hugo, who was his uncle. Then Hugo put me in touch with Jack--it's just amazing the way things happen. I got down to the Humane Society and they were in marvelous hands. Because, you know, there are dog places and then there are dog places. And the Humane Society was a wonderful place. I felt totally comfortable with them there, although they didn't stay long. They only stayed like four nights, until I got into Jack's place. Jack has a place in Liberty City and it's beautiful. The dogs had a big yard to romp around in and a house--they were house dogs and he has house dogs.
JACK: We had to watch Corky because she would find ways to get out.
JOE: Oh, yes, Corky, you can't contain her. She's a rabbit dog and she wants to hunt. Even here, I have to watch her, have to keep her on a leash because she goes out hunting. She has treed possums. I got here with a duck dog and a rabbit dog, and I leaving with a possum dog and a deer dog. So, we'll see.
AIT: That's great. Do you think you'll stay friends?
JACK: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, as long as he'll have me.
JOE: Absolutely. Jack's taken me to a couple of high school football games. I was a coach in New Orleans and that was a really enjoyable experience. We've had a lot of good times together.
JACK: I think it's real important that Joe, his dad, and someone like this can somehow get back to a normal semblance of life. Something this traumatic, it's going to take years, I think, to get over it. It will always be there, you know, you just need to try to minimize it as fast as you can. So that's basically what I want to try to do is to try to help him get back to normal and say, hey, he can do more than he thinks he can do.
AIT: And you're a high school teacher and Joe is a high school teacher?
JACK: Uh-huh. And we both love history, so that great. We sit and talk.
AIT: Sounds like it was incredibly lucky you got put together.
SID: Luck didn't have anything to do with it.
AIT: It was Providential?
SID: I'm Spanish and French. My grandparents were Rodriguez and Navis and they first started out in Plaquemines Parish, which is right along side of St. Bernard Parish. But the Spanish government sent people here from the Canary Islands and that's where my grandmother's people were from. She's Rodriguez. And of course my grandfather was, that is on my dad's side, my grandfather was French. He was sent here from the French--of course, that was back when they were trying to populate Louisiana for their own countries. What they didn't realize is that the French would come over and the Spanish would come over and they got together, and they did a couple things the governments didn't realize, so they became French and Spanish. So we didn't know which side to fight on, you see. I'm just kidding about that. That did happen. Of course, my mother was adopted and supposedly she was born in--I never did really do any work on it, but she was supposed to be from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was adopted by the Perezes, the Perez family, Perez Relimpio. So if we're talking about legal issues, I'm Spanish from her side. That's about going back as far as I know that you want.
JOE: His lineage came over in--what year, Dad?
SID: Seventeen seventy-eight.
JOE: Before the Louisiana Purchase.
SID: Yeah, 1778. The ships came from the Canary Islands. And we have a couple of organizations that--Islenos is one of them, Descendants of the Canary Islands is one of them, so way back, the people came over and they were granted lands, enough to farm and stuff like that, but back then there were no levees and the farmers had a hard time because the river would overflow just when they got their crops up. So most of those people became fishermen and they settled in Delacroix Island and Reggio and Shell Beach and that area. And they just became fishermen and that's how they made their living. They were kind of isolated from everybody else. That was--even I can remember when it was shell roads and things like that. The roads were really bad. They were shells and gravel. But there was no cement, concrete, or blacktop from where the road forked off. One went to Shell Beach, one went to Delacroix Island. All that area down there which is completely destroyed now, it's nothing. That was all shell roads. You had to have a car even back in 1930.
AIT: Could you get around on a pirogue at that time?
SID: Oh, yeah, in fact, I was an altar server--they used to call them altar boys. Now girls are serving, so they call them altar servers. I was an altar server and the priest from Violet would say Masses. He was the only priest in St. Bernard Parish, the whole parish. Of course, there was fewer people than there are now, but he would go to St. Bernard community, he's go to Delacroix Island, go to Shell Beach, and we would have the Mass down there. They would cross the bayou and pick up the priest and of course these altar servers, cross the bayou wherever they had a place to use them for the Mass. But things were different.
JOE: Tell her about the trapping you did.
SID: Well, down there, in fact, he was buying a piece of land way, way back, and he bought 108 acres of marshland which he has now. He and--I have a brother--my dad left this trapping land or marshland to my brother and I. So I have a half of 108 acres, he has half of 108 acres, along with my brother's son. So they have the marshland.
We used to trap. That's another thing that the people did, they fished and trapped. You know, they fished, they had to survive with what they had there. Farming didn't turn out to be very profitable for them so they did what they could to survive. Many of these places in Louisiana, I think there were five places in Louisiana where the Spanish government gave these people land to live, but some of them just didn't make it. They couldn't make it. Things were almost impossible. But there are still some, there's still a club somewhere around Baton Rouge like ours, Islenos, Descendants of the Canary Islands. But that was the thing to do, because a person could make as much in three--well, it actually took four months, but the trapping season was about three months--and you could make as much as a person that worked eight or ten hours a day, five or six days a week--trapping for fur, for muskrats. Of course, that all went out in--what was it, about '45--well, it was gone in '50.
AIT: What killed it?
SID: I believe--
JOE: Salt water intrusion.
AIT: Salt water intrusion. From the MRGO?
SID: No, no. Back then there was no MRGO. That was before.
JOE: The MRGO killed it, put the final death nail in it.
SID: It could have but it was gone as far as making money at it was concerned. It was gone.
Not only that, but the animal rights, you know, which was a good thing, but it killed--
JOE: The fur industry.
