Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Pearlington Wedding



ARTICLE FROM THE BILOXI SUN HERALD
Posted on Thu, Dec. 22, 2005

For Pearlington couple, it was now or never
Wedding takes place against all odds
By JUSTIN HOOKS

PEARLINGTON - Suzie Burton and Josh Ward were married Wednesday outside their new home, surrounded by more than 50 family members and friends. Neither would have believed this day would come after what they experienced during and after Hurricane Katrina.

The couple, in their 70s, lived in Suzie's family home with their pot-bellied pig, Sweet Pea. Like many other South Mississippi residents, they did not evacuate, thinking they would be safe.

The couple was forced to their back porch and held on to a wooden column for the duration of the storm as the water rose 12 feet in their neighborhood. Their house was ripped from the foundation and deposited several yards away. Bruised and beaten, the couple stayed in their home for three days until they were rescued and taken to separate hospitals hundreds of miles apart.

Weeks passed before the couple reunited; Suzie said she and Josh knew it was now or never.

"Their life came back to them again when they found each other," said Josh's sister Shirley Busby. "If they could survive that, they deserve to be together."

Suzie never looked twice at the destroyed house where she raised her children, lying only yards from her new home. She sparkled in her white dress and diamond earrings as she walked toward her husband, shouting greetings to her family.

"I'm just so excited," Suzie said later, between singing hymns and greeting family. "I got my man! Everybody can see how much I love him. When God was passing out blessings, He saved one just for me."

The good fortune of the happy couple is due in part to the South Walton Hurricane Helpers from Florida.

Relief worker Buster Woodruff found Pearlington en route to New Orleans following Katrina and realized the area was in dire need. He worked with the Walton County Habitat for Humanity and New Hope Construction of Hendersonville, Tenn., to build a home for the couple where their old house once stood. The front porch has three white columns. The center post is the very same that Suzie and Josh held onto during the storm.
"It's very inspirational," Woodruff said of the efforts to help the couple. "It's a feeling you can't get any other way. It's hard to put into words, but everything came together great."

And what plans do the newlyweds have for a honeymoon?
"Oh," Suzie said dismissively, "whatever my baby here wants to do. I got Jesus and I got Josh. That's enough for me."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Love Conquers All

A 75-year old couple who rode out Katrina together married December 21 on the front porch of their new home in Pearlington, Mississippi

“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, Miss Suzie was late for her wedding to Mr. Josh Ward on December 21.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an hour or so delay barely fazed the more than 50 friends and family who gathered in Pearlington, Mississippi to celebrate the start of a new life in a house built by scores of volunteers just in time for the wedding.

“Our corner of Northwest Florida didn’t experience the devastation of Mississippi and Louisiana,” says Buster Woodruff of Walton County, Florida, who helped build the house. “We were blessed and wanted to help others who were less fortunate.” Within days after Katrina, he packed his truck with supplies and headed west to New Orleans. He got as far as Pearlington when he found a community in dire need of help.

Sometimes the best way to solve a really big problem is to start with an attainable goal. With that philosophy, a grassroots coalition of volunteers from Walton County, Florida have started the One House at a Time Project. Working with their local Habitat for Humanity affiliate the group recently completed the first of many temporary houses in Pearlington.

A Deserving Couple has a New Home

Like many South Mississippi residents, Suzie Burton and Josh Ward had no idea what was ahead as they heard news of a hurricane called Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico.
Both are in their 70s, and each of their spouses had passed away. Over the past few years the two have forged a wonderful friendship. Suzie is the outgoing one, always talking, telling stories, laughing and singing. Mr. Josh is more of the strong silent type, not to mention a fabulous cook. “After his ‘Miss Mary’ passed I’d stopped by to help with things around his house,” recalls Suzie. “He always invited me to have something to eat. And it was always so delicious that I starting making sure my visits were around lunch time.”

Although the storm had intensified by Sunday afternoon, they decided to not to evacuate. Suzie was a long-time resident of Mississippi and her wood-framed house in Pearlington had witnessed many storms over the years. She had raised a family in that house. She owns the land. It was, and still is, home.

As they settled into Suzie’s home for the night, they watched a little television and soon went to sleep. It was raining and blowing, but they had no way of knowing what was ahead. About 6:30 in the morning, Josh awoke and swung his legs to the side of the bed to discover a few inches water on the floor. Within 30 minutes, the water was rising. And rising fast.

There was no where to go. There was no one to turn to for help. Josh has trouble getting around and needs a walker. As the water rose within the house, they looked for a pillar of support. Together they wrapped their arms around a porch column as the storm’s powerful tidal surge lifted the house off its foundation.

“He told me many times that he loved me, but I was never really 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 for dear life I said ‘Please god, if you must take one of us, take me. Please don’t let it be 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, in the hours before the waters receded. As it rested in a most precarious position with no steps to get to down to solid ground, the couple waited for help. They sat in the living room of the ramshackled house on a wet sofa with no emergency supplies. It was nearly three days before family members found them.

Both Suzie and Josh suffered injuries during the storm. She was taken to a hospital in Louisiana. A military transport carried him to 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 and all their personal belonging and their beloved pot belly pig, Sweet Pea. And now they had lost each other.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, they both made it back to Pearlington where they reconnected. After the experience, they knew they wanted to spend the rest of their life together.

Soon after their reunion in Pearlington, they met Buster at the local relief center. “I offered to help Miss Suzie carry a load of laundry to her truck, and then she offered to tell me their story,” recalled Buster. “I knew then that we had to do something for them.”

Once the One House at a Time Project had started construction of their new home, Buster turned to planning the wedding and finding the perfect wedding dress for Miss Suzie. Complete with satin, silk, lace, pearls and a 12-foot train.

With Buster on one arm and her cousin Johnny on the other, Suzie glowed as she walked through the yard of her new home, the first newly constructed building in Pearlington, greeting guest and singing praises of thanks. Ronnie McBrayer, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Walton County and an ordained minister performed the ceremony amid shouts of hallelujah and praise the Lord.

The wedding cake had been cut and Suzie thought all her dreams had come true, when Buster presented the newlyweds with a baby pot belly pig named Angel. She let out a little cry, broke into song and repeated, “I am blessed, I am blessed.” They then spent their honeymoon in their new home which is in the same location as the home that had floated from this spot during the storm. The porch post that they clung to as the water rose is now the center column on their new front porch and provides a support for hope in the new year.

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