Cajun Thanksgiving

by Donna McCollum

"So, welcome to my home," said Tracey DaMaré on Thanksgiving Day, something Tracey didn't expect to be saying quite so soon after Hurricane Katrina. Her Louisiana home was destroyed by the terrible storm, but there's still so much to be thankful for. "I'm very excited. I never thought we would be where we are today. That's for sure," said Tracey as she mixed up a casserole.

After shelters and hotels, Tracey has a home, thanks to the efforts of United Way and Red Cross. Her door is used often. Street neighbors from three houses, all relatives, gather there for Thanksgiving and the other times. Uncles, an aunt, grandmother, and a longtime family friend fill the living room, anticipating a special meal. Quintin, Tracey's 11-year-old son, goes around and hugs them. "These are the best people in my family."

A family, a home, and now a job are among Tracey's blessings. She's working for an agency that helped her family settle in Nacogdoches. "I work for Red Cross now. It's phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. [It's] absolutely phenomenal helping people because I can understand what they're going through."

The agency offered her the job after seeing her perform volunteer work so well. She looks at it as a way to pay back for all the help she's received.

Her two boys have learned a life lesson about need and the importance of helping. "You don't know how precious things are until you lose it," said Quintin. His older 13-year-old brother Devin said, "Now I try to do as much as I can to try and help out and help my family out because we really still haven't really gottten over it yet."

The family is doing well by holding onto the right attitude. "Don't think of the past. Look toward the future," chimed in the younger Quintin.

The DaMarés still maintain close ties to Louisiana. Relatives were phoning them throughout the day. Also, her husband, who designs blueprints, has been called back to work.

"After we've been through and the way we gotten here, where we've been so far, I wouldn't want to be any place else," said Tracey.