SID: The fur industry, yeah.
AIT: What was your childhood like? What did you do with your dad and your mom in this area, this land?
SID: Well, I thought there was nothing like trapping. I was going to be a trapper. That was what I wanted to be. My dad loved it. He wasn't much of a worker, but he loved to trap. So, you know, I guess hearing him talk, I wanted to be a trapper. In fact, I got to do it for two years. The people are right, they destroyed the living or helped to destroy the living because the salt water intrusion, I believe, really did it. But you see, if you go back, besides the--what is it, GNO? Besides the GNO--
SID: MRGO, you had the oil companies. Oil was great for some people because they made money. We made a little money at it. But they dug canals all over the place. They dug canals all over the marsh and that was just channels for the salt water intrusion. They were doing, before the hurricane, they were doing pretty good. We saw the marsh coming back, actually, by that fresh water diversion from the river. They would pump fresh water in there. That was good. We saw duck hunting. We never did stop hunting. Well, I stopped hunting, but he never stopped hunting. He's a hunter and fisherman and everything else that takes up all his time.
JOE: And money.
SID: And money.
JOE: You know, Dad, what you think isn't all that interesting but what other people might think is interesting is the way you all would get, that you all had, how you got to the trapping land.
SID: Oh, yeah, well, we didn't--when I trapped, now, when I was about sixteen, I would go--up until I was about sixteen--I would go on the weekends and during Christmas vacation. I guess I would have loved it as much as my dad did, because he did it all of his life, until the last ten or fifteen years or so, he--we had a putt-putt boat. Dad never wanted one of these new-fandangled outboard motors, you know. He says people were cranking and pulling that rope, pulling that rope all day and he'd get in his little boat and crank it one time to prime it. That's what he'd always say, one time to prime it, and the next time it would start, just like that. He wanted a Fairbanks Morris Z motor, that thing was so dependable. Before that, we'd paddle. In fact, I was usually, we had a skiff that we would row. And boy, I'd get in that skiff and that was my joy. We'd take it back to the camp, because we had a little camp right on the bayou on our land. That was the good old days.
JOE: You'd stay back there for how long?
SID: We'd stay back there--well, different times, it was different. I would stay back there for three or four days. I would come out and usually my dad would come out with me because he didn't really care to camp. I loved to camp. We would take the skins and bring them in and then bring groceries back, you know.
AIT: What was a regular day like there, from the time you woke up?
SID: We'd wake up as soon as it was light enough. We would go and hit the marsh, because it would have to be light to see the poles. You had canes, we called them canes--what's the proper name for it?
JOE: Willow poles?
SID: What's that?
JOE: Didn't you use willow poles?
SID: No, no, not for traps. Bamboo canes.
AIT: To pull your pirogue or to mark your trap?
SID: To stake it.
JOE: To see where it was.
SID: You'd see where the trap was and it would also hold, because sometimes you don't catch them real good, the trap doesn't close real good and they'd go off with the trap, which is not--you'll never find them.
But that's when we'd start early. We'd work and that depended--if it was a good, windless night the night before, you would see a lot of sign, what we call a sign. I guess you'd want a little explanation. The sign--there's a difference when muskrats come out to eat, they're walking in this water that has a little like a trail, okay? And of course the water is usually about three to six inches deep in these little ruts. This is where you set your trap. If it was a good night, you would see good sign, you'd move your trap from here to here. To begin with, if your land is like so, you started trapping on the outside and you came back to where you started. You get these muskrats, and you'd move your line in until at the end of the season, you'd have like shorter distance, but it's about the same, not too much difference. But that's about it.
JOE: Did you get up and run your line?
SID: You'd run your line. If you saw a lot of sign, if it's a good, windless night, good calm, cold night, your muskrats would travel, go out to eat. When the wind was blowing, or it was warm, you didn't see as much, so you'd probably stay out there all day on a good night. The other nights, you might be in for noon.
JOE: What would you do after you ran your line?
AIT: Did you eat lunch?
SID: Yeah. Personally, a trapper back then wore hip boots, and a lot of times, the hip boots didn't do you much good because you went over it and then you had a boot full of water. But you had hip boots and you had a bag, a canvas bag, thick, sturdy canvas bag about that big. And you wore that on your back and you had two straps across the front of you. And when you took a muskrat out of the trap, you'd just throw it back in the bag. Well, I would carry a couple of oranges in that bag--very sanitary--but then when you got a lot of weight on your back, you would try to find a rats' nest to sit on to be out of the water.
JOE: Rats' nests are like hay bales.
SID: Rats' nests are usually about so high--
AIT: About three feet?
SID: Yeah, and made out of straw.
AIT: Is it really a rats' nest?
AIT: Muskrat nests.
JOE: When he says rat, he talking about muskrat.
AIT: So they made their nests out of sticks?
SID: Straw, and you know, the grass around there. And of course, the muskrat would dive down here and come up into the nest. Or they'd go underground to the nest.
AIT: So you'd go sit on his house, take your little lunch?
SID: Go sit on the roof. Back to the roof. I'd skin the rats, okay, I'd skin the rats and put them down where it was soft--
AIT: The body down?
SID: Just take the fur and put it back in the bag.
AIT: Did somebody use the insides, any animals?
