Last weekend at a writer’s group meeting I met a woman I shall call Sue. During the course of our conversation I learned Sue was going to be laid off from her school district job as a special programs director for kids with drug problems. It seems there is no funding for her program next year. She will cease to have a job on April 30.
What I noticed about her attitude right away was that she was unconcerned about losing her job even though she had only learned the previous day that she was going to be laid off. I knew she was a mid-fifties single woman with modest means. Being very curious about her circumstances I asked her why she wasn’t concerned about the pending job loss.
Sue told me the brief summary of her life.
For 22 years she was a hospital social worker in New Orleans. She worked helping very poor families arrange hospice and home health care for their loved ones. She said nothing is as emotionally tough as working with poor uneducated people to help them find home care to help their loved ones so they can die with dignity.
Her job allowed her to build a modest pension and enjoy her passions which are playing the jazz music on the clarinet, writing, and teaching children to play many musical instruments.
Ten years ago she got divorced. Two years later she came down with cancer and went through difficult chemo and radiation treatment without any family around her.
After that experience she decided to retire and took most of her retirement money to open a New Orleans coffee shop/jazz venue. She loved playing music and having people in her business who came to drink strong French coffee and listen to old-style traditional jazz. Her business was generating a nice income when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
Sue didn’t wait until the storm hit to leave town. She packed up her Honda Civic with her precious clarinet and as many personal belongings as she could and left town ahead of the storm. Sue wasn’t sure where to go but thought Austin would be a good place to ride out the storm. She hoped to find a jazz band she could play with for the short time she was here.
By the time Sue arrived in Austin there were already about 8,000 other people here in shelters, fleeing Katrina. Austin’s convention center was the primary shelter and was overcrowded, loud, and very unpleasant. Sue didn’t feel safe staying there, so she slept in her car for over a month. During the day she put her social work skills to work helping fellow evacuees at the convention center apply for FEMA aid, other relief, and housing.
Because she was living in her car rather than the convention center, the city authorities told her she would be one of the last ones to be placed in safer, more pleasant housing.