Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Christmas memories of family in New Orleans may never be repeated
by Sierra Lawrence, for the Inland Register
(From the Dec. 1, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Recently, I was thinking about spending Christmas at my grandmother’s house. Today, I realized that I may never visit my grandmother’s house again.
My grandmother and most of my mother’s family live in New Orleans. They are safe, for which we are grateful and blessed. We are so lucky that my aunt and grandmother were able to go to my aunt and uncle’s home north of Baton Rouge. We are so thankful that they left early and were safe even while others were making the seemingly endless trek away from the city.
Since I was a small child, my family and I traveled to New Orleans, coming from the extreme, dry heat of the Southern California desert and stepping off the plane into the damp, suffocating heat of the South. I loved my grand-mother’s house for the sheer fact that it was nothing like our home in the desert.
Things were green outside. It rained a lot. There were exactly 16 steps up the stairs. As soon as I stepped inside, my nose was filled with a musty smell from decades of moisture, and the smell of red beans and rice or biscuits cooking. The ceilings were high and the rooms were painted with deep traditional reds, and other hues not seen in the southwest. The dark mahogany armoires and dining table that were family heirlooms felt smooth but tacky from years of patina. I would climb up onto my grandmother’s high four-poster bed and breathe in the comfort and warmth of my grand-mother’s sheets and then her arms, feeling like I had just scaled Everest. I would sit before the antique beveled mirror at her vanity and smell her White Shoulders perfume. I felt at home there.
My love of the Catholic faith started with my visits to New Orleans. I remember visiting Jackson square and feeding the pigeons. Jazz music filled the air and street artists drew chalk portraits of tourists while horses clip-clopped past the shops, leading surreys filled with more tourists. The St. Louis Cathedral was tall and gray, standing guard over the French Quarter as if to say, “God is still here – even blocks from Bourbon Street.” I still remember visiting the cathedral for the first time, when I was 8. It’s my first memory of being inside a Catholic church.
My mother left the church in the ’70s, and so I originally had no knowledge of the faith I should have been born into. I know now that I felt the call to come home even then, when I gazed in wonder on the statues and paintings and stained glass, and was bathed by the exotic scent of incense. I received my first crucifix that day as we passed a display case filled with rosaries and other religious items.
Perhaps I will never enjoy those sights and smells again. All I know is that my grandmother won’t be able to return for a long time. Will her house still be there? Will it be condemned? My mind says it’s all trivial, the most important thing is that my family is intact. But my heart says, “Hold on to your memories of New Orleans. Right now, they are more precious than gold.”
I am so thankful to God for those experiences. I pray that the Lord will take care of the people of New Orleans during this trying time. May he bring them to a closer relationship with him, through their trials and suffering. Amen.