The beginning of The Yellow House: A Memoir takes the reader on a New Orleans map trip to find the house where the author grew up. Like someone beside you on the journey, author Sarah Broom points out landmarks and tells what happened there on the way. Even as the book has barely started, the reader is drawn into her words and feelings, anticipating all that is to come.
Ivory Mae Broom, Sarah’s mother and a central figure in this memoir, bought a shotgun house in 1961 in what she saw as a nice neighborhood of New Orleans East. Postwar optimism and the promise of a NASA plant made the house seem like an opportune investment for her family. Ivory Mae would be married twice to husbands that died, leaving her with the assumption that she was bad luck for those men and the decision to remain a single parent raising their twelve children. The author Sarah, born six months after her father’s death was the last child until the Yellow House took on the role of the thirteenth and most difficult child.
The story is of house and family told with honesty. For instance, in 1994 as her grandmother’s mind faded and her brother got into addiction, “My job was to keep Grandmother inside and to keep our brother Darryl out. Grandmother couldn’t be trusted to know where she belonged. Darryl would connive and steal for crack.” The narrative could be divided into before the Water and after the Water, as she calls Katrina.
In their first view of the yellow house post-Katrina, she says, “Birds were living in our childhood home. When we approached it with its broken-out windows, they flew away, en masse.” Her record of the ensuing attempt for her family and the property to return so some sense of normality, shows the professionalism of the journalist she has become and the heartfelt personal angst of longing for that which no longer exists.
When all is said and done, two of her brothers brag that their official mail addresses still cite the location of the Yellow House although there no longer remains a 4121 Wilson mailbox that she always placed in her childhood drawings of the house. Carl promises to dig a hole and put one up.
This memoir makes personal and authentic a side of New Orleans not often seen by the tourist trade. It gives honest insight into the struggles, successes, and failures of one extended family and of the larger community as it dealt with the Water and its aftermath.