searching through the Harvey rubble: finding gratitude in the #coalsoncleanup

we drove through the neighborhood like nothing had happened, the white concrete bright under the hot texas sun. house after house looked familiar, at least from the outside, each manicured limestone in its place among outer walls. the only difference were the memories that lay on the curb.  our hearts burned at the stake, through our bodies, and into the ground.


it’s hard to imagine that just a few days ago the view was somewhat different.




my parents have moved several times: from texas, to panama, to alabama, back to texas, then on to western germany. they traveled europe with us kids in tow, pilgrimaging through the countryside. then returned to texas, only to find themselves venturing to ohio years later.


in ’96 they finally returned to their native state once and for all, but I would be remiss not to mention they have moved several times within texas even since then. when they landed in weston lakes five years ago, this was declared their retirement home. my sister Krista helped build their dream, and it has hosted many memories since then.


needless to say, home is definitely where the heart is.



so as Harvey blasted ashore, and the cold waters rose around them, my parents made the brave decision to wade across the street to a neighbor’s house, where they could be transported to a rally point for pick up.


the days following were frantic with worry, as 50 years of marriage and memories and love slowly submerged under the muddy pond that began to form within their walls. we all did what we could, where we could, but no one was able to reach the abandoned house, drenched in the torrential rains of Harvey.



when we finally made it through, my father, Les Coalson, already had a tactical plan for recovery, employing his sons first to help hammer out planks, pull up soggy carpets, and begin to dry out the foundation of the heart of our family. always in inspiration to us girls, even as his thoughts turned to ensuring my mother wasn’t laden with grief, his passion to pull through was unyielding. the ultimate commander of his flooded home, he safeguarded us all from over-extension, yet spent countless hours with sore muscles completing the most urgent tasks. he has always been, and will always be, the best patriarch of our family. a man whose heart is bigger than texas, one who provides us with knowledge and capability, and sets us free to make our own mistakes.



the sommelier (Gabriel Howe), embellished in sweat and dripping musty puddles onto the ground, pulled planks from the concrete at an extraordinary rate, like a french carousel that continuously orbits through the center of town. his determination and diligence still amazes me, his focus squarely on the task at hand, his knees scathed by the hours spent kneeling on the flooded terrain. he came into our family not knowing the deep world in which we dive, yet he has always given his whole self to understand the connections which we have, and somehow keeps his head above water through it all.



Alex Matthey, a teenager beginning his final year of high school, weathered through all the directions from those around him, pulling warped wood, sodden carpets, moving furniture, and whatever else was asked of him. he takes on more than he should as his age, and rarely complains. I can’t wait to see how he effects our world. my intellectual, compassionate nephew, and a fellow leo, will turn out an amazing man, y’all.



conferring with my father on strategy, Bryan Matthey kept the sense of urgency high, ensuring all workers were on task. he also placed fans and used wet vacs, removed floor boards and organized cleanup gear. when new helpers arrived, he was able to direct where most impact was needed. a master of oversight, he ensured every undertaking was complete and on-point, a signifying aspect of his persona, one who can lead through any situation, heart-breaking or not. he is a gem of our family, a diamond in the rough who isn’t thanked enough for his tenacity.



strangers neighbors new friends from weston lakes began to show up to remove debris from this crying, soggy home.



an ally of my older sister Krista, Jared Kohler, resolutely cleared debris from room to room, offering his time in unfamiliar territory as only a kind coach to my younger nephew would. thanks to this mish-mash clean-up crew, in less than 24 hours of our return to my parents’ heart and soul, we were drying out and cutting drywall. how can we ever repay this texan kindness?



thanks to Art Schmitt, as much caring and a gentle soul as family could be, and an expert in reconstruction, we knew the exact recipe for a Harvey rinse. whether it was bleach or vinegar, our supplies never ran out, and the sheetrock was removed at precise levels.


