It’s been four years since Hurricane Katrina hit, wiping out nearly all of my childhood haunts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and causing unimaginable destruction in New Orleans. It also did thousands of dollars in damage to my home in Mobile, Alabama, but that’s an afterthought considering what happened to folks west of there.
The dichotomy of kindness and chaos during Katrina’s aftermath did a number on me. At times, my faith in the innate goodness of people was strengthened, but then another tragic headline would tear that faith to shreds.
I didn’t know where my mom was for two days. Turns out she lives on the highest part of Biloxi and just had wind damage, but the only images of Biloxi on television showed blocks of flattened houses. The last image she had seen of Mobile before she lost power was the appropriately named Water Street, filled with so much water that there were waves cresting over street signs.
Fears on both sides were put to rest when Mom, her boyfriend and their two bad little dogs pulled up in my driveway on the third day.
Not two years earlier, I had scattered my dad’s ashes in the Mississippi River from the levies near the French Quarter, returning his remains to the city he loved, the city whose music inspired him. The Mississippi River had, in turn, scattered itself all over the Crescent City.
I had left two of my dad’s saxophones with a horn dealer in New Orleans a few months before the storm. After his death, I had decided that they needed to be in the hands of someone who would use them.
Several weeks after the storm, I made a halfhearted attempt to track down the dealer and check on the horns. I found out that his warehouse had been destroyed, and my best guess was that his delicate old home had, at the very least, sustained massive wind damage. I was close to being ashamed of myself, checking on $1200 worth of horns when parts of the city had virtually been wiped from the map.
The thing is, I didn’t really want the money (though it would have bought a good bit of non-squishy carpet), and I certainly didn’t want the horns back. I just wanted to see if they survived the storm.
My fiercest hope is that they survived the wind and the water and the looting, that someone picked them up and gave them to a down-and-out musician, or hell, SOLD them to a down-and-out musician for Sheetrock money, and that they’re making music on the streets of New Orleans to this day. My worst fear is that they’re rusting away in a landfill, or entangled in debris at the bottom of a neglected waterway.
The last time I saw my dad play was at my wedding. He was the kind of guy who needed an assignment to make it through four hours of socializing with strangers, and putting him on stage was a great move. He knew how to blend in with the band without upstaging anybody, though he threw in some ass-kicking solos when the moment was right.
I was cool with the idea of not knowing exactly where my dad’s remains would lie. Really, I couldn’t wait to get the box out of the house after it arrived in the mail. I never had any intention of keeping ashes in a vase on the mantel.
Sometimes I have this vision of his ashes flowing through the streets of New Orleans in the floodwaters, landing here and there, making themselves a permanent part of the spirit of the city.
I miss my dad, and I miss New Orleans. But the thought that his saxophones might be helping entice tourists to toss dollar bills into a horn case on a street corner somewhere makes it all a little more bearable.