Sarah M. Broom introduces her hometown, New Orleans East, and her childhood home, 4121 Wilson Avenue. The home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Despite the absence of the house, her brother Carl can still be found there most days after working at his maintenance job at NASA.
New Orleans East exists in utter isolation. The city is not mentioned in most travel books, and most guided tours of New Orleans will not visit the area unless it is to marvel at the hurricane’s destruction.
Broom introduces her maternal grandmother, Amelia “Lolo.” Little is known about Amelia’s family tree—not even the spelling of Amelia’s mother’s name, Rosanna, is certain.
In her adolescence, Lolo lives in a boardinghouse where she meets Sarah McCutcheon, who becomes her chosen mother. Sarah teaches Lolo how to dress and cook, and she places a large emphasis on the beauty of things—clothing as well as food, which always has to be lovingly prepared.
Lolo meets Lionel Soule, a married man who extramaritally fathers her three children: Joseph, Elaine, and Ivory. Lionel remains completely absent from his children’s lives but still provides money to help raise them. Lolo is invested in providing her children with “a childhood she had not had,” putting great care into decorating each house in which they live.
Ivory drops out of high school when she becomes pregnant and marries her childhood friend Edward Webb. Webb is hit and killed by a car while away training for the army. Despite the official death report that describes the incident as accidental, Webb’s community suspects his death was “racially motivated.”
Six months following Webb’s death, Ivory’s third child, Darryl, is born; he is a product of extramarital sex with a man named Simon Broom.
Ivory meets Simon, Sarah Broom’s father, three months before her husband, Edward Webb, dies. She is drawn to Simon’s age: he is nineteen years her senior. They marry in the summer of 1964.
At the age of nineteen, Ivory buys her first house, which will become known as the Yellow House, located in New Orleans East. Broom discusses the emergence of the East and the national buzz it received for its goal of growing the population in New Orleans and bringing financial growth. Despite this buzz, the street and the houses that lined it were not respected or regarded as true homes. Trailer parks and junk lots were starting to take up residence across from the houses, and “The land where the houses stood was always on the verge of being bought up.”
Adding insult to injury, in 1965, Hurricane Betsy tears through New Orleans and deeply affects the already struggling street. The street floods quickly, and the destruction is attributed to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, an “expensive failure” that was meant to create “a more efficient water route that would . . . draw more commercial traffic." The unrestrained waterways breached surrounding levees meant to protect the residential areas. Because New Orleans East was such a neglected area, precautions were not taken to forestall such destruction. Following its decimation by the hurricane, the house that will become known as the Yellow House is rebuilt.
Sarah Broom officially enters the story in part 2. She is born on New Year’s Eve in 1979. Simon Broom dies from a brain aneurism six months after his daughter is born. Broom did not attend her father’s funeral, because, as her mother says, “Nobody wanted to be holding no baby.”
Broom reveals that her real first name is Monique. On her first day of kindergarten, Ivory advises her, “When those people ask your name, tell them Sarah.” Ivory believes the name Sarah will help her better acclimate to a predominately white school.
In 1997, Broom graduates high school and attends the University of North Texas. As a college student, she finally feels at home in her dorm room—this is the first time in her life she does not feel ashamed about her home.
The family flees New Orleans in...
(The entire section is 1,234 words.)