Editor's note: Since last fall (2009) Bert Montgomery, a native of New Orleans and the River Parishes, has been collecting stories from his childhood friends, classmates, neighbors and church family about their experiences during after Hurricane Katrina. FaithLab is working with Bert to produce a book (both traditional print and e-book formats) and an interactive website to honor his friends and their experiences. Throughout this fall – five years after Katrina – FaithLab is posting excerpts leading up to the book's publication.
Troy and I graduated together -- DHS, class of 1986. We probably met my first day of school at DHS, when I started there my sophomore year. We had almost every class together, and in those classes where we were assigned seats alphabetically, we were always sitting close to each other (sometimes right next to each other – which made for some fun in class). Troy and I always talked about Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Captain Lou Albano, and the other stars of the mid-eighties' World Wrestling Federation. And, he was as big of a ZZ Top fan as I was.
Once, in Mrs. Chaisson's Honors English class, we were assigned to write our own epitaph for a homework quiz grade. First class – homeroom – the next morning, Mrs. Chaission starts collecting everyone's brief assignment. Both Troy and I forgot to do it. “Oh well,” I said, “... just a quiz grade.” Troy took out a piece of paper and in less than a minute had written
“I've been bad; I've been good; Dallas, Texas; Hollywood. Here lies Troy Lowry.”
He turned that in and got a full quiz-grade credit for plagiarizing ZZ Top lyrics; I was sitting there with a big fat zero.
Troy grew up in Norco and lived in St. Charles Parish for twenty-six years. He lived for five years in Texas, but now makes his home in the town of Prairieville (Ascension Parish). At the time of Hurricane Katrina, Troy and his family (wife, daughter, and a new-born son) were living in League City, Texas.
Tell me about the week leading up to Hurricane Katrina: What were you hearing on the news and from family/friends? What were your initial thoughts?
News out of the Houston area was gloom and doom for the New Orleans region. The first minutes of each news broadcast focused on the oncoming hurricane. Some on the local radio talk shows kept mentioning that the news media were using scare tactics. My family and friends were scared, and most of them were planning to leave town.
Initially I thought as I always did growing up in that area – that the hurricane would miss the region, and it would be nothing more than a rain/wind event with some flooding in the low-lying areas. I felt helpless (watching all the reports), but still I did not believe it would be a direct hit.
Soon we were housing my mother-in-law, and my wife’s friend, friend's son, and friend's mom and dad.
You were watching from your house in Texas. Katrina makes landfall, passes over, then levees break . . .
I felt totally helpless, and I must say that for the first time I could recall, I cried openly watching the news. At work that Monday morning all I could do was glean what I could from the local news, radio and internet. I was pretty much addicted to the news 24/7.
My mother-in-law was frantic because of all the reported flooding in her region (Kenner). I was able to find aerial photos posted on WWL-TV’s website and show her that her fence was down, the roof had some damage but that she didn’t flood. I’ll never forget the pictures of the pools with brown water. Pools closest to her home were still blue, and based on that and the debris line being about one foot from her door, I was able to determine that her house did not flood (and, it didn't). Kudos to WWL-TV for posting those photos!
I was thoroughly disgusted with people calling the local talk radio in Houston. They called to request the radio station play “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. It was also amazing to hear the stories on the Houston news and national reports about why New Orleans should not be rebuilt. San Antonio openly courted and wanted the Saints; Galveston wanted Mardi Gras; Houston wanted Jazz Fest. It made me feel resentful to that region, and I still hold some of that resentment today. My Louisiana blood boiled over big time, and I never felt prouder to call Louisiana my home as I did then. To kick someone when they are down is one thing but to steal that which is ours … NEVER!
Evacuees (“Katricians” as they were affectionately called in Houston) were blamed for all sorts of problems in Houston. If a crime was committed in the Houston area by someone who fled New Orleans, the headlines were “Katrina evacuee wanted….”
The year Katrina hit, the Saints were displaced for their whole season, then the next year came back and got to the NFC championship. Is it possible to talk about the Saints of the last five years (especially winning the Super Bowl this year) without talking about Katrina? Why or why not?
I cannot imagine talking about the Saints and not thinking/talking about Katrina. I vividly recall New Orleans after Katrina, and keeping the Saints was right up there with repairing New Orleans. Sadly, I never was a big Saints fan growing up (I liked the Cowboys) and was only a casual fan up until Katrina.
Katrina changed that as my New Orleans pride swelled over when they reached the NFC championship game. I became a fan and even bought my first Saints shirt and hat. I have several hats and shirts now … but the numbers pale in comparison to my purple and gold collection (laughing).
What did the Saints' Super Bowl season mean to you?
It put a lot of smiles on the faces of fans in and around the Gulf Coast. It also made me pause to remember lost loved ones who were ardent Saints fans but did not live to see the boys win it all. A dear friend passed away in July of 2009, and she was one of the biggest Saints fans I knew. I’m sure she was wearing her black and gold and leading the second line procession in Heaven after the game. I also will never forget my five-year-old singing “black and gold in the Super Bowl” every time he saw Saints memorabilia in a store.
Did you attend any games this past year and/or the victory parades? How did the Saints win affect Mardi Gras?
I did not attend any games and was unable to attend the victory parade (although I watched it on TV and cried like a big baby). We partied harder for Mardi Gras, and I never saw so many Saints jerseys gathered in one big party!!!!
© Bert Montgomery, 2010