Ghos’ Ward

by , under Fiction Prompts, What Pegman Saw

I cruised the Lower Ninth in my rented Ford, first time back since Katrina. Everything was gone.

When I found it at last, Jeffus sat high on his porch sipping julep from his big tin cup. House looked much the same, though the boards was new and the paint fresher. “How was your house spared so?” I asked.

He cackled up. “Child, this ain’t the same house. This here the Rodney’s place from down the street, there on the corner. My old house got knocked atumble and floated off. This here one stayed upright and floated close, so we jacked her up onto the footings and set to fixing her. Took nigh three years, but we got her done.”

“What the Rodneys say?”

Jeffus took a long swallow, then gave me his squint. “All them Rodneys is gone. Kilt or lost, but not a one of them ever come back here.”

 

What Pegman Saw

In the 2000 U.S. census, 98 percent of Lower 9th Ward residents identified themselves as black, and of those, a little over half lived in households that earned $19,999 or less per year. It was a place rich in culture and heritage, home to musicians and artists who often inherited the small four-square houses from relatives. The Lower Ninth was a place apart, cut off from the city proper by a shipping channel.

During Hurricane Katrina, the Industrial Canal’s flood walls gave way and water surged through the neighborhood and pushed hundreds of houses off their foundations. Water up to 12 feet deep stood in some areas for weeks. It was the last neighborhood to have power and water service restored, and the last to be pumped dry. 

Today, there’s a feeling of desolation on nearly every block of the predominantly African-American neighborhood. Block after block of empty lots, jagged foundations and tangled brush where there had once been one of the great Amercian neighborhoods. Less than 37% of its residents had returned a decade later.

  1. Lynn Love

    The voices are perfect – the language and tone of the people just so right, or so it seems to me. Your stats are horrifying, Josh. It was a national tragedy and all the more so for taking place in such a rich country, in an are drenched in history. Well written

    Reply
    • J Hardy Carroll

      Thanks, Lynn.

      The flooding of New Orleans was, in the words of one of David Simon’s characters, “a man-made catastrophe. A federal fuck-up of epic proportions.”
      The poorest people were hit hardest, and in that city they happened to be the living soul of New Orleans. The music, the food, the real culture. White men in power decided that they would not help help them, instead stealing their property and exploiting the tragedy.

      Reply
      • Lynn Love

        Just what we heard over here – all the people sent to the football stadium and the awful things that happened to them there – it’s depressing how it turned out the way it did. And that so many people still suffer the consequences is horrifying. But exploitation like this happens the world over. Did you hear of our own Grenfell Tower disaster? The losses were tiny in comparison to the devastation wrought in New Orleans, but a tower block burned down, killing 72 people (lots of immigrant families, generally poorer people) and all exacerbated by the local council cutting costs on fire proof cladding. In one of the richest boroughs in the city of London. A national shame.

        Reply
        • J Hardy Carroll

          Oh yeah. Everywhere. In New Orleans it was particularly galling because everybody is more than happy to make money on the culture without realizing where it came from

          Reply
  2. pennygadd51

    You’ve caught the voices beautifully. You’ve also very subtly shown the ambiguity of the situation, where Jeffus takes satisfaction in the house even while admitting that it’s his at the cost of the Rodney family. And, of course, that’s the attitude you need to survive…

    Reply
    • J Hardy Carroll

      Those who stayed were fiercely proud. If you want to experience New Orleans vicariously, I recommend the writings of Walker Percy, Tom Piazza, and Daniel Woodrell (amond others). The HBO show Treme is also great. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  3. 4963andypop

    Powerful piece. I think we were thinking along the same lines, although I am no match for your hand at regional dialect.

    Katrina was a devastating storm. The Florida panhandle is still rocking in the wake of Michael. Wonder how it will look in ten years?

    Part of the tragedy of Katrina was how shamefully embarrassing and inept the response to the disaster was. Your story portrays the waste of human life and property it brought, but also, the ingenuity and persistence of those left standing.

    Reply
    • J Hardy Carroll

      Thanks! I find in writing dialect that a little goes a long way. It’s more about rhythm and weird word choice. New Orleans gave us Dr. John. Love the way he talks, especially his phrasing.

      Reply
  4. Joy Pixley

    Great use of voice here — and I agree, a little dialect goes a long way. I also appreciated the feeling of desolation contrasted with the remaining residents’ hopeful sense of using whatever’s left, making do as best they can.

    Reply
  5. k rawson

    Loved the flavor, the dialect, and the pragmatism of your character in the face of the disaster. Thanks also for sharing the awful facts about those most affected by the tragedy. A shame.

    Reply

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