Seven years ago this week, I sat on my sofa and watched my hometown drown. Hurricane Katrina had dealt her knockout blow and moved on, but the city of New Orleans, at first just reeling and shaken, gasped for air as a sea of brown water crept ever higher. You know the rest.
A few days ago, when it became clear that Tropical Storm Isaac was headed toward the Louisiana coast, I was relieved that my parents, who live in New Orleans, were visiting my sister in Denver. I wouldn’t have to worry about urging them to evacuate.
I called my mom. “Looks like you’ll be there a few extra days,” I said.
“Daddy’s on a plane home,” she said. “He couldn’t stand it.”
It had been a trifecta of events for my poor old dad over the course of two days. A longtime friend died, he had received an offer on a piece of property that’s been in our family for over 40 years, and his beloved city was about to be smacked by a hurricane. He had to be back where he most feels himself.
When I spoke to him yesterday, he seemed optimistic. “I don’t know, darlin’,” he said. “It’s wobbling. There’s a still a chance it’ll veer away.”
Not any more. Isaac will arrive on the bayou tonight like a boisterous, uninvited guest who devours everything in sight and leaves a mess behind.
Dad will ride it out with my sister, just a few minutes drive from the famous 17th Street canal. All together now: let’s hope the levees hold.
Lots of people have questioned the wisdom of funding ongoing projects to protect the city from flooding. It rests below sea level, after all – a concave bowl surrounded by water that sits in a spot particularly attractive to storms.
But us, cher, we don’t care wah chew tink. This country – this world – is a better place because of the frosty mugs at Liuzza’s. Trout Almondine at Mandina’s. Shrimp boats docked in Bucktown. Rolling down the levee on cardboard boxes. Streetcars on the neutral ground. Monkey Hill. Nectar snowballs. Hubig apple pies.
I visited New Orleans over a year after Katrina, and it was like those winds had just finished blowing. Along the lakefront, boats remained stacked like Legos, right where they had been tossed. Broken streetlights tilted along darkened streets.
But my parents’ home was open and cheerful – they had cleaned up and stayed, despite their children urging them to relocate. Their home still sits across the street from the levee, just a football field away from Lake Pontchartrain. I wish I was in it right now, helping Dad pull in the patio furniture and put fresh batteries in the flashlights. We could stay up late and listen to Isaac come knocking, willing the water to stay out but knowing that even if it comes, we’ll be damned if it scares us away.