I wrote this a few weeks ago and have been letting it cool for a while. It’s long, but not more than a page. It’s far from perfect, but it sums up how I’m feeling in a way that is just right.
My husband is in the military, and like any military family we use those precious days of leave to return home, and visit the friends and family that we have left behind. After three years we have it down to a science—pack the car with cat, dog, and their accoutrements, fill the tank, stock up on diet coke and chex mix, and trek south to our homeland.
Home is New Orleans—A place that has risen to almost mythic proportions since I have been forced to leave. The dry winds of Texas would blow and I would miss the wet blanket of New Orleans humidity. I would miss the lush trees and plants and the balmy weather. After braving another tornado season or 100+ summer (or worse yet, a snowy winter!), I would wonder why anyone would live anywhere but my beautiful city. As a military spouse, my greatest worry was that one day I would have children who didn’t know where they had come from. Would they know the legacy of food, family, and warmth that had been passed on to me? Would they realize that tailgating wasn’t an event? It was an art form? Would they know the appreciation for the past and the easy-going life-style? Or would they only know suburban waste-lands with chain restaurants and matchy-matchy neighborhoods (I’m not condemning—I live in one now).
Now I knew the city wasn’t perfect. My family lived in the suburbs and you couldn’t cross the parish line without receiving a litany of warnings about safety. Every time I visited, I heard worse and worse stories about the public schools of New Orleans. Corruption was entrenched as was poverty, and there was definitely a sense that things would be hard to fix. But no city is perfect and there were many people who retained their hope in the future of this great city—even when they weren’t sure how we would get there.
So you probably see where I’m going with this—my last trip to New Orleans was cancelled because the city was sitting in water and even local residents weren’t allowed back in. I spent hours alternating between crying and talking to my parents about the latest update. I watched in horror in my school’s faculty lounge as gunmen attempted to take over the city. I felt the rush of relief when the National Guard finally arrived. If a city can survive that, then it can survive anything. A city that is used to obstacles has seen many of them washed away.
My family is back. They rented a crash-pad in Baton Rouge, but found they didn’t like being away from their home. Their children are grown and raised, but they talk excitedly about the plans for neighborhood schools coming out of the city. This jewel of a city will regain her luster.
When the immediate aftermath of Katrina had passed, I began to mourn for my roots. My precious city had been washed away and it would never be the same again. My children will never know the city that I was raised in and grew to love. I realize now that they will be left with a different legacy—indeed, a more meaningful one. My children will come from a group of people who would not be simply swept aside. People who visit the “devastation” talk in hushed whispers about whether the city will come back. Politicians and housewives in Iowa wonder whether the city “should” come back. This is a fine topic of conversation, but the facts are that the people are back, and it’s going to take a little more than a category three hurricane to pry them away from their home. The people are coming back to their home. They are coming back to the unique accents, sultry weather, delicious food, amazing art, and the warmth.
My children’s New Orleans will be a different one. Their New Orleans will be filled with a strength and appreciation that mine never had. Those who do not love the city have flown for good, and to them I say, “Good Luck.” Those who stay in the city will make it theirs again, and I can only be hopeful about that future.