Today I bought ingredients for a very special recipe. I have never attempted to emulate Neterine Theodore’s cream cheese pound cake, but this seems like the right time to try.
I met Miss Net because she was Derrick Evans’ Sunday School teacher in Turkey Creek. She welcomed us into her home on my first visit there, and made a wonderful meal of things she knew would make Derrick feel at home. Over the years I came to know her and her husband, Theodore, and cherished meals and conversations at their home.
In early rough cuts of Come Hell or High Water, there was a scene at the end of that initial visit home, when Derrick became emotional saying goodbye to his family and neighbors at the church. Miss Net put her arm around Derrick and said someday God will bring you back to us, when you are needed. As the film evolved in the editing room and we struggled to get down to an hour, that scene ultimately had to go.
It was not the only poignant scene with Miss Net that I still find hard to believe is not in the film. The day I arrived in Gulfport after Katrina, with Derrick and his caravan of emergency supplies from Boston, Miss Net gave me a tour of her home. As we walked through the kitchen she pulled out a utensil drawer filled with water and led me into a bedroom where the walls were already covered with mold. Finally, she led me outside to a pile of belongings and pulled out a photo album. She pointed to a photo that had been destroyed by water and said, “That’s my dad.” She went on to say she had all of these loved ones in her heart and didn’t need them on paper. I was awestruck by her strength.
What remains in the film are images of Miss Net with that heap of worldly possessions and a close-up of her waterlogged photos. Every time I see the film I think about the entirety of that moment, and so many more. When a media outlet contacted me a few weeks ago for permission to use those images in a story about Turkey Creek “Surviving the Storm,” I became aware again that these images had been reduced to “b-roll,” without the context of who Miss Net was or what she felt at that moment.
As the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, I have been searching for ways to commemorate it, and have thought a lot about Miss Net and others whose lives were torn apart by the storm and the chaotic years that followed. When the enormity of the tragedy gets to me, I think of Miss Net’s resolve and her solid knowledge of what really mattered.
Back in August 2005, when I first heard a radio report of a storm building in the Gulf, I was driving over the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco. Five days later I was in Mississippi, filming Miss Net’s destroyed home. On the anniversary day, I’ll be driving over the Bay Bridge again, heading to a screening and discussion of the film with youth leaders from Bayview Hunters Point. I’ll bring Miss Net’s cake to share and give thanks for her friendship and the honor of helping to tell the story of Turkey Creek.