SID: The birds would come along and try to--that was what I was going to say. We all, everybody that trapped, they tried to bury them, but some of them would come up and the birds would see it. But the birds were our enemy, I ended up liking the birds, like right now, I like the birds better than the muskrats. But they would, of course, they would come and eat the rats that they could. And then the thing is, the next day, when we had a rat in a trap, they would eat the birds that were in the trap, which was bad because they'd pick the fur and they'd make a meal out of a $2 bill for us. Rats at different times were anywhere from--I'm not going way back--but fifty cents to two dollars. They would break up that hide to where it was just worth twenty-five cents, so--
AIT: On a good day, how much could you make?
SID: On a good day, when I was trapping, they were not as plentiful. They were on their way out. And you could make anywhere from $50 to $100. And that was considered pretty good because during the war, my dad was working at the Delta Shipyard, and he was making $125 a week at best. He was making $125 a week. You could make pretty good money. You could make $200 a day, when it was back before I ever started trapping, you know. But it was pretty good.
AIT: What other aspects of your culture were really strong in your life?
SID: Aspects of my--?
AIT: Like you lived, the way you all lived back in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish is quite different from other places.
JOE: What language was spoken?
SID: Oh, in Violet, we spoke English all the time.
JOE: But down the road?
SID: I guess it was a little bit before my time but it lasted until I--the teachers did not want you to speak Spanish, but Delacroix Island, like I said, mostly from--what's the name of the place right around the fork of the road? I'm asking you something.
JOE: Fork in the road, Florissant.
SID: Around Florissant, okay--That's all past the fork in the road. A little bit past Toca is--
SID: That's it. Verret, let's say Verret, from Verret, that's where the communities were kind of to themselves, isolated from up the road. There's down-the-road and up-the-road. That's important. Of course, it depends on where you are. My brother-in-law gets a big kick out of, "Okay, is this down-the-road?" My brother-in-law is a priest and he's up in Wisconsin. He comes over and especially when my wife was in the nursing home, he'd get out there and say the Mass on a certain day. He had a good audience because whenever there was a Mass in the nursing home, all Catholics came and they'd be in there with their wheelchairs and on their--what do you call these?
SID: He got up and he would, of course, I believe all priests are this way, they want to break the ice, he'd say, "Okay, now, tell me--they told me to go down the road. Is this down-the-road?" Well, we always said that was down-the-road, from Verret down to Delacroix Island and Shell Beach and all that area, that was one time isolated from everything else and that was down-the-road. We were up-the-road--Violet, that's almost to the end, it was still up-the-road. That's important, whether you're from down-the-road or up-the-road. Are we up-the-road or down-the-road?
SID: That was very important to St. Bernardians.
JOE: The language?
SID: The language--that's why they kept the language. They speak, I don't speak Spanish. I understand that we're communicating a lot with the people from the Canary Islands, you know, we call it our brothers from the Canary Islands, people that go--once a year they have little excursions and they, as a group, they visit the Canary Islands. I've never been. I was once when I was going to sea as a young man, but I've never been with the group. The officials from the Canary Islands give them the royal treatment. I mean, they go all out. They give them meals. They have the trips all planned for them, with time on your own set a couple times while they're there. They bring them on bus tours and all kinds of things, you know.
It's remarkable how the Canary Islanders treat us when we go there. And the people that go there, they can't believe it. They say that they see people that's just like, hey, this guy looks like--what's the fellow that just passed away, you know, from down there?
JOE: Campo? Who passed away at 101 just recently?
SID: Campo, yeah. This guy looks just like Toto Nunez, and this guy--they see people that look exactly like, you know, the people that go there from the States, from Louisiana, they see people that looks just like somebody.
JOE: The Canaries send groups--
SID: Oh, yeah, they sent a boat, a training ship, one time, and we do the same. We treat them royally. They send navy training ships, and every year, we'd get the group of singers and dancers. We have a fair every year and we get the singers and dancers from the Canary Islands. It is just, it's great. You know, we're proud of being from the Canary Islands and they're proud of us and especially the people from down below, they kept the language--
JOE: And the culture.
SID: And the culture and they tell me that they have the same dialect, not as the Canary Islanders now, but the Canary Islanders of 1778. This is what they say, you know. Oh, the people from down below are just so happy, so proud.
JOE: They sing a certain type of song.
SID: They sing, well, they have little dances that they teach them here, the young kids, they have their dance, and that's part of the fair. And the Canary Islanders that are dancing, they go over and see our young people dancing their dances. It's just heart-warming.
JOE: What are the songs called?
SID: Well, there's also songs that one of our most famous Canary Islanders, Irvin Perez, he's a pretty good singer, and he knows a lot of decimas (pronounced with accent on first syllable) Decimers are--that's the dog's name, Decima (pronounced with accent on second syllable). Her full name is Decima is Terre-Aux-Beouf Isleno Decima. Bayou Terre-Aux-Beouf is the main bayou in Delecroix. Terre-aux-boeuf translates to land of oxen or something like that. Decima is supposed to be like a ten-stanza song. It's a song that tells a story. I think Mr. Irving Perez and his wife made or wrote a couple of the songs, but it's songs that their people and the people before them, the first people that came over passed it down. And Mr. Irving Perez recorded some of these decimers. It tells the story about the hard times. It tells the story about the good times.
AIT: Do you know any by heart?
SID: No, I sure don't, and I had a tape, well, I had a tape. That's one of the "I had a--I used to"--that's one of the things about the hurricane, I lost so many of those things, pictures, everything a person collects for fifty-five, sixty years. But that's life.
AIT: How old are you?
AIT: Had you lived your whole life in the parishes?
