Opinion – 5/2/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 2, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS – John Howell Sr

 From the 5/2/06 issue of The Panolian       

Sister’s solo visit to New Orleans on Amtrak leaves brothers envious

"Gracie’s a comfortable dog," the four-year-old granddaughter said during her first solo New Orleans visit. She nuzzled with Gracie, the Katrina dog that her grandmother rescued shortly after her return to New Orleans last October.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Blair’s visit had been her own idea. She had talked it up with her mother when the idea sprang into her head, telling her that she wanted to spend the night with her grandmother.

"But grandmommy’s in New Orleans," replied her mother whose logic the kid totally ignored.

Two weeks later we were southbound on Amtrak. For me it was a lovely reunion with the steel behemoth. It had been almost a year since I last used that conveyance for my infrequent commute.

For Blair it was loud upon its timely arrival at the Greenwood station. She covered her ears and backed up against the old red brick depot as the silver engine roared in. After that it was a great adventure of narrow stairways, arranging small stuffed animals around her seat and guessing what the creatures were that her granddaddy had attempted to draw on her tablet.

Parting had been bittersweet earlier that morning. She had left behind the two older brothers who had left her behind before. The younger one – the one she has called "Boy" since she has been old enough to call him anything, and oh well, it was good enough for Tarzan – took it hard, fighting back tears that threatened to overwhelm his sense of responsibility to first grade and baseball team schedules to keep.

The older brother took it stoically. The older brother takes everything with a shy stoicism that leaves one wondering what is really going on inside that 11-year-old mind. Paired with his best buddy and fellow stoic, William Dean, grownups are often left scratching their heads.

"They’re up to something," Uncle Rupert mutters. Often. Knowingly.

We bounced along New Orleans streets in a rattly cab, Blair and I, after we got to New Orleans Union Station.
"It’s $11 minimum," a guy tells us when he whistles to beckon the waiting cab.

I am suspicious when I see that the fare meter is disconnected. I spend our cab ride from downtown to uptown rehearsing what I am going to say to the driver when we arrive at our destination and he announces the outrageous fare we will owe.

"That’ll be $11, man," the driver announces meekly on our arrival.

It is less that previous trips when the meters were working. I feel guilty for having loosened my vain imagining towards the driver. I over tipped him.

Gracie is glad to see us. Grandmommy is glad to see us. The damncats are less than glad. A kid has entered their space.

We settle in to a grandkid routine. Food is good, zoo trips are frequent, damncats are fed and shuffled, flowers are watered, all with Blair making every step with this mysterious New Orleans Grandmommy that she has set out to visit.

We reach the zoo on the 11 Magazine. Buses and streetcars in New Orleans have been free since they started operating after the hurricane. The Magazine Street bus runs with some regularity.

The zoo was a bright spot of the city before Katrina. Now it is even brighter. Every visit by any grandchild always includes much time spent there.

Our Blair zoo visit coincides with the elephant show. We know them by their names, Panya and Jean, the Indian elephants that are the celebrities of the zoo. Since Katrina, they have become the superstars. The elephant keeper retells the now-familiar story of how Panya and Jean helped in the post-hurricane cleanup, lifting and moving fallen trees with their trunks. Then they got depressed because people no longer visited. The zoo people went out and asked the National Guard soldiers bivouacked on Audubon property to come and visit. Panya and Jean need their people.

Later, back at home at the Laurel Street zoo, that comfortable dog cramped our puzzling. Gracie sat first at the edge of the puzzle Blair and I were trying to piece together on the floor. Then she moved closer and sat in the middle of it. Puzzling was postponed. Panya and Jean mind better than Gracie.

Gracie greets the now-daily mail arrival with a familiar routine. As soon as she hears the squeak of the front gate, the comfortable dog becomes very uncomfortable. She barks furiously, charging the front door in anticipation of the mail being pushed through the slot in the middle of our front door, attempting clandestine invasion of her personal space. She grabs the invaders as they come sliding through that chute and gives them a hearty shake before dropping them onto the floor. It’s nothing personal against the mailman, but I’m not going to bother trying to convince him. Our mail now arrives slightly shredded.

We are exhausted each night. A suspect is the spider-web-woven rope walk at the zoo. Blair has walked its length enough to lose her initial caution, but she still wants company each trip. Grandmommy and I take turns. We are still exhausted.

Blair gets home safe and exuberant in describing her experiences to her mom, dad and brothers. Especially her brothers. The trip has been a success.

Later, I see the left-behind boys, her brothers. Nelson makes a great catch on a fly ball for an out during his baseball game.

I walk up to Hunt after the game. He has grown taller since I last saw him on Friday. I tell him so.

He breaks out in a big grin and tells me that a lot of people have told him that. Somebody told him he must be having a growth spurt, he tells me.

Big smile. No stoic here.


The Panolian co-owner and publisher John Howell writes about New Orleans, Panola, and the strange and mundane between there and here. Contact him at johnhowl@bellsouth.net


Copyright 2005-2006 by The Panolian, Inc..  All rights reserved
Copyright 2001-2004 by Batesville Newspapers, LLC.  All rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission  is prohibited.