[Guest blogger Jennette Ginsburg had some decisions to make before evacuating New Orleans.]
I was 25 years old when Katrina hit. I had come to New Orleans as an undergraduate. Like so many others here, I fell in love with the city. There was not much that I knew definitively in my 20s, but I knew that New Orleans was special and it was where I had to be.
It was my sixth hurricane season at the time. I had evacuated for storms before. It wasn’t cause for panic, or worry; it was just a precaution occasionally taken. I spent the weekend before the hurricane with girlfriends rushing from bar to bar to hear our boyfriends’ bands, drinking and laughing on the sidewalks, savoring each moment. I left the French Quarter at 4 A.M., stopped at my house, threw a backpack of clothes and a Ziploc bag with some dog food for Mister, my dog, in my car and added myself to the snake of traffic inching out of the city at dawn. It was weeks before I had any news of my neighborhood or the condition of my apartment. During that time, my mind wandered over my belongings wondering if everything was lost to the dirty water that soaked the city. I thought of my antique Singer sewing machine, handed down from my grandmother. My shelf of photo albums, priceless keepsakes from back when we still printed photos and put them in books. Besides the sentimental items, there were the documents that framed and identified who I am — my passport, diploma and medical records.
While I eventually learned that my apartment suffered only slight roof damage, and I had not lost any material items to the storm, I returned to New Orleans two and a half months after Katrina. I survived there, growing, learning, hurting, adapting, and ultimately changing. I moved away in the fall of 2006, exactly one year after the storm. I needed a break. Then I moved back to New Orleans this past fall. When I unpacked, I did so with a post-Katrina methodology. Keepsakes all went into plastic bins, stored under my bed and ready to be packed into the car at a moment’s notice. Later, I’d be confronted by other ways I’d changed since Katrina. So when Hurricane Isaac moved in, I really considered my options. I knew the best case scenario was that the storm would knock out power for a few days. At the end of the summer in New Orleans, even the best case scenario is not for the faint of heart.
The boxes came out from under the bed. The files came out of the cabinet. Diplomas (two now), veterinarian records, my lease. I grabbed my year’s supply of contact lenses, the framed photos of my grandfather and his sister taken nearly one hundred years ago. I carefully wrapped up the antique string of pearls from my great-aunt, the ones she is wearing in that photo. I walked from room to room, gathering my Sabbath candlesticks, menorah, seder plate, and matza cover, wrapping them in a pillow case and nestling them into a suitcase. I also took from my refrigerator the most delicious items: two pounds of shrimp from the farmer’s market, red fish fillets from a recent fishing trip and a boudin-stuffed chicken that I’d been saving for a special occasion.
I knew what items were the most important to me because they were the items I’d wondered about after Katrina. So, of course, I also grabbed my hoops. First, just two new polypro hoops, my black and gold collapsible hoop and my LED hoop. Then I pulled from my office shelf all my hooping curriculums, workshop notebooks and manuals. As a hoop teacher, those materials are an investment in my business and hold a wealth of ideas and potential opportunity for me. Should I bring my classroom set of hoops? What if I couldn’t go back immediately? I remembered volunteering at a shelter right after Katrina. What if there were shelters this time as well? If there were I wanted to be able to go there with hoops. I wanted to share some moments of joy and fun and lightness with people who probably needed a break from their reality.
I went to my parents’ home in North Louisiana — my safe haven from the storm, both literally and metaphorically. I laid on their couch watching the Weather Channel for hours, cell phone in hand, sending and receiving messages as friends checked in with locations. It was an all too familiar scenario for me. I dreaded what might come next. It was then that realized that I was carrying more than the just the keepsakes in my car. I was carrying the collective experience of Katrina, the awareness of the possibility that everything could be gone in an instant.
Everyone who survived that storm carries this experience with them. The memories can by tucked neatly away, like documents in file boxes, or wrapped up lovingly and gingerly, like candlesticks in a pillowcase. They can be honored, like a trophy that’s been earned through persistence and practice. The memories can be carried as stories, told and retold, or never, ever spoken of.
And now, one full week after leaving New Orleans, I am back. I will unpack my car, put my keepsake bins back under my bed, return my documents to the filing cabinet, and set the Sabbath candlesticks back on the living room mantel. Perhaps tonight, I’ll have friends over to sit around the table, raise glasses, and eat that boudin-stuffed chicken. And afterwards, we’ll hoop.
Jennette Ginsburg lives and teaches hooping in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.