Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Little House on the Bayou
I imagine that, like me, he rises early and reads the Times-Picayune online, the early morning litany of problems and failures and crises we are voluntarily launching ourselves, our spouses, and our children into. The challenges of finding an affordable and livable house after the flood, of dealing with the difficulties of placing the chidren into good schools, of finding work or managing a career, are steep and the outcome uncertain.
I wonder if he finds himself thinking as I do, as if he were looking out the door of the droning plane at the remote landscape, tugging anxiously at the straps of the parachute , and remembering that his wife and children will jump with him. My own personal imaginary plane is a heavy lifter, painted the bright orange of a United moving van. My wife is already on the ground, preparing our landing zone. The supercargo has discharged the palletes of all we own, and we now are circling back for the final pass. I ready myself to take my children by the hand and jump.
Returning now can't help but produce an uneasy feeling, even though we are both natives of the place. After long absences, it's hard not to feel like a minor official of a government in exile, coming home to a country long wracked by war and uncertain of our welcome, however well intended our return. We were not there for the long struggle, had no valiant role in the great battle, our connection reduced to interpreting dispatches from others as we studied the maps from a comfortable distance.
We have both paid attention too closely to have anything but a painfully realistic assessment of what we are returning go. And yet we choose to go, even as voices inside us and all around us question the wisdom of the decision.
I raised my children in the upper Midwest. My daughter was of course read the Little House on the Prairie books, until she took over reading them herself and finally outgrew them. I think often lately of the father, a man who dragged his family all over the wild frontier in a harsh climate, from one fragile house to another in precarious circumstances, struggling to survive the fierce winters that frightened me at first from inside my oil-warmed and electrially illuminated house.
What sort of man was this who would do this to his wife and children? Why is the tale of his family so lionized? Why, I ask myself (and my incredulous North Dakota inl-aws) would anyone have settled in this place in the days before electric heat and piped in natural gas, when the outcome of invader versus native was not a settled question? What possessed them to come here? The Scandanavians I think I understand, as I walk from car with heated seats to my warm office, but what of the Irish and the Germans?
Every square acre of this country--the precipitous, the undulating and the unrelievedly flat; frozen to rock in winter or backed to stone by the sun, swept by the unrelenting prairie wind or washed by sometimes violent seas--all was settled and made habitable by people not so different from us. They were driven to leave the familiar, the safe path in life, to board coffin ships bound for the unknown.
Some fled from political or religious persecution, from governments and cultures that had grown alien and made the places of their birth no longer comfortable to them. They left in search of a somewhere they could build into something like places they remembered from childhood, the land of the stories their elders instilled in their hearts. No, it would not be exactly the home they left behind, but they could make it into a good home for themselves and their families, enough like promised land of their childhood catechism to be worth all the risk, with some hard work and a little luck.
As winter breaks on the plains and I prepare the final steps home, I think more of these people I leave behind, the ones whose grandparents set out into the unknown with only what would fill a wagon, their dreams, and a willingness to follow them. If I am a fool for the risks and uncertainty I expose not just myself but my family to, then they were fools, then this was a nation built by fools. Many would say that Washington and Madison Avenue and Hollywood prove me right, but I prefer to think of all of the country in between, and what us fools have made of it.
New Orleans needs fools like us right now. We both know so many bright, successful people who have no clear path back--homes ruined, jobs gone, everything lost and no settlement yet. We owe it to them to go back and prepare the city for their return. Without ourselves and our friends, the city will die. It needs its educated and willing sons and daughters to come home and work to rebuild.
All the old friends scattered to the four winds who were back for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, the one's who can't come home to stay right now: if we don't come back in their stead, will there be a Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest for them, for all of us, ten years from now? Or will it be an event cast by Disney and catered by Marriott, the geniune article lost for ever?
New Orleans needs us, people smart enough to measure the risk and fool enough to take it. As you wonder where the hell you'll live and how to pay the new cost of living in New Olreans, as you look at your children and wonder if they'll be safe and find good schools, look in the mirror and remind yourself: it will work out because we will make it so. The place you stand today was made by fools like us. Now its out turn.
Katrina NOLA New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Think New Orleans Louisiana FEMA levees flooding Corps of Engineers We Are Not OK Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pack it up and come home. Many of us fools are here, and yes, it will take all of us to save this city.
We will make it so.
Not everything going on is related to the move, and there's too much hitting me at once, but the move is definitely the thing that's removed the foundation out from everything else.
It's still not definite yet. We need a job for the wife and a school for the boy. If both are checked off in the next few weeks, we'll be there by August 1. If not...hell, I don't know.
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