SID: Yes, yes. I, my mother and father lived in the Ninth Ward for about--I don't know really, but it seems like three or four years during the time I was going to sea--but when I came back in between ships, I stayed with them in the Ninth Ward, the Lower Ninth Ward. But other than that, two weeks at a time, a week at a time, other than that I lived in St. Bernard all of my life, yes.
AIT: When did you go to sea?
SID: The Merchant Marine. I went to the Maritime Service because that was required. I'm glad I went because they teach you a lot of seamanship. Back then, they were still sinking ships. The war was not going real strong, but they were still sinking ships and of course, they taught you how to survive. They taught you swimming--I knew how to swim--but they taught you how to get into the water with a life jacket and all kind of good things to survive. That was good. And then from there I was shipped over to Panama and the Maritime Service put me on a ship and went out into the Pacific. Yeah, I went to sea for about six years. It was the best time of my life.
AIT: I was just going to ask you.
SID: Well, I was young and that was the best time in my life, yeah. I loved it. And if I hadn't met my wife, I'd probably still be going to sea.
AIT: What was your wife's name?
SID: Frances. Frances Baldarama Navis. Baldarama--see, I can still roll my "r's"--Baldarama Navis.
JOE: After being in the Merchant Marine, you--
SID: Got drafted into the darn Army. You know, I was a good seaman and one of the things they taught me when I was in Maritime School, oh, man, we sang this Maritime "Damn the ships, damn the submarines, we're the men of the Merchant Marines." And I was gung-ho, I'm going to do my duty in the Merchant Marine. Because my dad--I was too young and my dad wouldn't sign for me to go into the Service. I said, "Man, everybody was going." And of course, when you're young, you want to do what everybody else does. So I wanted to do something, and I was gung-ho about being in the Merchant Marine and I was a good merchant seaman. I had worked hard and just learned everything I could and did everything I thought I should do to help my country, and then when I got back, you know, when I did all that, and I couldn't get on a ship any more because they were laying up ships right and left and I couldn't find a job, so then they drafted me into the Army. I was so angry.
And I was against meddling in some other country's affairs. I just didn't believe in--I'm saying I might be wrong about this--but I was a lousy soldier because I just didn't believe that we should have been in Korea, I didn't believe we should have been in Vietnam, and like I said, I could be completely wrong. I was an American, I love my country, I just had this idea and let me tell you, the VA has been wonderful. The VA just about saved me. They're giving me my medications right now and it amounts to a lot of money. I don't know what I could have done without the VA. I love my country, I'm as patriotic as anybody else. I just don't believe we should be in the situation we're in right now. I can't help feeling that way.
AIT: There's plenty they could be doing in Louisiana with that money and that manpower?
SID: Exactly, exactly, yes. You know, taking everything into consideration, I don't feel that we should have rushed into this. I think we should have sat back and waited a little while. Well, that's not--there's nothing I can do about it, but I just want to give you my opinion.
AIT: Thank you. I appreciate it. I do appreciate it. So what, what kind of future do you see for
the place where you came from?
SID: I don't see a future in it for at least a year. Where I came from, the house that I owned, was almost completely destroyed and besides that, it was flooded with oil from the tank that--what was it, 250,000 gallons?
JOE: A million gallons. It was 250,000 barrels.
SID: Barrels, yeah, barrels, that's what I meant to say.
AIT: The land was flooded?
SID: So as I understand, they have to tear the house down and dig up two feet of topsoil, take it someplace where they can store it or whatever they do with it, and backfill it with river sand, as I understand, and then build it up off the ground. I understand it has to be built up higher to protect from hurricanes. I think that's going to be at least a year. I'm not even planning a year. I think it will be longer than that.
AIT: Are you planning to return?
SID: I'm seventy-eight years old. I'm planning both ways. I'm planning to stay here, I'm planning to get back, if I live to be 102. Yeah, if I'm 102, I guess I'll go back. I think it will be almost that long before I can move back. He wants me to move back and I tell him, "Look, if I was like I was when I was going to sea, okay, from seventeen to twenty-six or thirty, if I was like that, I would throw my belongings in a seabag and go back in a minute." I would love to be back there. And I was just as free as anybody. I could just go out and enjoy myself, no matter how challenging it was.
But right now, I need to find a place near a hospital. In St. Bernard, there's no places near a hospital. I need to find a place near where there's a grocery store. There's no grocery stores. The nearest gas station is--where is the nearest gas station?
JOE: Ten miles away.
SID: Ten miles away. I mean, all these things for my survival--I hope I never have to get rushed to a hospital, but I have before and it's a good thing. When you need it, you need it then, and I can't see myself now going back to St. Bernard.
AIT: So tell me a little more about this oil spill and how is your land going to recover and be cleansed? Is that possible?
SID: Well, I'm supposed to contact Murphy Oil Company. Murphy Oil Company is giving a certain amount. They're giving--do you remember how much it was?
JOE: $20,000--$25,000? Plus $2,500 for occupant?
SID: So he's waiting for the $2,500.
AIT: So they're going to give you that money as a payment for spoiling your land?
AIT: Is that going to be able to clean the land?
SID: They're going to clean it.
JOE: Yeah, right.
SID: They will. I don't know what they're going to do yet.
AIT: Do you want to have a say in how?
SID: Yeah, I'd like to have a say, yeah, but they will give me--I believe it's $20 or $25,000 and they will tear the house down and clean the property up.
