New Orleans is my City.
She is my Mistress and My Home.
I love her as much as it is possible for any human to love where they come from.
She has Style and elegance.
She has seen a lot of American History.
She has also seen a lot of Human misery and Pain.
But this entry isn’t about Nawlins (The way we pronounce her name, and the only way it should be pronounced)
It’s about where I grew up. A small town, just outside the Embrace of the city.
A very small town, in comparison to New Orleans, herself.
I lived 28 years of my life there.
In a house, about 500 yards from the banks of the Mississippi River.
Here’s a view of my marshland home from the bridge that you need to cross to get there.
When you live in New Orleans and the surrounding Parishes (read: Counties) there is one thing you are always acutely aware of: You are surrounded by water. Everywhere you go..everything you do, you have to cross bridges to get there.
This is a view looking across a wide, marshy area that separates Chalmette from New Orleans. Been fishing out there, more than once!
Fishing is something we do…A LOT!
I used to go just about every weekend with my Dad, when I was younger. I miss it from time to time. It’s a relaxing hobby..even when you don’t catch anything. Just going is always a good time.
There are many Historical landmarks near my house. This one for example:
Is the ruins of Del La Rhonde Plantation. My house was built on the land that used to be the Fields where Sugar Cane and Indigo were grown.
But the most important part of this is:
This Alley of Oaks. It used to lead up to the entrance of the Plantation from the River. Back in those days, the only road followed the river banks. So all of the structures faced the River. It was in these oak trees that General Andrew Jackson and his army of Militia camped on their way to the Battle of New Orleans.
One of the biggest battles of the War of 1812 was fought not more than 1000 yards from that spot. And it was fought almost a year after a cease-fire was called to mark the end of the war. No cell phones back then, word traveled extremely slowly.
And the Battle of New Orleans was not fought IN New Orleans herself, but in Chalmette. The Chalmette battlefield is a national park today. And they do reenactments every year. It is very interesting to go and see. I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Stephen Ambrose give a lecture there about the battle one year. It was fascinating!
I miss Chalmette. Whenever I can, I drive down there and look around. The reason I entitled this post, Visiting a Ghost, is because that is what she is now.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. She obliterated the Mississippi coast. Every building razed to the ground. You don’t hear about it much in the Media because there were no cities the size of New Orleans there.
New Orleans was flooded when the man-made levees broke and allowed the swollen river and lake to empty into it. She was dunked in water and left without power. Those people who lived there were without food, water or appropriate shelter for almost 2 weeks.
Chalmette…was not drowned in water. And she was not obliterated by the tidal wave that killed Mississippi. She was hit by another tidal surge that brought in as much water from the Gulf of Mexico as it could…through the swamps and the marshes…and She was drowned in Mud. 15 feet of MUD! and the Oil refineries, built around Chalmette, lost containment on their massive holding tanks. The Oil came in, assisted by the water, covered everything and formed a toxic layer of sludge just below the surface of the mud. Everything it touched was destroyed.
When we left for Hurricane’s in the past, we took only what we could carry.
We did the same for Katrina.
My home was spared, for the most part, in a suburb of New Orleans called Metairie. I had 6 inches of water in my house. Anything that touched the floor was ruined but I was able to salvage much.
My parents took 1 suitcase with them and the family dog. Everything else, everything…was lost.
Everyone in my family lived in Chalmette.
Our entire family history from the beginning of both bloodlines..until August 2005. Gone.
The first christmas after Katrina, I gave my Mom all the old photos of my as a kid that she had given me over the years. They are all she has now.
I went with my Dad when he traveled down to Chalmette as soon as they started letting residents back in.
This was the street where I played touch football about 5 million times:
This was my childhood home. The place where I learned everything I knew about love and family:
A lifetime of memories. Destroyed.
As we used a sledgehammer to break through the front door. We saw this:
The oil, underneath the mud, stirred up by our footsteps made our eyes sting and made us gag and wretch every couple of minutes.
The dining room where I used to eat breakfast every morning before school/work.
My old room, where I used to lay in bed and dream about leaving that small town behind me:
The “S”. The first initial of my last name. Hanging still in place over the spot where the sofa used to be. In the room where I watched cartoons every saturday morning.
The bathroom where I used to play with toy boats in the tub and get yelled at for splashing water all over the floor.
It’s hard to look at this and say, it’s just a house…just a thing. It was more than that.
It was my history.
But, by some miracle, I was able to save something irreplaceable. This:
It is a Grand Father Clock from Norway. It’s been in my family for almost 300 years. It survived because it floated to the ceiling and didn’t get any mud on it. I still have it. It is my biggest dream to one day have it restored.
My Dad, sold the shell of the house after it was gutted. He wanted to move someplace safer. He told me, he didn’t think he could live through that again. If it happened again it would kill him. I believe him….and I don’t blame him.
Every time I see him in his new house, he ends up telling me the house is ok..but it’s not home.
I understand that too. We all miss it.
When i passed by the house this week I took this picture:
She looks ok. I desperately wanted to go up and walk inside. But I thought that might be a little creepy to the people who live there now.
I hope she takes good care of them..they way she did of me.
I miss that old Ghost of a House.
I’ll miss it forever.