A New Attitude Abounds in Gentilly Woods

As Lydia Taylor terms it, she has a “new attitude of gratitude’ for all the many people from around the country that have come to help her and her family. She calls the volunteers “angels that God has dispatched on this city.”

Her story is like so many others in the city—she had never evacuated for other storms, but was always prepared with a boarded up house, stocked supplies of food and water, and a sense of being secure at home. “We always thought that if we were here, we could get our houses back together and help others,” she said. “That’s what we did during Hurricane Betsy, helping our elderly neighbor across the street during the height of the storm.”

But this time and this storm would be different. Miss Lydia had two family members on dialysis—her husband Bob and her daughter Dalandra. Staying in town this time wasn’t an option, particularly when the dialysis center announced it would be closing and the staff evacuating. Miss Lydia took Dalandra and headed up to Decatur, Georgia, to stay with some friends, while her other daughter and son-in-law took Mr. Taylor with them to Alexandria, Louisiana.

Tuesday morning, after the storm made landfall, Miss Lydia was making plans to drive back home, when her friends called her to the TV and she saw that the city had flooded. “So many things ran through my mind…we were homeless and away from home… nothing to come home to… what would happen?” she thought.

She and Dalandra came back to the city on Sept. 19 and stayed with friends in St. Charles Parish. She got Dalandra settled with dialysis and she started back at her job as a cook in the dietary department at East Jefferson General Hospital. “East Jefferson was just so good to the employees. They reached out to us and set up trailers by the Coke plant for us to live in and had a big clothing drive for the employees,” she said. “Much of that clothing still had the tags on it. It was wonderful to watch the hand of God moving through people.”

The task at times seemed overwhelming. Her home in Gentilly Woods, where she had lived for 17 years, had water to the roof. And her parents’ home had more than six feet of water. But her spirits were buoyed by the students she met who laughed with her and prayed with her. “These students played such a role in how I felt each day,” she said. “That empowered me to go and buy a maul and a wheelbarrow and start to gut my house.” Catholic Charities came in with a group of parishioners from Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville to finish the job. “The pity party was now over,” said Mrs. Taylor. “And you know, when Catholic Charities called, they didn’t ask if I was Catholic or Christian or saved, just what was my address?”

Skilled volunteers from the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, coordinated through Rev. Ed Brienz, have helped to rebuild her home. The group came in August and September and has become Lydia Taylor’s “family that is no longer here.” “They have sent cards and fruit baskets, they have prayed with me and for me. They gave me strength when I felt I could not go on. They have embraced me,” she says. This support has been so important to her, especially after her husband died August 16. “He continued to stay in Alexandria and one time when he was at the house, he said that it would take so long for the area to come back,” she said. Now, many of her neighbors are coming back on Pauline Drive, slowly, but surely.

As she tosses back her head, with her characteristic, deep, throaty laugh, Miss Lydia says the wonderful giving spirit changes you. “I tell these volunteers that they are not building houses, they are restoring lives.”

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