JOE: That's what they've been saying and then it's changed to where it's all kind of in flux right now. It's ridiculous. And they've drawn a map of the oil spill area and my dad's house just made it on the map, like the map goes two blocks behind past my dad's street. And the oil was everywhere, as if the oil stopped on a certain place. The oil was throughout the entire parish. It's just a boondoggle. We were lucky to be on the map. It's good for you, for us, financially, but to say that the oil stopped at a certain place is just ridiculous.
SID: We were--what, we were on Riverland. That's how many blocks up?
SID: Four blocks up, and we were there for six days in a three-story house. That's where we spent our six days trying to get the helicopters to recognize that we had a dying person in the house. We were in a three-story house and the first night that we were there, there was water on the floor about two feet high, when we first got there. Two feet high and this was--you just said it, and I forgot what you said--how many blocks?
JOE: Riverland. Four blocks..
SID: Four blocks. And we set out there and see the oil--.
JOE: By the third day, there was an inch of oil on top. By the fifth day, there was like six inches of
oil on top of the water.
AIT: Can you tell me who has been contacting you--from the oil company, environmental people, lawyers--who's been giving you information and telling you what's going to happen?
SID: The oil companies, Murphy, Murphy Oil Company.
JOE: They're trying to avert a class action suit by settling with people.
AIT: What do you think of that?
JOE: Well, for my dad at seventy-eight, I think we should settle, you know, because a class action suit is going to take a long time. But I don't think they're offering, I think their offer is peanuts.
AIT: A hundred and eight acres?
JOE: No, no, no. That's the marshland.
AIT: I see. Your house is in a different, your residence is in a different--got it.
SID: No, you can't live on marshland.
JOE: How many square feet in your house?
SID: I don't know, because the lot is, the lot is 71 feet, and it's like maybe 12 feet on the sides of the house, 6 or 7 feet on each side is not house. So it must be about almost 60 by--what's the width? It's a three-bedroom house.
AIT: When was it built?
SID: It was built thirty years ago, about thirty years ago.
AIT: So now that you're here in Austin, Sid, what, how do you make your day happen? How
do you create your life anew?
SID: I was not in good physical condition when I got here. What happened right off the bat was that I had a guardian angel kind of guide me back to health. Just like Joey had a guardian angel to guide him, to guide him. You want to tell her how I got that guardian angel, because you can talk a lot better than I can. Go ahead, tell her.
JOE: I called Tom. When my mom and dad were married in 1950, they lived in the St. Thomas Project. Their next door neighbors were Ed and Helen Kravet. Their oldest son grew up with my dad's oldest son, and the kids grew up together. We were talking yesterday about riding down the levee. We had the house right next to the Mississippi River, riding down the levee in the Red Flyer wagons. We'd have an accident, telling little stories, and Tom, the oldest son moved to Round Rock twenty years ago. And when I arrived in Austin and found that my dad--we were separated when he was medevaced out, when he was put on a chopper as in M.A.S.H., and medevaced out after we got to our second stop--he was in bad shape. Not as bad--well, let's not fight--he was in bad shape and he was medevaced out and I didn't know where he was. Found out that he was in Houston, thought how can I get him back here? And remembered that Tom lived in Round Rock, which I didn't know where Round Rock was, but called Tom and said, talked to his wife, and said, "My dad--." Of course, they knew what had happened, nobody knew where anyone was. Tom's parents were at Tom's house, my dad's friends. I said, "Dad's at the VA in Houston. Can you think of a way that we can somehow get him here?" He said, "Call me back in an hour or two." So I called him back, and they said, "Tom's on his way to pick up Sid." So Tom went to Houston, and picked up my dad, and my dad has been living there and here, mostly there for the first months after the storm. Tom and Janice have helped him a great deal.
SID: They didn't only help me with the living, but they also helped me with getting all the information, which I could not get, I could not communicate with anybody. Of course, I didn't have a cell phone. I was completely lost.
JOE: We were swept, we were swept away, iterally. When you think about the enormity, the magnitude of what happened. We were sitting in our house and the door blew in and we were sitting in four feet of water instantly. We were swimming within minutes. My dad--I guess you were fully clothed--
SID: No, I was not fully clothed.
JOE: You had shoes?
SID: I had socks, pants--I was sleeping, you know, during the hurricane. I was resting. And a T-shirt.
JOE: I was in a pair of underwear.
SID: He was in a pair of underwear
JOE: And a pair of socks.
SID: And a pair of socks. So together we were pretty good.
JOE: And that's what we brought with us. That was it. And these two mutts.
SID: These two mutts. We lost four, and he cried like a baby up on the roof. He told me, when I thought the hurricane was over, I went out and looked. I said, "Well, our big, and it was big, pecan tree fell over in the lady's pool next door." The pecan tree was covering her entire pool. I looked around and I said, "This is pretty good. That's not bad, you know." The doggone tree blew down and fell in the best place possible. That was the best place for it to fall. Then I said, "Well, it's all over, I'm going to go back to bed."
JOE: It was the eye, although we didn't realize it was the eye.
SID: I went back to bed and the next I heard was that explosion like, a big bang, I think it was next door--
JOE: It was our front door blowing in.
SID: And then his alarm went off, and immediately the electricity cut off.
JOE: The electricity was off before that. In any event, the big bang was the front door blowing in and there was four feet of water in the house within twenty seconds.
SID: When I got up, he said--he came by and he said, "Dad, there's water coming in." And I said, "Where is it coming from?" And I stepped on the carpet and the carpet was soaking wet. It was just a little bit over the carpet. I turned around and I said, "It's going to flood. It's going to be like Betsey." Betsey was up to the windows, you know, on those houses. Of course, it was on the other side of Parish Road, it wasn't on this side.
