Nomi Solomon, a mother of three, discusses the floods, hurricane Harvey, and her commitment to staying in Meyerland for the Jewish community it offers. Starting with the Memorial Day flood and being 11 weeks postpartum to living with her in-laws for six months, Solomon relates the trials and tribulations of dealing with the immense flooding seen in the Meyerland area.
Solomon and her husband chose to move to Houston for work but knew they wanted to be in the Meyerland community for their children, as that was where her husband grew up. The day school, the JCC, and the feeling of Jewishness is what are keeping the Solomon family in Meyerland, even as some Jews chose to leave the flood-prone area. Solomon acknowledges that some people who have raised their families and are now older couples might be wise to leave, but she believes that young Jewish families will continue to call Meyerland home. Solomon also relates the PTSD she suffered after Harvey and how that impacted her and her family. Despite all the trials, she and her husband are determined to continue to raise their family in Meyerland.
Interviewed by: Laura Bernal
Date: March 22, 2018
Transcribed by: Laura Bernal
Location: Starbucks (Meyerland Plaza), 710 Meyerland Plaza, Houston, Texas
LB: Hello. This is Laura Bernal. I am here with Nomi Solomon. Today, we’re talking about the Meyerland experience for the “Neighborhood Narratives” of the Resilient Houston project for the UH Center for Public History. So we’re here today at the Meyerland Plaza Starbucks.
LB: And so the first question is, “When and where were you born?”
NS: I was born in Albany, New York in 1981.
LB: When and why did you move from San Antonio to Houston?
NS: So San Antonio… I went to college at UT in Austin, and my husband and I started dating there. He got into medical school in San Antonio, which I’m from there, anyways, so it was a good fit. We stayed there for a decade, and then moved here for after all of his training for his job.
LB: Did you do your undergraduate or graduate [at UT]?
NS: I did both. I did my undergraduate and graduate at UT Austin in Social Work.
LB: And why did you decide to settle here in the Meyerland area?
NS: So, I mean it was a no-brainer. My husband grew up here. Also, we’re Jewish, and so this was the place where we wanted to be. You know, we had two daughters at that point, and bringing them up within the Jewish community was super important to us so this was just a no-brainer.
LB: So after moving here, how did you and your family get involved in the Jewish community?
NS: Fast, so because he grew up here they were already connected to Beth Yeshurun synagogue, just right down the road, and so that’s where we put our kids for preschool. And just from there, then you know, putting our kids into the JCC [Jewish Community Center] summer camps and programing and getting involved that way, little by little.
LB: And so you have tried to bring your kids up in the Jewish…?
NS: Not try. We do, for sure. (laughs). Like not an option. (laughs) So they start out at preschool in the Jewish day schools and then they go to public school. So, I’ve got an eight-year old and a six-year old in public school, and then I’ve got a three-year old over at Beth Yeshurun preschool.
LB: What other ways do you try to implement the Jewish religion in your household?
NS: So we celebrate all the major holidays. We celebrate the Sabbath, the Shabbat every Friday night with all of our family. My husband’s background is South African, and they have a huge community in Houston, a Jewish community here in Houston as well. His family has a big cohort here, so every Friday we’re together with our family doing the Sabbath. Then they go to Sunday school at our temple, which is now Temple Emanu El in the Medical Center. It’s just kind of woven in the thread of my parenting I would say. Like it’s just part of who we are. It’s part of our identity.
LB: And do they try to… Is your family still in Albany?
NS: No. Everyone is in San Antonio, everyone being my parents are the only people there. So we moved… Actually, my dad was the CEO of the [Barshop] Jewish Community Center in San Antonio, which is what got us there in the first place. It did not last long because the Northeast mentality is not the Texas mentality, so we were probably there for like probably ten months before he did not have that job anymore, but both my parents wanted to stay there. So they’re there still, and they come up here, and they’re part of our lives, every month/month and a half. They’re there. My sister’s now in New Jersey, and we have a lot of family in the Northeast.
LB: And so you live in Meyerland, or do you still live there?
NS: We do. (laughs)
LB: Is it the same house?
NS: It is not. The Memorial Day Floods [May 2015], we had just purchased our home three weeks prior to the flood. I had an eleven-week old baby at that point, and a three-year old, and a five-year old. So three weeks after we purchased the house, the house flooded. I think it was three feet of water. We went next door to a high ground. We redid that house thinking that it wouldn’t happen again because that’s what everyone said. Three days before moving back in, Tax Day Flood [April 2016] happened, so we had all of our shit back in the house. We just weren’t there, thank God. So anyways, that house later went on hold. I was like, “We are not moving back there. We’re done.” So we lived with my in-laws up in the Galleria area for a year and then moved into an apartment on the other side of the highway, so I would say Meyerland-ish for eight months, and then we moved back to Meyerland in an area that has never flooded before. Then Harvey happened, six months later, and it flooded. So then, we moved back with my in-laws for four months, and now we are back at that house. The owner said, “If you want to redo it, I’m willing to give you the money and you can go for it.” So I did it really fast with my contractor, which unfortunately or fortunately, I have relationships with now and we’re back in that house hoping that we don’t flood again? (laughs). I say that like with a big question mark.
