It’s been 10 years since the beach we played on was washed away. Hurricane Katrina, with 125 mile-per-hour winds and a 34-foot storm surge, marched on shore like an evil army which would not be denied, leveling houses, lives, and history. One lady of a structure resisted the test and rose from the debris because of visionaries like my husband.
The house at 222 North Beach, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and the woman who lived there, Dorothy Claire Simons Phillips, defied Hurricane Katrina’s death wish.
Years Before Hurricane Katrina
I spent college weekends at 222 North Beach, playing board games, sailing, antiquing, and just plain being lazy. That’s what you did at 222, because Aunt Dot was the hostess, and those were her rules.
Later when we all got engaged, we returned for wedding celebrations. As usual, Aunt Dot threw the best parties ever, and Daisy, her gentle friend, moved quietly in the background, creating her magic in the kitchen that rivaled any New Orleans restaurant.
Our children experienced the intrigue and Disney-like draw of Aunt Dot’s. The house watched over all of us, just as she had for six generations . . .
Until that fateful day in 2005 when her nemesis, named Katrina, came to call.
Dot and her brother Russell Simons decided to ride out the ‘cane. After all, 222 had withstood Camille in ’69, and no one knew Camille was coming with loaded bags and squatting rights, so why not stay through Katrina?
Why not, indeed.
Hurricane Katrina Strikes Bay St. Louis
Water mounted. Winds howled. And the entire world grew dark, at least the world of Dot Phillips and Russell Simons. Because of utter blackness, until the doors and huge shutters were no longer stationary, there was no way to know the beach was now their front yard.
Sand filled the massive hallway. Pressure from the torrents overturned antique sofas, sideboards, and china cabinets.
The next morning life at 222 North Beach would never be the same.
Dot set up temporary camp in a home a block away. “A blessing,” she said.
Within a few days, another kind of wave began—bands of friends who flowed in and out of Bay St. Louis when they were allowed. Thousands of man hours followed. Hours in which family and friends, volunteers and church members provided a labor of love to return Dot to 222 North Beach.
One of those volunteers was my husband, who was one of the first to realize the “grand old lady” called 222 could be resurrected.
Then, came the artisans and designers who found traces of the original house. Katrina tried to demolish the house, but out of the darkness dawned the light of discovery.
The house was older than previously thought; the Creole cottage was circa 1840, not late 1800s. Painstaking research verified by renovators from New York City. What a revelation!
This Katrina nightmare ended happily. Dot returned to 222 and lived out her days entertaining friends and family as before, just a little differently. One of the stipulations for historic restoration was returning the home to its first glory, which looked lovelier than any of us could imagine.
Today, the home still welcomes people in the spirit of Aunt Dot. Sally Simons Hogue and husband Joel Dicharry run Aunt Dot’s B & B. Dot’s niece carries on the family tradition of flamboyant conversation and mouth-watering dishes.
What if you and I visit The Bay next week and sit on the porch and look out on the water? Ten years . . . The Bay never looked so good, and Katrina is a memory.
Until our visit next week,