Throwing Shade

After Katrina, a Hancock High English teacher changed my perspective

When I walked into Hancock High School to continue my junior year, the tile floors were gone. The glass inside the large windows in the commons area was replaced with plywood.

Government employees had taken over the computer lab where I took business and computer technology courses.

Students were clinging to each other, some crying. There were hundreds of faces I’d never seen before.

Hurricane Katrina had ravaged through my hometown, and returning to classes was the most gut-wrenching and eerie thing I had encountered so far. Several of my classmates and friends had to swim to safety and watch their homes wash away. Others rode out the hurricane in shelters and were living in tents or FEMA campers. There were some kids who could barely make it to school because the mud and muck still covered their streets.

My home was unharmed, and my grandmother, aunt and some of my cousins were living with us. As I walked into first period, I remember the entire room being dead silent. I have been going to school with most of these people for a decade, and even though we were all close, nobody knew what to say.

As our English teacher, Mrs. Kay Palombo, took her seat, she looked at us and smiled. The first thing she asked us is if we had looked at the trees on the way to school this morning. Most of the trees were covered in sewage or mud at the trunks, but the tops had pinestraw or leaves, and the birds were back, and they were chirping, Palombo said.

Mrs. Palombo’s thirty-second speech about the chirping changed the way I saw the world. All around us, Mother Nature took something we all adored and devastated it. But just as the birds returned home to their trees, our home would return, stronger than ever.

Hurricanes will never change the spirit of South Mississippi. I am South Mississippi.