Making it Right

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in New Orleans and since then have always promised ourselves we would be going back. Soon after our marriage we got busy running a direct mail advertising print shop that took all of our time and all of our money. Then Katrina happened and it just didn’t seem like a good time to be going to New Orleans. Finally, after twenty years with very little planning armed only with our memories and our GPS we went back to New Orleans.

We couldn’t remember the name of the guest house at the end of Bourbon Street where we’d stayed the last time so we couldn’t call for reservations. We remembered it as being a great place to stay within walking distance of all the action of Bourbon Street. The hosts were very pleasant and had given us helpful tips as to where to find great Eggs Benedict without paying the exorbitant prices of the better known tourist attractions (we couldn’t remember the name of that place either.)  We had loved our room as well as the reasonable price in the former “slaves quarters” behind the quest house’s beautiful courtyard and was eager to see it/live it all again.

Upon our arrival in New Orleans my husband was able to drive directly to the guest house, The Bon Maison, as it turned out to be (I was sure it was on the other side of the street.) However, since it was Memorial Day Weekend it was of course booked and we ended up being lucky to find a room in a chain hotel outside of the French Quarter given how many other people just happened to be in the city for the holiday.

We did get to eat at Felix’s oyster bar the first night just as we had before where we got our fill of our favorite: raw oysters. While standing in line we struck up an acquaintance with a couple from Texas who were just returning from Alabama’s Gulf Shores. Funny thing about them was that even though I had been to Dallas countless times for a variety of reasons they had never been there even though they had lived in Texas all of their life.

My husband had recently quit drinking and was under 6 months sober so we were reluctant to visit many of the bars, although we  tried unsuccessfully to get into Pat O’Brien’s just for old time’s sake. My husband had fond memories of bringing the crowd to its feet after his request for Old Time Rock and Roll was played -–a fete he had tried to recreate in other places on several occasions without as much success.

The next morning we drove up and down the bumpy side streets of the French Quarter trying to find the place where we had had Eggs Benedict at such a good price. Finally my husband, who never meets a stranger, picked out an older man he thought likely lived in the quarter and asked him about the place. Even though he was a resident, he seemed confused as to what we were talking about until we mentioned that we had eaten there twenty years before. ” Oh,” he said with a flash of recognition finally coming across his face, “you must mean Petunia’s, yeah, they went out of business a while ago”

We ended up having Eggs Benedict on Texas Toast at a restaurant called Stanley’s over looking the Jackson Square and thought it good and reasonably priced. We were however, by this time starving since it had taken us so long to settle upon a place and the restaurant was crowded, but on this weekend what wasn’t?

What wasn’t crowded was the Lower 9th Ward, one of the neighborhoods that had the worst flooding from Katrina where we drove after eating.  Although we saw many, many neat as a pin houses in the neighborhood, we were just as likely to see sitting right beside them an abandoned house still off it’s foundation and the familiar marks of the rescuers noted on their doors. Even though I had seen picture upon picture of these houses and FEMA trailers on television, seeing them in person gave me such a chill—even in the 95 degree temperature.

It got to be too much for my husband who was soon ready to get back to the part of the city where decadence was not this ugly. I however, had one more stop to make. I put into the GPS an address I had gotten off of a website and asked my husband to please let me see this one last thing before we left the neighborhood. After following the annoying GPS lady’s urgent “Turn Left!” and “Turn Right!” directions we arrived in a neighborhood of brand new homes on concrete stilts and different looking modern roof lines and neat as a pin yards. We had arrived at houses built by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation. The contrast was hard to take at first, having just come from a street where houses had been abandoned, and for all I knew, lives had been lost.

Since Brad is originally a Springfield, Missouri boy who lived not far from the Arkansas line where I grew up I’d always imagined we had some of the same sensibilities from growing up in basically the same region. Never had I felt this any stronger than I did after seeing the houses his foundation had help build. This sight was not only making it right for the residents who lived there but was also making our trip, with all of its disappointments right for me. Seeing the old city and the old neighborhood in rebirth was a great revelation. It made me fall in love all over again with the romantic city that had marked the beginning of our marriage.  Our marriage,  just like New Orleans,  had been through hard times but it and we were flexible enough to allow for a change in direction. The Lower 9th ward now sported modern, futuristic houses and we were able to  finish our visit of New Orleans  making new memories instead of  just trying to relive the old ones.

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Being Southern Baptist

A nation  looked on in surprise as an unheard of event was caused by an unheard of peanut farmer: the nomination of a southerner to the presidency of the United States.

I, too, looked on with surprise.  I wished him well but thought the nation probably would be better off  handled as it had always been….by Yankees. (Well, yes, there was Johnson but he did have a little help ascending to the presidency.)

A resourceful reporter from the Associated Press sent to write yet another story about a person everything had been written about, decided to explain the Carter religion. This religion the president adheres to, the reporter told us, is called “Southern Baptist”. Though the quotation marks weren’t there, the tone implying quotations marks was. The reporter wrote to inform the rest of the nation and probably did not realize how it would sound to us in the Bible belt.

However, reading it, I felt like I shouldn’t have, like I was eavesdropping on a conversation I wasn’t intended to hear. There wasn’t anything offensive about the article; I’m sure it was technically correct. It sounded familiar, but it reminded me of an obituary you read in the paper about a person you’ve known in life. In obituaries all the facts are always there: He had grandchildren. He was a member of the Kiwanis. He attended church at. . .etc.

What obits never tell you are how he gave away the extra tomatoes from his garden, how he’d walk around the neighborhood on Halloween slipping quarters into children’s sacks, how he always wore the same hat, etc.

And these human aspects were what was lacking in this reporter’s story. Not having had the benefit I had of growing up in a small Southern Baptist Church how was the reporter to know?

How was the reporter to know about how our legs, tanned by hours of bare footing it down dusty roads, looked against our white anklets and freshly polished white Sunday shoes?

How the boys jumped on and off the church porch where the congregation huddled saying their goodbyes during a spring rain? How the preacher had to be told to tone down his fire and brimstone speeches because he was scaring the little girl with Down’s Syndrome who came to church every Sunday.

What about the lady who walked a mile to church every Sunday and refused rides even in the worst weather? Or about the alto whose voice could be heard over the entire congregation’s and how everyone sitting next to her whether they meant to or not sang alto along with her?

How at the church pot luck dinner you always asked Mrs. Miller to bring dressing even though her dressing was about the worst, but no one wanted to offend Mrs. Miller.

The reporter neglected to tell how everyone was related to just about everybody else either by blood or by marriage and how the names on the tombstones in the little cemeteries by the churches matched the names of those on the church registry.

The reporter forgot: the toys that rattled in the purses of mothers with small children; the games of tic-tac-toe and hangman’s noose played on the church quarterlies by the school age children ; the teenagers grouped in pairs on the back row; the babies crying; the old men snoring.

How could that reporter have summed all of that up in a who, what, when, where and why story about these people called “Southern Baptists.”  That reporter couldn’t. So he didn’t even try.