LB: So what of remodelations did you do? (I meant remodeling, but I only thought of the word in Spanish)
NS: I mean, things that I never knew before. When you flood, you have to take off the drywall… The house that we owned had gobs of water in it in Harvey, like four-and-a-half feet. Nothing would have survived, if there was something in it. This house only had like four inches. So four inches isn’t a lot, but you still have to take the drywall off to a foot over where the water came. We took it four feet. You take it all out. They rewired the house because electrical… whatever. Floors, carpets, no cabinets can be saved because they sit in water and they’re wood. You know, they’re particle board or wood, so they had to redo the entire kitchen. It’s just a pain in the ass.
LB: Did just you and your husband try to help, or were your children somehow involved?
NS: No. In the remodel process?
LB: Uh huh.
NS: Other than the hope, or the excitement, that we’re moving back and that we’ll be able to ride bikes again. My in-laws live in a high-rise, so it’s like a very different lifestyle than living in a neighborhood. So, no. We would stop by just to check in, but maybe within the four months I took them by two or three times, max. I try to like disconnect them from the process because I don’t know if it’s disconnect, or protect, but it’s not worth it. It wasn’t worth it.
LB: Did you think that the area would flood before you bought the house?
NS: We knew that there was a history of that. They had done, especially in the part that we purchased it they had done… We’re one walk away from the bayou, so it had flooded before. We purchased the home knowing that it had flooded, but they had done a lot of work on the drainage in the streets, which is what they thought was the issue. They had never seen flooding like Memorial Day prior to that, so they thought with what they had seen that that would have been sufficient. Well, it wasn’t with the amount of rain, or I don’t know what. The drainage system was like all messed up, so I knew it was a possibility. I think when you are in a place where you’re super hopeful and excited about the future, that you kind of make your own reality and push the possibility away of like something so devastating, but I was aware. I was definitely aware.
LB: So you think you described pretty much the different floods prior to Harvey. So for Harvey, did you… Since you knew already kind of what to expect, did you take any [precautions]?
NS: For sure, so I’m not fucking around anymore. I am not going to sit around and wait for the water to rise up in the street and come over my… because that’s what people are doing now. They’re watching rise up into their front lawns and then reach the front stair and then come up to the threshold. I’m not doing that, and I’m not doing that to my kids either. That was the one thing that I could say I that feel really secure about was my parenting, or our parenting within this. It’s just making the decision to not have our children traumatized by the experience. So when we knew Harvey was coming, my husband was on call that weekend. He was at the hospital. He was on trauma call, so he couldn’t come home. So I was like, “I’m just going to lift everything.” Our housekeeper came over. I asked her to come over. We lifted everything we could… If there was shoes on the closet floor, they went up. If there was whatever, everything that we could lift, we lifted, and I left. I took the kids to my in-laws. I want to say Harvey was like on a Friday, on a Saturday, or something, so I think I went on a Thursday or Friday morning, or something before it happened and just kind of waited. Our next-door neighbor stayed. They have a two-story, and I was in contact with them, and they were like, “It looks like it’s inching in.” They were on their second story by then, so we were aware about what was happening when it was happening.
LB: Did you try to also keep track of what was going on through social media?
NS: Sure. Yeah. I mean, so what ended up happening because unfortunately I’m that experienced with all this, I felt helpless up on the twentieth floor of a high rise, not able to help anyone. So social media to me was like the link to the people who were experiencing this again. So what I did was, when I knew we were flooding again and that Meyerland was flooding again, I made a to-do list on my Facebook, and it was basically who to call, when to call, why to call. You know, insurance and the remediators, whatever it was. And so I called all, and did all of that and it was shared over five hundred times. You feel helpless. People are like, “God, you’ve been through so much.” And I just feel like it’s been a wealth of knowledge that I can spread, like to keep that to myself would be super selfish. I mean, it sucks, but no one’s dead. You know what I mean? Like it’s stuff and it sucks to be displaced and I really don’t want that to be my children’s narrative for their lives, but I feel like we’re moving on. You know, so we’re doing the best that we can in a shitty circumstance.
LB: What would you describe as a normal Jewish life prior to Harvey?
