So I flew into the New Orleans airport from the Boston one the other day, thinking how strange it was to be leaving signs of a bad hurricane up north and coming down south for a happy occasion. I flooded out in hurricane Katrina, getting 4ft of water and my mother’s house getting 6. I had evacuated at last minute and then snuck back in to clean up four days after the storm. It was a crazy time and I think in months after is when my PTSD symptoms first started noticeably acting up, even though I was unaware of what they were back then, the vivid dreams and just a general feeling of weight on my shoulders, a familiar sense of poverty, loss, and pain shared by all.
It definitely seems exotic to me to consider a hurricane flooding New York’s famous subways, or hearing stories of young families without power having to climb a ridiculous number of stairs to get to home in their high-rises in addition to the typical worrying about what to do with the melted contents of their freezers. However, I imagine the weird disembodied feeling, the camaraderie and almost kinship with neighbors, and the general concern for and incessant discussions about preventing food spoilage, obtaining fuel, clean water, and a comfortable place to bathe and sleep are universal to hurricanes and most other kinds of disasters. I certainly don’t wish that stuff on New York or New Jersey at all, well except the camaraderie with neighbors part, which is awesome, but I know the whole lot of it is what so many of them have got. While hurricane Sandy has taken a toll somewhat differently there due to the topography and culture, the aftermath is likely to hit the people who already have trauma harder and in a more sustained way. Hopefully the northeast, with considerably more money and resources than the deep south, and having the fresh lessons and trained responder teams from hurricane Katrina, will be better at handling that.
So many people I’ve seen since being back down south were seriously worried, asked me about flooding, power outages, and whether my neighbors up there were okay. Nobody made one Yankee joke, which is not at all standard for this crowd. They were concerned, sad for the poor northerners facing this mess, wanting to help, share their knowledge. Heck, they’d have borrowed out their generators and shared gas from their emergency jerrycans in a heartbeat if geography wasn’t an obstacle. They’d have invited people over for a barbecue and a hot shower and became your hurricane people for life.
So today, given all the hurricane stuff, instead of blogging about anything particularly heavy or difficult, I figured I’d talk about culture, what’s going on in South Louisiana a little over seven years after the big hurricane happened down here. Obviously it’s still tough living, but not today. Today I am going to a wedding. She is a young bride, just past the legal drinking age, which doesn’t actually matter in Louisiana, and deeply in love. I have known her since she was a little girl and not too long after that she became family. The groom is also young. They are each other’s first love, a set of high school sweethearts. Now they will have a nice southern wedding ceremony, and a happy one, I’m sure, with the bride’s dress being very beautiful, the reception hall having these two sets of ornate staircases perfect for timeless photographs, and gumbo, dancing, and an open bar to look forward to at the reception.
So I am happy for them and before going to the rehearsal dinner last night I worked on a craft project to help them celebrate, not knowing it would be my last good idea of the evening. I seriously miss Cajun and Creole food and culture, so I made up for it by eating too much fried catfish, shrimp fettuccine, some amazing bread pudding, and then sampling some strong moonshine by the bonfire. Too late I realized I can’t hack big portions of such rich and oh-so-delicious food and strong drink anymore. So I got a stomach ache and I also foolishly asked a woman I didn’t know if she was the groom’s grandma, only to learn she was his chain-smoking aunt, just a few years older than his mother. So yeah, painful and awkward…
Anyway, before my rehearsal dinner foolishness, I made second-line umbrellas, one in LSU purple and gold, and the other in Saints black and gold. Second-lining is very common in this little corner of the United States, done at gatherings ranging from weddings and Mardi Gras parades to funerals. At weddings, here’s how it’s done, and here’s how white people do it. We love eye-catching second line umbrellas down here, the more ornate and over-the-top the better, so I used up a lot of hot glue, leftover Mardi Gras beads, sparkly stickers, a dozen football keychains, and three feather boas. When I was done, it looked like I’d killed a chicken in the guest room, with bits of feathers all over the place, but I was proud of the result, and can’t wait to hear some good music and get to dance as the bride and groom use them to lead the procession.
So today, in addition to watching the happy couple say I do, I will make sure to be super nice to the groom’s aunt, compliment her dress or something. I will also bring a pair of sparkly flats to wear at the reception, because dancing in a raucous second line while wearing four inch heels and frequenting an open bar for that other kind of hurricane is a dangerous combination, best left to the professionals, the experienced, those lucky people who haven’t lived in New England for the past two years and get the opportunity to celebrate like this much more often than I do.