Bringing the Family Back to New Orleans

Commentator Chris Rose reflects on bringing his family back home to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Three of the children in those New Orleans' public schools belong to commentator Chris Rose. You may remember his accounts of evacuating his wife and children from Katrina, and returning home without them until conditions improved in the city.

All the Rose's are back home now, and Chris Rose is seeing the new New Orleans through his children's eyes.

Mr. CHRIS ROSE (Journalist and Radio Commentator): The sheetrock was just finished over the weekend, and a lot of the fixtures and furniture are new. But the teacher and about three-quarters of the little faces in my daughter's first grade classroom were the same as last August, back before, well, you know.

Yesterday was the first day of school. And so a new and challenging year has begun for my family, with homework to do and carpool lanes to negotiate and battles over lunch, we're almost like a regular family from Anytown, USA. Almost.

I don't suppose most kids around the country would consider the things we see on the way to school routine. The massive uprooted trunks of fallen trees, gutted houses and collapsed buildings, garbage, sheetrock, shingles, and appliances piled to the sky. A brown stain marking how high the floodwaters got, a murky and unbroken line like a bathtub ring around the city. And these are the good neighborhoods, the ones that survived.

My family recently returned from a four-month exile, and we settled back into the rhythms and flow of this strange and alluring city. We picked up where we left off. Dinner with friends--those who are here, Music in the clubs, walks in the park, bicycle rides, that kind of thing. Then, over the weekend, we took a drive to the lower Ninth Ward, a once obscure community now known the world over as the site of the worst destruction from the flood. It is nuclear, a lunar wasteland. Most of the city's destroyed neighborhoods still have the shells of houses in them, but the flood just shoved the lower ninth out of the way. Houses and oak trees, stacked one atop the other and washed five blocks away. My kids thought it looked more like movie set than a real place. My 4-year-old looked out his window and said purple upside-down car. He captured the perfect metaphor.

New Orleans is a purple upside-down car.

So what the hell are we doing then, enrolling in school here and laying claim to an environmental, political and financial wasteland? It's home, would be the simple answer. We still believe New Orleans is a magical place to raise children, to imbue them with music and art, and a profound sense of community, neighborhood and family. They don't know it yet, but my kids all the children in this town, are in for the fight of their lives now. They're the building blocks, the future, of this City. They're riding shotgun in the purple upside-down car, and those of us driving this rickety machine can only hope and pray that we're on the right road.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Chris Rose is a columnist for the Times-Picayune, in New Orleans.

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