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Remembering New Orleans #lettershome

So, a long time ago, I wrote a column for my hometown paper called “Letters Home.”

 

New Orleans at nightSo, a long time ago, I wrote a column for my hometown paper called “Letters Home.” I don’t remember how many of them ended being published (or why they stopped being published), but it was fun to share my getting to know New Orleans—and me getting used to New Orleans—in the columns. 

The writing was a bit rough because I was just starting out. The column I thought I’d share today was published in 1988. I did mention it was a long time ago. To put it into perspective, I published my first novel in 1998. So yeah. 

Why am I bringing this out now? Well, if you read this blog then you know I “visit” New Orleans via my Big Uneasy mystery series, so I thought it would be fun to take a peek back at when I still lived in New Orleans and how I felt then. (I am editing the column a bit because I can’t stand not to. Haha)

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in New Orleans for three years already. We’re settling in pretty well, though I am still sometimes overwhelmed by a feeling of alienation. It’s so different here from home, I feel like I’m in another country, not just a different state.

Even after three years, I’m not used to the humidity. It’s not always hot, but it’s almost always humid. I don’t get it. They can reclaim swampland by sucking out the water, why can’t they reclaim the atmosphere so we can breathe?

The topography is different, too. It’s green and soggy and flat (sometimes worse than flat, i.e. sunken in). I love the trees, though. They are wonderfully haunting (except during caterpillar season when they are creepy and crawly) and very old. The really old Oaks have their own society. I understand the President is an old oak near Hahnville. Don’t ask me how it got elected. There are some things I don’t want to think about. I still have children to raise. (Present Day Note: My children are grown and I’m a grandma and I still don’t want to think about it. Lol)

The Cypress trees are very interesting to a highlander like me. They have willowy trunks, wispy leaves, and “knobby knees” that are heck to mow around (according to Jonesy). They poke up through the grass like squat, solemn gnomes with bald heads. There are creative types who make them into artsy, crafty things, but most of us let them continue their stolid threat to our mower blades, a mute reminder our homes sit where swamps used to rule—and could again. (If you have palmettos with your Cypress trees, you know it’s only a matter of time.)

The people are also unique to the area. Maybe it’s the heat. You can’t move fast through hot and humid. You have to be easy. Their roots don’t go down, they run along the top of the ground so picking up and fleeing is easy when high water threatens. But they are as stubbornly fixed to this place as those of us rooted in our mountains. They may have to leave, but they always come back, pushing the water ahead of them, then settling in with a shrug until the next time.

I find I feel different when I’m here, like being a Roman in Rome. I’ve even learned not to scream when I see my first bug of the day. (Multiple sightings can wear away my surface Orleanian-ness pretty quickly.) When Our Son ate his first roach, I was almost nonchalant about digging the pieces out of his drooly mouth.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. Until I come home and shrug on my Wyoming persona. Until then, I’m easy in Louisiana.

(A version of this column was published in The Lovell Chronicle, 4 Aug 1988.)

This is the feeling I try to capture when I write a book in my Big Uneasy series. We lived their 18 years and I’m not sure I ever completely got over feeling like an alien in a strange and wondrous land. But when I “visit” in a book, I can feel that big easiness slipping on me again. And I can taste and smell and feel it all over again. 

You can leave the Big Easy, but it never completely leaves you. 

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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