I Inherited My Childhood Home. Living In It Feels Comforting—and Rebellious
Watching “Insecure” and eating pizza on the sofa, slightly hungover after a Zoom happy hour with my friend Lacey, I remembered how cool it is to be a grown-up in the house where I was raised. It’s like going back to your elementary school as an adult, but the cafeteria is full of UberEats and Drizly orders, the rolling cart with the TV is always there, and you can get whatever you want from the Scholastic Book Fair. There’s something about always being able to tell yourself “yes,” in a place where you were often told “no”.
When rebuilding this house two years after Hurricane Katrina, at 22 years old, I said yes to adding mauve-colored walls and an open kitchen, no to keeping natural gas and Oriental rugs. Yes to family friends who gave advice, no to repair people who thought I was Boo Boo the Fool.
I didn’t have a lot of experience when it came to restoring houses. My mom died of a heart attack in my house when I was 17, then four months after she died, my grandfather, the only other person who lived with us, passed away, too. I lived at college for a few years until Katrina struck. A sense of urgency (and some calls from family friends) drew me back to my childhood home. With a blue pocket folder full of wills, successions, FEMA documents, Louisiana Road Home paperwork, and a contractor’s business card—not to mention an incomplete education—I started making the place my own. And in the years since then, I’ve only grown to love it more.
Though I did make plenty of changes to the house, I find myself buying the now-vintage housewares, furniture, and appliances I grew up with. At a thrift store near me, I saw a box of the same amber honeycomb glasses we used for special occasions. The whole box, a set of eight iced tea glasses and eight juice glasses, was $2.99. I shelled out a few bucks for old time’s sake.
No one has used those glasses yet, though. Not even me. Those are for holidays with gold-rimmed bowls of gumbo, mustard-colored linen napkins. You see, there’s a right way to do things in this house. There’s a right way to do things outside this house, too. New Orleanians, especially native New Orleanians, often refer to things as they were in the past. “The old” this, “you know, used to be” that. The concept of “ain’t dere no mo,” remembering the way things used to be, is huge for us.
So to watch the architecture and design we knew be replaced with new buildings, we often think they look out of place: hideous, cheap. It’s upsetting. Especially when it’s a property bought for a disrespectfully low amount by some flipper who likely harassed the original owner with unsolicited calls, letters, and texts; filled it with overpriced, sterile, monochromatic fixtures; painted the outside some tragic color; put it on the market for twice the value and about five times what they paid for it at the start, only for it to be used as a short-term rental.
Seeing that infuriates me, and sometimes I just have to look away. But I know where, in my house and around my block, I can go to be soothed. My house is a two-story split-level, near a few one-story homes and a wide avenue named Broad Street. One thing that’s never changed is the view from the bathroom window. I look out that window, especially after pulling an all-nighter, and I watch the sunrise and feel the humidity. I can see the classic blue-and-white street name letter tiles down the block. My neighbor’s misbelief tree. And I can hear familiar sounds: the groan of wrought-iron gates, mail dropping in the chute, creaky floorboards, a swinging wooden door that’s swelled in the rain. It’s the same view I’ve seen my entire life, and knowing it’s always there makes me feel grounded and secure.
Others find comfort in my home, too. There was always a friend of my mom’s or grandparents’ coming to “make a pass by” our house when I was a kid. Sometimes we’d get knocks on the door from people they hadn’t seen in years, and we would always welcome them. These days, —even before the COVID-19 pandemic—it’s more honks and waves than anything. But on the rare occasion friends drop by, they also find comfort. Friends I grew up playing with in this house feel that the most.
When I take a moment, I can remember almost everything my friends and I did here. Making radio shows with Allen; cooking spaghetti with Barry; skating around the block with Bryan. I also remember the wacky things I somehow convinced my friends to do with me. Cherie and I using toilet paper to wrap ourselves like mummies; Jennifer and I sliding down the stairs after spraying them with PAM cooking spray and tying blankets to our butts.
I didn’t always have an accomplice, though. The scorched and melted spot on the linoleum, the crayons and blocks still currently stuck in the gossip stand, the K&B chocolate ice cream that melted into the TV and led to me dropping and breaking my saxophone? All me. Being in the same house I grew up in from birth means my childhood is never too far from my memory, which helps me as far as parenting my own child goes.
My son Franklin and I are 29 years apart. Yet, he’s still doing the same things I used to do here when I was 6. He always asks to get his “favorite Old McDonald’s meal,” wants us to walk to Walgreen’s for ice cream and candy, enjoys being sprayed with the “hose pipe.” The people who knew and looked out for me back then, like Danny and Mike from “the red store,” D&M Discount Supermarket—they do the same for him.
Still, I’m sad there are some experiences he’ll miss out on. He’ll never experience Tell’s Hardware, Al Scramuzza’s Seafood City, a hucklebuck lady. Sometimes I get a bad case of the “ain’t dere no mo,” especially when I remember sentimental items I lost in Hurricane Katrina, and it makes me think maybe I should just move on. This place will never be the same.
But the 7th Ward I grew up in wasn’t my mom’s either. Nor was it my grandparents’, great-, great-great, or great-great-great grandparents’. I found my own joy here in this house, and over the years, I’ve weaved a lifetime of joy into a big, comforting quilt. When my son inherits this house, I pray his kids will find their own joy here, too, and that he turns his old joy into his own version of comfort.
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