New Orleans Residents Use Color to Restore Hope

Yolanda and Antoine Duplessis

Yolanda and Antoine Duplessis stand in their daughter's newly-painted bedroom in St. Bernard Parish. The house was rebuilt by volunteers. Pam Fessler, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Pam Fessler, NPR

Color is among the vibrant signs of hope for those recovering from Hurricane Katrina. As the wrecked, washed-out homes of Gulf Coast residents are slowly rebuilt, bright, cheerful, colorful paint seems to be the one thing strong enough to wipe away the past.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

All week on MORNING EDITION we've been marking the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and we've been meeting people who've made a difference. That includes people who bring back color to a troubled city.

Here is NPR's Pam Fessler.

PAM FESSLER: You wouldn't think that paint could be so powerful, but if the wrecked, washed-out homes of Gulf Coast residents are slowly rebuilt, bright, cheerful, colorful paint seems to be the one thing strong enough to wipe away the past.

Ms. DAGMAR BOOTH: When we first came back after the storm, everything looked like a moonscape, everything was gray and was like a grayish-brown mud. So I want color now.

FESSLER: Dagmar Booth stands in the bedroom of her rebuilt home in St. Bernard Parish. The walls are the bright blue of a perfect sky; they almost shimmer.

Did you pick this out?

Ms. BOOTH: Yes, I did. Thank you.

Ms. BOOTH: It's called morning breeze. When you open up your eyes, it's like, ah, good morning.

Mr. ANTOINE DUPLESSIS: Purple. (Unintelligible).

Ms. YOLANDA DUPLESSIS: Oh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

FESSLER: In a nearby house, Yolanda and Antoine Duplessis show visitors their daughter's new room. The walls are a rich purple, the closet a brilliant pink. Even the blades on the ceiling fan are decorated with pink and purple butterflies. But it's the kitchen that Yolanda loves.

Ms. DUPLESSIS: This kitchen make me - think of (unintelligible)...

FESSLER: Yeah. Why?

Ms. DUPLESSIS: Because of the color.

FESSLER: The color of gold and wheat, or maybe a late-day sun. It's hard to say.

Ms. DUPLESSIS: Honey, what's the color this kitchen is?

Mr. DUPLESSIS: I would want to say cinnamon brown.

Ms. DUPLESSIS: No cinnamon brown outside.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: Yeah.

Ms. DUPLESSIS: (Unintelligible)

Mr. DUPLESSIS: (Unintelligible)

Ms. DUPLESSIS: Yeah.

FESSLER: Joy.

Ms. DUPLESSIS: It's pretty. I love this color.

FESSLER: She also loves coffee, and dreams of sitting here soon drinking a cup in her new smiley-face kitchen.

Not far away, Sidney Rue(ph) also dreams in color, the color of the new modular home she expects to arrive soon.

Ms. SIDNEY RUE (Resident, New Orleans): And I can't wait - can't wait. The outside is blue, and eventually I want my red shutters and my red doors.

FESSLER: She already has the appliances - a new red microwave, a red toaster and others all stacked in her FEMA trailer ready to go.

Ms. RUE: I'm nuts for red. I love red. But I wanted a red refrigerator, red stove and hood, but I didn't have the extra $10,000; that's how much it would have cost. But it looks like the '50s.

FESSLER: What she need now is a red coffee pot. Once she has that and the house, Sidney Rue says she's ready for company.

Ms. RUE: (Unintelligible) just stop. That means I'm home.

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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