This was not the way it was supposed to be. My father loved Christmas and he was always quick to decorate his house at the corner of Bellaire Drive and 37th Street. The decorations were not grand, but they were from the heart. Red ribbon would spiral up the white columns on the front porch to give a candy cane effect. A wooden cutout of a snowman was attached to the lamppost in the front yard. A poster of a nativity scene covered one of the front widows. Inside there was always a Christmas tree. He preferred the flocked kind covered with a cotton-like artificial snow that was sort of pretty in the way that it reflected the light but was a mess to clean up.
His Christmas memories were those of growing up poor in rural Central Louisiana where gifts might be no more than oranges and an apple but where the bayou and the woods provided lots of boyish adventures. His thoughts also included Christmas 1944 and the Battle of the Bulge where the cold was so bitter that his right leg almost had to be amputated.
Maybe that Christmas made him appreciate all subsequent Christmases even more.
After he died, my Mom did not want to decorate anymore. Gradually the snowman reappeared and so did the nativity scene and then a simple artificial tree inside, just enough to make a statement, but it was never the same.
My Dad was very proud of the house, frequently reminding me that it was built with double the required lumber so that it could easily withstand hurricane winds.
Located only three blocks from what would be the epicenter of Katrina’s 17th Street Canal break, the building, as predicted, withstood the winds valiantly, but not the water.
This Christmas the lot where the house once stood is empty. There is no more lamppost; no remains of the magnolia trees and the pines that once stood at the edge. The neighbors, who once swapped greetings with each other, are gone, their homes too having disappeared. A neighborhood, once so passive, vibrates only from the rumble of the trucks negotiating the holes in the street.
What will happen to the lot is uncertain, but it cannot remain as it is now. Whether the neighborhood is to survive or not, I hope that by one Christmas soon there will be a home on the lot with a turkey in the oven, a tree in the corner and joy throughout. And if the porch has columns, I hope someone decorates them with red ribbons.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online.
WATCH "INFORMED SOURCES," FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.