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Sat September 2, 2006
From New Orleans to Wilmington, and Back Again
By Megan V. Williams
New Orleans, LA – WHEN JUNE WISCHLER RETURNED TO NEW ORLEANS THIS SPRING A LITTLE BIT OF WILMINGTON CAME WITH HER.
"My plants, my beautiful plants from Wilmington. The one, see the spider plant? My neighbor had a beautiful one like that and she gave me one of the little pups, so that's longevity right there."
THAT WILMINGTON SPIDER PLANT NOW SITS ON MAKESHIFT SHELVES IN THE WISCHLERS' BACKYARD. BEHIND IT IS ONE OF THE FAMILY'S FEMA TRAILERS. IN FRONT, THE RAW BEAMS OF THEIR HOME. THE HOUSE IS STRIPPED, BLEACHED, AND SLOWLY, SLOWING BEING REBUILT.
"Right now we're fixing the floor. See all this floor in the kitchen? This is old roof. Today we're taking these boards off, these are old boards you can't find these boards in the home, do-it-yourself-stores..."
A YEAR AGO, THE WISCHLERS WERE ON THE ROAD, FLEEING THE CITY WITH LITTLE MORE THAN A CHANGE OF CLOTHES AND THEIR TWO DOGS REDUCED, JUNE SAYS, TO A NUMBED SURVIVAL MODE.
"Immediately, within two seconds, you're unemployed, you're homeless, you've got a family, dogs, elderly, children. Where do you go? We had no idea what to do."
WHAT THEY DID WAS HEAD NORTH, TO WILMINGTON.
"A very dear friend of mine said, get up here, at least you can get a shower, some AC, power. Said, Ok, we'll come up there, I don't have anywhere else to go."
IT'S NO ACCIDENT THE FAMILY ENDED UP IN WILMINGTON. JUNE'S A TEAMSTER IN THE FILM INDUSTRY, AND THAT FRIEND'S IN CRAFT SERVICES. WITHIN A FEW WEEKS, JUNE WAS DRIVING FOR THE TV SHOW SURFACE LEAVING HER HUSBAND AND SON TO NAVIGATE THE ODDITIES OF STARTING A LIFE FROM SCRATCH BEGINNING WITH SETTLING INTO A NEW APARTMENT.
"We had a bag of clothes, we had two pair of clothes each, two pair of shorts, shirts. They took the one bag and opened the door and went inside. Went out on the porch, and the people next door, we shared a balcony, and they said, 'hi, I'm so-and-so, good to meet you. We're your new neighbors.' 'Oh, when you moving in?' 'we moved in today.' He said, 'what do you mean you moved in today.' 'No you didn't, I didn't see any furniture or anything.' 'no, we're from New Orleans. We moved in today!' He said, 'oh, okay.'"
THOSE NEIGHBORS WERE A MORE COMMON VARIETY OF WILMINGTON TRANSPLANT - RETIRED NEW YORKERS, JUST MOVED TO THE REGION THEMSELVES. TOGETHER, THE TWO FAMILIES HELPED EACH OTHER SETTLE IN AND FOR A WHILE, IT LOOKED LIKE THE WISCHLERS MIGHT MAKE A NEW LIFE IN NORTH CAROLINA. ESPECIALLY WHEN JUNE'S HUSBAND RICHARD FINALLY GOT A LOOK AT WHAT HAD BECOME OF THEIR HOME...
"I guess I came here about, two and half weeks after the storm I finally got back to the house and then, I opened the door, looked around, closed the door, went to the office and said, "I quit, I'm gone, ain't nothing here for me." And that's when I went back to Wilmington."
TO GET A SENSE OF WHAT RICHARD FOUND AT THEIR HOUSE, ALL ONE HAS TO DO IS FOLLOW JUNE AROUND THE CORNER AND THROUGH A PADLOCKED FENCE TO THEIR AUNT'S HOME.
"...I'll show you this. This is not anything like ours. We've done a lot on ours so far..."