NS: I can’t tell you that I think it’s changed. Where I think you’ll see the change, and possibly within the class you’ll see this, is dependent on the generation. For instance, my generation, no one’s leaving. Not many people, anyways. If there are people leaving that are not Jewish. But the Jewish community of my generation is staying put, either just figuring out another way to make this life work in this area. I can’t tell you that things have changed, other than the institutions flooded as well, right? So the Jewish Community Center flooded. The synagogues flooded, so everything was sort of an upheaval and there were a lot of question marks around everything. Now people have started to rebuild. You’ll hear that there’s like a phenomenon around this. Give it like six months, and people just sort of forget. Things are put back together, programming is reinstated, you know, whatever. I can’t tell you I think things have changed. I think that what has changed is people’s eyes have opened to what community really is and how to support people. Like I said, my kids go to Kolter Elementary, the public school in the Meyerland area, and it was not a Jewish/non-Jewish thing at that school. It was a “we are a public school community. We help each other.” I mean, the principals, the teachers, everyone was out helping. So I think for me, really not much has changed other than seeing that people rally, and they step up and are supportive. I think that’s the majority. The people that have left the community, which is not a lot, I think are just over it. They don’t want to have that experience again, and they want to protect their families, and I get it. I get it, but you know, the Jews for some reason are willing to push through and flood, whatever. (chuckles) You know. We had ten million people, ten million killed, or a million killed, in the World War II, like we’re good. Flood’s not gonna kill us, you know. (chuckles)
LB: Do you think that’s the mentality for why your generation is deciding to stay?
NS: I think we just continue to live. I don’t think anyone is looking at the Holocaust as like six million Jews. You know, I don’t think that’s what it is. I think we persevere. Like, we come with our community. We stay with our community. We seek our community, like my husband and I did, and we know that they’re there. And in these instances, they step up. I think definitely you’ll find people with a different perspective. I generally have a positive perspective on life, so there’s definitely people that don’t and people that are victimizing, or self-victimizing. You know, it’s out of our control and all you can do is just figure out how to move forward, which is what I think what the community, in general, is like the message how to move on.
LB: So you feel like there are different generations within the community.
NS: I do. I think that, for instance, like my in-laws’ generation. So, they’re in their sixties, so I would say anywhere between like fifties and you know, seventies and plus. I think those people they’re not attached to the community for schools anymore. You know, if they wanted to do the public school, Kolter, because it’s a great public school, they are at the point in their lives where their children have grown up and gone away, and they maybe were thinking of downsizing anyways. You know, there’s a lot to the equation, but I think… You know, I can’t tell you if I was sixty years old that I would want to put up with this shit. I’d be like, “It’s time to go to the high rise.” (Laughs) You know, but for raising children, this is the place where I want my family to grow up. I think it’s definitely a generational thought. Also, like United Orthodox Synagogue, they’re tearing down and the community around it because they’re the kind of people who like don’t drive on the Sabbath and all that kind of stuff. Like those people, there’s a huge community there. You know, people are there because it’s such in flux. Those people are like, “What are we going to do if our synagogue leaves?” I don’t have that issue, but I definitely think there’s a generational issue. It’ll be interesting to see if there is older people that y’all are interviewing to see what the differentiation is between the two generations.
LB: Yeah. We’re interviewing some. A couple of rabbis, an older couple, and other people like around [your generation], that have their children.
NS: Yeah. People are like, “Why don’t y’all move out to Katy? Why don’t you move out?” You would never get the kind of community there that you get here in relation to Judaism. You know, we have huge institutions here: The Jewish Community Center, all the synagogues. It just wouldn’t happen the same way, and that’s fine if someone makes that choice. That’s just not a choice that my husband and I are willing to make. You know, in San Antonio there’s like ninety- eight hundred Jews and so it’s a small community. My parents brought us up Jewish, we’re a part of the community as much as you can be. Be part of the Jewish organizations and youth groups and things like that, but I always wanted more for my family. Knowing that, so when Brett finished residency, we both we’re like, “Let’s go to Houston.” I wanted to go to a big city. There’s so much diversity within the Jewish community here that it’s super cool. I mean, it’s just a neat thing to be able expose my kids to.
LB: What kind of diversity?
NS: So there’s all different sects of Judaism. So you’ve got Reform, which we are. Then there’s Conservative, Orthodox, Chabad. Those are the people that are conservative.. It’s just how much you… What’s the word? Like, how, I want to say devout. How? Like, I’m definitely Jewish. Mine’s more like…A Reform Jew tends to be more like a cultural thing than it is a religious thing, and then when you go up to Orthodox, to Chabad, those ones that’s the way they run their lives. Like, by the Bible, by the Torah. Like the rules in there are the rules for their lives. You know, for me like the Torah was like a history book. We can take what we want from it and learn from it. It’s a learning tool, but I’m not gonna run everything related to it. There’s temples for all of those different areas of Judaism, which is very cool. It’s very cool to be able to show my kids the difference between that, but also Houston is just diverse in general, which I love that.
[After a long pause with loud music in the background]
NS: It’s fine, background music.
LB: So how did your religion help you during Hurricane Harvey?
NS: I’m trying to tap back into to if I was speaking to God or praying. I think it was more of the “Why is this happening?” and just talking to the cosmos. I don’t think that I was like directing it to my God necessarily. I think that what I can say when I speak to my religion and it being about culture, for me, the idea of community and how the community stood up goes hand in hand with Judaism and what Judaism is capable of. I think in that regard, that is how I tapped into my Judaism, was just the community piece and the cultural piece.
LB: You said that you were trying to process why it was happening to you. How did you do that?