my parents will have an extra place to store the collections of their lives, and thanks to his girl lady Debi Schroen, my mother has emotional support to lean on. these are the types of friends who stick with you through thick and thin, transcend aspersions, ride through rising flood waters, and bring bourbon to boot. this is true family, y’all.



brothers Mark and Sherman Wooten, who were born handymen, graced with a father so enveloped with light and love he is ever present in the air around them, took charge of the most difficult mucking involving power tools, and brought smiles and happiness to a scene of loss and disarray.


a welcome comfort to our numbness and grief, these brothers and Saint Faustina parish friends elevated the vibration of the house, adding electric, positive connectivity to those around them while doing some of the hardest work imaginable.



Krista Schroen, my tireless and relentless sister, inundated with false media flooding predictions of her own home, provided midnight pleas for charitable organization clean-up efforts for our childhood memories, kept in clammy hutches and antique bureaus. she also vigorously assisted in removing debris and insulation, sitting on the wet concrete, which only days before was submerged in the swollen creek waters fed by the raging Brazos. because she built the home in which my parents are now evacuated from, her extra layer of emotion and guilt and cross-to-bear is something we will never comprehend. she is, and always will be, one of the most remarkable women I know. a survivor, a giver, yet a delicate, guarded soul somewhat fossilized by the world around her.



after working five straight days at Methodist West, delivering babies and praying in the chapel during breaks, my meek sister Karen Matthey did not rest, but came to the aid of our family, as only her loving nature would. she began organizing the packing of my parents memories, including heirloom Czech bibles owned by my great grandmother. she cleared remaining debris and drywall, and arranged for supplies to be fully stocked. in addition to all of this, she has lovingly housed my parents in her guest room, fed them, and has been a buttress to their initial onslaught of emotion. an admirable woman, my angelic sister has always given without expecting anything in return, her heart leading her every move. I will always aspire to be as beneficent as she.



bringing meals and snacks, finding desperate supplies, and loading my car with end of the day, well-deserved, texan beers was my task the past few days.  yesterday I found myself packing up the reminders of my childhood overseas, saving memories of shiny figurines collected through time and forgotten in my adulthood.


I intricately and securely packed each relic with care, bubble-wrapping the stories laden within each porcelain marionette. thoughts swirling through my overactive brain and aching back- my sense of wanting to do more than physically allowed- relentlessly whipped my heart and bled into my soul. I did what I could, but still felt overwhelming guilt for not doing more. the urgency is widespread, yet the road is long.




there are countless more to thank, including my youngest sister Emily Coalson, and my extended family in california, who founded a go-fund me campaign to assist my parents in immediate efforts. (more on this in the next update.)




we will rebuild.  we will survive. Because that’s who we are.



it’s been a year since last week. we all deserve a rest. go take care of yourselves, y’all.


after the storm: do what we can, when we can, every day.

I’ve been awake almost every night, ignited with the fear of tornado warning after tornado warning, listening for the constant sound of rain on the asphalt rooftop of my high and dry home. even though the storm is over, the anxiety is relentless. it is silent now.


watching the news at all, in any shape or form, is like lingering by a pool of vomit in your elementary school, waiting for the janitor to sprinkle the pink powder so the smell and sight isn’t so deafening. but the janitor never comes. it churns your stomach. your mind becomes frantic. and you look for a place to relieve your swirling energy. what could I do… today?


the rain was still pounding, yet I went to see my oldest sister, Karen Matthey, an essential employee at Methodist West Houston, who hadn’t been home in four days, earlier this week.  the trek is not far from my unflooded neighborhood; I passed branches and typical storm debris, yet was clear to drive. the oldest of us four, my science laden, dedicated, quiet-natured sister was assisting in c-sections and delivering babies amid the torrential whipping of harvey, yet was surviving on peanut butter and crackers and soup she brought from home. I brought what I could that day, as the rain was still falling; but I was astonished at the flock of nurses gathered at the computer, watching for signs of relief from the rain. devastated. famished. and water kept pouring in from the sky. my feet were cold from the rubber golashes tredding through the pavement puddles, yet we all did what we could, that day.


