(WMC) - She was swigging from a styrofoam cup and sitting on her front porch next to an elongated black bag, the kind that might hold a camping chair, when I walked up and introduced myself.
She looked fed up, tired, scared — like she'd been crying and could at any minute start all over again. Then she stared me straight in the face and brought it up on her own.
"I'm sorry I cursed on TV," she said, misty-eyed.
Perhaps you've seen it by now. Jerica Phillips was live on TV during flood rescue efforts in Frayser when a skinny, sopping wet woman with bright yellow hair came over to share her two cents with the City of Memphis.
"I've been over here since 2003 and this is the ... five times this mother------ done ..."
The rest of the sentence was inaudible. Jerica pulled the microphone away and photographer Bo Bradley panned the camera over to the left. The director cut back to the studio. Andrew Douglas tried to move on. And in the background? The newsroom can be heard saying "Ooooh," and seen with hands over gaping mouths.
The skinny, soaking wet woman with bright yellow hair is Priscilla Lester, a 51-year-old mother of five grown children, grandmother of 12, the oldest of whom is 16 years old.
When we met she was alone, swigging from that styrofoam cup, waiting for her daughter to pick her up and sitting next to that elongated black camping-chair style bag. Two empty packs of KOOL's sat on the window sill. A packed roller bag of luggage stood just outside the front door.
She moved into her rental home on Mountain Terrace in 2003. She says the flood water that raged through her neighborhood Thursday morning marked the fifth time her home has flooded since she's lived there.
"Last time, I bleached the whole place, floor to ceiling," she told me.
"Been a tough morning," I stated the obvious.
"You got a cigarette," she asked.
"I don't," I said, doing that thing where you pat your pockets and swivel your head and dart your eyes, as if searching for your change. "I don't smoke. And neither does my photographer. She quit a while ago."
I felt terrible. I should've had a cigarette. She obviously could have used a cigarette, and I didn't have one. I felt like should have had something to offer.
"Besides a cigarette, can I get you anything else?" I asked.
She thought for a long time before finally answering, "Just investigate why this keeps happening, and why they can't make it stop."
She looked off in the distance, for her ride, for an answer. What's next? Would she bleach the whole house again? That wasn't just rising rain water; the sewers had flooded the house too. And her dog was just inside the front door licking the tile until Priscilla saw what was happening and banged on the storm door for him to stop.
MLGW had cut the power to the neighborhood hours before we met. Most everyone else had already evacuated to a shelter. Her street was empty. And although the flood water had already receded, it was immediately replaced by fears over break-ins, looters, and bad guys with the will to advantage of a jacked up situation.
Priscilla sighed. And we talked. Our conversation was pleasant. She was calm and kind, even though she knew she was now known as "The Mother------ Lady" around town and even though her home had been destroyed again. A fifth time.
I couldn't help but hope she is not defined or "misdefined" by her choice, emotional words that spilled out of her mouth on live TV, words that were coming out much more eloquently with me afterward on her front porch.
"I'm a home-type person. I don't go nowhere. I don't go visit my family; my family comes to visit me," she said. "I don't feel comfortable nowhere else."
After about 15 minutes, I had to get back to the live truck to resume working. Who knows when I'll be able to give her what she asked for — figuring out why this keeps happening — if ever, but I felt like I had to give her something now.
Just before I walked off, I figured it out, the one thing she looked like she needed most.
"Can I have a hug?" I asked.
"Oh! I was just about to ask you the same thing," she jumped up from her seat.
We squeezed each other tightly. I told her I wanted to take a selfie together, but only if she would wipe her misty-eyes and smile for a moment. She agreed.
When we let go of each other, she returned to her seat and her styrofoam cup. I told her I'd keep an eye on her from the live truck until her ride showed up. I asked her to stay safe, too.
"Oh, I will," she assured me, patting the elongated black camping-chair style bag next to her. "Got my 12-gauge right here."
I tried not to react, but I must have made a face or something.
"Oh, don't be nervous," she smiled.
I wasn't, I told her. After all, we were just having a conversation, and the FCC was not listening to the two of us.