I started taking the drawers out and putting them on the bed to save my stuff. I had four drawers out and I had water up to my knees. I got up and I said, "This is too much, man. We have to get out of here, Joey." Because I didn't know where he went because he was trying to save his precious dogs. He loved his dogs. I mean he loved his dogs more than he loved me, I'm telling you. I'm telling you that really. But I got up, I turned around, and my mattress was floating, there was my drawers up close to the roof. I said, "We have to get out of here. Let's go." I went out and turned by the front door. By that time, the water was chest deep.
Then I tried to open the outside door, I had one of these outside doors, with a kind of diamond shaped metal, just so anything big can't get through it, but the thing is, what happened--I think that was open already--but I tried to get out that outside door, this metal door, but no doubt there was water pressure, but it was blocked off because of all the debris that was there. I tried to open the door and I couldn't budge the door. I said, "Oh, oh, Joey, I can't open this door, I can't open this door." I thought maybe he'd--
JOE: I heard something in his voice I'd never heard in my life, and I haven't heard since.
AIT: What was it?
JOE: Just the sound of someone who couldn't open the door, but whose life was on the line. I said, "Step aside. I'm going to get through that door." And I pushed and got the door open a bit, and you slid out, and said, "Come on."
SID: I told him, I said, "Follow me. You'd better come out. Follow me, man."
JOE: This dog is on my back, the big dog.
SID: I said, "You better get out of there because I'm leaving."
JOE: There was a river in front of the house. It was surreal.
SID: We had to swim out. Immediately, I reached up and grabbed--that's how high it was--I reached out and grabbed the gutter can and he said, "Let's go over there."
JOE: We followed Corky. Corky went around--the river is trying to pull us, the current is trying to pull us. It pulled Dad from the gutter. I grabbed him and pulled him back to the gutter, switched sides with him, and the river is trying to pull us--the river which had been the street--and I see Corky swimming around the side of the house. I said that looks like the smart thing to do.
SID: That's a smart one, there.
JOE: Let's follow her. So we followed her and got out of the current. That's--we had a gate on the side, a gate which is up to here, we were able to stand on it, and the water got so high we were just able to roll up on the roof. And the water kept coming.
SID: Halfway up to the roof.
AIT: It never reached the top of the roof?
JOE: Two feet.
SID: It never reached the top of the roof. In fact, we got up on the roof on the lee side, and the wind coming from the back, the lee side of the house was where we stayed. And I said, "You know, I've got two boats back there." And of course, being a hunter and a fisherman, if you get caught out in that marsh, you're going to try to take your pirogue, or your boat, or whatever you have, and put over you. That was instilled in me by my father who taught me, look, if there's ever hail out here, you get under your pirogue. We used pirogues, nothing but pirogues back then. That's the way of surviving and that was our way.
JOE: That's what we did. I grabbed a ten-foot boat and pulled it on top of you.
SID: I had two. I had a twelve-foot flat and a ten-foot flat. And as far as I know, the ten-foot flat is still there.
JOE: I have no idea.
SID: But the twelve-foot flat, for some reason, floated up and came right by the house. That's really something.
JOE: I pulled it on top of him and the wind was whipping so hard that it was trying to pull the flat--it was trying to get under the flat and pull it over so I was holding the flat down, trying to protect my dad and staying down out of the wind, and the tree--you can tell them better than I can, because you saw it coming--
SID: No, I didn't see it coming, I saw it--
JOE: You saw it hit me.
SID: I saw it, no, I didn't see it hit you. I saw like a shadow, you know, I was down like this and you were up there. I was watching that board, but I was down.
JOE: It hit me in the back of the head and jammed my face into the boat.
SID: I saw it.
AIT: How big a branch was it?
SID: I don't know if it was a branch or a tree. Like I said, I saw it from the side. It hit you, and from then, I saw it. But I was looking down actually, I wasn't looking right at it. Then I thought that it was a piece of roofing or board that was nailed to the tar paper. You know how they put the roofing, they put the board, the tar paper, then the roofing material, the hard roofing material, the seal tabs.
JOE: I saw it out of the corner of my eye, it was a branch. It wasn't real big, a part of a branch, about a foot.
SID: I thought it was about--
JOE: It hit me pretty good.
AIT: And your teeth flew out?
JOE: It jammed my face into the flat boat, but I was spitting up teeth for a few minutes, but at that time, you're watching cars and trucks pushing past and everything is so unreal and you're in such a state of shock that it didn't matter. We were alive and we intended to stay alive, and that was all that mattered. You know, I really am surprised more people didn't die. I know the number is past 1500 now, but I'm surprised more people didn't die because when we got to where we wound up, there were eight people in worse shape than my dad. How they made it--man's ability or his drive to stay alive is incredible, what people will do to stay alive is incredible.
SID: Well, I believe that it was bad and it's something I never want to go through again, but in a way, it has helped. I believe that it has helped both of us to walk off and leave the house, all of the things that I thought were so important, and they were, they were very, very important to me, all of the memories. That's the main thing, the pictures--I don't want anything right now, later on--my wife had a collection of doubloons.
SID: Doubloons were--
AIT: Mardi Gras doubloons?
SID: Yeah, yeah. She had a picture, a doubloon of the first Rex Parade in '60, I believe.
JOE: The first time they made the doubloons.
