Squandered Heritage Vintage
 

What Words Can a House Speak

There are a lot of mighty cliches about houses. But now that flooded New Orleans seems to live life out loud and in public our houses are the constant chatter we live with while riding down the streets of our beautiful City.

For some reason this house was making a lot of chatter when I rode by.

house

I could see that it had not been gutted or cleaned but there was such a jumble coming from the front I had to stop the car and look.
Lower 9th Ward

On both sides, the contents were stacked to the ceiling. and the effects of the water seemed to not be so great as the effects of a obsession.

another shot

I can see the water lines up high and the contents still seem to read as individual items,unlike most flooded contents which read as a sodden ruined mass.

doorway

After I took the photos and enlarged them the first thing I thought of was my Grammie . She was my Great Grandmother and she was from Italy and never learned to speak English. In spite of the fact that she lived in the United States for 80 plus years, she kept such a small world that only speaking Italian was an option for her.

By the time she moved in with my Grandparents she was pretty senile and living in her own world. The worst part of her own world was that she was a thief.

So my sister and I had the job of patting her down after Sunday dinner, she rolled the silverwear in her sweater. And we went thru the pockets of her jackets for china, but the more elusive and troubling was the napkins. She would take them out of the trash and fold and refold for hours. Then she would stuff them in her clothing to eventually make a home under her bed.

The chore of distracting my ancient Great Grandmother, to pick up the pilfered goods and redistribute them to their rightful homes always fell on the shoulders of my sister and I. We would giggle and stagger around outside the room, and then enter and watch Grammie. Since my sister and I were proper mono lingual Americans there was not a lot to chat about with Grammie, and I always chalked up her madness to the tightning of the small world she lived in.

So when I saw this house and it reminded me of my Grammie, I had to wonder why. My Grammie was fastidious, she was tidy and orderly, even with her stolen goods. Then I realized that this house was a place where someone had gone mad, maybe their small world had become even smaller. Maybe the clutter was “rescued” from the trash piles. Maybe it was there before , maybe it is getting added to daily.

Part of our choice as a Family to live here is based on the fact that private and public has a fine line, the closeness of the houses demands a shared intimacy, but still, there were things you could keep to yourself.

I started this post and put it aside and then today I saw this house.

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Someone lived here, someone who liked to hang up the potholders. Someone who had a kitchen in a house. And now it is all laid bare for all to see.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use for Squandered Heritage. For her work with television reporter Lee Zurik exposing widespread misuse of city recovery funds — which led to guilty pleas in federal court — Gadbois won some of the highest honors in journalism, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.