The Sabbatical: Hurricanes 101

June 6, 2019

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Staring out my childhood bedroom window. Photo courtesy Hurricane Katrina

In the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, much of St. Bernard Parish and Chalmette were flooded to a depth of about five feet. These were the days before federal flood insurance and FEMA trailers. What was available was a loan from the Small Business Association, which my parents dutifully took out and repaid just in time for Hurricane Katrina.

The difference between loans and insurance is sweat equity, and my family took the rebuilding effort with a do-it-yourself initiative that lacked only do-it-yourself know-how, along with a sense of urgency.

By the time the 1966 hurricane season began, we were still putting the finishing touches on our Hurricane Betsy redo. Which is to say, flooring, walls, carpets and new furniture still filled our to-do list. By the start of the football season, we were finally ready to install the wall paneling. I identify the start of the football season as the key to this renovation, because I believe without the structure of a televised professional football game, we might never have gotten the living room paneling done.

My father’s schedule called for starting off with the early AFL game. At the end of each quarter, when the network went to commercial break, we’d spring into action, squirting adhesive to the back of the panel to press against the particle board backing (which we had evidently nailed in place during the preseason?). Then we’d quickly use finishing nails to complete the installation before the start of the next quarter. (During half-time, we could generally get two panels installed, discounting for the first-half highlights.)

These were still the days before Monday Night Football, to say nothing of Thursday Night and Sunday Night Football, so our production was limited to the two Sunday afternoon games, which translated into approximately eight panels installed for the day. It took two Sundays at least, but before the season went into the playoffs, we had more or less finished the house in time for the holidays, which my mother had set down finally as the rule.

It was too bad for her that my father was not a baseball fan. With nine innings worth of commercial breaks, we would have finished in probably half the time. But the game was just too slow for my father, slower even than a home repair project. He wasn’t around for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which was too bad. He would have been relieved to see the whole damn house just bulldozed away, and a nice insurance check in his hand instead of a caulking gun.

As far as my mother was concerned, she never liked the half-paneling all that much anyway. Plus, she got to watch her Saints games in peace, without all the swearing that accompanied nailing up a sheet of paneling.

After we moved in to our 55+ mobile home community, Carol had expressed an interest in replacing the floor to ceiling paneling. I didn’t initially put two and two together recently, when she asked out of the blue, “When does football season start?”


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