Monday, September 04, 2006

Who is Mr. Eddie?

Recently, everyone has been reflecting on the tragedy of last year's hurricane. I was reading my good friend Chanel's blog, and it brought back such a flood of memories. One very special memory for me is of Mr. Eddie.

I met Mr. Eddie at the shelter that was here Baton Rouge at the River Center. I think he may have been one of the first people that we met that day. He was very approachable and very content. I don't say that lightly, considering that he was 80 years old, there all by himself and sleeping on a cot in a room filled with hundreds of other people. Mr. Eddie had a toothless smile that was so peaceful in the midst of so much sadness.

Over the next several weeks, I visited with Mr. Eddie often. I even offered to bring him home with me, but he refused. He wanted to stay at the shelter to wait for his money! I think he was just so happy to be alive that it didn't matter where he spent his nights.

Over the course of our encounters, Mr. Eddie told me about his family in Florida and the "friend" in New Orleans who was probably looking for him. We tried calling her number, but of course there was no phone service in New Orleans at that time. I still have Sally's number programmed in my phone. We talked about cooking and church. He told me that he was always the cook of the house, but he doesn't cook much anymore.

Mr. Eddie told me that he was being stubborn and didn't want to leave his house. One of his neighbors came by and forced him to leave. They got out just in time. He was so thankful that she did that. Unfortunately, he had to leave his house so fast that he left his teeth in the cup downstairs. He also left his glasses in the house. He knew that it wouldn't smell too good when he got back because he had a lot of meat in the freezer, particularily a very large turkey. I knew that he had family in Florida and wondered when they would come and get him, but he was in no hurry to leave until all of his checks had been delivered to Baton Rouge.

One day he called me and said that he needed to run some errands, so I went and picked him up. I wanted him to have the royal treatment, so I got permission from the city police who were guarding the shelter, to go through the baracade and pull my car right up to the front door. We went to the bank (yeah, his money was coming in!). We went to Walgreens and Wal-Mart, where he bought socks, sweatshirts, and magic shave. He wanted to buy me something, but I couldn't imagine him spending his money on me. He told me about his wife who had passed away and about his time as a longshoreman. He bragged about being married to the same woman for over 40 years (actually, I think it was 50 or 60 years but, I don't remember exactly). He described himself as a "rascal" in his day, but all I could see was a gentleman through that toothless smile.

The grand finale of the day was going to Popeyes. He had told me once before that he was craving some Popeyes chicken, but that he wasn't supposed to eat it (Dr.'s orders). On this day, his request was for me to take him to Popeyes, so that he could get some chicken and a "cold-drink". I was more than happy to oblige. He got chicken for himself and another guy who had befriended him at the shelter. He made me take $20 for gas. I tried to refuse, but he gave me a stern warning that I had better let him do what he wanted to do.

I didn't know that this would be the last time that I saw Mr. Eddie. I was supposed to go back and pick him up to go and do laundry. I tried twice, but we missed each other the first time. He had taken the bus to the bank that day. The next time I went to the shelter, he was gone. I looked all over for him. I asked the volunteers about him, described him to other evacuees, had him paged over the intercom system, checked the roster of shelter residents, had someone check the restrooms, checked with the medical staff...nothing. They had no record of him checking out, but obviously he was gone.

In reflection, it's amazing to me how much of an impact a person can have on you, when you're the one who is supposed to be impacting them. The Bible says to be careful how you entertain strangers, because you may be entertaining an angel without knowing it. Who is Mr. Eddie? Only God knows. Do I miss him? Of course. Will I ever see him again? I don't know, but I do know that he showed me what it meant to smile in the face of adversity. Because of Mr. Eddie, I know that I should always take time to love someone I don't know, help someone who can't help themselves, and make everyone feel special, no matter what their situation.

Katrina poured out its worst on us, but in a lot of ways, it brought out the best in us.

Thank you Mr. Eddie. Until we meet again...

Tracking Hurricane Gustav