A Louisiana Christmas in 2005

Our tree for Christmas 2005 was purchased at the Walmart in Alexandria. It was a fine-looking fixture, all four feet of it and pre-strung with lights. According to the writing on the box from China the tree was a Douglas Fir model. It maintained its shape throughout the holidays, never turned brown, nor did it provide even a whiff of fragrance.

For Christmas ’05 many Louisianians were pleased with anything they could get. The ravages of hurricanes Katrina and Rita were only a few months removed, though the anxiety remained. For the small apartment where we stayed while the house was being repaired, the tree provided some visual relief. It is just a coincidence that the tree was about as high as the house’s waterline.

Just to get away from it all, and to be at a place where there were lights and music and where everything worked, we took a long weekend trip to New York City that season. I remember walking down 5th Avenue, where everyone, even hurried New Yorkers, seemed happy, and then I saw something that stopped me cold:

My thoughts went back to only a couple of months earlier. On a hot Saturday we were sitting on the porch of the house lamely trying to accomplish something. Nothing worked. There was no electricity; no water. It was time for lunch, but nothing nearby was open.
Then a man came walking down the street and asked if we would like something to eat.

He pointed to an approaching food truck operated by the Salvation Army. “Go to the side window and order what you want,” he said. That proved to be an easy choice. There were two items available: chili and rice. “I’ll have the rice with chili,” I said. The side item was a bottle of water.

Moments later I sat on my still somewhat moldy step thinking about just how quickly life can change. Here I was being fed by the Salvation Army – and it was the best meal around.

What would cause me to stop on that Manhattan street was the sight of one of those Salvation Army bell ringers. I hurried to the ringer, dropped a donation into the red pot and explained to him about the good work his group had done in Louisiana. I am not sure if he fully understood what I was talking about, but he had to feel the enthusiasm of my message.

On Christmas Eve, the little tree sparkled in our apartment. Near midnight the bells at a nearby church began to ring carols. For many Louisianians, there was still much uncertainty, but for the moment at least, all was calm; all was bright.