I was living in Gulfport, Missisippi, lucky enough to have a house about a block from the beach [laughs]. I'd evacuated from many hurricanes, but even though [Katrina] was supposed to go on the other side of New Orleans, I decided I would leave. I figured I'd be back to clean up, but everything was destroyed.
[I had a bag of cat food and a bag of dog food for the animals] and I did put my jewelry box out in the car, but I had no clothes. I was wearing a pair of flip-flops for weeks on end. There was no water, so it was Port-O-Lets for weeks. It was hot, 97 degrees. I slept on the floor in my office when I was able to go back to work. The [newspaper where I worked] was still printing, and so everybody was walking around in shorts and T-shirts, just whatever they could get, whatever was donated to us.
Anyway, I decided I could not hack that. I had stayed in touch with people at the Times-Dispatch, where I worked before, and I got a job up here. My friends started looking for a place for me to live. I rented [this place] sight unseen, and my landlady sent some pictures. I thought, gosh it looks so tiny, but I thought tiny's good, 'cause I don't have anything to put in it. It'd just rattle around.
Driving up here, everything I owned was in the trunk of my car and I had room in my trunk! I was so exhausted just from all the stress, and when I opened the door it was just like you see it now. I broke down and cried for the first time.
It was so wonderful. They had thought of everything. People I didn't even know contributed. They moved all the furniture in. They had to move the bed in off the [upstairs deck when they couldn't get it up the stairs]. I just kept discovering things. One of the greatest things was some lovely flannel pajamas and a robe. There were magazines and books and cookbooks because I lost all of my cookbooks, of course. You could just spend the rest of your life shopping for every little thing: tape, scissors, a screwdriver, a hammer, a flashlight with batteries.
I opened the cabinet and there was a set of china I had admired from my friend Sally [and] a full set of pots and pans. There were soaps and linens and bath oils. Just everything, everything, everything. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me by far. I'm so grateful. HS