April Love

00:00 March 24, 2014
By: Debbie Lindsey

 New Orleans became my home the moment I exited I-10 and hit Elysian Fields. That was twenty-five years ago on a Saturday at 12:25 in the afternoon. It was April Fools Day, and nothing felt foolish about my choice. I was thirty-four and it was high time that I left the confines of my hometown, Mobile.
I am not one for change; even when change is needed. I was never attached to Mobile as a place, but I had invested my heart and loyalties into friends, a job, and an apartment I loved. Then one day a truly visceral feeling struck me: that I needed to be in another place and that place was New Orleans. This city had always been like a cousin to me, a bohemian and edgy relation, but one I loved.  New Orleans is New York and Paris to a girl from Mobile.
 Mobile was just not a good fit for me. Only with age and a need to write do I revisit my birthplace and find, often to my surprise, words that show some strong ties to it. But oh New Orleans, now that was love at first sight. Later those rose colored glasses faded and for a while I felt estranged from my New Orleans but then fell back in love.
Some places, especially in the South, consider only those born slap dab within its city limits to be “native” to the area. My mother was born in Nashville, however it was Mobile that was home to her for well over seventy years. And yet, her obituary stated she was a native of Nashville, despite all those Mobile decades of schooling, jobs, friendships, community work, voting, contributing to the tax base, and above all, raising a family there – still she was not allowed to claim herself as a Mobilian.
I remember a panel discussion, held during one Tennessee William’s Festival, when a local author began spouting to the audience that somehow one had to have been born here to be a true New Orleanian. The audience took issue, especially one man in particular, and she, rather haughtily, asked him where he would be buried. “Here”, he defiantly replied. I guess she didn’t think him worthy of one of her precious cemeteries. This is the wrong city in which to question one’s allegiance. Once someone has truly chosen New Orleans as home, it is just that – home. I adopted New Orleans and in turn she became my mine.
 My parents and Trout Amandine were greatly responsible for my shifting of homes. From the time I was a kid, my parents and I traveled Old Highway 90 to visit New Orleans. They loved the grand stores that lined Canal Street, the French Quarter, Audubon Zoo, St. Charles streetcar rides, and Café Du Monde. But I think, for my folks, the highlight of each and every visit to New Orleans was Galatoire’s and that almond-crusted trout.
These past twenty-five years could never have been the same in Mobile. I would have atrophied if I had remained there. Did I take advantage of everything my birthplace had to offer? No, I took things for granted and did not seek or savor all the sights and sounds, culture and curiosities that Mobile possess. Perhaps if New Orleans had been mine from the start I would’ve been just as bored by thirty-four – but I doubt it. Still and all a new place, especially one chosen for a fresh start, for new adventures, will inspire one to taste all it has to offer.
During these years here I have had stagnant moments, lived small and quiet, and allowed all the music and theater of this city to go on without me.  But when I raise my head from the mundane and look around there is this never ending festival that happens here. Perhaps, if I did not hunker down at times and chill, it would burn me out. So just knowing that on any day of any week, year in and year out there is enough stimulation to activate that love at first sight feeling again.
There is an abundance of music, community activism, museums, art and more art, festivals for every imaginable thing, and a history that lives side-by-side with everyday life. Unlike my hometown, this place is multi-layered in culture, people and lifestyles. The diversity of neighborhoods and the many microcosms within those neighborhoods make for a constant ebb and flow of attitudes and personalities, quirks and oddities, rich and poor, new and old.  This city is ripe with beauty and rift with violence. Laid back one moment and languishing the next. But for better or for worse she, New Orleans, is never boring. We are weirder than dirt and proud of it. Should I expect more of this city? Damn straight. And if I wish to claim this place as home then I must be willing to do the work, be involved, hold New Orleans to the highest level. The pull and push of my feelings for New Orleans keeps me on my toes.
For twenty-five years this city has taught me to appreciate food as a cultural thing and not merely sustenance. I began to write here. Lived through Katrina and came out a better person for it. I became a small business owner, a dog lover, a Saints fan, an addict to Crystal hot sauce, and a fan of brass music. I found the love of my life here and when he left my heart after fourteen years I discovered one of the best gifts this city has given me—caring friends that will commit for a lifetime.  
Thank you New Orleans for taking me in and giving me a home.  

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