I got a newsletter from Benjamin Franklin class of 62 today and I am in tears. I have memories flushed inside outside and drizzling down my cheeks. I have memories of snowball stands. Hell, I used to work at one, selling pickled pigs lips and snowballs to little black kids and sandwichs right after I left the Naval Academy. This was on Freret Street. That was one of streets that had the electric trolley buses when I first got to New Orleans. I wonder what happened to the snowball stands.
I remember Napolean Ave, St.Charles Street Car, and K&B drug stores, purple. I remember Chris Smither and I going into the drug store and ordering water for a fizzy, pulling out our own fizzies. Hamburgers at lunchtime.
New Orleans, was always music to me. And it was garlic, the smell of garlic on the bus on people’s breathes as I rode the Magazine Street bus to downtown Canal Street. I would cross it then to wander through the wonder of the French Quarter. There were art stores, the smell of old beer along the way. I would feel the cool breezes coming from the insides of the different shops, bars, and restaurants that I would pass by as I would wander through.
I was on a mission going to meet someone in the French Quarter. I remember the sounds of the various shoeshine boys, "shoeshine mister, for a quarter, I’ll tell where you got them shoes," I was intrigued as to how they could possibly know where I bought them. "Hambone"…I remember the sounds of the various musicians and I would stop briefly. Some were white, some black. There were various performers, mimes, musicians, and dancers all performers for whatever they could. I would keep on trucking. It was an important date in Jackson Square.
I cut through the Cabildo and heard a ship blow its whistle on the river. I wanted to go to the river, something pulled me to river and the ships. I remember going inside St. Louis Cathedral just for a moment and remembering my confirmation to Catholicism. I remember oyster poboys at little shops and eating oysters on the half shelf with a cold draft beer, followed by shrimp with sauce.
New Orleans was foods, smells, sounds from the Lake Front all down Esplanade, through the French Quarter, up and down Canal Street, across the Algiers ferry and back, up and down the Magazine Street busline, up and down the St.Charles Ave. Street Car Line to Benjamin Franklin. New Orleans was riding a bicycle or taking the train through the Park, and Monkey Hill. New Orleans were the trees, the flying roaches at night, the snap, crackle and pop of walking down the street.
New Orleans was my father’s apartment building at Napolean and St. Charles Ave. across from a K & B drug store. New Orleans was the little neighborhood restaurant that he would take us to, making sure that we all knew that he was paying for it, pulling out a $50.00 bill. New Orleans to me started out to be a memories of stress, then were followed up with memories only those who are from New Orleans can understand. I remember watermelons at Chris Smither’s house, mischief on the waterfront with him, walking up and down the railtracks along the river.
New Orleans was working at warehouse jobs, living in slave quarter apartments, having my first job, having my first true love, riding a bike to work. New Orleans was riding a bicycle from the French Quarter to Tulane University flying down Freret Street. New Orleans was driving out to the point to park with a date.
New Orleans was riding the Zephyr out at the Lakefront. It was crossing the Mississippi River Bridge and then coming back over on the Huey P. Long Bridge. New Orleans was the sounds of tugboats, horns blowing, people yelling, whistles, things clanging, buses kissing and hissing as they stopped, streetcars bells and I had forgotten it all until now.
New Orleans was Robert E. Lee Circle and forgetting to turn and going back around again. New Orleans was meeting people for lunch, inspecting buildings, drinking beer right out of the Jax brewery. New Orleans was getting punched in the mouth, having my tooth broken in Jackson Square. New Orleans was La Casa, the Napolean House, Dixie’s, the Acropolis, and running around on the northern end of the Quarter.
New Orleans was packing everything up and going to Washington, DC and coming back again. New Orleans was going to Illinois and staying too long. New Orleans was taking trips after a divorce and my mother’s death. New Orleans was an affair with a friend of my sisters. New Orleans is where we met when my mother and when father died.
New Orleans is where I went for my 20th year high school year reunion staying at a place on St. Charles Ave. New Orleans is where I went for my 40th year reunion.
New Orleans is just plain home to me. Now what?