SID: The first time they made the doubloons. And she kept every thing in such good order. She was so much unlike this guy [gestures at Joe], it's terrible. She had the albums, you know, this doubloon thing with little squares for the doubloons, all of that, all of the pictures. I took all of the pictures because I could take a better picture than she could but she's always hand me the camera, "Take this picture. Take this picture." She always had the camera there when we went there. We had so many pictures, so many memories.
AIT: You were saying that in some ways it's helped you, even though you lost things that were so important?
SID: Yeah, it's helped me because just like we were saying before, I got there and I am not very strong any more, but I was 200 pounds when my wife first got sick. From that day, the only thing that I would change would be the way I ate, the way I had food. I got up in the morning, and I got ready and went to the nursing home. I stayed with my wife until noontime to maybe two or three o'clock. Sometime after noontime, I would go home and I would eat a can of something. Then I went back to the nursing home and I stayed with her until seven, eight or nine o'clock, not ever over ten o'clock, I don't think, at night. And I did that every day--he tells me every day except two days--what were the two days?
JOE: You went to the VA.
SID: I had to go to the VA.
JOE: This was every day, every day for fifteen months.
AIT: Fifteen months before the hurricane?
JOE: Every day, every day.
SID: Every day since she was sick. But I went there and I stayed with her and I held her hand and I prayed. I combed her hair because she always wanted her hair combed, and I was getting to something and I went off the track--
AIT: You were saying--
JOE: You lost a lot of weight.
JACK: Only one thing you would change--
AIT: Was how you would eat.
SID: Yeah, how I would eat. I would--
JOE: Take better care of yourself.
SID: I would stay stronger. I was run down. I went from 200 pounds to 150 pounds.
AIT: While your wife was sick?
SID: What did you say?
AIT: While you wife was sick, the fifteen months before the hurricane?
SID: Right, right. He started getting me, thank God for that, he started getting Ensure. He said, "Now look, you have to drink at least two of these Ensures between meals." Well, the thing is I wasn't eating meals.
AIT: You were depressed? Were you depressed?
SID: No, I believed that my wife came first and the thing about it is, I was saying, I was telling everybody I'm taking care of myself so that I can take care of her. And I should have eaten better. I was real strong.
JOE: Yeah, he was depressed. We got him to a doctor two months after my mother had a stroke. His depression, and he wasn't sleeping, he wasn't sleeping at all. The first two months he lost 30 pounds. Got him to a doctor and got some anti-depressants, and some sleeping medication which helped him get a few hours sleep each night. But they were together fifty-five years and I guess, like I said, the last fifteen months I've never seen that kind of dedication. I just can't imagine, every day for fifteen months.
AIT: It's profound.
JOE: Every day for a month, but when it gets to be ten months, and eleven months, and it's every day, I'm not saying three or four days a week, it's every day.
AIT: Every day.
SID: Well, of course, I know you've heard this before, but I had the best wife in the world.
AIT: I've never heard that before.
SID: I know. Okay.
AIT: What was wonderful about her?
SID: She would have did the same thing for me.
AIT: You loved her?
AIT: Very much.
AIT: Are you missing her now?
SID: Yes. But I have her, at least, I have her ashes. I want to bury her just where she wanted to be buried.
AIT: Where is that?
SID: [In a whisper] With my oldest son.
AIT: This is the point where I usually bring out the box of Kleenex.
SID: That's life, you know.
AIT: That is life. So, did she pass before the hurricane?
SID: She passed on the hurricane day.
JOE: On the hurricane day. She passed as a result of the hurricane, as we've come to find out.
AIT: Can you tell me about that or would you rather not?
SID: Well, her death certificate says the cause is undetermined, pending further investigation. We should know for sure in about three or four months and that's been almost a month ago.
AIT: Where was her nursing home? What was it called?
SID: Her nursing home was--
AIT: Where was it? Where did you drive?
SID: In Chalmette. It was right behind the Chalmette Hospital and that's why I moved her. That's one of the reasons why I moved her from St. Rita's.
JOE: She was in St. Rita's.
SID: To Huntington Place.
AIT: Huntington Place. I'm glad that you made that move.
SID: We are, too. I saw things that I didn't like in St. Rita's, and they had to send her to the Chalmette Hospital and when she was in that hospital, my daughter told me about Huntington Place. Well, I had never heard of Huntington Place and that was near where I lived. I didn't know the nursing home was there. When I got ready to leave one day from the Chalmette Hospital--by the way, the Chalmette Hospital was the same as when she was in there in the nursing home--I was with her all the time.
But I went just right around the corner, right in the back of the Chalmette Hospital and I asked them could I register, could I get her on their list to get her over here? She said, "Sure, we have an opening now and I can't promise you that we'll have an opening when she gets out of the hospital." So almost every day when I got ready to leave, this lady must have thought I was a big pain in the butt, because I was there every day to tell her, "Look, I still want that place." I believe I was doing it for Fran, for her good, and I would not let up.
When she got out of the hospital, I went back and told them at the hospital I wanted her to go to Huntington Nursing Home. And this nursing home was right behind the hospital, right across the street was her doctor. Whereas the doctor at St. Rita's would come and sometimes his assistant would come once a month to see the patients there. The doctor would come any time he was needed at Huntington Place. I had seen him there two days straight, three days straight, every once in a while. I just felt that Huntington Place was a much better place for her to be in her condition because she had a peg tube. She couldn't eat, she couldn't talk. She was paralyzed in that area. She couldn't eat. You had to really watch and I would clean her mouth. I would clean out everything because I noticed when she was being fed with this peg tube, she would have a little bit of--what would you call it--sediment?--in her eyes. I would clean her eyes when I got there. First thing I did when I got there, she must have thought this was a pain in the neck, but she sees me get the washcloth and wash her face and wash her eyes, and then I'd clean her mouth, because--I was afraid that she would swallow something that would choke her. That's the whole idea. She had pneumonia one time, but that was down the line a little bit. That was the first part of her being at the hospital to get rid of that pneumonia. But things would go down, it would settle in her lungs. So I was there to keep her clean and comb her hair and hold her hand and pray. We would pray together.
