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Katrina Evacuee Sharon White: Not Home Yet


When we first met Sharon White, she was living in a shelter in Baton Rouge, and she was determined to rebuild her flooded home back in New Orleans. With Thanksgiving just two days away, we decided to check in. Almost three months later she's still in Baton Rouge, but she's out of a shelter and into a one-bedroom apartment. No doubt this holiday will be a tough one. Two of her grown daughters have evacuated to Texas. Her son moved to Kansas to find work. And Sharon White's 11-year-old daughter lives with her only on weekends. The child spends weekdays with a family friend to attend school just outside New Orleans. And then there's Sharon White's mother. In the chaos following Hurricane Katrina, it took weeks for White to track down her ailing mother. She finally found her in a hospital in the northern part of the state and made it to her bedside just in time.

Ms. SHARON WHITE: I did get to see my mama. I did make arrangements for Mama to come down here in a home. I made those arrangements with a nice man at a home. So he was on the--he was in process of getting Mama down here, but she died October the 29th.

NORRIS: But you were able to--you got to her, and you were able to spend some time with her.

Ms. WHITE: Oh, yes. It--and I actually got in the bed with her. I used to do that, too. I used to get in the bed with her, and she said, `That's all right. We're going to get back together, and we're going to have one big family reunion in New Orleans.' Unfortunately, it wound up being a family reunion, but it wasn't what she expected. We did bring her body back to New Orleans and our family grave that we use, and we all were there. So it just, unfortunately--I got to see my sisters and brothers and--but it was at Mama's funeral.

NORRIS: Now, Sharon, you've got so much on you right now: trying to piece together your life, grieving for your mother, trying to keep in touch with family members that have moved all over the country. How are you getting through all this?

Ms. WHITE: You know, sometimes I think about it. It's like I went to sleep in August, August 28th, and sometimes I feel like I haven't woke up. It's like a continual bad dream. For every good thing that happens or every time I get to see a little light, something else puts that light out. It's something. It's always another hurdle, but I guess that's life. That's living. I got to keep doing what I got to keep doing for me and my baby. I have my 11-year-old. My other kids are all older, and I just found out they wasn't coming--they can't come make Thanksgiving with me, but that's OK.

NORRIS: What are you going to do on Thanksgiving?

Ms. WHITE: (Laughs) Believe it or not, I'm going to cook. I have to. I can't--I don't know--at first I said I wasn't going to do anything, just rest. But I have an 11-year-old that's expecting some sense of normalcy, and I'm trying to give her that, and she deserves that. So I'm going to cook and just watch TV, watch some tapes and, you know, just try to make it normal for her. You know, I'm going to miss my other babies still, but that's OK. I'm going to cook, and I'm going to thank God for what I have and that I did survive and my immediate family survived, and I know Mama's OK. She's watching us. And we--even though we're all separated right now, she's in a better place, you know. I was making a temporary home, but God had something more permanent for Mama. But I'm going to miss that old lady, I tell you.

NORRIS: Sharon, you and I have kept in touch, and in one of our conversations you said that you were almost embarrassed by how emotional you got in our conversation. You said you didn't want people to think that you were just crying over material things...

Ms. WHITE: Right.

NORRIS: ...losing the things in your house; that your house represented something more to you. What did you mean by that?

Ms. WHITE: Wow.

NORRIS: What did your house represent?

Ms. WHITE: It was--coming from where I came from, the materialistic things can be bought again. It wasn't that. It was the building itself because it represented to me a sense of my accomplishments. It represented, `Hey, Sharon, you did something with your life. Your children never have to stay in a project as long as this house is here.' It was like one of my babies, you know. Exactly. That's exactly what it was like, one of my babies.

NORRIS: I know it's going to be difficult for you to be away from your home and from your family this Thanksgiving. But despite all that, I hope you have a bountiful holiday.

Ms. WHITE: It's going to be OK, though. It's going--I have life, I have love and I'll be OK. I just wish the same thing, life, love and happiness, to everyone that's listening, that took the time to care for a stranger. It will never be forgotten. Thank you very much.

NORRIS: Sharon White. She says she's still determined to get back to New Orleans.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.