NS: I think you have to just let go at some point. If I think too much about that, I just… Sometimes there’s not a reason for everything. What I can say is I do believe in global warming. I do believe that things are changing with climate. You know, I think that there’s science behind things, so I’m not necessarily relating that to Judaism. What I think is hilarious is that the Jews got cheap land over here in the sixties. It was a rice paddy, or whatever it was, and that’s what we do. We’re very good in business. We find things cheap and look what happens! That’s where I think it comes in. So I think that stereotypically, I think I can say and laugh about it, but other than that, I don’t think God had anything to do with it. I think that this is a man-made issue. Again, I think recognizing that the community means a whole lot to me, that the way that we survive together means a lot to me, and I know that that’s related to Judaism.
LB: How did you reach out to the community to get help?
NS: You know, the first time, there was a very big difference for me in the first time versus the second time. The first time, we had just moved in to that house so we didn’t have neighbors. We met our neighbors seeking refuge in this higher house. That’s how we met our neighbors. My oldest daughter had not started the public elementary school yet. I was eleven weeks post-partum. It’s just very different circumstances than the second. I didn’t ask for a lot of help. There were people in my life that stepped up. It was a little embarrassing that it happened. You know, I felt some shame surrounding it. Like, “Oh, God. We purchased this house. I’m sure people are looking in on us as, ‘Were they stupid to buy this in the first place that had flooded before?'” You know, all those negative thoughts processes. So I didn’t ask for a lot of help the first time. I had a couple of girlfriends really step up and kind of manage the process for me [be]cause my husband is a surgeon and not available long-term to help out with the details of it. So that was that. The second time, I kind of like realized this is not something to be shameful about. You know, this is totally out of my control and I’m going to start asking for help, so I started asking for help. All I did was just reach out to the Jewish organizations that were asking if we needed help. I would say, “My husband’s a physician. There’s people in worst circumstances. We’re okay.” Then, I realized maybe we’re not okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. Opening that door, I think is pretty freeing also. Realizing that one, it’s okay to ask for help, and two, there’s a lot of people there that want to help you.
LB: So when you say the first time, that means the…
NS: Memorial Day Flood. Memorial Day.
LB: What kind of help did the Jewish organizations provide?
NS: So I would say… The first time… It’s like so hard to fucking remember. I can’t believe it’s like three years ago now. It feels like an eternity when I think back. It really does. Like my youngest that was eleven weeks old is now three. You know, it just feels like a very long time ago, so I can’t remember. I want to say that like my synagogue, so Emanu El, reached out and they were giving out gift cards and things like that for Target, for Walmart, for H.E.B. You know, just for like the basic needs stuff that was gone at that point. The Federation, Jewish Federation, was asking also from the synagogues who needs help. It was a lot. The numbers were so much less then, than they are now. There weren’t as many people, so it wasn’t as big of an undertaking for them, so I think they were more able to reach out. By the second flood, by Tax Day, I was asking for help. I was calling and saying, “Hey, my kids are going to summer camp this summer. I heard that you are helping out with that.” You know, because what you don’t realize is that the monthly funds you need to use those for like everyday things. Whereas before, you could say, like now you can’t because you need to replace everything. So it was very helpful to have those kinds of things. But a lot of it came in gift cards. A lot of it came in meals, things like that.
LB: Did Hurricane Harvey affect you trying to get food, since you know, you have… Well, do you have… follow the kosher rule?
NS: I don’t. I don’t have an issue with that at all. I’m assuming that it probably did affect those people because there was no access, but I don’t know the answer to that.
LB: At least for you personally, did you have trouble finding food?
NS: No. You know, so we’re very lucky that we have family here, and no one else flooded except for us. (Laughs) So everyone has been very helpful. When we lived in my in-laws’ the first time, for that year, they weren’t charging us for rent. They were going to provide for us whatever we needed, and they definitely did. Food has never been an issue.
LB: Well, how long did it take you to go back to your house after Harvey?
NS: Just to see the damage? So, which are we talking? We’re talking about Harvey?
LB: I mean, you tell me about the other ones if you want to.
