Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Scooped up and tossed away

I have a snow shovel, and I know how to use it.

Not too many life-long residents of New Orleans can say that.

It was about a year ago that I recieved this unusual tool. Unusual for here, where snow comes slightly more often than two-term Democratic presidents. And when it does snow, it's never more than an inch.

I was sweeping and raking leaves at my home near Lake Pontchartrain. The slow build-up to what we call winter seems to confuse a lot of trees in New Orleans. Some, like the Japanese Magnolia, bloom two or three times as fall weather comes and goes from October til January. Other trees, like the Live Oak, drop a few leaves in November, a few more in December and January, but are not convinced to let loose on the bulk of them until March.

I was out in the street, working to keep my gutter clear and the all-important catch basin in front of my house unclogged and fully operational. It was a year-round job.

Across the street, my dear neighbor originally from North Carolina, shouts out, "Hey, Tim, what you need is a snow shovel." I laughed. Yeah, wouldn't that be a sight.

A couple weeks later, she kocks on my door and presents me with a genuine snow shovel. I marvel at it, like a bushman might look at a television. A bright red handle tops the tubular aluminum shaft that leads to the wide, red plastic scoop at the bottom. It was bigger than any conventional shovel, but lighter, too.

"Where did you get this?" I asked in amazement.

"Online." she said.

It was just one of many unusual, interesting, fun, wonderful, thoughtful, precious gifts that my neighbor gave me while we lived across the street from one another. And I put it to good use, scooping up leaves and other debris that found its way into the gutter in front of my house. It turned out to be quite useful even though it never snowed.

I used my snow shovel again just last week. My house, and my neighbor's house, and all the houses on our pretty street are empty now, thanks to Katrina. The street is covered with an inch or more of clay, silt and sand. My patio and my driveway were also covered with a layer of mud. After the floodwaters receded, the sun baked the sediment dry, leaving a cracked collection of mud chips for me to clean up.

I pulled my snow shovel out of what remains of my tool shed and put it to work. I pushed and scooped and tossed the flaking dried mud to the sides of the driveway and off the back of the patio so that I could have a clear path to conduct salvage operations at my home.

As I scooped and tossed away this unwanted residue, I thought about how Katrina had scooped up my neighbors and tossed them away, too. My wonderful neighbor from North Carolina went back there to stay with family. As of this writing, they do not plan to return. The flood and the destruction left them little choice.

I lost a lot in that flood, but I still have a snow shovel. It's a rarity in New Orleans. I hope good neighbors will not be as rare when I rebuild.

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