Local Observation / TRADITION

By Christina Oxenberg

Losing everything, overnight, seems to be a family tradition.

Luckily for me I am not encumbered with materialism. Objects annoy me because they need care and after you have lost everything, more than once, you learn to let go of this ‘can’t live without it’ mentality.

Except for two pieces of artwork, a photogravure by Carol Munder and a watercolor by Susan Sugar, two of my favorite artists.

I didn’t pack them into my get-away car when I left before the storm because I never envisaged not returning.

I left two days before the hurricane hit and life spiraled into a roller-coaster. I couldn’t get reliable information from the island except for spotty transmissions of ‘Don’t come back yet, there’s no electricity’, to ‘Don’t come back yet, I think your house took a hit’, to ‘Don’t come back at all, your house is toast’.

So began four months of rolling around America with strangers asking, ’So, where do you live?’ Amazing I didn’t punch anyone in the face.

I stayed with friends in Alabama which was lush and lovely as a spoonful of honey. I stayed in New Orleans and had my dreams crushed. I rented a cottage in Mississippi and observed the local lore of gamblers and fishermen and doughnuts with maple syrup and bacon.

An exhilarating ride is the ferry to Galveston, a barrier island off the coast of Houston, a tranquil beach resort on the edge of ruin as casinos come to town.

I was invited to stay with an angel in the Hamptons and I had occasion to catch my breath and recalibrate. One day a snowflake fell and I phoned FEMA, and lo! ’Pick a hotel in Key West,’ the agent proposed.

I sped south. My first stop was the cratered former dwelling to retrieve my art collection. I trod the rocking floorboards with a doff to the family curse.

A friend’s neighbor died, now a place to hang my paintings. That’s the Key West shuffle.