Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas From Pearlington

Miss Suzie and Mr Josh

Something amazing is happening in my mom's little town of Pearlington, Mississippi, something inspiring and hopeful, something full of love and renewal. A grass roots movement is growing from the mud and despair of Katrina, and it's making my heart grow by three sizes just to know it exists. I want to nurture it, protect it, share it with you. Its spirit was embodied in one amazing day this week, a day that represents to me all that is right with the world, all that is good and caring in the human spirit.

Like so many stories I've shared with you here, it's one of survival, of perseverance, love, inspiration, and the will to carry on. But basically, it's a love story. A wedding day, Katrina-style...
"Everyone knows I'm always late for everything," confesses Suzie Burton. "All my friends and family laugh that I'll be late for my own funeral. But if the good Lord is willing, I'll be on time for my wedding."

Willing or not, Suzie was late for her nuptials to Josh Ward on December 21. In the aftermath of Katrina, an hour or so delay barely fazed the more than 60 friends and family who gathered in Pearlington for the wedding. The delay was maybe divine intervention. As the bride dressed for her big day, dozens of volunteers from Walton County put finishing touches on the couple's new house.

"The Panhandle didn't experience devastation of Mississippi Gulf Coast during Katrina," says Buster Woodruff, a leading force behind the volunteer effort. "We were lucky and we wanted to help others who were less fortunate."

Within days after Katrina, Buster had packed his truck with supplies and headed west to New Orleans. Officials stopped him at the Louisiana border, where he accidentally happened upon Pearlington and found a community in dire need of help.

Often the best way to solve an insurmountable problem is to start with an attainable goal. With that philosophy, a grassroots coalition of volunteers from Walton County, Florida, started the "One House at a Time" project. Working with their local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, the group adopted the town of Pearlington and recently completed the first of many temporary houses. The coalition's goal is to raise money and build 200 houses in Hancock County.

A Wedding and A New Home for a Deserving Couple

Like many South Mississippi residents, Suzie and Josh had no idea what was ahead when the heard a hurricane called Katrina was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Both are in their 70s and they did not evacuate, thinking they were out of harm's way. Suzie was born and reared in South Mississippi, and her wood-framed house had witnessed many storms. She had raised a family on that land. It was, and still is, home.

As the couple settled in for the night it was raining and windy, but they were not seriously alarmed. By 6:30 in the morning, however, a few inches of water was visible on the floor. Within 30 minutes, the water was rising fast.

There was no where to go. There was no one to turn to for help. Together they wrapped their arms around a porch column as the storm's 12-foot tidal surge lifted the house off its foundation.

"Mr. Josh had told me many times that he loved me, but I was never sure how much I really loved him until that night," recalls Suzie. "When the water got over our heads and we hung onto the porch post for dear life, I prayed 'Please God, if you must take one of us, take me. Don't let it be my Mr. Josh'‚ I didn't want him to drown in that deep dark water."

The house floated more than 12 feet before it lodged in place. Everything was lost, including their beloved pot belly pig, Sweet Pea. As the house rested in a most precarious position with no steps to get to down to solid ground, Suzie and Josh waited for help in the ramshackle house on a wet sofa with no emergency supplies. It was nearly three days before family members found them.

Each had suffered injuries. Suzie was taken to Louisiana. A military transport carried Josh to a shelter in Northern Mississippi, where he slept in an aluminum lawn chair for two weeks. Amid the confusion, they had no way to communicate with each other. There was no news if the other one was even alive. They had lost their home, their belongings, Sweet Pea, and now they had lost each other.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, Suzie and Josh made it back to Pearlington where they reconnected and decided to get married. Soon after their reunion,they met Buster at the local relief center. "I offered to carry a load of laundry to her truck, and then Miss Suzie offered to tell me their story," recalled Buster. "I knew we had to do something for them."

A new house was soon under construction on her property. Next, Buster focused his attention on planning the wedding and finding the perfect dress for Suzie. After visits to four bridal shops in Mobile, Buster found a traditional gown of satin, silk, lace, pearls and a 10-foot train.

With Buster on one arm and her cousin Joel Wallace on the other, Miss Suzie glowed as she walked through the yard greeting guest and singing praises. Ronnie McBrayer, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Walton County and an ordained minister, performed the ceremony as shouts of Halleluiahs, amen and praise the Lord filled the air.

The blushing bride

After the wedding cake had been cut and toasts were raised to the happy couple, Suzie thought all her dreams had come true. Then Buster presented them with a baby pot belly pig named Angel. Suzie let out a little cry and broke into song, "I am blessed with everything I could ever need. God has even blessed me with a new Sweat Pea."

