You are here

NEW ORLEANS AND MY FAMILY (August 29 -September 4, 2005)

August 31, 2006
Thank you to all of you who have expressed concern about my family and the city of New Orleans.During this hellish week, I have been as devastated as my city, flooded with grief but hopeful that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be soon flooded with more relief.Every time more scenes of the hurricane and its aftermath are on TV or on the internet, I reminisce of wonderful times growing up in The Big Easy.Though I now know that my two childhood homes, my grammar school, my high school, the Chalmette Church where I was a bridesmaid at my cousin’s wedding, the delightful West End seafood restaurants, on and on are all submerged.But property is the least of it, the pain and suffering of so many is almost unbearable.

New Orleans is so much a part of me that almost everyone I meet immediately shares a story of their culinary, cultural, musical, romantic, and fun misadventures in The Big Easy.Writing this is helping to ease my sorrow and frustration about the devastation of America’s most joyous city and since so many of you have inquired about my state of mind and my family’s whereabouts, I will share my story.

Having been born, bred, fed and nourished by my unique city, this tragedy has ripped my heart out. But I am one of the fortunate ones, my immediate family is safe.However, my extended family and so many friends’ fates are unknown.Sadly, we have not yet heard the fate of our aunt and all of our Chalmette cousins.Please pray for them.The hurricane’s flooding and destruction, the incessant sound of gun shots, the harrowing escapes by those who did not leave before the storm, there are stories that are almost impossible to comprehend.

My beloved son and his comrades are heroically on his tugboats on the famed Mississippi River.He returned to the city immediately after the hurricane on Monday to witness the dire destruction and immediately began to clear the docks for eventual aid.He told me then of Katrina’s catastrophic impact…where was the government?I am, of course, extremely concerned for his safety.My grandchildren are in San Antonio with my daughter-in-law and her family.Their uptown house, located on the same street as Harry Connick, Sr.’s, is partially flooded and possibly looted.

Sister Brenda and her family in Memphis are very active in the Catholic Church and have been helping to feed the numerous evacuees there.Brenda is Campus Minister and is collecting clothing, bedding, etc for the evacuees in Memphis and elsewhere.Please send to: University Catholic Center, 3625 Mynders Ave., Memphis, TN 38111 901-323-3051.

All of my New Orleans siblings escaped in time.My brother, Barry, is planning a return to the area as soon as possible to rebuild our third-generation-family-owned supermarket chain, Breaux Mart.His wife, children and grandchildren are all safely away from the current hell of my city.He made it into New Orleans Thursday, staying long enough to check on our eighty-three year old Uncle Sonny, who we feared stayed, and he had.Miraculously he was found quite comfortably sitting on his balcony with food and protection.God willing he will remain safe and hopefully he will leave soon.We did receive thankful confirmation that his wife, their daughter and all her family are safe and we were able to tell them the news about my uncle, about whom they had heard nothing.

My sister, Karen, a real estate agent went to Jackson, Mississippi with her husband, Vinny, an attorney and his family, of the wonderful Mosca’s Restaurant, all their lives forever changed but luckier than most. All anxious to return and get Mosca’s, still in good shape, up and running again, but fully aware of the long term implications of the disaster.Jackson’s power was out for two days and as soon as it returned, Karen was on the ball fixing a big pot of red beans and rice.Lisette just made Gumbo and Bananas Foster. On Friday, I made Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya in honor of my hometown, meager attempts to try to mitigate some of the pain.Having been through 9-11 together it was imperative that our close friends, Jim and Mike, long-time New Orleans aficionados share with us conversation and camaraderie along with great New Orleans cuisine to help us all get through this terrible time.

Expected to attend Loyola in New Orleans, my nephew P.J., will be going to Georgetown, staying with another sister, Julianne in Chevy Chase.Sister Beverly in Northern Mississippi, sister Lisette and her family in Connecticut, brother Paul, safely evacuated, in Northern Louisiana and Dad and his wife in South Carolina have all been in constant touch with everyone, fearful for our family and our hometown.Yes, I come from a large, close, Catholic clan grown even closer through this catastrophe.I am sure our Mother up above is helping to protect us through this ordeal. Amazingly, Barry’s Metairie Lakefront house, Karen’s Harahan Riverfront house and Peter’s and my French Quarter condo, at this point appear to be okay.Sadly, Karen’s eldest son Chuck’s home is submerged, all possessions gone.

