Aug 14, 200912:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Feels like home

Ruby was a little overwhelmed at her first Mardi Gras, and Jamie sympathized.

Why’d I come back? I wonder that sometimes, when I lose another hubcap in a pothole  or hear about another friend becoming a crime victim or have to go to five different post offices just to get mail delivery started. Life was kind of boring in the mid-Missouri college town where I lived before, but the streets were good, and the crime was low, and the bureaucracy was as efficient as bureaucracy gets. So why? Why’d I come back?

In some ways, my decision to move back wasn’t all that different than the decision of my colleague and fellow blogger Marcie Dickson to move here in the first place ––  because it was a decision about living in New Orleans as an adult, something I’d never done. I left New Orleans for college when I was 17 and didn’t move back until 10 years later.

People always say, “Oh, I could never raise kids in New Orleans,” and I get that; I do.

But being a kid in New Orleans was magical. I loved climbing the gnarled oak trees in City Park. I loved that my first grade class walked to Café du Monde to celebrate the end of the school year with beignets and chocolate milk when kids in other cities were getting Little Debbies and bright-red Kool-Aid. I loved Mardi Gras parades and costumes. I loved taking the streetcar from my junior high school to my mom’s office every day. I loved teasing tourists. I loved saying, “I’m from here. Go away!” to the “I bet I can tell you where you got them shoes” characters. I even loved the thrill of evacuating. The other stuff, the crime and the failing schools and the corrupt politics and the high insurance rates, that was grownup stuff, too boring to even be considered when I had other matters to attend to, such as sneaking into hotel swimming pools and pretending to be a guest who was visiting from London, complete with a very bad accent that fooled no one.

But as much as I loved growing up in New Orleans, when I moved away, I didn’t plan to come back. I enjoyed my visits on Christmas and spring break, but every time I came home, I found myself shaking my head at how things are done here.  I’d make fun of New Orleans to my college friends, explaining to them about the 1992 Edwards-Duke gubernatorial race and the “Vote for the Crook; It’s Important” bumper stickers or how I bought a daiquiri on my 14th birthday. I laughed at their astonished looks. “That’s just normal down there,” I’d tell them matter-of-factly, with a definite sense of having put all of the nonsense of New Orleans behind me with a firm hand.

And then came Katrina. It reinforced, of course, just how backward and broken we are here, stripped away the Mardi Gras beads and the jazz and the deep-fried seafood that we showcase for tourists and showed us the shameful poverty that has always existed. But even as it made clear what was wrong with New Orleans, it made me fiercely, fiercely protective of the city. I am not a confrontational person by nature, but in the days after the storm, I found myself screaming at my coworkers in Missouri who dared to suggest that New Orleans not be rebuilt. And in the weeks after the storm, I found myself in a total fog, unable to care about what the Missourians around me cared about. New Orleans was no longer “down there,” as far as I was concerned, and the people who lived in New Orleans weren’t “they.” It was “here,” and it was “we.”

 When I came down in late September to help my dad rip up sodden carpet and tear out sheetrock in his flooded Mid-City house, I didn’t want to go back to Missouri. New Orleans smelled of rotten meat and mold and death; there was no electricity or potable water; there were cat skeletons on the sidewalk; there was no place to buy so much as a carton of milk and no way to refrigerate it even if you could. But suddenly, I was in paradise. Suddenly, I was doing something instead of watching it on the news. Suddenly, I didn’t have to pretend to care about anything else but right then, right here, right now in New Orleans. “We’re moving home,” I told my husband, Jamie. “As soon as you’re done with law school in May, we’re going back.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

By the time he was done with school, I was three months into a high-risk pregnancy and was in no shape to relocate 1,000 miles away. “We’re still moving home,” I told him. “As soon as this baby is born in December, we’re going back.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

