I’ve come to accept that we’ll never live in New Orleans again, but I cannot let go of her easily. We have to go back, take the communion of food and music, navigate her scarred streets, go back to see our old houses in Gentilly and the lake area. She is a touchstone, a reminder of our youth and courtship, a base where we can still renew, explore, and celebrate.
The house my husband lovingly restored in Gentilly is still there, despite Katrina, mostly because he used his geologist training to find Gentilly Ridge, an ancient sandbar, then found a fixer-upper perched on the highest elevation. It’s still there, and thankfully the owners have taken good care of her; sadly the magnolia that once graced the yard was sacrificed for a security fence, but she still stands proudly. One of the things we miss are the trees, the huge oaks that fell over in too much flood water, and what was once a tree-lined avenue, is denuded.
Our old house near the lakefront, the one we had lived in briefly before our crazy landlady decided she wanted to move in, well, it was not so lucky. Mold is caked on the front of the house, showing where the floodwaters stood, but inside and around the other three sides is a little restored jewel. Mysterious. A note from the mortgage holder announces that they’ve taken the house, and new locks scar all the doors.
Despite the Miniature Collie owners who lived across the street and let their dogs use our lawn as a toilet, despite the fact taking the bus home from work took a lot of time, despite the giant “palmetto bugs” and mice that bowled with Warfarin balls in the attic, we loved it. The neat brick house next door is gone, a house that had belonged to a friend’s aunt, and a faux but cute Creole style house has taken its place. Every house still standing is either raised upon new foundations or is new construction. Or abandoned like our little cottage and the horror of a house down the street. It’s scarred exterior is raised up, waiting for renovation, fenced in, forlorn almost ten years after Katrina.
Over a year ago my husband, two sons, and I were heading back to our bed and breakfast, driving down Napoleon after dinner and trying to miss the gargantuan potholes in the very dark street. My husband, out of the blue, announced, “I can’t live here again,” and my heart sank a bit. “I can’t grow old in a town where we might be stranded on I-10 in a hurricane evacuation,” he said.
I understood completely. When Katrina hit, we’d been in Texas for five years, but still had good friends there. We’d hunkered down for Andrew, ridden out the edge of Opal, evacuated for Georges with tiny children, braced for Rita, and evacuated for Ike. Living on the Gulf Coast is not for the stupid or weak-hearted.
Now we go back to New Orleans, partaking in the only way we can, as knowing tourists. We drink her in, wrap her around us, dream in her arms, then head home.