In Honor of a City's Enduring Spirit

A newspaper headline from Aug. 28, 2005.
A newspaper headline from Aug. 28, 2005. (By John Luck)
Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dottie Williams lives in an apartment at her daughter's home in Herndon and plans to move back to Mandeville.

I am one of many displaced by Katrina. I did not lose my childhood home, but feel I have lost my childhood.

Born and raised in Uptown, I left New Orleans in 1971, lived in Chicago and the Middle East, and spent summers in the area and moved back, settling on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville in 1980. There I worked as an activity director in an assisted-living facility, on the Alzheimer's unit.

The storm drove us out, and our bus, trucks and van eventually landed in Florida, where a sister facility had set up a dormitory in its dining room. Two weeks later, we were back, but kitchen staff members and many nurses had not returned; we had trouble hiring people.

In November, my daughter who lives here had a baby, and I came to visit; when I got back, a relative picked me up and we thought we'd take a look at the city.

There were still no stoplights on Carrollton Avenue, and it was still empty, with stores not open. Then, when I got to the Walmsley Avenue area, I saw that the beautiful house with the two big lions, a landmark of my youth, had burned, the lions destroyed.

I could not go any farther, and still have not. It was all too much.

Because of the staff shortages, I changed diapers and bathed our patients and occasionally was able to put together an activity.

My daughter here -- the other lives outside New Orleans -- urged me to come and be her nanny, knowing I was depressed and exhausted. Life as I knew it was gone, so I rented my furnished house to a friend who had lost everything in Gulfport for the money FEMA gave her for a housing allowance. I took my clothes and left.

For six months I have been here, and I am still homesick, but I understand things are getting better and restaurants are opening.

My house had some damage, but none compared to others. I felt guilty about complaining when I think of what others have lost, so I do not complain anymore.

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