Roots & Routes: New Orleans and the Road Home

On my way to yet another teacher’s event I had the undeniable feeling of being at home. Something about Interstate 10 does that for me. This time it was the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The morning I left Baton Rouge, traffic flowed smoothly, lush green trees cooled the road while the sun burned gold across the sky, the waters of Lake Pontchartrain shimmered to infinity, and cypress trunks jutted to the sky. On the return trip the sky was steel gray, curtains of rain obscured the road, and lightning cracked the landscape in my rear-view mirror. That’s Louisiana.

You see, I spent the first six or so years of my conscious existence in Kenner, Louisiana, the gateway to New Orleans if you travel by plane. Our hotel was in Metairie on Veteran’s Blvd just two minutes from William’s Blvd in Kenner. My elementary school was merely a few blocks away in the Westgate subdivision. Talk about back down Memory Lane.

I felt proud of New Orleans and proud that it is still part of me, especially driving into the city and seeing the reconstruction of the Ninth Ward, and driving on streets as familiar as St. Bernard, Rampart, and Canal. I kept imagining what it would feel like to live there again, this time as an adult. What would it be like to eat at Corky’s, Tiffin Inn, or Sandro’s whenever I felt like it?

To play the jukebox at The Other Place every Wednesday afternoon? To meet tons of baby girls named Drew Bree? To see that Nigerian valet parker again?

We all have those certain cities or towns that make us smile from the inside out, that make us stand in the crux of a moment like déjà vu.

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A singular definition of home eludes us as humans. lists over thirty, and I’m sure that only cracks the dam. There could be as many working definitions of home as there are thinking/feeling organisms on the planet.

What I’ve said here suggests that good, early childhood memories help me feel at home. The idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder may also contribute to my warm feelings about Louisiana, since I hadn’t lived here in seven years. A book I started reading while in California titled House as a Mirror for the Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home by Clare Marcus says:

“If the stages of our life and psychological development are best described as a journey, this state of reconnection with the soul is best described by the metaphor coming home. People who have spoken or written about this transformative process have often likened it to … returning from exile, returning to a place they once knew, or coming back to their true home.”

Perhaps for me it’s more than a metaphor. Perhaps for me the physical road home is also the avenue through which I reconnect with my soul.

“They” say we lose the connection with our soul or begin to lose it at birth. I suppose it’s our first experience of leaving home. At birth we experience our first trauma of being thrust into an alien place, so unexpectedly, with no way of understanding what’s happening. I guess we eventually get over it. Or do we?

Sarah L. Webb

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