Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Winter trees

I have not posted much about the neighborhood lately. And that's because I'm leaving.

I had such grand plans. I was going to build the model home on my street. I was going to build tall and strong on our vacant lot. I was going to lead the way and build the house of the future New Orleans.

But now, for the many reasons explained in prior posts, I am leaving. I'm selling to the Road Home and hitting the road for the relative high ground of Esplanade Ridge.

And I feel like I'm selling out.

Am I happy about the new house? Yes. Am I excited? Yes.

But these happy emotions are tempered by the feeling that I'm abandoning my neighbors and my neighborhood.

Our street ends in a cul-de-sac, around which a half-dozen or so houses are arranged. They always were a solid community of their own down there, always reliable for their pumpkin-carving parties in the fall, New Year's Eve parties in the winter, and the occasional neighborhood gathering all the rest of the year.

Almost every one of those families is back. They fixed up their slab-on-grade houses and moved right back in as fast as they could. I think most of them were back before 2007 arrived. And they're back at it--hosting parties and making the kind of neighborhood noises that we used to take for granted in Vista Park.

On New Year’s Eve just a couple of months ago, I took my Precious Daughter down to the cul-de-sac about a half-an-hour before midnight so that she could see the mass expenditure of money in sparks and explosions. They put on quite a show, and for a few moments there you could almost imagine that everything was back to normal, that everything was okay, or that Katrina and the 6 feet of flood water that drowned every house and building in this neighborhood had never happened.


But the reality is that we are living with one eye closed. We see the good, the grand, the potential of this cluster of houses and all the joy it brings these families. And we refuse to see the bad, the catastrophic, the reality that these houses have a better than 26% chance of flooding again before most of them can pay off their SBA disaster assistance loans. That's a 1-in-4 chance or more of rising water returning.

My neighbors may or may not want to acknowledge this, but they must certainly know it's possible. It is as if they wink at fate and the weather and the promise of a world-class hurricane protection system that will not be complete until several years from now. They see only what they want to see.

In a way that's probably better. Because if they really acknowledged the risk, they might not be able to sleep at night. They might not be able to laugh and enjoy their fireworks on a cold December night not even a half mile from one of the major canal breaches that decimated this city.

I found it hard to talk to my neighbors that night, carrying the knowledge that we were on our way out. We had already made plans to leave and sell to the Road Home--and that decision placed an infinitely high and wide wall between us. We no longer had the things in common that bonded us together. They were staying; I was leaving. They had rebuilt in place; I was moving to higher ground. They staked their money and lives to their pre-flood houses; I had knocked down what was left of our house and was selling out ASAP.

No longer friends across the fence, we were more like two ships passing in the night.

The cold of December has long since passed, and January, too. The trees of Vista Park are still dormant, although only a few are bare. But as they have for millennia, those winter trees will bloom again. We plan not to be here to see them, but they will grow lush and green again in the thick New Orleans heat of spring and summer. And for as long as they can--as long as nature allows them--Vista Park and the many other neighborhoods of New Orleans will blossom into the fullness of life.

It's just that I won't be there. I know my neighbors will probably not understand our decision to sell and leave any more than I can understand their reasoning to stay and repair. I wish them well.


Leigh C. said...

Well, I wish YOU well. You explored all of the options and went through hell doing so. In the end, you've got to do what's best for you and your family, and trying to go on as you tried to do would only bring on more pain and heartache.

There is a prayer for these moments you have reached - the Shehecheyanu. It thanks God for sustaining you and allowing you to reach a momentous day. I say it for you and your family. It connotes a more joyous end to what is now a bittersweet moment.

Vicky said...

Tim, you always articulate so well what we're feeling. That's exactly the same way we've felt over the last two years, and we will always feel like our idyllic lives in Vista Park were interrupted by a Chernobyl-like calamity. In our minds, the August, 2005 bought bottles of Ravenswood Zinfandel will always be waiting to be uncorked in our vintage fifties kitchen - waiting forever.

GentillyGirl said...

Darlin', y'all are doing the right thing for you. Esplanade Ridge is a good area and you don't have to face the costs and hassles of building a fortress like ours here in Sugar Hill.

You'll like living on the Ridge. Hell, ya's can hear JazzFest from there better than we can from our place.

Vicky said...

Tim, have you moved, yet? We need an update! :~)

Tim said...

Sorry about the silence. The muse has not visited me lately--at least not with anything I would post here.

We are doing some fix-up work on the new house. A few more weeks of FEMA fun and then we'll be moving on.



Anonymous said...

Oh, MAN! Right there with you, Tim!Your always neighbor,