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“A Christmas Break-In:” Christmas/Hanukkah Hurricane Katrina Memories Shared by Friends of Different Faiths

11:15 November 27, 2017
By: Keith John Paul Horcasitas

Christmas time always brings back fond memories of traditions like being with family and friends. Before Katrina, we would travel from Baton Rouge to our hometown of New Orleans after going to church in the morning – unless we happened to make it to Midnight Mass, when we would still go in but a little later. 

Like most folks, we would make a track to our parents’ houses rotating every year in going first to either one of our family’s houses. It was so good to catch up on with everyone whom we may not have been able to at Thanksgiving time. And the kids, of course, would look forward to getting gifts from “Maw-Maw” on my wife’s side and “Tito and Tita” on my side. 

In our families, it was neat that we were able to experience a variety of Hispanic cooking styles with the meals per Guatemalan and Mexican influences. Still, we enjoyed the main fare of Turkey, Sweet Potatoes, Stuffing, Broccoli/Cheese Casserole, Salad, rolls and Cranberry 

Recently, I was able to get together with Howard, one of my best friends who has been back in New Orleans for sometime after being displaced by Katrina. We had lunch together at a great New Orleans eatery, Camellia Grill, which had been closed for a long time after the storm - it is near the intersection of St. Charles Ave. and Carrollton where one of the streetcar lines run. We couldn't help but reminisce about a fond Christmas memory from before Katrina. 

This lunch gathering was also a time for us to be there for one another. Howard's late father, Saul, died after a rather sudden onset of illness - so I tried to be as supportive as any friend would want to be. I had lost both of my parents in 2006 after they had been displaced from New Orleans. He is also a professional social worker who has been a great support to us. He's had a unique caregiving displacement experience with actually 4 storms. 

After Katrina in 2005, when Howard and Saul's Metairie home was damaged, they were displaced for a while to Iowa, Louisiana - near Lake Charles. Not long after that in late September, they were displaced by Rita to Miami, Florida. Well, lo and behold, they were displaced again not much later in late October by Wilma to Pensacola for a while, where his other family had been displaced the year before by Ivan! As a humble Conservative Jewish Congregational member, Howard simply noted Job's famous quote about his father's untimely death and their experiences with the storms: "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; Blessed be the Name of the Lord!" (Job 1: 20 - 21). 

As a sense of humor can always be helpful in difficult situations, like with the family losses we'd shared about and both experienced, we also recalled at that luncheon about a "'break-in" that had occurred at Howard and Saul's house on December 25, 2001. 

Another tradition for us at this time of the year was to make a few visits to other friends in the New Orleans area before heading back to Baton Rouge on Christmas night. Since they lived in Metairie, which would be a good last stop on our way home, we finally got to Howard and Saul's house at about 10:00 PM that Christmas night in 2001. 

Being so late and without having made it a scheduled visit, we did not want to stay too long. Howard's father was out of town, but we went in briefly to chat and exchange gifts. Despite the differences in our religious backgrounds, we would share in each other's celebrations - Christmas and Hanukkah. 

So as we stepped out of Howard and Saul's house getting ready to leave for Baton Rouge, Howard came up to the car for some parting words. But little did he know that he had accidentally locked himself out of his house. Fortunately, we were still preoccupied with putting our youngest child into the car seat, so Howard came up to us and told us his predicament. Also, he noted not having a Hide-A-Key nor with any openings to his residence. 

It was fairly cold - in the low 40's with the temperature dropping, so Howard went quickly to a neighbor's house to see about getting a Locksmith - without many prospects on Christmas day as he went through calling various listings in the neighbor's phone book. As he continued this, I decided to try his windows, which all appeared secure. 

When I got to a small back bathroom window, I used my pocket Swiss Knife to jiggle a screen free and somehow was able to loosen a clamp to the window. I rather clumsily squeezed in the window and came through the front door, where Howard had come back and couldn't believe his eyes! 

We had some good laughs that day at the Camellia Grill about that former Christmas / Hanukkah Season, despite the earlier tears we'd shared with noting our familial loses. And if you’ve never been there, besides the great food, the waiters at Camellia Grill are very entertaining with their service! We're all wounded and displaced in one way or another and need each other and God to help cope and find hope. And as both Festivals of the Light are coming up, may we find more ways to share Peace on Earth with one another.

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