Sunday, February 19, 2006

Going Home: Part II "You Can Go Home Again, But It May Not Be Waiting For You"

The first thing I noticed was the trees. The road from Mississipi to New Orleans is usually full of lush evergreens as far as the eyes can see. Since I was coming from the east, I decided to bite the bullet and face what I artfully avoided on my last trip: seeing my home. Flying over it, it looks like a giant just kicked through the forests. Driving through it, you are hard pressed to see one leaf. There are only a sprinkling of pines that have needles at the very top. If you didn't know that they were evergreens, you would think that it was just a harsh effect from winter. The drive that signaled my summer vacation since the beginning of time had never seemed more unfamiliar to me than it did then.

Driving over the miles of new road on the I-10 twin span are when the tears finally started to flow. The closer I got to New Orleans, the sparser the trees became. In the bayou areas there are NO tall trees anymore. Not one. Typically, driving through all that swamp area thoroughly offended the nose. This time I smelled nothing.

I don't have the key, so I didn't go into my old apartment, but I did decide to drive by the home where I grew up. Something in my heart wanted to believe that our trees, and particularly my mother's crepe myrtle tree, the one I would drive my children to see every day, had somehow survived this catastrophe. That's when I completely broke down.

My mother had a love affair with gardening. Unfortunately, she wasn't particularly good at it. When we moved into our home, she got 3 pine trees. They were the oddest looking things you've ever seen and for YEARS they only looked like little bushes. Finally, almost overnight, only about a year or so before her death, they began to look tall and stately. The story behind the crepe myrtle tree is that my mother begged her mother, for a piece of that tree. It grew on the side of her house and produced these beautiful flowers in the spring. For some reason or another, my grandmother always put her off about it. Finally, when my grandmother became really ill, the tree started dying, so my mother broke off a piece of it and planted it in the middle of the garden. And for years, I described my home to visiting friends as "the one with the stick in the middle of the grass." Then one year, we saw a flower. Then the next year we saw more. Before long, again, shortly before my mother's passing, we had ourselves four full blown trees. At the end of her life she spent time reconnecting with her father and taking care of my garden since he did, in fact, have a green thumb.

My father and I had begun discussing my taking over the house and mortgage payments. My kids would ask to drive by the old house, see the tree and want me to tell them the story behind it over and over. I had visions of raising them in the house where I grew up, and telling them the story of my mother's tree as many times as they would listen. I would do the same for my grandchildren, and they would tell their children and so forth. Now, you barely tell where it grew. The same can be said for two of the pines. One of them, the biggest, is nothing more than a stump.

I think this trip confirmed what I've been saying for a while now: New Orleans isn't home for me anymore. The fact that I have to drive through it again to leave breaks my heart. I know I'll go back to visit, but there is no longer a great host of friends to visit. NONE of my biological family is there. Not one person. All I can do for now is keep trying to make Maryland my new home. I think I can do that for now.


BLESSD1 said...

Awww....excellent post. You know they say home is where the heart is....well, maybe, this time, it's wrong. The Bush administration made sure of that....

Bint Alshamsa said...

*sigh* All of my family is gone from there too, Breez. I can't visit the city without feeling a great deal of anger and sadness and loss. I feel a little differently than you do, maybe. I think that I will always see New Orleans as my home. It is what influenced who I am more than almost anything else. I don't want to move back to New Orleans. Yet, I will always identify myself as a New Orleanian no matter where I migrate. To an extent, Chicago is Minneapolis is L.A. is Houston but none of them could ever be what New Orleans was and still is.

Amadeo said...

Sucks...hard to imagine. I just try to picture Downtown B'more being swept away and I can't fathom it.

Mrs A. said...

i simply cannot imagine how that'll do fine where you one can take your memories!