Hurricane Katrina

Eldridge works on rebuilding her social circle

MOSS POINT - Alice Eldridge drives her charcoal Nissan each week to paint, play bridge and socialize with friends.

Unlike others who are patching their roofs or tearing down drywall, Eldridge works on rebuilding her social circle. And because she has lived on the Coast since she was a teen, Eldridge knows lots of people.

"We are just trying to lead normal lives now," says the 72-year-old.

After graduating high school at 16, Eldridge attended USM for two years. She then moved to Japan to work for the Army, returning to the Coast to marry and raise her four children.

The Sunday following Hurricane Katrina, she found many of her friends at church. "It was where I was supposed to be that day," she says, adding that it was the first time people had really been able to congregate.

Since then, she has made it her mission to strengthen those social ties, making the rounds in her car and never taking anyone for granted.

After Katrina, she appreciates her car and a good conversation.

"It was a very emotional experience to see the people I had been worrying about," she says, recalling that first Sunday with friends.

She counts herself lucky to have them in other ways, too.

While trying to remove the mud and marsh Katrina swept into her home - which is just 100 feet from a bayou - Eldridge's stress level rose and she forgot to take her heart medication.

That Sunday in church, her heart defibrillator went off, shocking her body. She saw a bright-white light and heard a noise like an explosion.

"I thought a transformer had gone off and something had happened to everyone, then I realized that it was just me," she recalls.

A nurse, doctor and police officer in the pews around her helped Eldridge until an ambulance arrived.

Had she been anywhere else that day, her fate might have been different, she said.

"There are so many people worse off than I am, so I can't just feel sorry for myself," she says.