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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: Converted by ill winds

by Philip Martin | September 7, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

He didn't want to do it, but they had to put the sheriff on the renter in Coushatta, La.

She had been an all right tenant for awhile, and they were happy when she said she wanted to work out a rent-to-own plan. But then a few months went by and she didn't send a check or even call to say why.

When his wife got in touch with her, she said she was going to talk to the bank about financing, and his wife said that was a good idea, but all that really did was buy the renter a couple more months of a free roof over her head.

When his wife called the bank, they said they hadn't heard of the renter and so far as they knew she hadn't taken any steps toward obtaining a loan, and maybe she was working with another lender. That's when he and his wife knew something was fishy.

He didn't want to get involved because it was his wife's house. He didn't understand why she had kept it all these years, except maybe it had something to do with her two previous husbands and how they had treated her.

He didn't think she consciously was keeping the place just in case, but he knew how men were as well as she did, and it hurt his heart a little to think about it, so he was glad when she rented it out and even gladder when she said she intended to sell it.

They weren't poor, but they weren't the kind of people to keep two houses, and if they were he could think of a lot of places where he'd rather have a second home than Coushatta, no offense intended to Red River Parish, which is probably as good a place as anywhere to raise a little girl.

But that little girl was grown now and had a house of her own in Shreveport; she wouldn't think of living in the little house in the little town.

And he and his wife had settled into his house in Chauvin, which he had made a few improvements on. He had built a second bathroom and was planning to build a suite for his mother-in-law when she came to stay for a few weeks or months or the duration, if she wanted to. He didn't mind if she did; in fact he'd welcome it.

So he was all for renting the house in Coushatta; he was all for selling it. He just wished they'd done a background check on the renter before she moved in. There were some things in her history that made it unlikely she'd be able to get a loan to buy the little house, things that suggested the cessation of rent checks shouldn't have come as a complete surprise to them.

Oh, well. They weren't really any worse off than they were when the house was standing empty. At least the renter had kept the grass mowed and deterred the meth fiends from breaking in and using it as a party pad. He had worried about that happening. Once they got the renter out of the house, they'd engage a real estate agent to list it. They'd probably send someone around to check on it now and then.

The house in Coushatta was a worry, but it wasn't at the top of his list.

He'd finally got his truck back after pumping it full of regular unleaded in North Carolina. The problem was the truck took diesel, and though he never started it up, the mechanic they engaged to drain the tank had somehow messed up. It took a few weeks and the need to tow the truck back to Houma, but it was running again.

The total bill was something just shy of $25,000, and he was afraid that the insurance wouldn't cover it.

But it did. He imagined the mechanic's insurance company actually paid.

So the truck wasn't a problem anymore, but he worried about what he must have been thinking when he filled it up. He figured he was too young for senility, but he knew people who had no common sense who believed themselves highly competent. People weren't always smart about knowing their own limitations. Maybe he ought to worry more about himself.

And there was another storm bearing down, they said.

There had been a bunch of them these past few years, but they had all seemed to swing east at the last minute. They'd get a glancing blow in Cocodrie and Chauvin as the storms headed over to New Orleans and up into Mississippi.

He'd lived below Houma his entire life. He'd seen storms. He knew what to batten down. What to chain up. What to give up and let float away if something had to float away.

Ida was a worry, but not a big one.

Then it hit and the cell towers toppled into the bayou, and Mister Joe's beautiful fish camp got blown clear away. And his neighbor Miss Mary, her house was flattened. She'd talked about staying too; at the last minute her daughter came and drove her out of there.

He and his wife and their dog Isabel sat for dark hours in the middle of his little house hugging each other and praying while the worst winds he'd ever experienced whipped the debris around. It was like a blender outside, swamp water and limbs and wings made of sheets of metal from blasted houses swirled along with frogs and fish and small animals.

When it was done, the house was still there, though the windows with the room airs had been busted out. His carport had collapsed on his newly repaired truck. (Bless its heart, his wife said, you've got to keep the poor thing now.)

No power, of course, and the road from Houma to Cocodrie was impassable. They took a boat out and up to Houma, and talked to a state trooper who agreed to text his mother-in-law that they were OK; no damage that could not be fixed.

He got some bottled water and some more fuel for his generators and they floated back home. They were lucky; they had two freezers full of fish and meat to eat.

He went looking for people to help. There was a rumor of cell service at Cocodrie. He found a couple of bars and thumbed out a hasty Facebook post to let everyone know they were OK. He ended it like this:

"I made a promise to my wife an my little sweat isabel that wr are nit staying fir any more an I told my boss if they say the a 2 r a 3 coming they better pick up ... quick cuse me an my wife an isabel are leaving no matter what'd left to be picked up"

And they took the house in Coushatta off the market.

Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at

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