Brandy On New Orleans

Brandy Pigeon

Stop And Smell The Roses (And The Magnolias)

By Brandy Pigeon

I've always known that New Orleans is a city where everything moves at a slower pace. People here take the time to tell each other hello at the grocery, say excuse me when they accidentally bump into someone, and more often than not, they're even patient when the light turns green, but traffic remains stopped while a mule carrying tourists in a carriage makes it's way across the street. This was an aspect of New Orleans I wasn't particularly fond of throughout my teens and early 20's. I always wanted to pick up the pace, move it along, speed on to bigger and better things. I also perceived this slow pace as a sign of laziness and even stupidity, at times. As I got older and visited big cities and "hip" places, I gained a sense of respect for my hometown. I realized after spending time in places like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago that I missed the unity of New Orleans. Now that I'm a little older, and I hope, a little wiser, I've come to understand that slowing things down isn't stupid or lazy... it's a sign that we've figured it out. New Orleanians know that true happiness can't be found in a corner office, or a trendy restaurant, and even a hefty paycheck can't pick you up when you're feeling down. Happiness comes from the people who love you and who you love; and a clear conscience can give you a better night's rest than any sleeping pill.

Settling down and starting a family changes a person. Priorities and expectations can take a 180 degree turn in a flash. In college, I was sure I'd move away from Louisiana. I'd go live somewhere new where skyscrapers defined the landscape and beautiful people filled the streets. I was so sure that's what I wanted, that's what I needed to feel grown up and successful. I'd come home for holidays and vacations; but my real life would be in some metropolis full of go-getters that would be impossible for me to accurately describe to my friends and family back home. That was my plan... until I actually went away to college. I moved to Alabama, which was only about 3 hours from New Orleans, and even though it was still the South, it wasn't home. After one year, I returned home to attende Tulane University. For a long time, I felt that coming back to New Orleans was a sign of failure. A sign that I hadn't made it, that I wasn't strong enough to move away. After all, isn't that the way things are supposed to be? You move away from your hometown, see your family for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and start over with great new friends, get a great new job, and just live your great new life. At least, that's the way it always plays out in the movies. Luckily, I realized my life wasn't a movie before it was too late.

New Orleans has a way of calling you back, even when you're sure she's a thing of the past. Family is a way of life here. I can remember spending every Sunday from early childhood and into my 20's, eating dinner with my entire family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; all of us would sit down to home cooked meals after watching the Saints game or playing in the backyard. And we weren't alone... everyone did this. Sundays in most cities consist or church or football or yard work; but in New Orleans it's a day when extended families come together to spend time with each other. Black, white, rich, poor, it doesn't matter, the tradition is the same. This aspect of family togetherness and generations sharing experiences is what keeps so many New Orleanians from moving away. I suppose this could be considered a cop out to some. Never leaving the nest could seem to be a sign of weakness; but lately I've come to think of it as a sign of strength. Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleanians to experience life in other places. Many of us were separated not only from our homes and city, but also from our family and friends. I spent a little over a month in Florida waiting to come home. I was in a beautiful beach front condo, a place I'd normally love to spend time vacationing, and yet, I longed for home. I've heard so many people talk about their evacuation time, and for the most part, they tell the same story. After the initial shock of the events that transpired, people began to evaluate their situations and come up with a plan. I was fortunate not to have lost my home; but my husband's business was destroyed. We contemplated moving out of the city and even the state. In the days and weeks immediately following the storm, it seemed we had no choice. Countless hours on the phone with family members who had been dispersed throughout the country, were spent trying to decide where we could all move so we could stay together. We had to take career moves, school systems, and personal preferences into account while trying to decide what city and state would be able to meet our needs as individuals and our needs as a family. We researched different locations on the internet, and found that trying to satisfy the needs of the fifty or so members of our extended family in an effort to stay together was impossible. We all realized that we'd have to make a difficult choice. Do we go back to New Orleans as a family and try to rebuild our homes and careers even though we had no guarantees that the lives we left the day we evacuated could ever be restored, or do we move on as individual units with our children and spouses and start over in a more stable environment. In the end, we decided to take our chances as a group. If we failed to make things work in our beloved city, at least we'd have each other to lean on for comfort. Looking back, moving to a new place and starting over would have been easier... much easier; but I don't regret the decision we made. Putting our lives back together would have been impossible without the strength we provided each other. I have an equal amount of respect for those who left and for those who returned. When a disaster like Katrina forces so many people to face such overwhelming choices, there is no easy answer. I know people across the country must think moving back to a place with so many obstacles to overcome was an insane thing to do; but until you've had to make such a decision, you really can't know how you'd react.

Family dictates the choices made by many people in this city. If spending time with your extended family is a twice a year gig, it really wouldn't matter what city you called home; it's just as easy to fly somewhere from New York as it is to fly somewhere from Los Angeles. I prefer to drive two miles away to my mother's house or walk four blocks to my sister-in-law's, and the only place I can live to keep it that way, is New Orleans. I've come to understand that we're not slow down here, we just like to stop and enjoy the things we've decided mean the most to us. The generations before us knew what my generation is just beginning to fully understand, and hopefully the generation that follows will realize in the decades to come - slowing down to appreciate the people and places that surround you doesn't mean you're lazy, it means you're lucky enough to recognize what really living means. It's having the awareness to see and take in the beauty that surrounds this amazing city, and understanding with who, in what, and where you can find personal happiness. Obviously, those who were here before Katrina, and those who still consider New Orleans home, have come to know that the way of life we've created, and the unique qualities that define this place, are worth the sacrifices that have been made in order to preserve the customs we've grown so fond of. Skyscrapers are nice, but can they really compare to rows of majestic Live Oak trees or the sweet scent of magnolia lingering in the air? We'd be crazy to rush things here... why would anyone want to scurry past a bakery where the smell of hot french bread pours onto the street, or speed past the mansions along St. Charles Avenue without taking a moment to appreciate the fact that they've been lovingly cared for and painstakingly maintained for over a century, and who could prevent themselves from slowing down just a bit to take in a pink July sunset as it disappears behind the rounded roof of the Superdome. When I think about these glimpses and add them to the countless others I witness every day, I can't help but feel thankful. But it's when I realize how fortunate I am to be able to share these mementos in the company of my loved ones that I know I am truly blessed.

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