Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Five years

This Sunday, August 29, is the five-year anniversary of Katrina. For those who have survived the last five years, any of us can tell you exactly what we did during those days before, during, and after. The memory is burned into our brains forever, and I doubt that even dementia can take it away.

By some strange quirk, perhaps a gift of God, I was out of town when it happened. I was on my way to a conference in North Carolina when the little nothing storm that was supposed to turn and go in around Appalachicola, Florida, decided not to turn, swelled up to blanket most of the Gulf of Mexico, and set out on a collision course for New Orleans.

It was a nightmare for those who scrambled to get out, and a worse nightmare for those who stayed. It was a nightmare of its own kind for me and others like me, who for days didn't know what had happened to our homes and loved ones, with all communication out.

Earlier this month I was back at that conference center in North Carolina, my second visit since "it" happened. I was still more than a little bit uncomfortable to be in the conference room where I had spent that nightmare week, to walk outdoors to see people in the driveway trying to get a signal on their cell phones -- in the same spot where I had frantically done the same thing, five years ago. The memories were like faint ghosts, just real enough to be disturbing.

Five years later, for a whole region, the memories are still with us. For the last five years, wherever I have traveled, people have asked me how New Orleans is doing. It's such a complex question to try to answer in a few sentences. I say now, as I have said for the last few years, "Some areas have come back, and some haven't, and some probably never will."

I was fortunate to live in a neighborhood that didn't flood. It was up and running again in a matter of months: the fallen trees cut up and carted off, the roofs replaced, the interior water damage from the ruined roofs repaired, the stores and restaurants reopened. For the areas that flooded, it's been much harder.

A neighborhood called Broadmoor had six feet of water. It had roughly as much water as Lakeview, but Broadmoor came back more quickly, largely through the efforts of a strong neighborhood association -- and people like my friend Cliff and his wife Nieta, who lived in a trailer on the property of First Presbyterian Church and encouraged the people of the area to return and rebuild.

But there are other neighborhoods where you still see abandoned houses and high weeds, where homeowners have died or moved out of the area and there is no one left to take care of the properties. I hear so many stories of people who say they "want" to return, but after five years, the truth is, they have settled elsewhere and made lives for themselves in different places.

I read about young entrepreneurs who have moved into the city since the storm and are starting new businesses. This is good news. The bad news is that most of the national corporations that had offices in New Orleans have moved out. They can't take the risk of again having their businesses shut down by government order for a month as happened after Katrina, when no one was allowed back into the city for weeks. Young entrepreneurs and startup businesses are good, but they can't replace the jobs lost when big companies moved out.

As for me, after the Saints won the Super Bowl, I did indeed get married -- a wonderful celebration in the spring, attended by friends and family from near and far.

And then we moved away.

This year, we will remember the five-year anniversary of Katrina from a far distance. God has called me to a new ministry in a new place. I am happy to be here. It is a very different land from the one we left. We live in a beautiful valley nestled between lake and mountains.

This August 29 I will remember friends in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast: friends who have gone home to be with the Lord, and friends who remain. I will never forget what happened on that day five years ago. It is a part of me forever.

This blog, for the last five years, has been a story of life in New Orleans post-Katrina. And now it is time for a new blog. I think I will call it "New Life in the North Country."

See you soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Only in New Orleans

It was just above freezing this morning and raining. Nasty Friday morning. I would not have been going into Wal-Mart had I not been in desperate need of kitty litter. (My slogan, coined back in the day when Busch had a similar one -- "When you're out of Busch, you're out of beer,"
is "When you're out of kitty litter, you're out of kitty litter.")

So I push my cart in out of the near-freezing rain, throw back the hood of my coat, and blink. Right in front of me, a band is parading down the main aisle of Wal-Mart to a familiar Mardi Gras tune. Drums, brass, the whole nine yards. Behind the band is the school mascot, dressed as a Revolutionary War patriot. And then the girls in their dance outfits, and then the cheerleaders. And following them, several Wal-Mart associates with strings of Mardi Gras beads looped over their arms, tossing beads to the customers.

I have to wait for the parade to pass to enter the store. The band circles the main aisles of the store twice. Did I mention the weather? It wasn't very crowded in Wal-Mart this morning. But everyone who was there was smiling. And, like me, calling someone on their cell phones so they could hear the band too.

It's not just any Friday. It's the Friday before Mardi Gras. In an ordinary year, this is the day when work in the city slams to a halt and the partying begins. But, as you know, this is no ordinary year. The partying in New Orleans started last Friday, and it hasn't stopped since. The Saints have won the Super Bowl!

Only in New Orleans. A Mardi Gras parade in Wal-Mart.

P.S. The mid-South and the mid-Atlantic have been slammed with snow for the last week. New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, even Mobile have seen snow -- and some cities have set records for overall snowfall. Why are you surprised? When hell freezes over, there's going to be a little overlap!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Boudreaux goes to heaven!

The Saints have won the Super Bowl! 31 to 17! People are screaming in the normally sedate streets of Uptown New Orleans, fireworks are going off everywhere, and car horns are blaring!

Hell froze over when the Saints went to the Super Bowl. Now the devil has been vanquished, hell is destroyed, and Boudreaux has been promoted to the Church Triumphant!

And we're getting married in seven weeks. Don't pinch me -- if this is a dream, I don't want to wake up!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's really happening!

