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Mississippians have weathered the storms before

A couple of weeks ago, I headed to the Coast for a book signing. I was scheduled to be at Bay Books in Bay St. Louis on Saturday morning. This is one of my favorite places in Mississippi, so the trip was no hardship. In addition, it gave me a reason to visit my parents in Gulfport.

I drove down Friday afternoon and headed straight to WLOX-TV. This local station is just a few blocks from my parents house, so it felt like old home week. I appeared on their 4 p.m community show. The ante room was full of happy, joking people — a magician, his sidekicks, a musician and me. I followed the magician. Never follow the magician.

It reminded me of the reason I love this part of Mississippi. The people here are fun and happy and resilient. They are more interested in living than in making a living. Nobody preened for the cameras. They were just all having a good time — no pretense here.

The next morning I took the long drive down the Beach Highway to Bay St. Louis. I’ve traveled this road several times since Hurricane Katrina, but this was the first time I felt hopeful. While the storm debris has been gone for a while, signs of activity have been scarce. On this morning, I noticed new buildings and new signs of life. As I passed Pass Christian, I saw numerous shrimp boats just off shore.

I crossed the new Back Bay bridge and marveled at its structure. People were using the pedestrian lane for walking, running and cycling. Off to my right were sailboats on a morning regatta. As I turned into Old Town, I saw new residences built in the old cottage style. Downtown was bustling on this glorious morning. Citizens were planting in the community garden. Children were biking to playgrounds and the big, town oak tree. There was a local flea market whose proceeds were going to the victims in Haiti.

As I met the proprietor of Bay Books, Kay Gough, I commented on what I had seen. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Yes, it’s been hard. We reopened  a year after Katrina.” I saw a resilience beyond measure. After spending the morning in her store talking to new Habitat owners about managing their money, I decided to spread some of my money around this wonderful, quaint town.

I spent the afternoon on “The Bay.” I had lunch on the porch of an old house now serving as a cafe. I wandered through the historic cemetery, noting the abundance of French names and New Orleans-style crypts. One storeowner proudly showed off the poster for the upcoming harbor. It was beautiful, and the best part was that they already had all the money for it.

Last week, I called my dad for the latest oil report. No, the oil hadn’t come ashore yet, but they were resigned to its arrival. Another blow for my beloved Coast? I thought about those shrimpers just now starting their season. And I thought about the new tourist attractions along the highway. And I thought about those wonderful, welcoming folks on “The Bay.” How would they cope with this new disaster?

Then I remembered the resilience of these people. The Coast has been particularly hard-hit by the recession. After all, it’s mostly about the tourists. When people don’t have money for groceries, they certainly don’t have money for fun and vacations. I wondered if this event could have a silver lining.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in mourning over the effects on the beaches and the wildlife. I’m concerned about the long-term ramifications for fishing in the Gulf. And I wonder about the wisdom of drilling in pristine oceans, all the while driving around by myself in my oil-dependent car. These bigger issues will have to be addressed, but for the people on the Coast, fussing now is a bit like crying over spilt milk.

It’s coming, and somebody has to do something. While volunteers are lining up to clean beaches and assist in any way possible, BP is hiring like crazy. They’re contracting with local fishermen for the use of their boats and crews. They’re hiring people to participate in the clean-up on land. Laid-off casino workers are lining up for the chance to work again.

In the short run, this could offer a boost to the region. The same thing happened after Katrina. While I don’t relish the thought of dead turtles and black beaches, I know the resilience of this people. Volunteers will jump at the chance to save their shores. Unemployed workers will take this lifeline and know they are helping their community, as well as their families.

The effects of this oil spill will be with us for years to come, but the people of the Coast understand about long-term commitments. They’ve weathered many other storms and are still standing. But they’re not just standing. They’re laughing and living and hoping for better days. They know when a disaster looms offshore, there’s no use wringing your hands. You just need to go ahead and start planning for the clean-up… because it’s coming.


Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland, (601) 991-3158.  She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is nanderson@newper.com, and her web site is www.newper.com.


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