Nov 23, 200912:00 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Errol Laborde: The First Thanksgiving (Post-K)
Four years ago this Thanksgiving, we all might have been forgiven if we asked ourselves, “Just what is it we are supposed to be thankful for this year?” With our houses, if they survived, smelling of mold, our lawns dead and possibly toxic and our futures totally uncertain, we nevertheless knew the answer: We survived so far, and we were still alive. The rest would still have to be worked out.
Compared to the problems that so many other people faced, my plight was mild one autumn Saturday in 2005 when we had returned for the weekend to work on our home. The mold stench was still pervasive. Taped-up refrigerators were appearing on curbs like ragweed. Piles of debris from gutted homes spilled over into the street. There was no beauty. On my first visit home, a neighbor from down the street walked toward me while looking dazed like the last survivor from a riot. He too had his stories to tell, but strangely he was more concerned about the quietness. “Listen,” he told me — and I did. “There are no birds.” He was right: The peeps and chirping that we took for granted were missing. The hammering sound from the woodpecker that each morning chopped away at the telephone pole was missing. I never thought about it, but a person should be wary about a place with no birds.
There were also no services. No neighborhood retailers had reopened. There were no drugstores, restaurants or gas stations. As noon approached on that autumn Saturday, we thought about lunch and realized there was no place to get it — this in a city once packed with eateries and pubs. Had I still been in Marksville, to where we retreated, there would be more places to eat this day than there were in all of New Orleans. But then a young man who was walking down the street yelled to me, “Hey Mister, would you like some lunch?” We were delighted. He told me that a truck would be arriving at the corner soon and I could get what I wanted.
I paused for a moment when I saw the truck because on it were written the words “Salvation Army.” I went to the window on the side of the truck to place my order. The selection was easy because there were only two choices, chili and chili with rice –– that and a bottle of water. Moments later, as we sat on the porch steps eating, it hit me just how much my life had changed. I was relying on the Salvation Army to feed me. Not only that, but I was enjoying the meal.
That Thanksgiving I counted all those people who came to town to help us as being among my blessings.
I never doubted that New Orleans would come back, and I was certainly committed to staying here and being a part of whatever was going to happen — but, just for one long weekend, I wanted a getaway to a city that was working and where the lights were bright, where businesses were humming and people were singing and chestnuts were roasting. So there we were on the first weekend of December ‘05, transported to Manhattan. We walked past the ice skaters and the towering tree at Rockefeller center and gawked at Macy’s decorated windows. We heard the sounds of vendors hawking bags of chestnuts right off the grill plus the honking from taxis and the ringing of hand bells coming from practically every corner. I was drawn to the bells. The ringers were from the Salvation Army. Only a few weeks earlier, I had been sitting on my porch eating their chili that, for all I knew, had been paid for with money collected by the bell ringers the previous Christmas. I put some cash in the pot and told the worker about how important his group had been in New Orleans. I am not sure if he understood, but he nodded and kept on ringing. I felt better, though.
We flew back to the reality of New Orleans the next day. More important, over the next few months, so too did the birds.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e- mail at email@example.com or (504) 895-2266.
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