Tag Archives: Mary Lou Schmerker

Mary Lou Cookman Schmerker Is Safe: Report From Houston

Mary Lou Cookman Schmerker is an alert and avid “06880” reader. Her insights in the “Comments” section are always positive, reflective and on target.

Mary Lou is also a Houston resident. Fellow “06880” reader John Suggs contacted her during Hurricane Harvey — on behalf of our entire online community — to make sure she was safe.

She was. And — despite all that’s going on during this cataclysmic event — she found time to send this report:

Since 06880 is “Where Westport Meets the World,” it was suggested that as a Westport native who was transplanted years ago to Houston it might be interesting to provide a first-person account of the storm.

If I were to post pictures of my surroundings right now, everyone would ask, “What’s the big deal?”

A stroke of pure luck puts us in an area 79 feet above sea level. A little more than a quarter of a football field saved us from devastating floodwaters.

Friday night Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Rockport, and devastated that area with Category 4 winds, tidal surge and massive rainfall. The counter- clockwise winds placed the Houston area on the “dirty side” of the storm. Even Friday night, areas of Houston began to experience flooding.

Rescue boats fill a flooded street. (Photo/David J. Phillip)

The major danger Friday night came from numerous tornado warnings. We did not sleep much, but we were secure in our own beds.

All day Saturday the storm crawled at 1 mile an hour across the region. It dumped massive amounts of rain, but thankfully winds were not severe.

Saturday night we turned the phones off and slept as best we could.

Sunday the rain continued with small breaks.

Monday the rain continued with some breaks. Finally on Tuesday the storm moved back out to the Gulf of Mexico a little bit. We began to experience longer dry periods.

On Wednesday we woke up to sunshine. Because of our 79 feet, all we have to remind us right here are wind gusts.

But that is not the story. We are somewhat isolated here because of the possibility of flooding from the Brazos River. It is not expected to crest until Saturday. (By the time this is posted, that may be revised downward.)

The Gulf coast of Texas is flat. All water from streams, rivers, ponds, bayous, gullies, retention ponds,  sloughs, street drains and reservoir overflows eventually make its way to the Gulf (in our area Galveston Bay).

Houston is the country’s 4th largest city. With the surrounding metropolitan area 7 million plus people are impacted by this storm, which is now on the march east and north to impact more area and people. The actual number will be staggering.

The suffering from Hurricane Harvey is heart-wrenching.

Along with the tragic stories and situations there are heartwarming stories of people helping people. The New York Times has covered, with a video , the generosity of Jim McIngvale. “Mattress Mack” started out selling mattresses from a small facility, and now owns 2 large upscale furniture stores. He has opened those both as Red Cross shelters, and is not concerned about the loss of business.

Buc-ee’s, a gas station and convenience store chain, told a convoy of National Guardsmen that they could have anything in the store free of charge. Along with snacks and soda Buc-ee’s carries high-end food, nice casual clothes and gift items. Anything the men and women in uniform wanted they could have, free of charge.

At first there were so many volunteers they dubbed them “second responders.” Now they are called the Concerned Citizen Corps.

Convoys of trucks pulling boats of all descriptions have come from Louisiana. They are being referred to as the Cajun Navy.

A rancher drove in pulling a tanker with 800 gallons of gas that he donated, so boats with outboard motors could refuel free of charge.

The stories of individual heroics are uplifting — and countless.

Before I share my favorite story, I want to say that what is happening here in Texas is restoring my faith in the caring capacity of our fellow men and women. So far I haven’t heard any political accusations or racial slurs. People reach out and help regardless of race, creed, nationality or political persuasion.

There are thousands upon thousands in shelters, sleeping and eating in close quarters. Men, women and children of all ages are represented. We have a very large, diverse population in this area, and pictures show that diversity. We see women with Muslim head coverings next to women in African dress next to those from India in saris.

My favorite story so far is of a group of Hispanic men. They arrived Monday night in yellow trucks so large that people needed extension ladders to climb out. They made trip after trip picking up people long after dark, bringing them to a gas station.

The men looked for cell phone lights to show them where people were, and listened for cries of help. In and out they went for hours, not caring that they were exhausted and soaking wet themselves. They just kept on their mission.

From dry ground, people were loaded into panel trucks and taken first to a Walmart, then finally into buses to a shelter. These men were tireless in their desire to help any and every one.

This has gotten quite long. I’ll send another report about why we have so much flooding here. I think there is an important correlation to make for Westport.

With gratitude for all the help being sent to this area, and the examples of neighbor helping neighbor across all lines,

Mary Lou Cookman Schmerker
Staples High School Class of 1958

Amazing Adoption Reunion Story, To Start Your Week Right

Less than 2 weeks ago, “06880” highlighted a new state law, allowing adult adoptees the right to see their original birth certificate. The hook was John Suggs, a Westport forensic genetic geneaologist who helps adults find their birth families.

I figured the story would resonate with adoptees. I suspected some might contact John.

But I had no idea it would be so life-changing — and certainly not so quickly.

Almost immediately after the story ran, John received an email from a regular reader: Mary Lou Cookman (now Mary Lou Schmerker) of Texas.

John called her, and learned her story.

John Suggs

John Suggs

Mary Lou is a native Westporter — Staples High School Class of 1958 — who was transplanted to Texas in the early 1970s. She’d read the “06880” piece, and wondered if John could help.

She did not have the exact dates. But sometime in the mid-1950s, the daughter of a friend of her grandmother gave birth to a baby girl.

The baby’s father had left town. The baby’s mother had to wear a metal back brace, making it very difficult to care for the infant. The baby’s mother and widowed grandmother lived alone on Evergreen Avenue.

They received great help from their Westport friends — including Mary Lou’s family. All took turns helping care for the baby. For a while, the little girl lived in Mary Lou’s home.

Ultimately the birth mother accepted that she could not continue to care for her child. She made the wrenching decision to give her up for adoption.

Left behind in Mary Lou’s house was a sterling silver baby cup, engraved with the child’s initials. Around 4 decades ago, Mary Lou’s mother gave it to her for safekeeping.

Mary Lou still had that precious cup. She polished it regularly — always hoping to find a way to return it, and tell the owner how much she had been loved and adored, and how talented and special her mother and grandmother were.

John leaped into action.

Mary Lou provided a few names and personal details. In less than a week — despite starting with an incorrect birth date — our intrepid forensic genetic genealogist struck gold. The baby girl is now a grandmother named Linda Ogden. She still lives in Fairfield County.

Mary Lou quickly flew north from Texas. She carried the sterling silver baby cup on the plane. Yesterday afternoon, they were together for the first time in nearly 7 decades.

Linda Ogden (left), Mary Lou Schmerker, and the long-lost sterling silver baby cup.

Linda Ogden (left), Mary Lou Schmerker, and the long-lost sterling silver baby cup.

Mary Lou — the only living person left who personally knew Linda’s birth mother and grandmother — told stories about them. She assured Linda that both women loved her dearly.

And she gave back the sterling silver baby cup that had been left behind in Westport, all those years ago.

Linda Ogden, John Suggs and Mary Lou Schmerker share a laugh yesterday.

Linda Ogden, John Suggs and Mary Lou Schmerker share a laugh yesterday.