Joyce and Pat Blaize lived in Plaquemines Parish for 54 years. (By Angelle Bergeron)
Joyce and Pat Blaize have been married for 54 years, and that’s how long they’ve lived in the house Pat’s grandfather built on the west bank of the Mississippi River in lower Plaquemines Parish. For 54 years they have shared their lives–making love, working, fighting, rearing children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and having crayfish boils and barbecues on their beautiful outdoor patio on the foot of the levee.
Their way of life and the home that was its foundation all changed last August, washed away by Hurricane Katrina, the worst storm in the history of the United States.
“I was from the east bank of Plaquemines Parish,” Joyce said. “I came down here to visit and met my husband, and have been here ever since. I was 23 years old and he was 25.”
One wonders how a people can make a life on a tenuous, fickle patch of land hugged on either side by the meandering, mighty Mississippi River and intertwined with bayous and other marshes. One wonders how the people of this area could trust their families to the fate of nature’s awesome, unpredictable forces. But they grew up learning to respect the annual ebbs and flows, rises and falls of the life-producing waterways. And they built their lives around them.
Pat grew up about a half mile up the road from his grandfather’s house, so he’s lived his whole life in lower Plaquemines Parish, the home of citrus orchards and some of the world’s best fishing. When he was a boy, the present-day levee system hadn’t been conceived.
Pat and Joyce survived Hurricane Camille, which devastated much of Plaquemines Parish in 1969. “The house went off the pillars and sat on the ground for eight or nine months,” Joyce said.
After Camille, the couple bought a double wide trailer. Pat struggled with neighbors and friends to nestle the trailer beneath the branches of a pecan tree, so they would have a nice place for the children while they were rebuilding their home. “It was beautiful even back then,” said Joyce, who laments the loss of the pecan tree to this more recent, ferocious storm. “This one here,” she said, pointing to a massive live oak that survived Katrina, “we planted when my daughter was three years old. We had native azaleas, a magnolia there,” she said, her voice trailing off at the enormity of the loss. “We had picked up everything downstairs and put it upstairs because we knew we would have water.”
There was always the water, but never like this. “For Camille, where the levee is now is where my house was,” Joyce said. “When Camille came, they had a setback on the levee, so the Corps took some of our property and moved our house to where it is now. The house was on old-time tiers about this high,” she said, holding her hand even with her thigh. Between the impressive new levee system and the elevation of the house…it was safe for almost 40 years, long enough to build a life.
On March 31 Pat and Joyce were in attendance to watch the demolition of their home. The house had been just off La. Hwy. 23 about 10 miles south of Buras, the hamlet where Katrina made landfall. The second story, with its beautiful...