Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thoughts On Katrina's 2nd Anniversary

I was born and raised in New Orleans. I saw the first light at Southern Baptist Hospital on Napoleon Ave. It is the now infamous Memorial Hospital where many people suffered and died in hurricane Katrina. I was raised in Lakeview in a wooden shotgun double on Catina Street not too far from the New Basin Canal and its Lighthouse. When I was small the Lakefront had no houses nor levees. The Pumping Station was at West End in the 17th Street Canal. At West End was a lovely park. When I was old enough to ride a bicycle I would ride there to play. A lot of good restaurants were there and we would eat out often. My favorite Aunt who lived in a camp in Bucktown cooked at one. I would spend most of my summers at her home in Bucktown where we could swim, fish, and crab right in the lake. I also had an uncle who lived on Lake Ave. He was a boat Captain and at times let me help him on the boats he would pilot from Lake Pontchartrain to Cuba. When I was 10 years old we moved form the wood shot gun double on Catina Street to new brick ranch in Lakewood. Lakewood was an old golf course before the homes were built. I missed the old double house on Catina as it was closer to the Lake. I could ride my bike and fish on the Lakefront, go to West End Park or visit my relatives in Bucktown. Lakewood was not that much farther but enough for a 10 year old to think so. It was about a block off the 17th Street Canal near Veterans Highway. The highway was like a barrier to me to head to the lakefront until I got older and could ride my bike past it. Both houses weathered many storms. For Betsy we lived in the brick ranch built on a concrete slab. The old wood double was raised on brick piers. When water would rise from rain or storms it just washed around the yard until it flowed back into the lake by gravity. No levees then, not until they began to build the homes along Lakeshore. In those days we had a boat in the yard for fishing and safety. For heavy rains we could park cars on higher ground near the New Basin Canal, which at that time went from the lake by the lighthouse and Bart's Restaurant to Metairie Road. The New Basin Canal lighthouse has always been special to me as it was the closest spot I could ride my bike by the lake and fish or use my small cast net for bait shrimp. It was also near some businesses so I was never far from a phone. Another Aunt had a little sandwich shop in a makeshift building at the bridge near Robert E. Lee Blvd. over the New Basin Canal leading to Bucktown and West End. She would give me a cold Chocolate Solider drink if I raked the little parking lot area and picked up litter. Both homes carry many memories for many people. My maternal Grandmother originally built the wooden double about 1920. The first house there on a shell road. She owned several lots on Catina Street. Bought them by monthly payments over many years. We actually had a little farm on those lots, chickens, a pig once, and a horse named "Lucky". No little farm at the brick slab home, it was in a newly developed subdivision, but we had planted fruit trees. Even an Avocado tree grown from a seed. We lived in the brick ranch for Hurricane Betsy. That hurricane left a lasting impression on me, so I never stayed in the city for any other hurricane, I always left even if it was just to go an hours drive north. I had to drive through Betsy's winds to fetch my grandmother to get her to safety about 10 PM that night. Power lines, tree branches, and debris blocked my path. I saw what a hurricane can do in person. Never again did I want to be in that situation. After growing up and moving away from those two homes every now and then I would drive by just to see them. Katrina changed all that. Both are gone, razed, just empty lots of land where once lived families that had memories of growing up in New Orleans.