Bert Montgomery watched Hurricane Katrina from the sidelines. He saw the progression on the news as the hurricane started from a small formation in the Gulf that enlarged to a historic storm that flooded much of the region.
Although the Destrehan graduate left the area after graduating from high school in 1986, he kept up friendships from his childhood, much of which was spent in St. Charles Parish.
"Itís been a long journey," Montgomery said. "My parents moved to Tennessee right after I finished high school in 1986. So since then Iíve gone to college, worked for the government, got a couple of masters degrees and have been writing."
Montgomery now lives in Starkville, Miss. and teaches religion and sociology at Mississippi State University and East Mississippi Community College. In addition, he is an ordained minister leading a small congregation that meets on the MSU campus and is the author of two books.
Now working on his third book, tentatively titled "Jungian Jambalaya: A Hurricane Katrina Oral History," Montgomery is focusing on the personal stories of his former classmates from DHS who experienced firsthand the effects of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the stories of others like himself who lived away from the area at the time.
"For me it is a need to record the basic stories of real people. Iím not trying to make a broad statement. Iím not trying to paint a theme of something. Itís just recording a simple oral history," Montgomery said. "I didnít realize what was going on for several months, but I went through a very deep grieving process. The whole region, the whole area was changed and people that I had kept up with, I couldnít get in contact with them for a while."
Montgomery has already recorded the stories of at least 15 St. Charles Parish residents, but is hoping to speak to at least ten more before completing his project.
In his 2011 book "Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza," Montgomery already wrote about an old high school friendís Katrina experiences.
"I wrote in my second book an amusing column called ĎKatrina with Popcorn,íí" Montgomery said. "Popcorn was the nickname of a girl who was a freshman in high school with me. She contacted me on Facebook not long after Katrina and told me about her story.
"She worked at East Jefferson Hospital and was there for three to five days without power at the hospital as a nurse. She talked about what they were doing to deal with everybody and not knowing if her family had evacuated."
Montgomery said his initial story about Popcorn and her struggles during the storm was the genesis for the current project.
He said in "Jungian Jambalaya" he has focused on asking people basic questions about what their lives were like during and after the storm.
"When were they able to get back in? What were their houses were like? What were their neighborhoods were like? What was their job situation?" he said.
In order to fund the remainder of the project, Montgomery has started a Kickstarter campaign.
Kickstarter.com is a crowd funding website that allows individuals to provide small investments in projects, often with the promise of receiving something at the projectís conclusion.
Starting off with a goal of $2,500, Montgomeryís campaign has raised $1,335 so far from 30 donors. All donors will receive a copy of the book if they provide $20 in funding, but those who provide more backing will receive other things, such as original artwork.
All proceeds from the book, after covering the costs of publishing, will be donated to charities and non-profits in the River Parishes and New Orleans.
Montgomery said once the campaign closes on Wednesday, March 27 he hopes to sign a book deal with an interested publisher and prepare the book for a release date of late December. However, should he not meet his goal by the end of the campaign all funds will be returned to donors.
Although it has been almost eight years since the storm ripped through the region and much of the rebuilding, both publicly and personally, is complete, Montgomery said it is important for the individual stories to have an audience.
"When you open the book you can go to any person and read their basic story so there is not going to be a plot or a theme," he said. "Itís a collection of stories for people to have."
|How a St. Rose family found their piano and house when they returned home after Katrina. (Photo courtesy of A.J. Caruso).|