When I was 12, my parents put me and my brothers (ages 8 and 6) on a Trailways bus in Little Rock, Arkansas. Destination: New Orleans.
At the other end of that long journey was Grandma, Aunt Sharon (who was two years younger than me), Grandma’s sister Ruby, and Ruby’s daughter Renee.
I was terrified and excited all the same. I doubt you’d put three kids on a bus today, but this was 1980 and life didn’t seem as scary. Or maybe it was more so since we didn’t have cell phones or Internet connections. Just me and two boys riding that bus across the endless cotton fields of Arkansas, eating sandwiches with butter and tomatoes and ham, and sitting crammed together in seats meant to hold two people. This was my doing because I was afraid to get split up.
The day was long, the miles trickling away beneath the bus as we rolled through cotton country and then on down into Louisiana. The bus tickets said “LA” on them, and I kept thinking it sounded so glamorous. LA, like in California. Except we were going to Louisiana, land of alligators and French-speaking Cajuns, a place I’d never been before and a place my brothers barely remembered (we were a smaller Brady Bunch–a man with two boys marries a lady with one daughter). Louisiana was as exotic to me then as any foreign country could be.
The sun was down long before we got to New Orleans. By then, I’d loosened up enough to let one of my brothers move into the seat across the aisle so we could spread out. I don’t remember the ride into the Big Easy, don’t really remember the lights and sights, but I do remember that scary bus terminal and the four people standing there waiting for us when we climbed down those big bus steps. My brothers broke into a run, yelling, “Grandma! Grandma!” I was more dignified, approaching at a slower pace, nodding politely, happy to hand off the baggage claim and wait for someone else to find our suitcases.
We piled into a big black van, two women and five kids, and left New Orleans behind as we crossed the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway (a 25 mile bridge they told me, but it was dark and I couldn’t see the water). God knows how long it took, but we finally reached Mandeville on the north shore of Ponchartrain and settled in for the next month. I didn’t see New Orleans again until my parents came the last week and the three of us took a day trip.
I’ve been to the Big Easy only one other time, and I loved it. I hope it will all be put right again. New Orleans is a treasure, and one we shouldn’t lose.
Things have changed a lot since my first visit. Grandma lives in a nursing home now, but she is okay. Aunt Ruby’s house has a little tree damage. My middle brother lives in Grandma’s old house two blocks from Ponchartrain. He said they could only walk to it because there are so many trees down, but the house is unscathed and there’s no flooding though a neighbor has 10 inches of water in his living room. The youngest brother and his family are heading for Texas. I think Renee still lives with her mother. Sharon died in 1982 at the age of 12.
God bless everyone on the Gulf Coast.