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Karen Dalton-Beninato Headshot

5 Years Post Katrina: In Which I Move Back to the Prairie

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Would you like to hear about a poorly planned post Katrina move to the prairie? Because this fills that requirement. In our search for a home after the levee fail, one thing became apparent -- how far my father had slipped with Alzheimer's Disease and the fact that my mother was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. I left print journalism 15 years ago, but the post-Katrina writing has become a Flowers for Algnernon kind of thing. When my brain goes to hell in a hand basket, I am confident the commenters will let me know. We had to live somewhere, and my husband was willing to move north so I could spend time with my father in the last year of his life. My father thought the cats in the nursing home's cat room were the worst secretaries he had ever hired. He was a doctor and my mother was an English teacher, so the transition was challenging to take in.

Back in New Orleans my husband's family had lost everything, so our feeling was that we would only have been a burden had we stayed. We planned to pack everything but the family antiques, which went to my mother-in-law who was staying with friends in Baton Rouge. She still is, and it felt right to give her furniture that held memories. You couldn't book a moving truck in New Orleans at the time, so we rented a truck in the Midwest and drove it south passing FEMA trailers all the way.

There was no power, and the National Guard rode through the streets at night with a bullhorn telling everyone to evacuate before nightfall. This was my neighborhood. We kicked the move off confident in our ability to sort and pack swiftly. All we needed was some water from the local convenience store. There were no convenience stores. I went to check the refrigerator, but I don't know why. There was neither power nor refrigerators because they had all been moved into the streets with their toxic contents.

What there was, and here's where the poor planning comes into play, was a 40-year-old bottle of whiskey. I never had the chance to meet my father-in-law, he had passed away by the time I met and fell in love with his son, but I would like to take this chance to thank him for taking the edge off of our move. We got inordinately loaded on whiskey. I began tossing suits off the balcony to bag up, as bobcats were picking up anything on the lawn every morning. I probably said "Goodbye office," or something like that. It's hard to recreate the experience perfectly on 40-year-old whiskey.

Halliburton had the no bid contract, and their immigrant labor from Houston had already filled New Orleans. The workers seemed curious about the suit jackets flying off the balcony and I shouted, "You can take this," in my best high school Spanish, so they did. Everyone who went through the experience has his or her own Katrina story. I have an afternoon of throwing suits at Mexicans.

We moved north, at the same time renting a New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund apartment in New Orleans for musicians returning if only for a gig. We now spend half our time in the land of wind farms, organic farms and farms of all sorts. It's some of the most fertile farmland in the country, once known as Little Egypt because crops grew here when the country had trouble growing enough food. Bloomington's historic courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln was talked into running for President back when he was a lawyer, is what I see out the front window every morning. And when we come home from New Orleans the cat sitter has left baskets of eggs from his farm. It's ideal when the eggs of America have gone to hell in a salmonella hand basket.

My life began to split into two very separate lives after 8/29. I took the road less traveled on, and also the road more heavily traveled. It has involved a great deal of driving.

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