My soul aches for so much: all the dead, sick and homeless, the horribly neglected residents and tourists given no way out, provided no food, water, medical assistance, sanitation, nothing for four or more horrific days.People are still trapped.The citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are being killed not only by Katrina but by our paralyzed mobilization and the ensuing anarchy.

So many of the shamelessly treated unlucky Superdome and Convention Center inhabitants stated their occupations as cooks, those that create the incredible cuisine that New Orleans is famous for, I cry for their ordeal and survival.Brenda declared the dead as martyrs, going straight to heaven, of some comfort but chilling since so many died by our country’s abandonment.Harry Connick, Jr. made it in to these horrific shelters, why could not our government?

We are saddened about the fates of so many of our countries’ restaurateurs and their restaurants. We are already facilitating jobs for fellow restaurant co-workers of Chuck and P. J. and are facilitating jobs directly for their friends. The National Restaurant Association has a free job posting to help relocate all the talented hospitality workers in the devastated areas. among the first to open their hearts in offering charitable aid, restaurants in DC and around the nation are hosting fundraisers. RAMW helped the state societies of the affected region soliciting food and beverage donations for their fundraiser and more fundraisers to come. The rebuilding of so many lives and businesses is going to be a long, slow process and we are in it for the long haul.

RAMW in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association is doing a national restaurant day with partial restaurant proceeds going to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund with on October 5.We have been in touch with the Louisiana Governor’s office helping to facilitate some transportation assistance, etc.The world-wide spirit of giving has been of great comfort.

What is happening is beyond comprehension.The looting has been appalling and yet pathetically largely understandable, people are starving.The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is so far out of control that the consequences will be felt in American history forever.Restoration of the wetlands has been long under-funded; the barrier islands were no longer barriers to the predicted wrath-of-nature.Thankfully help is finally arriving, but it is too many deaths, pain and sorrow too late. The delay has been unconscionable. I have always hated the blame-game, but who was it that said, “The buck stops here?” (See Below*) As the world is now asking, where was the United States’ government?

Yet, hope springs eternal and there are glimmers of hope. As Mother Theresa said with, “Faith in action through prayer and faith in action through service,” New Orleans will emerge a better, stronger, more cohesive place for all its citizens. Released by the hurricane and its aftermath, the dialogues bubbling way above the surface on the racial divide, poverty, the wetlands and government management must now be discussed and resolved.The pastor of one the few churches barely standing in Gulfport on Sunday said in an effort to explain the tragedy “maybe this was God’s way of forcing us to re-examine our priorities.”

Two hundred and eighty-seven years ago, New Orleans was born in the French Quarter, happily still dry and relatively unscathed and The Big Easy will be re-born in the Quarter.Eventually, Louis Armstrong International Airport (New Orleans’ favorite son) will turn from triage to travel and we will be once again strolling through the Crescent City, listening to our glorious jazz, smelling the sweet jasmine, imbibing the delicious food, marauding during Mardi Gras and all the time, with rejuvenated joie de vivre and loving and helping all our sisters and brothers.

Signs of brighter days to come: James Lee Witt, the brilliant former FEMA Director has been hired to help coordinate Louisiana’s reconstruction, Barry’s favorite hang-out; Johnny White’s had been open, serving up much needed hospitality in “da’ ¼,” Barry expects to have his Harahan store opened up very soon, Karen and Vinny are planning an imminent return to Harahan with real estate activity in Jefferson Parish already heating up and the judicial courts opening.Also, the brave tug boat team helped opened up The Port of New Orleans for the naval ship, USS Harry S. Truman to arrive with much needed aid for my home town!

As you can see, my family was luckier than most. Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers…God Bless us all.