Volunteers and guests said their goodbyes, and Suzie and Josh retired inside their new home for their honeymoon. They are starting a marriage in house that rests on the foundation of the original structure that floated away during the storm. The post they clung to is now the center column of their new front porch. Weathered and worn, the column promises to be a solid support for their new life together and a symbol of faith, hope and rebirth for the New Year." -Lynn Nesmith
This is a story the major media hasn't picked up on yet, but it's one you need to know about. If you've been feeling helpless in the face of all the destruction, as I must confess I have, this shows you one way you can help save lives, one way you can help rebuild lives. This movement is happening right now, in your own backyard, and it's people like you that are behind it. They need your help.

If you'd like to join this movement, one house at a time, if you'd like to offer your support in any way, please contact Habitat For Humanity of Walton County at 850-835-0067, or visit

The volunteers. Your New Year's Resolution should be to join them.

Note: These pictures weren't shot by me, they were forwarded to me by the volunteers that helped to make this day happen.


Nobody Special said...

Clayton, Merry Christmas to you and your family.

...where is that book?!? I hope we find it under our tree by next christmas!

Anonymous said...

That story is a Christmas gift. Let's keep spreading the joy.

Leslie said...

Since Clayton hasn't the time - with all his driving and working AND it being Xmas Eve! - I thought I'd share more of the wedding with you folks! You have no idea how much I was just *floating* around the house when I got the pictures and the articles!

Articles -

Photos - several posts with 3 pics each...
Buster is the gent on the left. Ronnie McBrayer - Exec Dir. of the Walton County Habitat is officiating. Unknown Trooper - which is sad.
Buster chose the wedding dress. Wasn't that sweet of him?!

The bottom picture is a glowing Miss Suzie.

Anonymous said...

The police officer is Suzie's nephew. Buster bought the wedding dress, Suzie picked it out.

Saw on CNN that some nice people brought presents and threw a party in Pearlington today. Hope they are having a Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

There is HOPE,FAITH and LOVE through all of this destruction. I wish the newlyweds the VERY BEST.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL,and the coming year can only get better.
Clayton,Susan is so happy with the car.THANK YOU.
WE both send our LOVE.

...e... said...

clayton, is this picture yours? i want to send it to everybody as a new years greeting, can i?

Anonymous said...

In such a time when the world and the worlds men and women need a blessing this was it .To show that love over comes all of the worlds worst days to shin on forever. So may the heavens watch over you both and the stars and moons alway shin upon your paths before you both forever . Many congrats on this fine day in the both of your lifes to be and forever.

Anonymous said...

Best wishes to Miss Suzie and Mr. Josh.

Anonymous said...

Great Work - My mom was postmaster of Perlington, MS before Katrina. Hope they get things back on track soon. Rain (Biloxi)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations and Have a Great and Happy Holidays Miss Suzie and Josh. BTW Clayton how is your mom. Mike from Mississippi

sarah Havemeyer said...

I heard from the Fire Chief in Pearlington that on Christmas Day about ten groups came in with gifts and food for the people of Pearlington. He said the kids there got the best Christmas of their lives with each getting about two bikes each. He actually forwarded one semi filled with gifts on to another town as Pearlington had so much. It's wonderful and heart waming that so many decided to help cheer up one small town.

sarah Havemeyer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for a wonderful, heartwarming story.

May you and yours have a blessed 2006 and beyond.

FrostilicusFrost said...

Clayton, I happened upon your blog after listening to a podcast that I had downloaded, and was moved by your pictures and commentary. I may be thousands of miles away in Australia, but as far as I am, we all watch the news here, and I have friends living in the Gulf area (LA, MI, AL, FL), so I was worried for them, and thanks to the internet, I managed to keep abreast of what was happening in the lead-up to the hurricane hitting and the horrible aftermath. My friends all made it out alive, which I am glad for. Even now, at the end of 2005, 3-4 months after the disaster, your photographs give a new outlook on how bad it really was, and I'm glad there are people like you who show the human side of tragedies like this.

I've only been blogging for about a month, and while not many people read it at the moment, I've posted a link to your blog on mine as a "must-see", because I think that everyone in the world, no matter what background they come from, be it poor or rich, should see it, as it is a truly touching commentary.

Take care, and all the best for 2006.

Neo said...

Clayton -Have a safe and blessed New Years!

It can only get better right?

God Bless!


- Neo

Anonymous said...


This story really warms the heart, thank you for sharing it with us. I missed the event by just a week or so. I had visited Pearlington and Bay St. Louis on 12/18/05 on my only day off from a deployment in response to Hurricane Katrina which brought me to Baton Rouge, LA. I walked the main road that passes through Pearlington, and spoke with a kind soul whose first name is Lee, who lives just a few properties to the south of the Fire Department. He relayed such fantastic tales of survival for he and his wife, and neighbors. I hope to meet him again if I am called back for duty in the next few months. I wished I had written down his address, after leaving town I realized I had not done that and now have no way to keep in touch.

