On the westbank of the river is Gretna, where the sheriff stopped people at gunpoint and sent them back across the Mississippi River Bridge as the waters were rising. Two days after Katrina. Some of the people were black.
There were no Negroes in Gretna in 1961.
“Their ilk knows to stay put,” Johnny would say. Momma would make a face, but she would always make me lock the car door when we saw one. My tummy would flutter and I counted the lines in my hand: lifeline, heartline headline.
Back then, the world worked on code. Handsignals everywhere. Gloved gentlewomen gestured for shrimp in avocado boats at Kolb’s; in the Quarter, Satchmo fingered brass, blowing sweaty horn, and on Camp Street downtown Lee Oswald handed out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets.
At school I liked two girls Susie Boudreaux, whose stepfather was Cajun, and Sarah Sheen, who was Jewish. Johnny wouldn’t let me go to their houses but Momma said I could. Neither one ever invited me, and anyway, we lived across the river.
I rode my new blue Schwinn in the newness of Gretna through empty streets, echoing of absent families and unsold lots. The model homes had names like Crestwood, Kingsway and Belle Meade. I counted the houses with people in them: seventeen. There were forty-three empty ones.    Our model was The Royal. There were eleven other Royals. Only three of them had people. Ours had brown trim and a carport.
Gretna was Jack and Jackie in Life on the coffee table, Chubby Checker doing the Twist on the radio and Alan Shepard circling Earth on the Zenith while we were eating gristly Salisbury steak TV dinners with mashed potato and corn on wobbly tray tables.
Once we came home to a moving white carpet. The house was five months old and termites were swarming.
“Call the exterminator,” said Johnny.
“Get out the vacuum,” Momma said.
Too many to count.
Another time, it snowed - a type of snow I’d never seen up north  
- warm, flakes like pillows, which didn’t melt when they touched your skin, but scattered like the puffball stage of dandelions. We wrapped our outside pipes overnight with an electric blanket. Everyone else’s pipes burst, but no one thought the better of us for it.
Heritage Avenue was stuck in with the F’s: Fairlawn, Fielding, Faith. The ballfield is behind the house now but back then, there was just woods. Johnny said don’t go, but I’d leave my bike at the fence and climb into the dark cool of the trees, and one day into death coiled under my foot. I heard that diamondback rattle a dry dusty electric sound that tasted like ozone just before lightning strikes. I felt how it would be, fangs sinking into my leg, and I turned and jumped in one motion and ran faster than ever and I didn’t look back until I was safe and even then I heard that rattle. It rattled twice. I never told.
That one morning started out like every day. We crossed the river, Momma and Johnny parked for work and I took the Canal streetcar to St. Charles, naming the Muse streets along with the conductor - Calliope, Clio, Erato. But in science class, there was a new teacher, Mrs. Dumberton.
“We’re going to do something different, she said. “Starting tomorrow, every one of you will bring in your favorite prayer to read aloud to the whole class. And we'll start the day right.”
Then she looked right at me and said I was first. I felt kind of funny. We didn’t go to church, and we didn’t say any prayers. I spent the rest of class counting the bones in the model dinosaur (seventy-eight).
That night, I asked Momma and Johnny if we had a Bible or anything so I could read a prayer in school for my new science teacher, Mrs. Dumberton.
“No child of mine is going to be forced to pray,” Momma said. “You just tell that mackerel snapper your mother said it’s against the law.”
Johnny didn’t say anything then but later he gave me his old Boy Scout Handbook and said I should pray the Scout’s Oath.
Crossing the Muses - Melpomene, Terpsichore, Euterpe I practiced saying: “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, to obey the Scout Law, to help other people…' And also not saying.
Mrs. Dumberton waited. Smiling with dirty teeth.
I stood up, shaky inside but sure now.
“My momma says it’s against the law for you to make us pray,” I said.
She went pale, and grabbed my arm all the way to the headmaster’s office and made me sit at the little desk in the hall while they whispered inside and then Mrs. D came out alone, not looking at me. I sat there. Then the headmaster came out and said I was excused from praying and so was everyone else.
No one looked at me when I sat back down in class. I counted bones.
But in the girls room, Sarah Sheen came up to me nice as pie.
“That Mrs. Dumb,” she said. “You told her.” And then she asked me to come play after school.
The flood took Sarah’s old house on Feliciana, but God surely did spare Gretna.