I mentioned in my last post that part of our whirlwind week was a trip to New Orleans. I mentioned that it was a special place to me, but I'd like to say more about why. My mom was born and raised there, and though she moved away when she married my dad and had all of us, we grew up visiting regularly. To us kids, New Orleans wasn't about the French Quarter or Mardi Gras or seafood--it was about "Grammy and Pawpaw's house". It was the most magical place on earth.
I can still remember the excitement of a visit. We'd be almost crazy with anticipation during the 6 hour drive, and we always arrived at night. We'd wake up when we felt the rumble of the bridge beneath the tires, and would sprint from the car to be the first to ring the distinctive doorbell. I can still see the terra cotta tile on the porch, hear the bark of their old poodle, and smell the wonderful smells of our favorite foods waiting for us inside. Our grandparents' faces would light up when we came in, and the smiles never faded. During the whole visit, we felt like the most important people on earth. Looking back now, I realize that though we always felt spoiled rotten on our visits, nothing that my grandparents did to show their love for us was material. They didn't buy us things, there were no shopping trips or piles of toys. We just knew, minute by minute, that they were happy to see us. My grandfather liked to take us for walks, chat with all the neighbors about what we were doing and how we'd grown. When we entered a room, he smiled and greeted us, no matter what he was doing. When we talked, he looked us in the eyes and listened. My grandmother knew what everyone's favorite foods were, and they were always ready for us along with a smile and a hug.
Even as an adult, I'd visit New Orleans and it always felt the same, no matter my age or circumstance. I brought friends to visit, and boyfriends. As I mentioned in the last post, during one visit with a friend we returned to Grammy and Pawpaws house and she exclaimed "I think I've met the man I want to marry!" I had met his friend, and was pretty impressed with him too. Within two years, we'd married those men we came home to talk about that night. My grandparents loved my husband, and the magic of their house was there for him too.
We lost my grandfather in the year 2000 after a long and well-faught battle with cancer, and we adjusted to a "different" New Orleans--no less loving, just with a small ache in the heart. There was never a time we visited that we couldn't feel him there.
In 2004, hurricane Katrina roared through and destroyed my favorite house. Thankfully, my grandmother had evacuated safely, though she lost everything she had. We siblings were devastated, first of all for her, but also for all the memories we held so dear. It seemed unthinkable.
On the first day they allowed residents back to see their homes, my husband drove through the night with my grandmother to be one of the first let in. He called me from the bridge, and I could only imagine the butterflies in her tummy as she sat on that bridge, much like the excitement I had felt crossing it but for a very different reason. She bravely went through the house, found what she could, whispered a peaceful goodbye to the cat she'd had to leave behind, and moved on to a new life here in Texas.
We visited the remains of her home on our trip last week. That terra cotta tile is still there, and seeing it still brings me back to those special days. I chipped up a few pieces and brought them home. A few days later, I visited my grandmother in her new home. Amazingly, though it is a different home with different things, it feels just the same. When I walk through the door, I could be 8 years old again, ready to be hugged and loved and taken care of by the people who love me. Its not the house and its not the stuff that make a home a part of your heart--its the love that's shared. That goes with you wherever you are. I'm so thankful to have "New Orleans" in my heart, and I can only hope I'm doing the right things so that someday my own children will feel this way about the home I am making for them.