NS: (Laughs) I don’t need to. Do you want just Harvey? Does it matter? Okay. Memorial Day, we were stuck at the house next door. So once the waters, about twelve hours after the storm, stopped, we got to go back to see the like the damage because the waters had receded. So that, twelve hours. For Harvey, when we were up in the Galleria, my husband… Was that Harvey? Shoot… No, Tax Day, we were living at my in-laws’, and my husband, after the first flood, got a car that was almost amphibious. So it’s a Jeep and it has like the exhaust up on top so you can go into like four feet of water. Purposely, he got that. I mean, it’s fucked up that we have to start thinking about that stuff, but we do for just choosing to stay in this area. So he like did… It was flooded up there too. The streets were flooded, and he was determined to get back to the house to try to save whatever he could. It took him, I think, like two hours to find the way to get there, but he got there before the floodwaters came in. Our next-door neighbor, who’s higher up, came over to the house and helped him lift things that they could lift. The interesting thing like when we talk about Judaism, like the thing that is always on my mind is our ketubah, which is our marriage license and that’s like super important, so like please lift that! You know, or take it to high ground! Like everything else, I don’t care! You know, this is like a big deal, and not only is it like our marriage license, but it’s the piece of artwork to me. So, it’s significant. The other stuff, it’s not a big deal, and I think that it’s anyone. I don’t think it’s just religious, or religion-based. I think mementos from your past that are significant are the things that you want to survive in this, and so like we lost all of them. Like the first time, we just didn’t know. We put down all of our wedding albums down and we had all of the kids’… Before, when you were printing out pictures, all of that was low. All that got…It’s is gone, so you rethink all of that. Harvey… So Harvey, we left… The flooded houses didn’t fucking matter. The flooded house, was already like…The drywall was cut up to four feet. It went over. The floodwaters went over that. It was four and a half feet. Yes, and there was nothing in the house that mattered. I mean, everything was already like gutted and taken out and whatever, so that didn’t matter. We were just like more curious when we went back. Just Brett and I went back after Harvey, and I want to say it was like a day later. I mean, it was once the waters receded again and you could get in. The rental house, again, you couldn’t really tell there was water, other than at the baseboards. Right above where the drywall begins, it was starting to like, kind of… I don’t know what the word is, but like wave, or whatever. You knew there was water, and it didn’t smell good in the house also. So, that’s how long it took us. We immediately, because I know the process, started ripping things out, like the carpets in the bedrooms and things like that.
LB: So after the first floods, did you… Well, for some of the things you said, like your marriage license, did you try to put them in frames? Did you have it in a frame, or how did that work?
NS: We had it frame? No, so it didn’t get… Are you talking framed?
LB: Okay. So you said that you were worried about your marriage license.
NS: Right. Well, the first fucking flood none of my artwork was hung on the walls. It was all down on the ground. My sister’s an artist, like we lost so much beautiful… and I’m so into my art. Like, I pick it personally. Like, I go to festivals and I meet the artist. I’m passionate about my art so that was really sad. We tried to salvage what we could. I mean, a lot of it was gone. So after the first flood, I was like, “Everything will be hung immediately!” You change your mind [about] how things are going to work. I don’t think we had hung this stuff for Tax Day, but we had it all higher. When Brett was going off, I was like, “Make sure all the art is higher! Make sure!” That was only eighteen inches, so it’s still a lot. You still have to take everything out, but it wasn’t as devastating and because the things were higher up, it was okay. Then… What was the question? Sorry.
LB: It was just that… Since you said that you really cared about your marriage [license]…
NS: Oh, so your mentality changes, though. It’s really messed up, your mentality. Now that I’m moving back into to a house in a flood area, none of my pictures are gonna go low, none of my this. I’m gonna hang up the pictures right away. Your mentality changes. It’s like survival. How am I gonna survive, if and when this happens again? Like shoes, and shit that were on the ground. Like okay, I’m not gonna work real hard with that one, but the mementos of our past, I will. You just think differently. It’s weird.
LB: No. It makes sense.
NS: Uh huh. Also, I have to speak to the PTSD quality of it all. You don’t realize how much an event like that can really change brain chemistry. One, I was post-partum after the first flood, and we moved into this apartment. It’s a nice apartment, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not conducive for my family of five and the two of them [her in-laws]. I was sleeping on the floor on a single mattress with my two girls, on single mattresses as well, so three single mattresses in the guest room. My husband was on the couch in the television room, and our son, Ruben, was in a crib in the front bathroom, and that’s how we lived for a year. About six months in, I found myself, whether it was… It could have been related to hormones and postpartum, but I think that there was something to be said for just how trauma can impact your brain, and about six months or seven months in, I just didn’t feel like I was like getting out of the funk. You know, there were moments where I would cry still, and even though things were like under control and we were moving forward and we had a plan and all that was in place, there was something there. I decided that I was going to go ask for help, so I went to a psychiatrist and we discussed… You know, I… Like I said, I am a social worker in my background, I had a private practice for six years in talk therapy in San Antonio. I feel like I talk in excess. I mean you can tell on this interview. I mean, my feelings are out there. I don’t hide them. I am very aware of them. You know, I am self-aware. I didn’t feel like I needed therapy, but I wanted to go ask, “Do I, or is there…?” I really feel as though I have some, like change in my brain chemistry, but I wanted to go and check that out before… You know, I’ve never felt depression before in my life. I didn’t know what that felt like. I never really felt like post-partum depression before, but this was just different. I felt like there was something else, so I went to this psychiatrist and was like, “Hey, this is what is going on. I think that I have PTSD. I don’t know if that’s the case.” He assessed me, and whatever, and he’s like “I’m going to agree with you,” and put me on Prozac, and I’ve been on it since. (laughs) I think it’s definitely helped me through the subsequent flooding and planning for life. You know, all of that and just kind of just putting your seatbelt on and riding through it. You go back for checkups and all that, and there was a point where I tried to get off. I was like, “I’m ready. You know, we’re in the apartment now. We’re high up. We’re on the fourth floor, like we’re good.” I got off, and a week a half afterwards I was starting to get teary again, so I was like, “Okay. I’m ready to get back on.” (laughs) I not only need to function for myself, but I need to function for my family. For that, this is where I am now, and then we’ll reassess I think when we have long-term safety. (laughs) That will be like my where I would see us, like me feeling ready to titrate off of medication, which would be when my family is high off the ground and we have a long-term safety plan.
