This is not the usual fare for my blog but a combination of having moved into my fourth decade on this orbiting rock and some Twitter and Facebook posts I’ve read recently has led me to think back on my history. I’m not very comfortable talking about myself but for some reason I feel the need to put this down in writing. I saw a Twitter post the other day asking what one’s favorite Mardi Gras parade was. That reminded me of some of the parades I attended when I lived in New Orleans; in turn that lead to me thinking about where I lived and where I went to school in New Orleans. A Google Maps/Street View session ensued that brought back a lot of memories, some of which I’ll share in this post.
I grew up on or near military bases. My father was a 20 year United States Navy veteran so I went wherever he was stationed. I was born in Hawaii but we weren’t there much longer before he was stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda, CA. Naturally, I don’t remember a thing about Hawaii but my first childhood memories are of living in the NAS Alameda/Oakland, CA area. From there we went to Bainbridge, MD. Most of the memories of my formative years come from the next move; we spent six and a half years in New Orleans, LA before my father retired in 1980. I don’t remember much about living off base but I do remember a lot of the period we lived on base at Naval Support Activity New Orleans which was in Algiers on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. The map below gives you a good idea of where we lived at.
I was somewhat surprised to find that the old base housing wasn’t on Street View given that the Naval Support Activity is closed. I messed around on Street View, trying to work my way close to the where we lived and it seems that the base housing area on Guadalcanal St. no longer exists. The areas along the streets where I walked to and from school are grown up right up to the pavement and you reach fences surrounding nothing but open ground where the housing used to be. I knew that the Naval Support Activity had closed but it was still a shock, and honestly quite sad, to see a place I have such good memories of simply gone. There is a Marine Corps support facility there and Coast Guard Sector New Orleans Headquarters but it seems much of the base is just gone; whether that’s a result of the closing or of Hurricane Katrina I don’t know.
Next I thought about the schools I went to in New Orleans, which were Adolf Meyer Elementary and Harte Elementary School. In contrast to the old neighborhood, I was pleased to find out that both schools still exist, although Adolf Meyer was hard to find. A series of Google searches led me to find that it is now Harriet Tubman Elementary School. While the name has changed and the color of the outside walls are different, there is no mistaking that it is the same building as 30 years ago (and it was old then!!). From Adolf Meyer Elementary I went to Harte Elementary. Harte Elementary retains its name but it is now a charter school. When I went there it was a regular public school. I still remember how much the local culture impacted school. French lessons in elementary weren’t unheard of because of the historic French influence. The biggest impact I remember is in the food. The Catholic influence resulted in fish being served for lunch on Fridays. My favorite day, however, was Monday because that meant Red Beans and Rice and Sausage for lunch! Red Beans and Rice is a Monday Louisiana Cajun tradition that comes from utilizing left overs from the Sunday ham for a slow cooked meal while Monday work was being done. I just don’t remember that kind of cultural impact on school lunches here in Savannah.
Looking back, I credit living in New Orleans and going to New Orleans public schools and growing up on a Navy Base with forming me into the person I am now. I consider myself mostly open minded and tolerant and I believe that comes from growing up around the Navy and growing up in New Orleans. On the Navy Base, I lived around, interacted with, and played with a diverse group of people of many races, colors, and religions. No doubt there were elements of racism to be found but for the most part people were accepted and neighbors looked after each other regardless of race, background, or religion. When we moved to Savannah and I entered the public school system here, I had the distinct feeling of being an outsider and it was a feeling that never really went away. Perhaps I didn’t feel it in New Orleans because I was around other kids whose fathers were also in the Navy while here I didn’t fit into a group who’d known each other since Kindergarten or had the common bond of a father in the Army (Hunter AAF). New Orleans itself was much similar. You can’t discount the usual factors of racism and class but at the same time New Orleans was a massive melting pot. New Orleans is where racism first really made an impact on me and it wasn’t just racism against Blacks; what made a huge impression on me was the racism from Whites and Blacks against Asians who were immigrating to United States after the Vietnam War. Racism made no sense to me then and it still doesn’t to this day. Looking back, there were so many influences that blended together it made quite an impression on someone in their formative years.
As far as the question of favorite Mardi Gras parades, the ones we went to weren’t the huge most popular parades in Downtown New Orleans. Those we watched on TV. We went to and my memories are of the smaller parades like the Choctaw and Cleopatra parades. These were “neighborhood” type parades that were more family friendly that the party parades downtown. Most people think about beads when they think about Mardi Gras but for some reason, I always liked Mardi Gras Doubloons more. Doubloons are lightweight aluminum “coins.” Each Krewe has their own unique design(s) and they frequently commemorate or honor something. They usually have the year of the parade they’re being used in on them as well. I still have some stashed in my collection of stuff:
When most people think of Mardi Gras, they think of the parties, the raucous parades downtown, and the drunken crowds on Bourbon Street but much like St. Patrick’s Day here in Savannah there’s another side to it. There is a lot of hard work and love put into a lot of parades by the various Krewes. There’s a family and neighborhood aspect of the festival that many outside of area don’t think of.
Looking back on my years growing up in New Orleans, I’m so grateful I that I had the opportunity to spend some of my formative years there. It was quite an experience in quite a place. I have no doubt that what I experienced there helped make me who I am today. Thank You New Orleans, Louisiana.