Part 6

A Child's Paradise, Lost

Five-year-old Kristen Larche likes staying with her Silver Spring relatives but longs to return to her New Orleans home.
Five-year-old Kristen Larche likes staying with her Silver Spring relatives but longs to return to her New Orleans home. (By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)

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By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sixth in a series chronicling the Larches of New Orleans as they rebuild their lives in the Washington area.

When Michele Larche told her 5-year-old that her daddy was going back to New Orleans to check on the house, Kristen had just one urgent question.

"Is Daddy going to be dead from the flood?"

Kristen Larche was always an even-tempered child -- quick to laugh and rarely upset. She had Mommy and Daddy and "Hood Rat," the frail, skinny gerbil the family adopted and nursed back to health. She had old friends and new uniforms for the start of kindergarten.

"I worry that when she does get back, she's not going to recognize anything," Michele frets. "She's going to look for her things and they're not going to be there."

New Orleans was all she knew, and now everything she knew has changed.

In the video her daddy shot the day they evacuated, Kristen is grinning. "Welcome to my room," she says, posing for the camera. We're leaving "because Hurricane Dennis is going to blow us away." She throws her arms open wide for added drama.

"Uh-uh, baby, this is Hurricane Katrina ," Todd Larche corrects his daughter off-camera.

Okay, Katrina, she nods.

When you're 5 and you've already been through five hurricanes, they tangle in your mind.

Kristen Larche is a storm child. Like her parents and grandparents, who've spent all their days in hurricane alley, the names of storms are part of the topography of her life. Georges, Ivan, Lily, Cindy, Dennis, Audrey. Betsy and Camille. The grown folks recall the names and keep alive the stories.

But Katrina, and now Rita, will likely have a special place all their own.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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