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I Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans

I have to stop and listen because I know. 

Jan 10 Miss New Orleans Pauline Baird Jones

It doesn’t matter who is singing “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?”, or where I am when it comes on. My breath catches and I have to stop and listen because I know. 

I grew up in Wyoming. When I was little all I knew of New Orleans was some dimly remembered news footage of hurricanes and Mardi Gras. I never expected to live there.

You could search the world over and probably not find two places more opposite than Wyoming and New Orleans.

  • Cold most of the time
  • Hot most of the time.
  • Dry.
  • Humid.
  • Spare.
  • Lush.
  • Restrained, don’t make a scene or call attention to yourself.
  • Mardi Gras.

I could go on. And for a while I did. About three years after we moved to New Orleans, I penned a column for my home town newspaper about adjusting to life in New Orleans. I’m a writer and I needed to write to understand my experience. Or at least try to understand. LOL

I’m not sure when I fell in love. At first I felt like an alien dropped into a different planet. Falling for the people was easy—even though I had to learn to let strangers hug me and call me “baby.” 

I’m not sure it was my wide, personal space was from having wide personal space growing up or my DNA. But I left New Orleans a hugger. Grin.

New Orleanians are charming, friendly, kind, and ready to laugh. They’ll invite you in and teach you how to shuck a crawfish and the best places to catch beads. They promise you the heat and humidity won’t kill you. You believe them because they aren’t dead.

Falling for the city, for the place took longer. I grew up in a small town. I was not a city girl. I thought I’d drown in the humid air my first summer. And there was so much to see, so much to take in. But New Orleans is as charming as her people. She sneaks into your heart and settles down. She whispers in your ear, “Settle, girl. It’s gonna be just fine.”

She’s old and graceful, seedy and shady, and boy, can she serve up awesome food. Let me pause and remember the food. Sigh. Okay, now I can go on.

Everywhere I looked, there was history. And so much green. Even in the winter it stays green. Old beautiful houses. Old falling down houses. And the smells. Flowers and food and damp. I could do a whole blog on what it’s like to be a landlubber seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. The peculiar delight of riding a ferry across Old Man River.

The thick, humid air teems with creativity. I can remember walking through the Quarter on streets trod by heroes from history and famous authors and I’d wonder, “Did they feel this tingle down their spine, this sense that the stories were stirring deep inside them? That they tapped into something special here? That only this place could set those stories free?”

We moved on and I can still write but…I believe down to my toenails that it was the Big Easy that set my stories free. I wrote a little before we moved there, but my first sale came while we lived there. I finished and published my first novel there. And returned to her streets (fictionally) for the latest installment in my Big Uneasy Series: BEAUCOUP FRACAS.

I wondered if I’d forget, if I’d be able to write New Orleans after being gone for ten years.

She doesn’t let you forget.

So yes, I know what it means to miss New Orleans. And I’m so grateful I know. 🙂

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Do you wish you knew? 

Perilously and wistfully yours,

Pauline

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