I was so excited Sunday night, and it was so late, that once more I got the name of a Saints player wrong! (Don't ask about the last time. It was 40 years ago.) It was Garrett Hartley, not Hartman, who kicked that 40-yard field goal and changed history.

Long, long ago, long before I was a minister, I was in a study group that was pondering the kingdom of heaven. As we considered different metaphors for the kingdom, I blurted out, "The kingdom of heaven is like the Saints going to the Super Bowl, and having the game played in New Orleans!"

My pastor and mentor, Ed Gouedy, grinned and began a parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who had a football team..."

Ed didn't live to see this day, but he would have loved it. So would the late sportswriter and broadcaster, Buddy Diliberto, who once declared he would wear a dress if the Saints ever went to the Super Bowl. With his family's permission, on Monday the Times-Picayune ran a full-page photo, courtesy of Photoshop, no doubt, of a man with Buddy D's head, prancing around in a beautiful gown. They added a little halo on top of his head.

For all those who didn't live to see this moment, this one's for you. For all those who have lived to see it, savor every moment!

The other thing that's really happening is what I am calling My Big Fat Presbyterian Wedding. I bought The Dress yesterday. The Saints, the wedding...it's the fullness of time. Wow!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dateline:Hell. With Boudreaux.

A favorite joke I first posted to this blog on Jan. 19, 2007:

Boudreaux the Cajun lived down the bayou (Bayou St. John, maybe?) and he led a less than holy life. When he died, alas, he didn't get into heaven. He ended up in the other place. The devil made sure he kept hell good and hot, but when Boudreaux arrived, it didn't bother him a bit. He settled into a hammock and said, "Ah, just like the old days before we had air conditioning, back home on the bayou." The devil was more than a little annoyed, so he cranked the heat higher. Boudreaux poured himself a glass of lemonade and said, "Oh, jes' like the old days when we used to go crabbing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast." The devil cranked the heat all the way to the limit, so that hell started to melt, but Boudreaux just smiled and said, "This is just like back home when my mama used to fix a big pot of gumbo in the kitchen."

Finally the devil couldn't take it any more. "All right, Boudreaux," he said. "If you like it hot, then I'm going to fix you." And the devil turned on the air conditioning, and it got reaaally, reaaally cold, way beyond cold, colder than you can possibly imagine. With a big grin on his face, the devil went to check on Boudreaux.

He found Boudreaux dancing a second line and laughing and shouting and leaping for joy. The devil was astounded, outraged. "Boudreaux! I thought you liked the heat, so I made it so cold down here that you wouldn't be able to stand it! What is with you, anyway? Why are you dancing around like that?"

Boudreaux could hardly contain himself for joy. "Hell's freezing over!" he cried. "The Saints must be in the Super Bowl!"

Hell-o, hell! Darn, it's cold down here!

Boudreaux, you did it! Hell is really freezing over!

When Hartman kicked that field goal through the goal posts, I started screaming and couldn't stop, even though I already had a sore throat. When I finally paused to catch my breath and hit the mute button on the television, I could hear my neighbor on his back porch, screaming something unintelligible. I went out on my own porch, and I could hear it: people screaming in the streets all over Uptown New Orleans, and more fireworks going off than on New Year's Eve. It was a little like the Sunday before Mardi Gras, when I can hear the crowds at the Bacchus parade from my porch, only much louder. And after a little while the car horns started, as people headed home from all the parties at friends' houses. Later I could hear sirens, lots of sirens. Either the city was burning down or Saints owner Tom Benson and perhaps some of the players were getting police escorts home. I'd like to think it was the latter.

Forty-two years! I was here in 1967, and I remember that first season and how excited we were to have an NFL franchise in New Orleans. We had named the team the Saints even before we HAD a team.

Also in that fall of 1967, I started dating a boy who was my lab partner in chemistry class. This spring, forty-two plus years later, we are getting married.

And the Saints are in the Super Bowl! There has to be a connection!

I hope they have cable in hell. Boudreaux needs to see the Saints in the Super Bowl!

I bet a LOT of people in New Orleans are going to call in sick on Monday...


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Epiphany, 2010

You know, just a few years ago, I was shocked – shocked, I say! – to find king cakes in the grocery store before New Year’s Eve. When I was growing up, you had king cake on January 6, the day known as the Epiphany of the Lord in the church year, more commonly called the Twelfth Night of Christmas – easier to pronounce and easier to spell. But that was then, and this is now. I’ve been seeing king cakes in the grocery for the last several months, only they aren’t decorated in the traditional purple, green, and gold. There are purple and gold LSU cakes, gold and black Saints cakes, red and green Christmas cakes, you name it. If I were dead, I’d be rolling over in my grave! What happened to the tradition of having king cakes only between January 6 and Mardi Gras?

And for those who are counting, Mardi Gras comes on February 16 this year, and as far as I am concerned, six weeks is quite long enough to eat king cake, especially if you work in an office where whoever gets the baby has to bring another one the next day. But some savvy marketer must have decided that there are people out there who really like king cake, so I guess we’ll be having king cake all year long now. I suppose there is some theological merit to celebrating the Epiphany all year long, but something tells me that’s not what the marketers had in mind. Or the people who like to eat king cakes.

And just for the record, when I was in my neighborhood Rouse’s yesterday, I checked out the stack of king cakes at the front of the store, and they were purple, green, and gold, as God intended. My soul is at peace.