The Smiths: Coping in Katrina's Wake
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
It's been almost six months since Hurricane Katrina uprooted tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents. Reporter, Joshua Levs, has followed the Smith family from the beginning. Here is his update from McKinney, Texas.
JOSHUA LEVS, reporting:
It's a cold Saturday morning in McKinney, and the Smith's two youngest children, Selwyn, Jr. and Tremaine are sprawled out on the living room floor, playing a videogame. Ten-year-old Tremaine is also improvising a blues song that he calls Cornbread on the River.
Mr. TREMAINE SMITH: (Singing) Cornbread on the river, cornbread, cornbread on the river.
LEVS: This is home to them. They're comfortable and happy here. Twelve-year-old, Selwyn, Jr. says it's never been a challenge for him to jump into this new life.
Mr. SELWYN SMITH, JR.: Feel like I had an easier adjusting than everybody in the house. Me; I'm already adjusted to it. I can live here.
LEVS: I asked whether it's awkward for him that his parents are still struggling to adjust. He says it is.
Mr. SELWYN SMITH, JR.: I try to help them out. It's stressful, like sometimes I make breakfast, and like, I don't know, overall try to make their lives easy.
LEVS: He says it seems to help a little. Tremaine says he also notices his parents having a tough time.
Mr. TREMAINE SMITH: We don't think that they have many friends, and that's why.
LEVS: Do you feel more comfortable here than your parents?
Mr. TREMAINE SMITH: Yes.
LEVS: Both boys are making friends, and both kids are enjoying school. Tremaine says it's more challenging, and he feels like he's learning more.
Mr. TREMAINE SMITH: Like if you get, like, a lot wrong on a test, they'll, like, call you, and she'll bring you to this, like, table, and she'll, like, talk to you and help you. It helps.
LEVS: Their mother, Chaquita, says it's inevitable that the young ones would have an easier time than her and her husband, Selwyn.
Ms. CHAQUITA SMITH (Mother of Smith family): Because, you know, we built up ourselves in New Orleans, and, you know, we've established ourselves, so that's why it's harder for us.
LEVS: Chaquita and Selwyn worked for years to save up money for the kind of life they wanted in New Orleans. They were just about to move into a new house, when Hurricane Katrina came along, destroying the house they were living in and damaging the new one. They moved to McKinney to be near relatives, but have a lot of deal with back in New Orleans. Selwyn goes every couple of weeks.
Mr. SELWYN SMITH, SR.: When I'm here in Texas, I still have a job in New Orleans, so I can't really, like, situate my life here or try to even get it started because I still, you know, I have so much to do there.
LEVS: He says the boys' easy adjustment has made things easier for him.
Mr. SELWYN SMITH, SR.: If they going through things, you know, I'd have to help them deal with what they're dealing with, and then deal with the stuff I'm dealing with, so there's less on me.
LEVS: But there's also a risk. The Smiths don't want to move back to New Orleans anytime soon, but Chaquita says she'd rather live someplace closer to her former home, and in a couple of years, perhaps the family will move back. That sets up a concern about the boys.
Ms. SMITH: I feel bad because they're adapting to it very well, but on the other hand, we still have our things that we need to do, and that maybe one day, we'll have to snatch them up from here, you know, where they've grown to love or whatever, and that's what I hate, you know, I don't want to hurt them, you know. You want everybody to be happy.
LEVS: Their oldest child, Qiante(ph), is not very happy in Texas. She says she falls in between her brothers and her parents.
Ms. QIANTE SMITH: Because my parents, they have, like, a lot of responsibilities too. They got a lot of stuff to finish up in New Orleans. My brothers, they have a lot of friends. They do a lot of stuff out here. They have a lot of activities they get into. I really don't do too much.
LEVS: She likes going to the mall in McKinney, but even that's not a social experience.
Ms. QIANTE SMITH: No, I just be going around.
LEVS: But as the months pass, she says things are getting better, slowly, and her father thinks it's an important learning experience for the kids.
Mr. SELWYN SMITH, SR.: I think that change is good because it develops growth, you know, it come from being inside the box, you could relate.
LEVS: He says so many people he knows never leave New Orleans. Now, his kids may see the world through different eyes.
Mr. SELWYN SMITH, SR.: I know a lot of people that, when they went to college, they went right there in New Orleans. They stayed there, and mainly because they just ain't want to leave, you know, and now at least, their decision on college, their future decisions in life, won't be based on, that limited.
LEVS: He says maybe as adults, the kids will choose to live in New Orleans, but not out of fear of trying something new. For NPR News, I'm Joshua Levs.
BRAND: And NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.
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