This month is the 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. So the ‘reflecting’ posts are to be expected. I’ll be moving on to other happier subjects in September.
This week the Times Picayune is running a four part series about Delacroix, a small town in eastern St Bernard that is almost extinct. When I was a kid growing up in western St Bernard (which is right next to the Lower 9th) we referred to all the swamp villages like Shell Beach, Hopedale, Yscloskey, Delacroix, and even parts of Violet as “dow’na road”; a kind of coonass “here be dragons” on the map. While us kids in Chalmette were playing football and Nintendo around our suburban brick homes, kids dow’na road ran around half naked, shot wild pigs, and lived in ‘camps’ on stilts. Two totally different civilizations, only 20 miles apart.
Still, I’m melancholy about the loss of any culture, especially since globalization has turned out to be a massive bore. Although I joke, the place was not that foreign to me. There was better fishing dow’na road, and we had friends in the area, so I did spend some of my childhood there. So where am I going with this?
Inevitability, I guess. Some places are meant to take a beating and come back, but for others the end is near. Their moment in time has passed. Extinction and evolution and all. And yet even accepting this, it still hurts. I never thought I’d be the last generation to grow up “dow’nehr” when it was at its peak at a population over 70k, not the 20k it is now (most of whom are close to the city end, not the swampy end).
I left St Bernard and moved into Orleans Parish after college, but I visited a lot because my family was still there and they owned a restaurant where many friends and family regularly met up. It was like a big party whenever you walked through the door. After the storm I stopped going dow’nehr and to the cafe that never reopened. My parents rebuilt and live in Arabi today, right past the parish line, but when I visit them I go no further than the border. It’s been three years since I’ve ventured down to Meraux where I was raised. I thought for a while it meant that I just didn’t miss it, but now I know that it really just hurts me to look at it. The last time I was there, the only thing remaining was a slab (and now even that is gone too, they tell me). In 2007 I remember looking at the spot where my house used to stand, and suddenly all I could see was 25 years ago exactly the way I remember it from childhood. Remember that sappy final scene in Titanic where Rose is asleep and dreaming about the present-day sunken ship and then it morphs into the past, the way she remembered it – lively, happy, with people she knew and loved greeting her? Yeah, that’s why I hate going back. Because that’s kind of what it feels like (only I hear crickets instead of Celine Dion music). All I can see is my little brother climbing trees, my dad washing his boat, or my mom calling from the door for us to come inside. I see myself playing ball in the street, and running two houses away to swing on the back porch with my grandmother, or running two houses the other way to ask my aunt if I could swim in her pool. When I finally did see the present day slab again, I looked around for evidence that I existed there, wondering how so many years spent in one place with so many wonderful memories can mean absolutely nothing to the marshlands.
And so, I avoid it. And try to enjoy where I live in New Orleans right now, for however long it lasts.
Here’s to a miserable-ass 5 year Katrina anniversary.
Photo: St Bernard Katrina victims memorial in Shell Beach, LA
Originally posted at Pistolette.net