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Ike leaves behind damaged homes, lost memories

Bishop Janice Riggle Huie and the Rev. Donald Waddleton visit with Vivian Paysse, 99, at her home in Bayou Vista, Texas, following Hurricane Ike.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 29, 2008 | BAYOU VISTA, Texas (UMNS)

Household items, ruined by saltwater, are piled in the street outside Paysse’s home.

Vivian Paysse celebrated her 99th birthday a few days before Hurricane Ike washed away the bottom floor of her home and scattered a lifetime of memories along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Outside of her modest gray house, trash filled with shredded pieces of her life stacked almost to the rooftop. Along the narrow streets of her community, sea-soaked remnants of her neighbors' lives—refrigerators, couches and more—stretched as far as the eye could see. A sign outside a storm-wrecked convenience store spoke volumes about the conditions of the small coastal town: "Do not flush or use water. Sewer hookup $200.00 fine per day."

Most of the homes and businesses in Bayou Vista, a community just north of Galveston, were flooded when Ike made landfall on Sept. 13. Their stories were being shared anew as United Methodist work teams pitched in to provide relief.

A team of church members in southeast Texas helped Paysse clean out her first floor and salvage letters written by her husband beginning in 1928.

"They are waterlogged, but just having them made her feel better," said the Rev. Jonathan Bynum, pastor of Longview Greggton United Methodist Church. Bynum was part of a team led by Lee Thornton, mission and outreach coordinator for the church's South District of the Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

When Bishop Janice Riggle Huie and the Rev. Don Waddleton, district superintendent, stopped to talk to the church volunteers, a neighbor and friend told them about Paysse.

Larry Jones explained to the visitors that Paysse is "one of your United Methodist pioneers."

"Her grandfather was the Rev. Robert Alexander, known as one of the fathers of Methodism in Texas. She also had a son who was a United Methodist pastor and chaplain and she talks often of her United Methodist heritage," he said.

Jones said Paysse was strongly independent and that the storm had taken a lot out of her. It took her a few minutes to prepare for the unexpected visit, but she was beaming when the group stepped into her living room.

"I was getting a little low on attention," said Paysse as she hugged Huie. "It is fun to be 99 years old."

Waterlogged love letters between Paysse and her late husband are salvaged.

Paysse told her visitors she has outlived her husband, three sons and most of her friends. "I can do everything well except see," she said.

Holding Huie’s hand reminded her of another Methodist preacher she met—E. Stanley Jones, a renowned Methodist missionary and evangelist. "I remember he was wearing this beautiful yellow suit, and he picked up two of my boys and carried them around," she said. "He was a fine preacher."

Her husband died when she was in her 40s and left her three boys to raise. She proudly pointed to the three portraits of her sons as toddlers and still hanging above the mantle.

"My husband is here somewhere," she said, looking through photos on a table before pulling out a framed black and white one. "Here he is with his saxophone," she told Huie. "Our house was always filled with music."

She spoke about her grandfather, a presiding elder (now known as district superintendent) of the Galveston district. He lost everything in a hurricane in 1875, including his house, herds and personal items. The family had to "seek shelter from the flood in tree branches," according to a Web site maintained by the Texas Commission of Archives and History,

Before Ike's fury reached the coast, Paysse evacuated to the house once owned by her grandfather in Chappell Hill, northwest of Houston. When she came home to the destruction in Bayou Vista, she was upset to find so many things gone, according to Jones.

"She loves being among her plants and gardening. I bring her coffee every morning, but she mostly prefers to be left alone," he said.

Waddleton vowed to help Paysse get her electricity back on as soon as possible. "Call me and we will pay for it," he told Jones, a Baptist pastor and Bayou Vista alderman.

"I just want her to have peace for the rest of her life," responded Jones, his eyes filling with tears.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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