Thank you for this blog, and hope you keep it going for quite some time to come.

Happy New Year!

Wilmington, Delaware

SnakeHairedGirl said...

Stopping by to thank you for pouring your heart and soul into reaching out to perfect strangers. Your writing and your photography are inspiring, amazing, and humbling. As is your love. May this year bring you miracles of love and kindness.

Leslie said...

Hey folks!

Here's a blog you need to check out. It's not a complete report, but it's pretty close!

And hopefully, in the near future, it will become increasingly complete.

Leslie said...

Here's the link to my latest post - only because putting in comments here would be HUGE - no reason to do that!

Please get the word out about this program - ArtFeltConnections. It's the perfect way to get kids involved AND get significant help to the schools.

Thank you!

Cie Cheesemeister said...

What a beautiful story. I wish them all the luck in the world. And you too.
Noticing that you haven't posted since December 24, I hope things are ok with you. And I wish you and your family the best also.
Cie the Cheesemeister

Anonymous said...

Been missing your updates, Clayton. Hope all is going well in the New Year, and sending good vibes from Texas.

Anonymous said...

Are you still with the program? Things are still up in the air in parts of this area.It will take A LONG time to get done what must be done.
People FUBAR Clayton,mistakes happen to us all.
Cheryl & Rachel

...e... said...

clayton, where are you?????

Anonymous said...

I add to the chorus of "where are you?"--I've been checking in every day. Hope you are all right.

Anonymous said...

another addition to the chorus of amens and where y'ats. Hope your well. Been down to NO twice now; your website is one of the best reflections of what is really happening down there. You make it a real tangible thing that people can wrap their minds around.

Plus, your responses to the ignorant bobos have been some of the most coherent and heartfelt words about this whole tragedy. Truly educating. Through this incredible site and your remarkable talents with both film and words, you help me keep check on the part of my pulse that still beats New Orleans Time.

Keep it up if you can.

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog for awhile, and your words have brought inspiration to many and enabled us to actually see what it was/is like.

Your pictures are amazing, have led me to tears at times and I am hoping, hoping, hoping you are not done with this!

Hope you are just busy, and in a good way.

Take care- from Houston.

Anonymous said...

Clayton --
I've been following you since the beginning. I've watched you grow and change through the process. Through this project you're photography and commentary have matured, you've achieved a focus beyond your original intent. You've created a documentary worthy of the masters.

The world needs your depth, your outrage, and your skill. And so do I.

Hope you are well wherever you are, whatever you're doing -- Chris

Leslie said...

Hey all.

While i have no clue where Clayton is, we've all been yelling at him to take time off, so I'm sure that's exactly what he's doing.

Until then, while I know many of you have been helping, rather than just reading about what's going on down there, why not do something?

Are you a retired teacher? You're needed. Retired physican, therapist, nurse, PA, NP, medical assistant? You're needed.
Do you have a chain saw and know how to use it? You're needed.
Do you or someone you know own a portable saw mill, will travel? You're needed more than you could ever know!
Do you sew? STart making blankets, potholders, afghans, etc. They're needed!
Can you write? Letters' to your local organizations stating the above ARE needed.
Can you make phone calls? phone state wide. I have lists, ideas, websites, organizations that can/should be called, need help desperately, or have the resources but don't know who to contact.

Email me or go to my blog. MOre than your tears are needed - and will be needed for years to come. HELP.


Steve said...

Not that Im trying to direct traffic to my blog
or anything, but if you look in my Louisiana links, the following blogs are pretty good about keeping you abreast of whats going on.

The Gumbo Pages(Looka!)
The Third Battle of New Orleans
The Wet Bank Guide
People Get Ready
New Orleans Metroblogging
World Class New Orleans
The Survival of New Orleans

The Rock said...

I am collecting clothe and Food for the Pearlington Community in MS. Please see my site\

Ginger Davis said...

Hi Clayton,

We really hope you will post something soon on your site, not hearing anything from you since the wedding of those two precious people, what a great story!

We hope that you, and your family are doing better, give us an update when you can.


Leslie said...

Hey everyone,

Leslie again.

I have a letter posted on my blog that I'd really like people to send to their state and federal representatives. It's a tax deduction initiative to give those folks who are going down to assist in the Gulf Region - which might make it so others can go down - or those who are there can stay longer.

Something needs to be done and this just might be the place to start.


Steve said...

Ginger Davis said...
"We really hope you will post something soon on your site, not hearing anything from you since the wedding of those two precious people, what a great story!"

