You know those design shows where couples win home makeovers just by submitting a peculiar story? Well, I have a hell of story, and I’ve got the cats to prove it.
One of the things I love most about living in New Orleans is the way that old homes permeate neighborhoods with their aura. Sometimes I make up little stories when I’m biking past a particularly eye catching structure. I’ll construct one-block tales of who lived in it, where they were from, and sometimes I’ll formulate imaginary fodder for horror stories. Then, I turn a corner and do it again.
I’ve always wanted to conduct thorough research on my home. My house has a rich history, one that precedes me living in it. But my own relationship with it certainly adds to the charm. You see, even though I’ve only owned my home for two years, we go way back.
My husband moved down to New Orleans in 2000 and rented this house almost immediately upon arrival. It didn’t have A/C or heat, but he insisted on space heaters and window units. (We have central air and heat now. Thank God.) Our old landlord, Pat, grew up here and it remained in her family for years. We loved this house as if it were our own. When we lived in Phoenix, I’d fondly reminisce, like I was living in a mansion on St. Charles Avenue. Compared to our white-walled, beige-carpeted rental in a standard apartment complex, it was. Suddenly the burdens that come with inhabiting a century-old house became the things we longed for. Dust from crumbling mortar, a draft through the hardwood floors would have been a welcome breeze in the desert.
But what really made our house special were those damn cats. We started off with a momma cat giving birth to six kittens on the front porch. Somehow we (actually my husband’s roommates at the time) got them fixed one by one. Over the years our little brood dwindled down to two, Runty and Tigre. And since our landlord didn’t allow pets, we were happy to feed the ferals. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, and we had to leave our babies. They wouldn’t evacuate with us, so we reluctantly left them. We came back to the house in November 2005 to retrieve our belongings, relieved to not only see our raised house in tact, but the cats were still lingering here. Sadly, we left them again as we packed up our U-Haul and drove away. And not unlike an ex-boyfriend you never got over, I couldn’t stop thinking about those cats.
In December 2009 we were living in the Garden District, again a not-quite-ideal living situation. We crammed ourselves into a tiny apartment, the first one we found when we moved back and lived in it for a year. On a whim, we decided to go to Freret Market after a lazy Saturday brunch at Coulis. Driving past our old stomping grounds, we longingly peered at our old house as we drove past then screeched to a halt when we saw a “For Sale” sign tacked to the side. We got out of the car, peeked through the fence boards and what did we see? Those damn cats. A phone call and the biggest purchase we’ve ever made later, and they’re still here with us today. And they are still as obnoxious and lovable as ever, meowing at the back porch demanding attention, and terrorizing other strays in the neighborhood after 11 years of living here.
Like I said, HGTV, if you want a good story for television, we’re all yours. But be warned, this is Runty and Tigre’s’ house. Everyone else is just living in it.
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.