September 03, 2005

Requiem For A Memory

I'm in mourning. For the people of a great city abandoned to the devastation of a hurricane by the city administration and the governor of La., not to point fingers, but to call a spade a spade. I'm in mourning for the hundreds, maybe thousands of people dead, some by floodwaters, some by disease, some by the hands of others, some by circumstance that may never be known and for the hundreds of thousands of people dislocated, anxious and afraid.

I'm also in mourning for a cherished memory, my memory of NOLA, of The Big Easy, The Crescent City, of Audubon Park and the carrousel with its brightly colored ponies, Neptune's Pool, which was really a park fountain, at Audubon where my grandfather took us "swimming" on hot summer days in the early 50's, Monkey hill where we slid down the hill on pieces of cardboard, shrieking with delight.

Of evenings at my grandfather's church, First Methodist and of the basement, on the ground floor that I always wondered about, listening to the giant fans with their belt driven blades. Memories of watching Daddy-Bah (our pet name for Grandad) in the pulpit, rapt at the sound of his melodious voice declaring the love of God. I mourn the memory of being a small boy standing on the steps of that church in the early 50's during a Mardi Gras parade and knowing that William Boyd, Hopalong Cassidy was waving at me, and at me alone and my cowboy hero, dressed in black, had saved that wave just for me as he rode by on that great white horse.

I mourn most of all for a city, which my fading memories tell me was an ideal for a small boy, visiting his grandparents, basking in history, sights, sounds, smells, and yes, of love.

My earliest memories of my grandparents and of New Orleans are bound together in an intricate knot filled with fact, reminisces, and flights of fancy. Driving there with my mom while dad was in Korea and we lived in San Antonio for the duration. Sleeping in the back seat of the car curled up in a more than spacious well or on the seat or even, if I dibbed it first, on the shelf behind the seat and beneath the rear window.

We always drove at night, when it was cooler and less traffic on the road. Arriving at my grandparents home on State Street, near Audubon Zoo Mye-mye, our pet name for Grand mom always had a bowl of crab gumbo ready with hot cornbread or buttery croissants and Daddy-Bah would always say Grace, thanking God for our safe arrival, going to bed in the middle bedroom with a big ceiling fan whump-whumping above us cooling and relaxing.

In the mornings, a first trip downstairs to see what miracles were in the basement (again, a basement on the ground floor - it wasn't until years later that I learned about floods and groundwater and cemetery’s with crypts and no in ground graves) the big oil fired furnace, the laundry sink, my grandfathers workbench with its magical tools and anvil/vice combination. His study under the stairs with miracle objects in it including a miniature skull with a hinged jaw, burned in a fire set by burglars. There was a wall near the front of the house, a small door, secretive, mysterious, and irresistible to a 6 year old for who knew what treasures lay beyond that door.

On the wall near an old bookcase an old castoff tapestry; depictions of Arabs and camels, of pyramids and date palms done in browns, subdued golden colors and a touch of black and dark red and it held my imagination for years.

Memories of walking down State Street and crossing St. Charles Ave. to go to the zoo. Of listening to the bells of the trolley cars go by, of walking around the corner and down another street to a mom and pop grocery and buying my first Bazooka bubble gum and my first baseball cards.

I have memories of a glorious summer in 1959 where I spent two months with my grandparents and another three weeks with my beloved Aunt and Uncle in Texas. While in New Orleans, being taken to Ponchatrain Park and riding a rollercoaster type ride called "The Mouse" with its sharp 90-degree turns, steep falls, and rapid climbs. Of eating cotton candy until I was sick. Of walking on the grounds of Tulane and Loyola Universities, awed by the size of the buildings, the beauty of the campuses and the hurry of students to classes during summer semester.

Memories of walking into Audubon Zoo and seeing the King Vulture first with their wildly reddish orange painted heads, the huge elephants and the little Dik-Dik. Monkey Island where I could throw peanuts and the Aviary where I saw more birds than I ever thought could exist.

Memories of sitting on branches of ancient Oaks, perhaps older than the country that they now existed in, when Indians roamed the area and the white man and Frenchmen hadn't yet trod. Of watching Spanish moss hang down wispy beardlike from the branches and grabbing a hunk of it for our own beards and the laughter that each new posture brought.

Of the little neighbor girl next door with the name Koko always a joy to see who was always smiling. Memories that can now never be recaptured and that causes a deep sadness, one not quenched by the knowledge that a trip will cause it to resurface, for the destination can never again be arrived at.

Will New Orleans be rebuilt? I fervently hope so. Will it be the same? No, a new city will take its place, and there I will find my ghosts, memories long fading.

Nevertheless, memories still present for the time, memories of joy, of wonder, of excitement and adventure.

Posted by GM Roper at September 3, 2005 01:28 PM | TrackBack

The memories will always be in your heart, where no flood waters, and hurricanes can take them away.

Posted by Jay at September 3, 2005 06:59 PM

Excellent, GM. Truly, excellent.

Posted by Mustang at September 3, 2005 10:04 PM

Great stuff, GM.

Posted by dc at September 3, 2005 11:07 PM

Very nice.

Posted by Ogre at September 4, 2005 08:38 AM

Sad to see this historic city have to suffer through this. Hopefully much of its stories can be reclaimed from the waters.

Posted by Duncan Avatar at September 4, 2005 11:11 AM

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