Good point Ginger, but maybe Clayton found the perfect story to bow out on, a story of renewal and love that cant be torn asunder by even the most fearsome of storms. It might be an optimistic way of looking at things, but wouldn't it be nice?

Marie said...

That is a wonderful story. I hope people continue to help each other out and recover.q

Anonymous said...

I've been an occasional lurker at your blog for awhile now. I love your work.

I got sent some information on some grant money that I want to pass on to you. Possibly it can help you to keep doing what you're doing? I don't know. Worth checking out anyway:

Leslie said...

Hey folks. I'm hoping people are still coming here and reading comments.

I'm in need of assistance.

My blog is expanding incredibly rapidly with different organizations within Hancock County as well as volunteer agencies assisting Hancock County. They are all in need and all need advocates. These advocates are needed at HOME, not in HC. Emailing for volunteers, help, etc.

I'm finding that I can't do it all! Imagine that! If you're interested in emailing and if you're up to it, phoning different places in your community/state for any one of the organizations on my blog, PLEASE email me ASAP.

The more of us that are involved, the more we cut the time table of recovery and rebuilding. It's already seen a huge cut! - down from "At least 10 years" to "6-8 years". That's HUGE. Let's cut that number even further.


Anonymous said...

More of this saga is yet to come...I believe it will never end, truth is ever unfolding...from the white house to the every survivor life. GOD is good!!

Anonymous said...

We still have family in tents,and family waiting for FEMA trailers and still fighting from the people within our community.NO TRAILERS IN MY BACKYARD CRAP.If people do not wake up there will be no New Orleans,no more of The Richest of the Deep South.We finally saw some of the MS coast and what a shock the town of Biloxi is very quiet at night,no people to speak of and no cars,a very strange place.It looked like a ghost town.
I am afraid the world will think things here are fine,when in fact they are not.People in Slidell are waiting for trailers.Still living in tents.Don't let the Mardi Gras images fool you.Look around look away from the parades and SEE.
Someday things will improve but will I see that day????

Cie Cheesemeister said...

Hi Clayton,
Hope you and yours are ok. It's been awhile since you've been around. Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

I certainly don' want to come off as saying that Clayton "owes us" anything. But after getting us involved in the drama of his family and their flight from Katrina, now we hear nothing for months. Maybe I need to get a life, but I often find myself wondering what is happening with the Cubitts. That's how compelling this blog has been.

C'mon, Clayton, give us 5 minutes of your time: "things are shit", "things are great", "I done with this blog, goodbye".

Anonymous said...

Another excellent source of continued challenges and hope in Hancock County, including Pearlington, can be found at Those of you who have followed Seige's blog site might also want to check these out. Thanks Seige, for all of your efforts in the creation of this site.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Clayton for his beautiful work and for being Clayton.We love you and take care to both of you.

Anonymous said...

I am another to add where have you been? I hope all is well!! I noticed since you avent posted since Decmeber 24th, I hope that means things are going well!!!
Bets of wishes!!

Anonymous said...

Hello Yall,

This is Clayton's Mamma - We are basically at a stand still - We are still waiting to hear from fema and sba. Along with hundreds of people on the Gulf Coast nothing has happened - no removal of debris - not enough money to do it on our own - no way to go back! Still so many hurt people living in tents, still needing fema trailers, still not knowing what will become of their situations, hundreds of thousands still displaced and in a state of shock - it is just like time has stood still for us - no going back and no going forward...just waiting...waiting is a soul killer!

Please know that Clayton is not ignoring this blog - He is desperately working so hard trying to keep his life going and to help Me and His Brother deal with the circumstances we face. People the aftermath so many Katrina Survivors face is definitely more horrible than the Hurricane itself.

Please keep Us all in Your thoughts and prayers as we live and work to overcome all the stumbling blocks thrown in our way.

Because of every beautiful heart that has felt our trouble I do thank GOD - Yall have made the road We travel full of Love and Blessings!! Our journey is not over...keep Us in Your hearts and souls and please also keep Clayton and Katie in Your prayers.

Linda Ann
Clayton's Mamma

stephanie said...

omg...its so funny that ur mentioning pearlington...because i thought that nobody knew about it but me. i recently stayed at the PDA camp in pearlington to work on a house owned by a woman named dallas. when i came across the piture of the woman getting married she looked familiar almost like the women who cooked for us at the baptist church. im glad that other people feel the same way i do about gettin help and attention to pearlington. its such a small town its almost like people forget about it. the people from pearlington have tought me alot about hope n faith n appreciating what i have. they will always b in my thoughts and prayers

Anonymous said...

Christmas is great!Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anybody still gets on here, but Mr. Josh has passed away this monday.