An offer of food amid the pangs of what has been lost

Gulfport, Miss.

Portraits Of A Catastrophe

September 04, 2005|By Abigail Tucker

Close to midnight on Wednesday, my first day in Gulfport, I was hopelessly lost, low on gas, without cell phone reception or a place to stay and closer to hysteria than I'd like to admit.

I pulled my rental car over at what looked like a police outpost and asked the first officer I saw if I could sleep in the parking lot.

He gave me a long, molasses-slow look.

"What have you eaten today?" he asked.

Crackers and Tootsie Rolls, I answered.

"Come with me," he said.

We went to his patrol car, and he opened the trunk where his personal supply of Army-issue meals ready to eat was stored. On the hood of his car, he slit open a khaki-colored plastic pouch of beef ravioli and handed me a spoon.

Had I ever eaten in the deep South before? he asked.

I dined on Bourbon Street once, I told him, and proceeded to describe one of the best meals I'd ever had: gumbo over rice, barbequed shrimp, crawfish swimming in butter and bread pudding.

But when I looked over at him again, I stopped talking, and stopped eating.

He was scrolling through digital photographs of his hometown that he had taken on patrol that day: toilet bowls on Main Street, houses on railroad tracks, flights of stairs leading nowhere, search teams with dogs.

"Tell people," he said, "this was a beautiful place to be once."

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