Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Progress, with a Painful Twist

(Above: with my cousins in 1980)

This year, my cousin Robert and his wife hosted the family’s Fourth of July picnic at their new home on the outskirts of Ticfaw, a small town about an hour to the northwest of New Orleans. Robert, his Aunt Rosie, and Robert’s father, my Uncle Bob, all used to live on one block in Old Metairie. When that part of the city was finally drained and reopened last fall, I drove by their houses. Then I covered my face with my hands and wept.

When I saw Robert and Darlene last Christmas, they were still in a state of shock, still living in a rented house, still angry and struggling with the insanity of bureaucracy that is paralyzing the area. Now they have been happily settled in their new house for three months. The setting is beyond lovely, and the house is both new and large (it needs to be large; at the moment Robert has his homeless daughter, a homeless son and daughter-in-law, and his Aunt Rosie still living with him). Today, they talk calmly about how all three Old Metairie houses have been “plowed under.” Robert has gone on a diet, lost 50 pounds, and looks better than he has in years. Yes, Virginia, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

At Christmas, family talk was of how many inches—or feet—of water we each had in our houses. We talked about the many, bizarre manifestations of mold, about the heartbreak of water sodden family photos, a beloved aunt’s china that smashed when the furniture holding it disintegrated. On Tuesday, we talked about how hard it is to get a plumber, about the hours wasted trying to track down the simplest of building materials. Progress.

And yet… And yet, missing from the gathering were those like my cousin Jimmy, who has moved to North Carolina. Another cousin, Chris, drove in from his new home in Mississippi. And of the nine brothers and sisters who once formed the linchpin of these family reunions, there were now only four: two brothers, two sisters.

Slowly, we are rebuilding our lives. But different lives. And too many of the loved ones who once formed a part of those lives are gone.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Beautifully written. Beautifully sad.