many stood in line at my local Randall’s, their carts full of what was left on the shelves; I spoke to a mother who couldn’t find milk for her baby, and was planning on mixing half and half creamer with water and old formula until she could make it out again. she lived in Kelliwood and was probably flooded out the next day. we stood in line for two hours, grateful the cashier could make it in, mentioning to the manager how thankful we were they were open. I felt humbled. by the time I left, elevated trucks with boats had arrived in the parking lot, looking for provisions as they plucked evacuees from the water. reality hits you hard, this storm was massive. and difficult to comprehend in its entirety. we all did what we could, that day.


the next day, as the rain turned to sputter, the sommelier and I gathered hot food from our own kitchen for the Methodist West Labor and Delivery Department, wrapping sausage rolls and making sandwiches, parting with parmesean rissoto and meatballs. this was the first time many had a hot meal in days, the doctors and nurses starving for protein. longing for regularity. we did what we could, that day.


we started to see amazing things on social media, stories of friends downtown who flocked together to help save the city. our carefree, liberal, philosophical friend Jonathan Honefenger started by rescuing his own parents, who live downstream from the barker reservoir, and were bound to heavily flood and were taking on water. he saved them, driving in the rain and through rising tides to pull his mother and his father and his childhood from the storm. he did what he could, that day.


later Honefenger, his ultimate persona, somehow organized a gang of volunteers to use donated busses and trucks to drive evacuees from safety in Memorial City, where a part of the highway collapsed under the weight of the rain. he inspired others through social media, and is a hero to many, especially those who waded through muddy waters and left everything behind; fear was replaced by love. he did what he could, that day. and the next day. and the next day.


another known all around amazing lady, rights advocate, and sommelier leader, Cat Nguyen, arranged for local farms to donate massive amounts of food, then she coordinated with local james beard nominated wine manager, Sean Beck, to begin bringing those who could work into Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught restaurants, so that those displaced by the relentless bastard of a storm could have a hot meal. they did what they could, that day. and the next day, and the next day.


we started to see friends like Beth Gustafson and Natalie Vaclavik donating a multitude of items to worthy causes, promoting others to start to gather blankets, pillows, and clothing for our fellow houstonians. my older sister Krista Schroen, fair and beautiful, tough yet delicate, began driving evacuees from rally points to Katy shelters in her large infiniti suv, often internalizing the overwhelming sadness and disarray of the situation, offering residents a glimmer of hope and alignment with the community. they did what they  could, that day. and the next day. and the next day.


as the storm raged on, we saw news stations began to tell harrowing stories of survival. my own brother in law, Bryan Matthey, an intellectually driven, caring, decisive man, pinpointed a plan to help save my own parents from their flooded home in an elevated jeep, and my cousin Brian Mozisek, and adventurous and true country texan, kayaked his way to save his relatives from rising tides. they did amazing things, and did what they could, that day. and the next day. and the next day.


we began hearing from expat houstonians, friends, co-workers, relatives- and on how they could help, what they could do- and people like Rosie Dilger helped my youngest sister, Emily Coalson, the creative, musically inclined, good hearted artist in San Francisco, to start a Go-Fund Me Campaign for direct charity relief efforts. they did what they could, from far away, that day. and the next day. and the next day.


now that the storm has dissipated, those of us who weathered the angry skies in fair condition, should try to do what we can, every day. there are many local shelters in which to
volunteer, serve food, sort donations, assist evacuees. we were spared by the creulity of this storm, and we must wake up, and walk through the numbness of our cold feet in golashes, and get out there.


we can all do what we can, when we can, every day.


we are #hoUSton. we are strong. we will rebuild. one day at a time. one community at a time.


this is our city, our home. let’s do this, y’all. together.