For an hour the boats ferried men,women and children to the big steel structure that now straddles the Houma Navigational Canal, which brings commerce and floodwaters from the Gulf of Mexico to Houma and its related towns.
The floodgate is no Grand Coulee Dam, either in complexity or overall importance to the nation. But it is important enough, as part of an anti-flood system that is still under construction.
The feds never could get it together enough for this interlocking system to be built but the locals did, as often happens in this part of the world.
On the national networks when a hurricane comes the weather people point to what lies below New Orleans and speak as if there is nothing but swamps and alligators, neither realizing nor knowing, perhaps, that so many of us call this home.
During the ceremonies honoring the floodgate opening I saw lots of familiar faces. There were senators and there was a member of the U.S. House. There were levee district directors and levee board members, engineers and their families, and every Terrebonne Parish official with nothing else on their dance card.
The sheer number of people gathered on this barge to mark this occasion spoke to the grandeur of the moment, the richness of a community taking pride in protecting itself, so much so that a general from the Army Corps of Engineers noted his own agency’s lack of involvement.
The barge all those folks gathered on will not remain at the site, but will be removed to be available for other tasks. For one whole day however it was what in Terrebonne equates to a royal yacht. There were other people on that barge as well, including crew members from the tugboat that kept it in place.
As the speeches wore on and everyone waited with anticipation for the smashing of champagne bottles against the floodgate, there were crew members on other boats that passed, working people who make sure the boats operated properly.
There were no iron workers or fabricators that I could see. But I tried to keep in mind that of all the people who might have been on that barge on that particular day, it was the mariners and offshore workers and the welders and their helpers.
We are used to seeing the faces of all the dignitaries on the television or in the newspapers. But the faces of these are other people are a different story.
We see them in the check-cashing places and the bar-rooms, at the Walmart and at the Golden Corral.
They show up with the children they parent, the parents they are easing into retirement, the spouses who put up with the long absences and the weary bodies. We pay them very little attention since they are in front of us all the time.
But we should.
These men and women are the backbone of this parish, the ones who make the biggest sacrifices in order to make everything work, and whose only recognition and thanks is the paycheck they earned.
We have no statues dedicated to these workers, who are in the shipyards and at the welding yards and who use sinew and muscle to build and shape, whose eyes make sure the rivets go in right.
They go to church on Saturday nights and sometimes they end up in the jail because of child support issues, or the occasional DWI.
There will be no flood gates named for any of them. There are no plaques marking their contributions.
But all of us can pay them the homage they deserve for being the muscle and bone that do the actual work of making this parish happen, who do the actual work of putting everything in place. We can do it by being courteous to the people we see on line in the supermarket who are plain old working guys, the ones with the welding caps on their heads and the tattoos on their arms.
We can do it by watching carefully how the laws change or need to be changed to make sure their kids get the best choices available to them for health care and for education.
We can do it by knowing that each working person in this parish is at least as important as any dignitary, and that because of the work they do they are dignitaries themselves.
And most of all we can pray that they stay safe and they stay whole.
This is because they are, ultimately, the people who have through their labors done what must be done to keep us all safe.