LB: Was your husband supportive of that?
NS: Yes. I mean, he was the first person I talked to about it before I went to [the] psychiatrist. We have a very open relationship in that regard. You know, we’re just open about talking about feelings and everything. I just said, “I think I need to go in and ask the question.” He said, “I agree, and I want you to feel good and feel like you can handle this all because it’s a lot to handle.” Yeah. He was totally fine with it.
LB: So what are your short-term and long-term goals now, almost a year after?
NS: Right. So short-term, is kind of like.. It’s already realized. It’s like, we’re back at the rental property. We’re back in the neighborhood. We’re living a normal life, whatever that means. It’s still… You know, the neighborhood is still pretty barren. People are starting to come back. Both our neighbors on either side of us are not there… The whole neighborhood is still in flux, but for keeping normalcy for my children, that’s there. We’re comfortable and content in this house right now. You know, there’s always this record playing of “If another Harvey comes,” and I’ll get out again. I mean I will, but that would fucking suck. I don’t really want to do it, but we will. The long-term is on our flooded property. We just knocked the house down a week ago, which felt so good [be]cause now I don’t have a flooded house. I have a piece of land. (laughs) I have a piece of ocean front property now, so that felt good, just not being stuck in that, “Yeah, our flooded house still existing” whatever. So that felt good. We just have a piece of land, and the long term is we’re building. We’re building ten feet off the ground. We’re parking underneath, laying lifts for the car when the floodwaters come in. My husband would like a boat. We’re going to have a generator for if the electricity ever goes out. It’s just you think differently. You think about it in different terms, and all of it is based for me on the safety and security of my family. So that’s the long term. We’re already done with architecture. We’re already done with permitting. We’re done with the neighborhood society, the HOA. You know, confirming its legitimacy, and now we just need money. (laughs) What people don’t realize is that you still have your full mortgage to pay even though you’re not living in it, so we’ve got our mortgage currently and our rent to pay and whatever other bills we have as a family of five. So we have to save. We have to save for a down payment. We have to save, but it’s hard to save when you’re just making ends meet monthly.
LB: Did your kids try to process with you what happened during Harvey? Did you have to explain it to them?
NS: Again, we’re super open with them. I’m not hiding things from them. I’m not hiding my tears or my sorrow. You know I keep it in check, mind you, but I want them to see that it’s okay to feel. So we talk about feelings a lot. When these events have happened, we’ve discussed it pre. Clearly, they see us. I tell them we’re lifting things, hoping that it doesn’t happen, but if it happens, we want to be prepared. We’re going to Grammie and Poppa’s where we’ll be safe, all that, and then we get there and check-in. “How [are] you feeling?” The first flood, when we lived there for three weeks and we were going to the next-door neighbors’, we rounded everyone up. I had the baby in a carrier, and my next-door neighbor had come to help us, so he was carrying one of my kids and my husband was carrying one of my kids, as the water was already mid-ankle. It moved up very quickly to like knee [level], and there was a current so we needed help. He came over and helped us, took our kids out and walked up their stairs and got up there. The first thing I said to them was, “Oh my God! This is like Noah’s ark! What animal?” This was like at two a.m. “I’m going to be an elephant. What are y’all going to be?” You know, I just didn’t want this to be like this looming negativity of their life, and I wanted it to be something where… Shit happens, and I don’t want my kids to be saved from that, but I also know that they’re kids, and they need some kind of support and protection from their parents, so that’s what we did, and then constantly. Probably, to a very annoying spot, right? I’m like, “How are you feeling? How you doing?” as much as I could. They’ll still… My kids aren’t as traumatized as I’ve seen other kids be like when it starts storming and stuff, but we talk about it. “Oh, God. It’s raining a lot. How you feeling?” It’s always there. It’s not like a taboo topic. It’s not something that we can’t talk about, or that mom’s gonna get sad if we talk about [it]. You know, it’s not… I’m super reality based, so we just talk.
LB: So did that similarly happen with the second and Harvey?
