Dennis Persica: Memories not always good ones

I broke another one of the blue glasses the other day. I had filled it with soapy water and a few pieces of silverware when a triangular section of it unexpectedly broke off the side, spilling water all over the kitchen counter.

These blue glasses never were a sturdy lot. They were pretty, a light blue infused in the glass that became deeper toward the bottom where the glass thickened. The hue seemed to make a drink of ice water more refreshing and enticing.

But they weren’t sturdy. I guess we bought a dozen of them, and a couple may have broken fairly quickly after that. Every now and then in the intervening years, another one would break. Only two are left now.

I don’t even remember where I bought them. It was one of our first purchases after Katrina, something meant to be permanent, something that would be around long after the effects of that trauma had receded. It was a replacement for the motley collection of second-hand drinking glasses and plastic Mardi Gras cups that people had given us after the storm.

The same thing with silverware: I finally bought a permanent set — two actually — years ago, but I still have a couple of the thin spoons and forks I had bought hurriedly, snagging cheap utensils from a supermarket shelf to replace the plastic knives, forks and spoons we had been using before then. Those old, cheap forks and spoons seem like they were stamped out of sheet metal, with no attempt to prettify them. They were purely utilitarian, and utility was all we needed in the days, weeks and months after the storm.

I still wear a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt I bought at a Wal-Mart — in Raceland, I think — when we spent time nearby with friends just a few days after Katrina struck. I bought it to expand the meager wardrobe I had, the stuff I’d packed with me when we drove out of town that Sunday when the hurricane was coming in.

I can’t remember if a pair of black jeans was a post-Katrina purchase as well, or if I’d had those before the storm and took them with me when I fled. Those are finally showing the wear of time, too, threadbare in places along the legs.

The air mattresses are long gone. The ice chests are kept around mainly for fun times, though they served a more-important purpose last year in the week without electricity after Isaac. Déjà vu. Scary, unwelcome déjà vu.

With the eighth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall coming in just two weeks, we’re seeing more and more of the reminders, both personal and public, fading away.

My dwindling set of blue drinking glasses is a personal reminder that probably will be completely gone in the not-too-distant future, along with the frayed black jeans. On the public level, the once-empty lots that now have houses on them are helping to obliterate the memory of what got washed away.

None of that will be completely erased, of course. Just as my parents never forgot the Great Depression, we who lived through Katrina and its aftermath will never forget those days.

Even the signs of progress — new houses on your street, and new neighbors living in them — also are painful reminders of what had been there before, a community broken apart and scattered like leaves in the wind.

We shouldn’t look back. But we can’t help doing so.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column, he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.