Having written this travel column for more than five years, I have been remiss in not writing anything about a prime tourist destination—and my hometown—New Orleans. Correction time.
Upon arrival, my wife, Katrina, and I usually drop off our luggage and head straight to the Café du Monde for café au lait and beignets. In fact, we end each day in the city, no matter how late, doing the exact same thing while observing the parade of passers-by and absorbing the action across the street in Jackson Square. The area is happening ’round-the-clock.
Near the café is the French Market. My dad was in the fruit and vegetable business, so we spent a lot of time there. I still enjoy walking through the stalls to see what the farmers are selling. I recall a time when my family could not pay my tuition to the Catholic high school I was attending, so I drove to the market in our old pickup truck, bought a load of watermelons, sold them on the side of the highway just outside of the city, and made enough money to pay the bill.
If you like contemporary new plays like those the Phoenix Theatre features, you would love the Southern Repertory Theatre on Canal Street. That is where we saw the world premiere of the commissioned play “Rising Water,” a compelling drama about Hurricane Katrina and its impact.
My five sisters and I grew up in a small house on Bordeaux Street in the city’s uptown section. On a family reunion trip, the six siblings, their significant others and a couple of nieces drove to the old homestead where the 14 of us walked up to the front door, and I knocked. Can you imagine opening the door in response to a knock and greeting 14 strangers?
A young woman—a Russian immigrant—with a baby in her arms came to the door. Unfazed when we told her the reason for our visit, she immediately invited us inside and said to feel free to look around and see how things might have changed. That huge pecan tree in the back yard had somehow gotten much smaller.
Katrina and I also flew to New Orleans to attend the 45th anniversary of my 1957 De La Salle High School graduation class. After checking into our French Quarter hotel, I called my good friend and fellow classmate, Russell, and told him we planned to ride the streetcar along St. Charles Avenue and meet him and another friend, Gideon, at the school.
“Who is we, Frank?” he asked.
I said my wife, Katrina, of course. That’s when he advised me that this reunion was stag. I turned to Katrina and said I had some bad news. She was thrilled about not having to attend the reunion and, instead, explored the Quarter at her own pace.
At the reunion, the conversation was generally about knee and hip surgery and who had died since the last reunion, and I found myself back at the hotel before Katrina, who had a much better time than I. This was my first—and last—reunion party.
On yet another trip, I thought I would show Katrina my alma mater, Tulane University. We walked into the Norman Mayer Building (business administration), where I spent most of my days while in college and where I hoped and expected to see people I knew from those days. We ran into no one who knew me or whom I knew—not professors, librarians or alumni—until we were leaving. I was disappointed until I heard a voice calling from down the hall, “Frank!” I was so pleased there was someone there who remembered me.
I turned around and it was Woody, the custodian.
It was great to see him again.
My sister, Millie, phoned me in 2005 suggesting we go to New Orleans to visit our one remaining aunt on our mom’s side of the family, Aunt Mildred, who was 90, as well as a cousin on my dad’s side, Nancy, who was 87. Katrina and I, my son and my sister and a niece spent a wonderful day with each relative, heard their stories, and looked at their mementos and photographs throughout the home, where each lived for the last half century. This was also the first time my aunt and cousin met my wife.
During the group’s visit to my Aunt Mildred’s home, we were all sitting around a long table in her living room as she talked about her life and experiences, including the fact that she still drove herself to Catholic mass every morning.
Not especially absorbed with these reminiscences, Katrina was curious about the table we were gathered around and raised the tablecloth and protective mat to discover a stunning piece of furniture, unmarked. She asked Aunt Mildred why she kept it covered; Aunt Mildred said she did not want anything to damage it.
A few weeks later, Katrina, the hurricane, devastated New Orleans, including their two homes. Everything, including all those mementos and treasures from their deceased husbands and Aunt Mildred’s beautiful table, was lost.
I’m thankful that both my aunt and cousin were evacuated, but to this day, they both suspect that bringing my Katrina to New Orleans had something to do with the hurricane of the same name.
Given the outcome of the hurricane, I was glad we had taken the time to visit before it was too late. There are at least two lessons to be learned from this experience. If you plan to do something, like call or visit a friend, do it now before it’s too late. The second lesson is to use and enjoy the things you treasure and not save them for special occasions.•
Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column appears whenever there’s a fifth Monday in the month. Basile can be reached at [email protected]