Friday, September 02, 2005

Mourning sickness

I don't think I can stand to look at another moment of television coverage, yet I sit there. When I'm not planted in front of the television, I'm on the computer checking Interdictor's blog and webcam. When I'm not doing that, I'm outside trying to forget what I've seen. I've been wasting a lot of time sitting solo on the front porch staring into space.

New Orleans is more than just some enchanted city to me. I have personal history in New Orleans and Thibodaux, a small town southwest of NO. My family moved to Thibodaux in the middle (literally during Christmas break) of my tenth grade year right before (literally nine days) before my sixteenth birthday. Needless to say, I hated my parents for several months after uprooting me from the town I'd practically grown up in, the buzzing metropolis of Mendenhall, MS. Seemed like as good a time as any to rebel.

BTW, my dad is a Southern Baptist minister. And, as I've stated many times before, preachers' kids get a lot of heat for being rebellious and mischievous, but --for the record-- we got it all from the deacons' children. No kidding.

We were close enough to New Orleans that our parents would let us take the car there but far enough away to feel safe from the big city crime. We knew the rules of how not to get mugged, where to park, where not to go after dark (as well as where TO go as soon as the sun set) and that--if the need arose-- we were never to take anything but a Union Cab (I don't know why, but everyone said so). We knew that city like the backs of our hands.

I fell in love hard for the first time in New Orleans, had my first child at Ochsner, saw my first off-Broadway play in the Saenger Theater. Even after I moved away, I kept coming back. Three weeks after I met my husband, we toured the French Quarter (after I subjected him to my 10-year high school reunion). When Dagny was still a nursing baby, as a gift, he treated me to a Diane Krall concert, so we all went along with my mother-in-law in tow as a sitter. I always thought that "one of these days" I'd have a second home in New Orleans (a dream my husband did not share. He thinks/thought New Orleans is/was too gritty.).

My Cresent City connection predates my birth. My parents met at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter at a mixer for the incoming students of NO Baptist Theological Seminary. Every single time our family went back (which was often), we heard it all over again as if my parents were talking to strangers.

Mom: (looking around) This is where your father and I met...
Kids: Yes, Mama, we know.
Mom: (gesturing) He was over there...
Kids: **sigh**
Mom: and I was over there...
Kids: mmm-hmm
Mom: I thought he was a jerk and he thought I was a snob, but I wasn't. I was just shy...
(at this point, mom yammers about what he was like in seminary, about the confusion surrounding a date my mom was supposed to have with my dad who was actually setting her up with his roommate, how angry she got at him...and finally...)
Mom: ...but I got him back for that...
Kids and Mom: I married him. [insert laugh track here]

(Come to think of it, I seem to remember my father being there, but I don't recall him saying anything.)

I became so conditioned by the association of beignets with this story that any time I went with friends to Cafe de Monde, I'd automatically say, "This is where my mom and dad met..." and they'd say, "Yes, Natalie, we knooooow..."

When I turn on my tv, this is not the New Orleans I see. It breaks my heart. The loss of humanity, both physically and morally, is staggering. But the fact that a city, a landmark for most of my coming-of-age years, no longer exists is incomprehensible. It adds a whole new dimension to my grief. I can't begin to put it into words.

Will New Orleans be rebuilt? And if so, will it ever be what it once was? As long as the port and refineries are salvagable, I think she's got a fighting chance to become even more vibrant than before. When the aquarium reopens, the sidewalk cafes resume business, and the city is bustling again, I'll be back in Cafe du Monde with my family and pestering my children.

"This is where your grandma and grandpa met..."

No comments: