Myles Brennan passes it nearly every day on the way to school.
To most, it’s just an empty plot of land.
It’s no different than the other bare plots sprinkled down North Beach Boulevard, the picturesque bayside drag in this quaint coastal town. They are evidence of a crime committed 11 years ago by a force so powerful that it still leaves people shivering with emotion.
To Brennan, this plot of land is, in a small way, still home.
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He spent the first 7 years of his life here.
He fought off the supernatural, the ghosts that shoved him down the stairs and the old Civil War generals, in full regalia, that stood over his bed watching him sleep. No, really, his mom said: The property — the one she’s standing on right now, on this sun-splashed Wednesday — is haunted, and the house was, too.
He fished off that pier, now a mangled jumble of wooden pylons rising from the Bay of St. Louis, seen easily on this afternoon because it’s low tide.
He dined at a first-floor dinner table, once positioned where he’s standing now, near the only remains of the four-bedroom home — fragments of the house’s cement foundation peeking out from overgrown grass.
He learned to play football here, throwing the pigskin with his two older brothers, weaving around and between the property’s 15 oak trees, many of them at least 200 years old and wider than a barrel of oil. Three of them remain on the land; a dozen others were uprooted and carried out to sea, victims of the biggest natural disaster to hit this town.
Hurricane Katrina took everything from Myles Brennan and his family.
What’s strange is, without it, maybe things don’t end this way.
Without it, the family doesn’t live on a boat for three years, docked in a Destin, Florida, harbor. All five family members — Myles, his parents and his two older brothers — refer to those years the same way: “The best of our lives.”
Without it, 8-year-old Myles doesn’t play for the Destin Dolphins, the little league team that moved him from receiver to quarterback when the starter suffered an injury — the beginning of his crazy football journey.
Maybe he doesn’t break the Mississippi high school record for career passing yards. (He did it by the fourth game of his senior season.) Maybe he doesn’t throw for more touchdowns than any player in state history, zipping 150-plus TDs as St. Stanislaus’ star QB.
Maybe he doesn’t sign with LSU on national signing day Wednesday as one of the most highly touted, sought-after quarterbacks in the nation.
Maybe he doesn’t enter LSU’s jumbled QB competition with such gusto and honesty.
“I know what I have to do,” Brennan said. “It’s not a new environment. I mean, it is new, the college level, but having to work and outwork people and earn a starting spot is not going to be nothing new to me.
“More stuff has been taken from me than given by many stretches. I’m not coming there to waste four or five years. I’m coming there to lead that team to a national championship.”
On this Wednesday afternoon, Brennan reaches into his back pocket, digs into his wallet and pulls out two bills — a $10 and a $2. They show their age, thin as tissue paper and stained, ripped and torn. The green has turned white in some places.
These are artifacts, two of the few possessions saved from the Brennan home. They were stuffed in Myles’ child-sized wallet that he found buried in sand on the property months after Katrina’s landfall — when it was finally safe for the kids to visit.
“We took a carload of children to the site too early. We had all the (Brennan) boys,” said Monique Culpepper, a close friend of the family. “We got out of the car for a little while, were walking around, and then some neighbors ran over to us.”
A neighbor told her to get the children back in the car and out of the area.
“There were dead bodies in the lot over,” Culpepper said.
During the storm, the water rose more than 20 feet, surging onto shore and submerging the two-story, four-bedroom home. Megan Brennan, mother to Myles, Bo and Hunter, has seen video of two waves crashing into the area of the home, wiping it out.
The home was only about 6 months old. The Brennans had rebuilt after a fire engulfed their previous house on that same plot of land.
The hurricane did something far worse.
The Brennans found their car a few blocks away, some 12 feet off the ground and tangled in a tree. Their Boston Whaler boat was in one of the property’s three oak trees that survived the storm.
Only Owen’s gun safe, half-buried in sand, survived and remained on the lot.
“Saved two guns out of there,” he said.
The family evacuated to Jacksonville, Florida, to stay with family members during the storm. They didn’t leave the Sunshine State permanently for another three years. The five of them lived on a 70-foot yacht docked in Holiday Isle in Destin.
Fishing trips were a monthly, if not weekly, thing. They would unhook the yacht Friday night and cruise several miles into the Gulf of Mexico, not returning until Sunday night.
“We’d catch the fish, clean them, and my mom would fry them right there,” said Bo, at 23 the oldest of the Brennan boys.
“It took us away from the devastation of Katrina,” said Hunter, the middle child.
It wasn’t all rosy.
Owen still worked in New Orleans in the family restaurant business, commuting from Destin on Sunday night, staying in New Orleans all week and then commuting back Friday. He did that for three years.
Owen and Megan are New Orleans natives, raised in the Garden District and Uptown, respectively. Decades ago, Owen’s grandfather started the Brennans’ expansive, New Orleans-based restaurant franchise. You may recognize a few names: Commander’s Palace, Palace Café and Mr. B’s, to name three of the more than one dozen spots.
Owen left the family business years ago and is now working in the catering industry for Pigéon Family Catering. He couldn’t help but stay in the food business. It’s in his blood — just like fishing, hunting and everything else.
He has passed it on to his boys.
“I didn’t know what a great LSU Tiger he was until I called one morning and his dad said, ‘He’s dove hunting,’ ” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said of Myles on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Doesn’t he have school?’ He said, ‘He goes out, comes back at 7:30 (a.m.), takes a shower and goes to school.’ I said, ‘That’s an LSU Tiger right there.’ ”
Read more about this story at TheAdvocate.com.