A RIVER RAT PONDERS KATRINA By Jim Wright
by Jim Wright    Wed, Oct 19, 2005, 02:17 PM

A welcome to Jim Wright former Editorial Page Editor of the Dallas Morning News and long-time newspaper columnist.

Our prez let himself be stampeded by the PC Police up east on that “Refugee-Evacuee” nonsense. And so doing, he showed his fanny down home - at least among us river rats.

“River rat” is probably even less politically correct than “refugee” with such authorities as the New York Times. But as one who was born and bred a river rat -- in Osceola , Arkansas -- I know what I am talking about here. “Refugee” has ALWAYS been the preferred word along the Mississippi when the levees break and folks thereabouts have to make the big decision: Is it better to leave and live or stay and drown?

The word impressed itself on me strongly during the big floods in the mid-1930s. My mama was Western Union in our little town and her one-woman office was in the local depot. The depot was my playpen, because she took me to work with her. My day care was provided by mama and the six or seven railroad workers at the depot, who kept an eye on me and kept me from getting under the trains. It was a splendid place to be a kid, and I loved it. Then, one day, the place got all dramatic.

I was 3 or so that spring when the depot suddenly began to fill up with wet and bedraggled strangers, who huddled on the benches, slept on the floors and gratefully accepted whatever the local folks could bring them to keep them alive. In the ‘30s, nobody had much to spare, but they gave all the help they could and were thanked and appreciated by their flooded-out guests from upstream.

“Refugee” was the first word I had ever heard that did not apply to my normal life, i.e. “mama”, “daddy”, “Sunday school”, “pie” that sort of thing.

“What does that mean, Mama?” I asked. “People looking for higher ground,” she said, pointing out that any of us could become refugees ourselves. As the river kept on rising that year, I was soon to learn the truth of that definition.

Mama and Daddy both had jobs, and in the Depression, you didn’t lightly take off from a job, flood or no flood. But Mama decided her lone chick was far too precious to risk, so I was sent to higher, dryer ground. I was a new refugee.

My Aunt Em came and got me, and with our shoeboxes of fried chicken, we entrained and traveled to Granbury , Texas .

As a refugee, I do not remember cursing the federal bureaucracy, the welfare agencies, President Roosevelt, or the local and state authorities for my fate or the floods. I did not know any cuss words at the time; and, in truth, it sounded like a great idea, actually riding on one of those trains.

Once I reached Granbury and the bosom of my mama's big family, I discovered to my delight that I had never had it so good. Indeed, I became the pampered Young Prince of the Clark family, who were railroad people.

Hosted by my grandparents and aunts, I could do no wrong. Two older girl cousins instantly decided that I was a full-size baby doll to play with, and my feet hardly touched the ground for a month or so. I could eat everything I wanted, do what I wanted, stay up until all hours, 9 or 9:30 some nights.

My poor mama, back home, was suffering the tortures of separation from her only child, now a refugee waif far away. As THEY ALWAYS DO, ‘WATERS’ BEING THE PLURAL SUBJECT it always does, however, the waters of Big Muddy ebbed, and the folks in the depot were able to go back upstream to where they came from. And the Young Prince was summoned to leave my kind hosts and kinfolks and return to mama and daddy and river rat reality.

As I alighted from the train, Mama, all tears and cries of delight, rushed across the platform and swept me up. I was glad to see her, but my first response to all this joy and welcome was this line, forever more a part of family history: “I just came back for some clean clothes, Mama, I'm going right back to Granbury.”

I have always known I was loved, for otherwise, I would have been killed on the spot. The point of this is, our prez ought to recognize that HIS mama, who pays no attention to the PC Police whatsoever, was bang on when she pointed out that not all of the Katrina “evacuees” were horrified, despairing, and desperate to leave all the goodies and the role of victims of the cruel flood and return to where they came from. I know from personal experience exactly how they feel.

And so, Mr. President, in addition to my tip to avoid going along with the PC Police, I would also advise you to listen to YOUR mama.

As Mrs. Barbara Bush pointed out, and was consequently beat up by the PC media, when it comes to being a refugee, there is suffering, and then there is suffering. Not all those Katrina folks we are supposed to carefully call “evacuees” are going to leave their own Granbury after the waters drop back home.

I met a neighbor the other day, and as he waited in his pickup to let me drive my pickup through the gate, I noticed he had a passenger. He said, “This is my nephew from Port Arthur .” The young man, fresh from flight from Rita, leaned forward and added emphatically, “And I am a REFUGEE!” As opposed, I guess, to the more PC choice favored by those who care about that kind of thing.

Aside from the semantics of supposed PC self-esteem terminology, there are other odd sidelights of Katrina. Some poll or other the other day found that half those in Houston, who came there from New Orleans and Katrina, want to stay in Texas .

Could be that’s why those Democrat officeholders in Nawlins and Louisiana are sweating bullets. A big hunk of their power base may have crossed the state line and might not come back.

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