NS: Yeah, same. I mean, I didn’t tell them that we’re in Noah’s ark, but (laughs) … Same. The second flood we weren’t even there. For them, it wasn’t trauma. It was just the anticipation [be]cause they had seen the house. The house was finished. [The] kitchens were done. [The] bathrooms were done. I mean, it was gorgeous. The house was gorgeous, and it was furnished. They had seen it and saw their bedrooms, and there was anticipation and excitement and whatever, so two or three days before we moved in, it flooded again. It was just like a sad thing. It was like their anticipation was just now like flattened. The expectation was flattened. You know, we just had to move forward. So we stayed with my in-laws another couple of months, and then decided that we wanted to venture into an apartment closer because I was schlepping from there back to our elementary school. Now, after Harvey, our elementary school flooded, so all these kids are displaced. This is a very like, Meyerland existence right now. People are all over. You know, not just Jews. Whoever went to this elementary school were displaced… I think that’s the other thing, thinking about the community and not just the Jewish community. That within the Kolter community, all of these kids have a very similar experience and so they can talk about it. I always say to my kids, “This is your stuff to share. If you want to talk to your friends about it, go for it. You are allowed to do that.” You know, I think a lot of them do have those discussions even if it’s just like not heavy, kid-related discussions. A lot of kids are moving back into the community now. People have put their homes together. A lot of people … It’s hard for me, not hard for me, but a little, like watching the people who have only flooded once just put the house back together and move back like that’s what happened to us. We flooded once. We had hope. It’s not gonna happen again, and then … But I can’t be so cynical like let’s hope it doesn’t. (laughs) People have hope.
LB: So the Kolter School’s still … Are they still trying to rebuild it?
NS: They were going to rebuild, and then decided … The district [Houston Independent School District] that there were four schools that were past the point of fixing, which Kolter was one of them. So they’re knocking it down and rebuilding, and they have a … I think they said Spring 2020 is when they’re estimating it being completed, and so right now they’re up the Mandarin [Immersion Magnet] School off of Avenue B, or Avenue B … It’s in Bellaire. It’s like four miles away from here, so that’s where they’re busing everyone from Kolter to there.
LB: So you don’t have to deal with like driving through traffic?
NS: No, thank God. I tried it [be]cause when we moved … When we were living with my in-laws, I was just taking them to school [be]cause I wasn’t gonna come all the way here for them to go. It’s closer to my in-laws, the school, so I was taking them. Then when we moved back, the kids still wanted me to take them and we’re driving by the buses, and I’m like … And then, I’m sitting in traffic feeling stressed out and looking at the time. I’m like, “I’ve made the decision. I’m the mom. Y’all are doing buses. That’s just how it’s gonna be because the bus is on the next block over from our house.” They take the bus there and back.
LB: So one of the things that describes Harvey is the phrase, “Houston Strong.” How do you think the Meyerland area exemplifies that and what does “Houston Strong” mean to you?
NS: I mean, I think the Jewish community has experienced it repetitively, so I think we definitely are part of the culture. What I think that it really is that it was so widespread in Harvey and so many people were impacted by it that I think that’s what it means. It was truly the city of Houston, and not just a Meyerland issue this time. You saw it. This was a natural disaster, so you saw the Red Cross, and you saw Jewish organizations. You saw Christian organizations. You saw whoever. It was like everyone was impacted. Like I said before, I love how the Jewish community is so diverse. Well, I love how Houston is so diverse. It’s got so many different types of people here. Different ethnicities, different religions, and this crossed that. This was not a Jewish issue. This was not a Christian issue. This was a Houston issue, and it continues to be. You saw J.J. Watt. You saw all these people coming, for this to be a community issue. That’s what I see “Houston Strong,” and I felt that. I mean, I felt that in my heart. As like messed up as this sounds, there’s a different feeling being only one of three people that people know flooded, like Memorial Day was, to now it being such a widespread issue and people relating, and people understanding. And so you don’t feel as alone, which is, I mean fucked up and that it has to happen to other people for you to feel that way, but it felt that way after Harvey. Like, God. This is clearly something that we all understand now, and that we can all come together and support each other, even if we don’t have an answer for it. That’s what it felt like.
LB: It makes sense.
LB: So do you feel like when the first anniversary comes, are you going to acknowledge it with your family?
NS: I don’t know if I’d acknowledge it. I think what it’ll do is bring my anxiety up a little. So to me, I relate it to the beginning of school, because it was the weekend before school started, the public schools. So for me, it will be this anticipation. Did it happen? Is it gonna happen? You know, it’s just like that’s the reality. Like, that’s the season that it could happen, if it does happen. I don’t know … I think it won’t be necessarily discussion more than a thought. I would say my anxiety rises with the level of the bayou. So as I drive by the bayou, as high as it is, that’s where I’m like, “Okay. Um, do we need to plan for something?” You know, I try not to, but that’s the only thing that when I’m driving by that, it’s what triggers that for me. (laughs)
LB: Did you actually drive by the bayou when you heard Harvey was coming, sine you mentioned that?
NS: I’m sure I did. I’m sure I did. I don’t remember like acknowledging [be]cause it all happened so fast. By the time we had exited, I don’t think that it was that high. But after, I acknowledged, “Oh, it was halfway already.” I mean, they’re widening the bayou. I don’t want to say I don’t believe it’s gonna be helpful, but I’m skeptical. Like until there’s a massive storm, I don’t feel like I believe the structural engineers and the people that were supposed to do that prior to Memorial Day with the street work, like the drainage. So why would I believe this is gonna do anything? But people are hopeful, I don’t want to squash their hope. I just feel like I’m a realist, and I take it based off of what’s happened in the past. You know, we’ll see. There’s a reason why we’re building ten feet off the ground. I’m not building five feet or six feet. We’re building ten feet off the ground. Our neighbors that built six and a half feet off of the ground, for Harvey, were like a foot away from flooding. Like, I’m not doing that. Everyone can come to my house. (laugher) We’ll have a boat. We’ll come save you. (laughs)
LB: So did city officials tell y’all they were widening [the bayou], or how did you find out?