INSIDE, THE HOUSE IS STILL IN THE GRIP OF THE FLOOD: THE FLOORS HAVE BUCKLED, AND MOLD CREEPS TOWARD THE SAGGING CEILINGS. KATRINA SCATTERED THE FAMILY. THE WISCHLER'S OLDER RELATIVES ARE STILL UP CHICAGO, AND JUNE WORRIES RETURNING IS MORE THAN THEY COULD BEAR.
"...lshe hasn't been in here. It would kill her. She thinks she's coming home. You don't know whether to be harsh and tell her, it's not going to happen, try to get her to face reality. But when you're 90 years old..."
EVEN AS THE WISCHLERS TRIED TO SETTLE INTO NORTH CAROLINA, THEY WERE RUNNING INTO PROBLEMS JUNE HATED THE TRAFFIC RICH, A PLUMBER, COULDN'T FIND UNION JOBS AND REAL ESTATE WAS JUST TOO EXPENSIVE TO THINK ABOUT BUYING. BUT IN THE END, IS WAS SOMETHING LESS MATERIAL THAT SENT THEM BACK TO NEW ORLEANS.
"I know the culture is not the same up there. You got music and tourism and food and just so much here. I didn't see that up there. I mean, I'm sure it's up there, I didn't have enough time to explore it. But I saw retail! Retail and beach. Okay, where do I fit in this picture?"
SO WHEN SCHOOL LET OUT FOR WINTER BREAK, THE FAMILY HEADED HOME, FOR GOOD. THEIR FOURTEEN YEAR OLD SON ZACH CRIED WHEN HE SAW WHAT HAD BECOME OF THEIR HOUSE. BUT FOR JUNE, SHE'D ALREADY SHED HER TEARS.
"The only thing that made me cry was when we got to Wilmington and people were reaching out and they were so generous, it choked me up. I didn't know they had people like that in the world. And it just, it was overwhelming. That is what we're using to rebuild our lives right now. The generosity of the people of Wilmington."
TEN MONTHS AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA, THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS SMELLS LIKE IT'S ON FIRE. IN DEVASTATED NEIGHBORHOODS, RUBBISH HEAPS AND ABANDONED HOMES OCCASIONALLY SPARK AND BURN, THROWING TRASHY SOOT INTO THE AIR.
BUT IN JUNE WISCHLER'S BACKYARD, THE AIR STILL SMELLS OF BURNING BUT THIS TIME, IT'S THE PECAN WOOD SHE'S USING TO SEASON HER NEW SMOKER.
"We're cooking the pit! We're curing it! That's pecan wood. I've got some ribs and a roast. We like, smoked briskets, we like to do a lot of smoking. We've got all this pecan wood, I don't know if you can see it, it's piled back there, from the tree down the street. We like the smell of it, too. It's all day cooking. When we're working, we don't have time to cook."
ONE THINGS THAT'S CHANGED ON THE WISCHLER'S MENU SINCE THERE RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS IS THE PORK. AFTER FALLING IN LOVE WITH EAST CAROLINA STYLE BARBECUE, WISCHLER'S USING A NEW RECIPE.
"Got a little of that culture coming, bring it on down. That's how New Orleans culture got here. All the food is a culmination of, people cooked what they had, what was available and they put their little touch to it. Their little German twist or you put your little Irish twist, but it was still New Orleans. That's what's different here that you have nowhere else. Well, now I'm going to take a little bit of NC, put it in my Cajun pork. Like I never would have put vinegar in my pork roast, but now I would!"
IN THE SAME WAY, WISCHLER SAYS HER FAMILY HAS STAYED IN TOUCH WITH THEIR WILMINGTON FRIENDS THEY INTEND TO VACATION IN WILMINGTON AND THEIR SON ASPIRES TO ATTEND UNCW. WILMINGTON HAS BECOME A PART OF THEIR NEW ORLEANS' FLAVOR.
MEGAN WILLIAMS, WHQR NEWS