When my daughter, Ruby, was just 2 weeks old, Helen Hill ––- who was, like me, a wife, a mother, a lover of New Orleans against all reason –– was murdered in her home while her husband and young son watched. The story made national news, and I sat on my sofa in Missouri holding my newborn and sobbing. Teardrops speckled my daughter’s pink-and-yellow baby blanket, and I, hormonal and heartbroken, cried until I couldn’t breathe. “We can’t move home,” I told Jamie. “If something like that happened to us just because I want to live somewhere where I can get a cup of decent gumbo … well, I can’t even imagine it. We’re never moving back.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

I grudgingly agreed to bring Ruby to visit my relatives for Mardi Gras that year, and once I was back in the city, cheering for the marching bands, throwing quarters at the flambeaux carriers, clamoring for beads, eating poor boys, it seemed like home again. As Rex passed, I realized I didn’t want Ruby to ever think that this was anything but normal.

I remembered my first Mardi Gras away from home, how I woke up in my dorm room on a cold gray Tuesday and had to make my way through snow and ice to take a midterm. The kids around me had no idea what they were missing. I was somewhere else, and it was just Tuesday.

I wanted Ruby, if she wasn’t in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, to at least know what she was missing. And I didn’t want to surrender to fear by refusing to move back to a town where my heart felt at peace. I didn’t want to live through one more Missouri winter or eat one more bad attempt at gumbo.

“We’re moving home,” I told Jamie over the sounds of a marching band. “As soon as the baby is a little bit older, as soon as we can sell our house and find new jobs, we’re moving back.”

And that’s just the way it happened.
 

Reader Comments:
Aug 14, 2009 05:57 pm
 Posted by  goofus

Is there a Like button for this?

Aug 14, 2009 07:00 pm
 Posted by  Robert

Good stuff Eve.

Aug 14, 2009 08:24 pm
 Posted by  Anna

This is so poignant. So sweet. So close to home. I feel as if you are writing my feelings post Katrina and regarding the city I love so much. I struggle daily with the need to move, live there, be there, and I'm always disappointed to realize I may not be able to. At least not yet. Thanks for sharing.

Aug 17, 2009 11:24 am
 Posted by  NOLAMSW

I enjoy your writing so much. It is well-crafted prose and so full of wonderful spirit and soul. We are happy you came back to New Orleans. You make it a better place.
P.

Aug 17, 2009 05:22 pm
 Posted by  Alisha

These are beautiful memories. Sooo looking forward to reading more. Eve for mayor!

Aug 18, 2009 07:12 am
 Posted by  Hollen B.

So enjoyed reading your article.
I am from Missouri also a grad of Mizzou. A Louisiana transplant since 1972.
Moving 4 times in 5 years I came to Louisiana in January ( after many years of those winters) and it was 72 degrees and I knew I was home.
Of all the places I have lived none have the feeling of Louisiana. My friends come to visit not sure why I feel like I do about this special place and when they leave they say, "Now I understand."

Aug 18, 2009 12:35 pm
 Posted by  Cooleigho

Wow...Eve you brought tears to my eyes! I know exactly what you mean...We moved after Katina and I could not wait to move back!!! Even though it was just across the lake, it still wasn't New Orleans!! It definitely gets in your blood!!!Can't wait to read more!!

Aug 21, 2009 12:12 pm
 Posted by  curlilox

I need to subscribe to this blog...great stuff!

Aug 22, 2009 10:19 am
 Posted by  NOLAMSW

I raised my daughter here and have no regrets. She loves the city and is making a difference here. I am very proud of her efforts.

Oct 7, 2009 09:06 pm
 Posted by  bugeyedblog.com

I loved this bit...“'I bet I can tell you where you got them shoes' characters."

I just moved back to town this weekend. This was a very comforting read. I was scared of the crime as well. It's why I moved away in the first place. Thank you for sharing.

Cheers to a wonderful safe future in NOLA!

Add your comment:


Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

recent

archive

feed

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Joie d'Eve Feed »