AIT: Beautiful care you took of her.
SID: And now, did I pass that what I was really coming to? You reminded me the first time?
JACK: Oh, the one thing you would change.
AIT: Yeah, we got there, we got there.
SID: And we were talking about changing--
JOE: She's on the list of people who died as a result of the hurricane, so--
AIT: Do you have any idea why?
JOE: That we're ever going to know how she died, I think is questionable.
AIT: How did you get her ashes? Did you go to St. Gabriel's [the New Orleans morgue]?
SID: Yes. They sent me--
JOE: I believe she did go to St. Gabriel's, yes. And there's rumors around, of course, that they euthanised some people and there's rumors around that many of the DNR, the Do Not Resuscitate patients, and she was one of the Do Not Resuscitate patients, because we did not want to prolong her agony any longer. She had gone, her health had failed in the last couple of months and she had gone down hill, I guess, is the vernacular. But we had signed the Do Not Resuscitate paper. We've heard rumors that the Do Not Resuscitate people were left on the first floor and a lot of them drowned. Certainly she was a woman of dignity and character, and deserved a death with dignity, and we're not sure that that happened. That's certainly is something that bothers me greatly and I know that my dad feels it ten times more than I do. But--
JACK: She's in a better life.
JOE: She's certainly in a better place, and having stayed there-- my dad said an interesting thing. He said, "Having stayed, you learn a lot of things. You learn that a lot of hard decisions had to be made." But that's my Mom. I don't care what hard decisions. One of the things he said that was interesting-- to get away from such a somber mood--one of the things that he said was staying there, the people who left--I know a friend of mine evacuated and he's so depressed. He came back and saw that everything he had worked for--this is a young man. a man my age, we've known each other since we were eleven years old, played football on the sandlot teams, so he's an old, old friend. He's my hunting buddy. We hunt together on my dad's land, hunt ducks together. And he evacuated, and he's so depressed he says he opens his first beer at 10 a.m. now. He's just depressed, he evacuated.
If you evacuated and you come back and see everything you worked for your whole life is gone -- woe is me, you know. But if you were smart enough to stay, like we were, and you barely escaped with your life, you say, hooray, to heck with all that stuff that's gone. We made it through this alive. And it's just a matter or perspective. We lost everything, everything, but we're alive. We got together barely with two hounds. I know that I was talking to someone yesterday--I had six [hounds] and there's no way they would have let me on the plane with six. There's no way. Things happen for a reason, you know. I can still cry if I start talking about Charlie, I can still cry about the dogs. I'm still grieving four months later. But things happen for a reason and we made it out, we made it out with living family. And some of our family didn't make it out. But the stuff is just stuff. Whereas people who left and evacuated, their stuff is more important to them, you know. And my dad came up with that profound piece of work and it's the truth, it's so true.
JACK: And for the rest of your life you're going to realize and understand more than most people what's really important. You're going to learn not to sweat the small things.
AIT: So true.
JOE: That's the truth.
SID: I'd like to add to that. I was talking about the strength that I had. I was always pretty strong. Of course, that was before my wife got sick. When I tried to open that door, you did a good thing. You opened that door. But when I tried to open that door, I put all I had into it, and that door wouldn't budge. And when you came and looked, he said, "Look out." And that door opened. Then when the door opened, he said, "Come on."
JOE: I didn't want the water to get through the door.
SID: He said, "Come on, get out." So he was holding the door for me, and I passed, I said, "You better get out of here, get out right away, right now." Because I thought maybe he was going to back with the dogs or something. I said, "You get out of here right now because I'm going. I'm leaving."
JOE: Sooner was on my back, she was knocking me down to get out.
SID: But seeing how close we came to--that's about as--well, I was in Korea and I don't know how close I came because I was in a fire fight one time that was pretty bad--but it was close, it was close to both of us losing our lives. And when he got out of there, nothing else was important. Nothing else was important. As far as my wife goes, I love her like I should. After fifty-five years of her taking care of me like she didn't have to, I tried to do everything that I could except eat when I was supposed to eat. But thank God, Joey kept me on that Ensure and Boost and whatever else, so just like Mr. Jack says, I thank God for the angels, the guardian angels, and that's exactly what you are. You know, to me, a guardian angel is pretty high. I call Janice to her face, "You're my guardian angel." She really guided me along." And she's just great.
AIT: Is there anything else that you'd like people around the country who will be reading this story to think about or come away with?
SID: Yeah. I'd like for everybody to, when they say "Leave," when they say "Evacuate," get out of there. That's about the best advice I could give anybody. They're out there for your good. You might have to evacuate a hundred times, but it just takes that one time. And they're getting pretty good with hurricanes. I don't know if they'll ever do as well with tornadoes because they come up so fast, but as far as hurricanes are concerned, heed to the warning.
AIT: Beautiful. Thank you, Sid. This is a great interview. I'm really happy to have your words and honored that you shared so much with us.
JACK: It's probably appropriate that I just think about it, it may be a pain in the butt to evacuate, but at least you're going to have a butt to have a pain in.
AIT: That's the last word.