NS: So there’s a big movement within the community just about like the safety and security and the future. Part of that was meeting with the mayor and meeting with the special people who deal with all of that type of stuff, the Army Corp of Engineers and all that. There’s been a lot of community meetings around that, like how prevent this in the future. This was already a plan, long-term for the city prior to Memorial Day, I believe, but they had been on hold. They did these big, I don’t know what they’re called … like these retention ponds, thinking that the pond would help, and so they did those and reallocated money, I think, sort of illegally. There were issues surrounding that. You know, the reality of Meyerland is that there are a lot of high profile people who live within the community. Lawyers, doctors, and all that, so they have access to other high profile people. I think that was helpful in this, but it definitely sped up the process. So they finished the Medical Center widening up to I don’t know where. I don’t know if it was Stella Link, or I’m not sure, and then they’re continuing it up to Rice [University] and then Rice to Hillcroft, maybe, but it’s gonna take time. They’re already widening over there. I don’t know if you’ve driven by there. It’s like widening, but I don’t know what the process … how long it takes. Yeah, we know about it and people are actively in the know. But again, I’m skeptical.
LB: Did you attend any of the meetings?
NS: I definitely had people I know go to them and give me the insights, or the points, the bullet points that were important. But I’ve got three kids and my husband’s a doctor, and I can’t really make it to those things. I think I’ve been to one of them, one of the community meetings.
LB: I know we’ve already talked about Harvey, but I thought of something else. So you went and checked out your house afterwards. Did you also go driving around the neighborhood to see [the damage]?
NS: Yeah. You do because you’re part of the neighborhood, and you care about the neighborhood. You know, some areas got hit much worse than others. Our rental property got nothing, compared to where our actual, the home that we owned is. The streets behind it, maybe two or three blocks behind where the house we lived … So ours went four and a half feet, well there are people’s who went up to the roof. I meant, it’s just … and the fact that no one died, that everyone got out. There was these warnings, which was great, but this could have been that people didn’t listen to the warnings. It could have been much worse. Lives would have been lost.
LB: What kind of warnings did you get?
NS: So everyone knew that this huge, massive storm was coming and everyone knows that the bayou can’t hold a lot. If we flood, this is the reality of the area, so that’s what it was. So there was our next door it’s like a forum, an online forum called “Next Door,” and it’s per neighborhood. There’s “Next Door Meyerland.” There’s “Next Door Bellaire.” I’m sure there’s other cities across the country, so that was sending the e-mails out. The news was all up on it. Social media with all up on it. There’s a lot of anxiety talk on social media, so I chose very early on [be]cause there was like a flood board and there was like all this stuff on Facebook, or page. I chose like four days after the first flood … There was so … I mean, it was just amping my anxiety, and so I just stopped following. That was not an area that I was watching, but there are a lot of forums for people to get warnings. And I think people are hyper-sensitive also. So there’s like, “Okay. Something’s coming. Even if it doesn’t come, I’m leaving.” Most of those homes are one-stories, so there’s nowhere to go. Like if you had a second story, fine. But if you’re first story, you have nowhere to go.
LB: How far away is what you now have as an empty lot from your rental home?
NS: Less than a mile, and it’s crazy that it floods that much more. I mean, it’s not crazy. It’s like right next to the bayou basically. (laughs) Yeah, less than a mile. You can walk from one house to the next.
LB: So I guess that makes it a bit convenient when you’re trying to see when you tried to demolish it?
NS: For sure. It was fun to watch it getting demolished. I know it sounds so messed up. People were like, “Were you sad?” I’m like, “We lived there for three weeks. I mean, it was great for the three weeks. There was no emotional connection to this place, you know.” I felt like the person who lived there before us for twenty-five years, who raised three children in it, whose husband passed away while in the house, that’s someone who I think it would be meaningful to. For us, I was like, “Fuck you. Go down. Go down. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore.” Now I have a lot, and I feel good about that.
LB: So do you have anything else do you want to share about your [experience]?
NS: I don’t think so. I think … I don’t know … I mean, I’m not saying that I think the Jewish community had a different experience. I just think it shows the power and the community associated with the Jewish community here in Meyerland, but I also believe that there are other communities that probably step up in the same way that we do. This is just my experience. This is my life, but I’m sure that based on this “Houston Strong” idea, I think clearly there’s other communities around this area that are stepping up in the same way and creating community in this same way. Do I think that it’s a phenomenon? I think that the Jewish people always do this. I think we get into places, whether by accident or whatever, and we come together and we support one another. I think that’s something I’m very used to within our community, but I can’t tell you if it doesn’t exist elsewhere. You know, but I feel lucky to be a part of it.
LB: That’s good. So shall we conclude this?
NS: Sure, unless there’s something else.
LB: (laughs) No.