Last month, my family and I returned to New Orleans for a funeral. It was my first time back to the city I grew in since a short visit in 2005, a few months before Katrina.
I have vivid memories of my neighborhood, my schools, churches, etc, but I expected everything to look different. For one thing, 1992 was two decades ago. (Egad.) Also, hurricane damage.
I can’t say nothing changed – some high schools were still boarded up, covered in six years’ worth of graffiti, and the French Quarter had only a quarter of the peddlers and artists it once did. And I didn’t see the 9th Ward, which suffered the most. But my neighborhood in particular was shockingly unchanged, to the point where I expected to see billboards advertising Crystal Pepsi and Ross Perot.
My middle school is now a temporary elementary school (another result of Katrina), but the facilities are identical. The church, St. John Bosco, hasn’t changed either, down to the vaguely unsettled feeling I get when I step inside.
St. Rosalie elementary school has a new extension building, but the original with my old classrooms is still there and in use. It appears a little worse for the wear, but honestly that’s about what it looked like when I attended.
On St. Patrick’s Day we were allowed to wear green shirts (which clashed horribly with the girls’ red plaid skirts), and we’d spend most of the day sitting on that concrete performing skits and singing songs for the principal, Sister Jeanne. (St. Patrick’s Day happened to be her birthday, which she considered to be the more important of the two holidays.)
I can’t say I paid any more attention to the services in this church, but it didn’t frighten me like the other one did. Not hard to see why; it’s quite a bit cheerier.
After visiting the old schools, we drove through our neighborhood, past the Tastee Donuts down a long street through the suburb. This, too, looked exactly the same. We started to recognize houses and street names. I remembered the turns – all the way down, left at the dead-end, left on Chinkapin Street, which curved around to the right.
Our house was somewhere around the center of this street. We got closer and closer, naming off every single family that had lived in the houses we passed – again, all unchanged. Then we stopped.
Mr. Donnie’s house on the left, the Aycocks’ house on the right. In the middle, a grass lot. Our address, 3852, is still painted on the curb.
It was a shock. The entire neighborhood seemed frozen in the early 90s, minus our home. And there was no wreckage, no evidence of a fire or demolition. Not even the concrete base. Just a grass lot, as if a tornado had whisked our house right off of Chinkapin Street and dumped it on some poor witch with sparkly shoes.
Oddly, Google Maps shows the house still whole and well. I prefer to imagine it in some other-dimensional Oz. For some reason that makes it less unsettling.