ST. BERNARD PARISH, La.—When the deputies came to the last inhabited house on Schnell Street to rescue Donald Bordelon and his wife, Colleen, their kind offer was declined.
The Bordelons, Donald said, were in no need of rescue. He said this from the roof, where he and his wife have been staying of late, because the interior flooded after the storm.
But the deputies were adamant. They would not take "No, thank you kindly" for an answer. It's possible that, after much back and forth, unkind words were exchanged, including the phrase "take me in handcuffs or a body bag," and that the deputies saw Donald Bordelon's impressive collection of pistols and hunting rifles.
He wouldn't have used them—in fact, according to his wife of 28 years, he's "just a big lug"—but that's not the point. He looks like the sort of guy who might have: brawny, bearded, deeply sunburned.
He isn't proud of what he may have said or done that day a few weeks ago, and has little to say on the subject. But to make penance—or perhaps because he's gregarious, generous and neighborly by nature—he throws open his beer cooler for all the firefighters, soldiers, police officers and other government types who come by.
The police come every day; the neighborhood isn't considered fit to live in right now. A couple of days ago a psychologist dropped by. Bordelon was working in the front yard, next to a flatboat full of his mother's chinaware and his dead grandmother's treasures. All the clothes, baby and wedding pictures, furniture, cutlery and chairs the house once held were laid out in the yard to air out.
His parents bought the house in 1955, and he's never lived anywhere else. He and his dad and best friend laid the brick for the fireplace in the sitting room. They added three rear rooms and hauled an immense hot tub into the backyard.
But what the psychologist saw looked like a huge, badly planned yard sale. He saw Bordelon's sun-red face and supposed he was a drunk and told him so. He made small talk and jokes, but asked all the same questions: Have you been eating right? Drinking lots of water? Any medical problems? Are you ready to leave?
One senses, in these questions, a profound, almost existential, lack of understanding.
In the first place, the Bordelons had enough water and food stored up before the storm to last them for months. They have a tarp rigged on the roof to block the sun. They left for Katrina—though they went only a block away, to her mother's house—but they plan to head north if Hurricane Rita tracks this way.
They have generators and a little all-terrain vehicle for transportation, all of which were submerged and severely dysfunctional until he dismantled them, cleaned the engines and drained the water.
He knows tools and engines, after 25 years welding barrels on the river. His wife is handy too.
"There's not a woman like her," Bordelon said. "She's a trouper." He nodded at the slim, flinty woman who was at that moment carrying a dead dog in a trash bag out of a neighbor's house across the street.
The psychologist didn't know that the Bordelons have keys for most of their neighbors and have been looking in on their houses too, because they feel responsible.
Other things he probably will never learn: Brian, Donald Bordelon's best friend since high school, lives just down the street; Colleen Bordelon grew up just two blocks over; and the crabbing and trawling down not far south are the best in the world.
"I was born here," Donald Bordelon said, late in the day. "I might probably die here. I added to it, I built it up. I own it. It belongs to me, no bank, no government. My son, my daughter, my people are always going to have a place to go back to for the rest of their life."
But by that time, the psychologist was long gone, having accepted a cold bottle of water and said his goodbyes.
(Spangler reports for The Miami Herald.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-KATRINA-HOLDOUT
Need to map