We went to Pensacola last weekend and on the way we drove along the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Waveland to Biloxi. It was my first visit to that area since Katrina struck.
I knew exactly what to expect. I already had viewed tons of pictures of the area. I knew there basically was nothing left for six or eight blocks between the beach and railroad tracks that hug the coast.
Still, when we pulled onto the road that hugs the gulf and I took in the full view, it was devastating. We drove about two blocks and I broke down.
I cried because we were in an area where I spent parts of my summers when I was a kid with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother.
Two of my aunts, who are nuns, belong to an order that had a camp along the beach in Waveland. Each aunt got the camp for two weeks every summer. I would spend the days there fishing off the pier for flounder and checking our crab traps. More often than not, I'd land a small ray or a trash catfish. If I was lucky, I'd find a hermit crab to keep as a pet for a few days.
In the afternoon, when the heat became unbearable, I would nap on a hammock inside a screened front porch. We'd take long walks along the water early in the evening, then eat a big family meal at night.
Some of my best childhood memories with my family come from those trips.
There was no point looking for the camp because nothing - and I mean nothing - was left standing in the area, except for St. Stanislaus School and the adjacent Catholic church, both sturdy brick structures.
The views along the coast reminded me of that strange Dali painting of a dead tree trunk and melting clocks.
The barrenness of the landscape is actually a good sign. The coast is weeks, if not months, ahead of the New Orleans area in cleaning up storm debris and removing structures that can't be rebuilt.