Don’t tell the Ladies of 70118, but I’m not a New Orleanian. Well, perhaps technically I am, since my biological mother hails from Lakeview, but I was raised in Mississippi, which is a very different place, indeed. In fact, New Orleans is so distinct, so completely unlike my native neck o’ the woods, that my parents were seriously concerned when I moved here a decade and a half ago. They probably would have been fine if I’d chosen to live in Houston or Atlanta or Dallas–even though they’re all significantly bigger cities and much further from my hometown. There’s just something about New Orleans that gives them the willies.
Apart from their general discomfort with New Orleans’ often-fuzzy race/class lines, I think they’re most put off by the city’s Catholic roots. (I’ve never bothered to tell them about the sizeable Jewish community here–I mean, I’m not a sadist.) Not that mom and dad are unfamiliar with Catholicism: there’s a Catholic church in my hometown, but it’s very, very small and easy to ignore. Like most Southerners, when my parents look out their front door, they see only Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and the occasional Lutheran transplant.
For me, however, religion is essentially a non-issue. I haven’t attended church in many years; being raised in a fairly severe Baptist congregation–where questions other than “What time does the Country Club open the Sunday buffet?” weren’t asked–was more than enough to put me and my inquisitive, relatively open mind off religion for a long, long time. And yet…
After living in New Orleans for a number of years, something strange has begun to happen: when ambulances or police cars rush by me, sirens blaring, I have an almost uncontrollable urge to cross myself. When something bad looms on the horizon, I catch myself saying Hail Marys. And I’m inexplicably drawn to the shelves and shelves of saints’ candles every time I drop in Robert’s. What the hell’s going on?
I guess all the cathedrals and holidays have finally sunk in. I guess my boyfriend and his adorable, very Italian Catholic family have finally taken their toll. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve officially gone native.