My childhood home – upper 9th ward
After being born at Ochsner, I was brought back to this home. I lived here the first 8 years of my life, in the upper 9th ward. My parents were poor, their first home was in the Desire housing projects, then they moved here several years before I came along. We lived here until my parents were able to purchase their first home.
My dad parked his old Chevy in this garage. It was flooded out by Hurricane Betsy in 1965, but he was able to salvage it by drying out the gas tank and then drove it for a few more years until it rusted out. I learned how to ride a bicycle along this sidewalk.
We lived on the opposite side of the duplex, but the backyards were shared. I remember the neighbors, an older couple whose children were grown. The man used to fish all the time, and he was very gracious, sharing his catch with my mom. She would cook it all up, and would return the favor by bringing some back for their supper. I remember some of the fish he caught were full of roe, and my mom would fry the roe for my dad who was thrilled to have the golden yellow delicacy along with his fries and trout fillets.
The front porch seemed like it towered over the sidewalk, at least from a child’s perspective. The front porch edge was where the flood waters of Hurricane Betsy stopped. My dad remembers the water rushing down the street, and miraculously leveling off at the top of the porch before it inundated the house. We were lucky compared to the folks down in St. Bernard, where the water reached the eaves. My uncle walked from Gentilly to our home to check on us after Betsy passed, all the way in waist deep water. My grandmother had a mild heart attack the night Betsy howled over us, but she didn’t realize it until after the floodwaters receded and she was able to get back in touch with her doctor on St. Claude Avenue.
There were many fond memories sitting on the porch – eating homemade Zatarain’s root beer popsicles, and sorting through 3 leaf clovers searching for the elusive 4 leaf. It was a great neighborhood to grow up in: close to the extended family, close to school and St. Cecelia church. Mardi Gras parades used to pass down St. Claude Avenue, and my parents took us occasionally to the French Quarter to see the night parades and the flambeaux until French Quarter parades stopped in 1973. My mother took us often to the Alvar Street library and I took lessons and swam at NORD St. Claude Stallings playground.
I remember many times sliding down the concrete stoop, and sitting on the brick pedestal. There was an empty lot on the side of the home that we would play in, and where our birthday parties would congregate. The home was shotgun style and my brother and I would run back and forth for hours, playing with whatever struck our fancy that day out of the toy chest. The hall had a floor furnace, on which I tripped and fell while running, bearing the scar on my knee to this day. I remember the large kitchen in the back where everyone congregated around the table every night – red beans and rice on Monday, pork chops on Wednesday, fish on Fridays and roast beef on Sundays. My mother was a wonderful cook, and made delicious meals out of a very tight budget. I never knew how poor they were growing up, until I got older and realized all the sacrifices my parents made to give us a good life and a good education.
The front door had two beautiful side doors on either side, and in this picture, one of the side doors was ajar. I could peer inside and see that the home which had once been full of life, was sitting there forgotten.
It is heartbreaking to see this home abandoned and unloved. I suppose that the next step is demolition. A little bit of effort and money could save this place. I have pictures of the interior while growing up, and one can see how tidy and well kept the home used to be, with the gleaming wood floors and the colorful walls.
There are thousands upon thousands of stories like mine across the city. This is where the magnitude of Katrina hits – over a quarter of a million homes suffered this fate, and many of the inhabitants of these destroyed homes perished inside, fatalities of a man-made disaster. A catastrophe of this size must never happen again.
Photographed by maringouin
Read about our project depicting the state of New Orleans neighborhoods in the 5th year post-Katrina here