Welcomed Home By Pontchartrain's Frogs

Former NPR East Africa Correspondent Gwen Thompkins moved back to her childhood home in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. The house is in a neighborhood called Pontchartrain Park, which Gwen covered at length after Hurricane Katrina. After so many years away, she's introducing herself to new neighbors.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: Before our friend Gwen Thompkins left NPR, she was our correspondent in East Africa. A couple of weeks ago, she moved back to her childhood home in New Orleans. The house is in a neighborhood called Pontchartrain Park, which Gwen wrote about at length for our show after Hurricane Katrina. After so many years away, Gwen Thompkins tells us that she's now introducing herself to new neighbors.

GWEN THOMPKINS: I was taking out the trash the other night when I noticed something soft, but firm underfoot. Thank goodness I didn't step down too far because out from under my sole popped a frog. It was the size of a tennis ball and scooted away. I hadn't seen a frog in Pontchartrain Park since I was a kid. Back then, sometime between the Louisiana Purchase and the Watergate hearings, the neighborhood was hopping with frogs. In every backyard there were holes and whenever you poked a stick into one of them, a frog grabbed the end of it. Then out came the equivalent of a frog lollipop. But that was long ago, when I was afraid of frogs and dogs and flying cockroaches - though I still scream when I see one of those.

During the summer months, the days stretched long, like taffy. My sisters and I made huckabucks, which meant we made Kool-Aid and added about six times more sugar than recommended, and then we froze the Kool-Aid into Dixie cups. I had no idea why they were called huckabucks. To ask back then seemed absurd, like asking why the Easter Bunny even bothered to come to our house when we did all the work dyeing the eggs. But huckabucks they were and how we managed to get out of childhood with all of our teeth, I cannot say. To this day, my sisters have no cavities. I, of course, do.

So, the other night I thought how nice it was that there was a frog living under my carport or, at the very least, summering there. And then it dawned on me: the night was alive with sounds. That frog had friends, and their friends had friends. And so on, and so on.


THOMPKINS: This would not be remarkable except for the fact that just a short time ago, all the houses of Pontchartrain Park were submerged in hurricane waters. Back then, my family's single story tract house stood in nine feet of water, all the trees were dead, and the birds had flown away. When the place dried out, it was so empty I told NPR's Neal Conan at TALK OF THE NATION that I could run buck naked down my street and there would be no one around to notice.


NEAL CONAN: Gwen, I'm not going there.


THOMPKINS: Now, there are neighbors here to report naked people running down the street - should they feel the urge. And among the returning neighbors are creatures, grievously missed, who for one reason or another quit Pontchartrain Park long before the storm. I'm talking about the frogs and the dogs and, yes, the flying cockroaches. There's something rewarding in this, in nature's refrain. Given the chance, what disappears will one day come home again - like the two blue jays I saw fighting in the yard the other day, like the frogs, and, yes, like me.


PEGGY LEE: (Singing) And so it seems that we've met before and laughed before and loved before, but who knows where or when...

SIMON: Gwen Thompkins is a writer living in New Orleans.

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