|August 29, 2005 - August 29, 2009
In memory of those who lost their lives.
In honor of those who picked up the pieces.
|The picture above provided the title for this page. If there's one thing New
Orleanians have, it's heart and, as if to make that statement to the world, instead
of scrubbing off or painting over the symbols left on every home and building in the
city by the rescue workers (indicating how many living or dead people or animals
were found inside), the residents of this home covered the symbols with a large
pink heart, saying, perhaps, "Our hearts are bigger than this tragedy."
And it turns out to be true. The heart and soul of New Orleans was
bigger than this tragedy.
I'm sharing a letter that I've kept in my files since December, 2005. It's a letter that was left taped to a shed on
an otherwise empty lot in Lakeview, after the house had been demolished. It was found by the owners, who
have since rebuilt.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Letter from Lakeview
One chipped, pink ceramic bathroom tile, hexagonal, and two blond bricks. One tile, 2 bricks and an oak tree I
had planted from an acorn fifty years ago. That's all that remains of the 1950's Lakeview rancher I had called
home from 3rd grade until I married and moved away. Fourteen short years. An eternity.
I had my first kiss on the front porch; found, loved and later buried the first dog I would call my own; got my first
car. I gave my first King Cake party, went steady for the first time, dressed for my first prom. My sister was
married there; my father died there. That's where I learned how to jitterbug and do the twist; to keep a hula
hoop in motion and jump on a pogo stick; to apply make-up, bake brownies and conjugate verbs in Latin.
Reality television? On my parents' black and white TV I witnessed the world change. The Beatles came from
across the pond to perform on Ed Sullivan; 2 Kennedys and a King were assassinated. Jack Ruby shot Lee
Harvey Oswald. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Walter Cronkite cried.
We endured Hurricanes Betsy and Camille and a host of lesser storms. We rode boats in the rain-swollen
Argonne Canal and waded barefoot in the flooded streets. We played kick the can, monopoly and Crazy 8s.
We caught toads and fireflies on hot summer nights, while cries of "Ollie, Ollie Entry" rang out in the
neighborhood. We lived through summers of polio epidemic fears and were given sugar cubes laced with Sabin
vaccine. We grew up, moved on and, finally, in 1977, my mother sold the house.
Twenty-eight years later, another family owns the property. I've never met them, but I can imagine a bit about
them from what is left on the now vacant lot. There are 2 adult bikes and 2 sets of wheels from children's bikes,
so I'm guessing they are a family of four. A glass cake plate lies upside down in the dirt. How many birthdays
has it witnessed? What kinds of cakes did it hold? The family likes to garden, even grew their own tomatoes.
The tomato supports leaning against the back fence attest to that. I don't know if they barbecued on Sundays
as we did, but the two crawfish pots give history to seafood boils. The rusting lawn furniture sits there, waiting
patiently for them to return, to rebuild. A new house, bigger, higher, flood-proof, will occupy this space.
This family will return and the new house will become a home. I am certain of that. Because, in the yard,
beside the fence, behind the lawn furniture, a small stone marker is embedded in the earth and etched on it is
one word: "Shelby." Yes, they'll be back, back to live and to grow, to create more memories, and to raise more
pets in the backyard where they lovingly laid Shelby to rest.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The letter above was posted to a Lakeview forum I once belonged to by the homeowner who found it. I saved
it, without saving her name. I've since gone back and searched the forum's archives, but I can't locate her. If
you are, or if you know, the person who posted it, please let me know. Nancy
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Below, some photos from my files.
|"You broke windows, not our spirit."
|Above & 2 photos below, some of the many make-shift memorials.
|Salvaging what they could, drying out a wedding dress and a flag.
Photo by Jim Arey, contributed by Kevin Himel.
|Left, one New Orleanian comforts another at a memorial service. Right, a man weeps at a memorial service for pets.
|"Don't give up the ship."
|A man embraces his dog after being rescued.
|"I am coming home! I will rebuild! I am New Orleans!"
|A shrimp boat passes the cross memorial to those
killed in St. Bernard Parish when the levees failed.
|Notes encouraging the Camellia Grill to re-open -- which it has.
|"Welcome home, New Orleans"
Gratefully remembered. . .
The Air National Guard helicopter pilots and others who risked their lives under difficult conditions to
rescue people from rooftops; the local members of fire, police and emt, and, also, local citizens, who
performed rescues by boat; the volunteer members of fire, police, emts and other individuals from away
who came to help with rescue and recovery; the LA national guard and units from other states, who
helped in virtually everything; those who came from across the country to help conduct pet rescues; the
individuals and church, school and civic group volunteers who came from all over the country, and
beyond, to help; the volunteers who came to help rebuild the city. There are so many heroes, most of
them faces with no names.
But I can attach names to two of the rescuers in the photo above. Standing, second from right, with
the red shirt, is Rev. Willie Walker, local minister of Noah's Ark Missionary Baptist Church, who, after
sending his family to safety in north LA, stayed behind and rescued so many people in the harrowing
days right after the levee failures. And, standing, far left, is actor Sean Penn, who came to the city on
his own to help in whatever way he could when he realized that the federal government's response was
not equal to such unprecedented devastation.
Two of so very many, most of them unknown. But not unremembered. Four years later, New Orleans
is still grateful. New Orleans remembers.