Almost every Orleanian knows somebody who came to town for Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest or another local celebration — and stayed here. One of my former co-workers met his cute wife, in from Dallas with a bunch of girlfriends, on a Bacchus parade route, and 30something years and two kids later she’s still in love with her adopted city — and him, too, I hope.
When the age of the personal computer dawned and it became possible for folks to pursue their careers from wherever they chose, some of them chose New Orleans. While writing stories 10 or so years ago for Preservation in Print, I interviewed a dozen from all over the country who were living in and fixing up homes in our historic districts. One told me, “I like the idea that you can dance in the streets here when you’re 90 and nobody thinks it’s odd at all.”
But hospitable as we are, not all newcomers are welcome. Last night my husband and I were forced to flee a passel of them, retreating into the dim sanctuary of our bedroom at the unusual hour of 8:30 p.m. I have no doubt they’ll show up again tonight, and even though we’ll discourage a repeat visit by turning off all our lights, as soon as we flip even one switch to illuminate progress to the kitchen or bathroom, these pests will demand our attention again. Last night I saw them across the way, doing a twirly dance around a street light, waiting for us to invite them in.
I’m talking about Formosan termites, nicknamed the super-termite because of its large colonies and destructive habits. These visitors-turned-usually-underground residents of our city have been transported worldwide from their native range in south China. Last century, after moving to Formosa (Taiwan), where they got their name, they became established in South Africa, Hawaii and the continental U.S.
And, wouldn’t you know, these termites just love the South, where they’ve been found in Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, rarely venturing north of 35 degrees north latitude.
In addition to Dixieland, they do like southern California, though, but I don’t guess the San Francisco area sees much of them. I was amazed years ago on a first visit to the Bay area to find that the friends we were visiting didn’t even need screens on their windows. Can you imagine Louisiana without its hordes of flying insects?
Anyhow, I spotted last night’s swarm of termites on our back porch and quickly retreated to my reading chair inside, only to have them start cavorting through my hair and crawling up inside my t-shirt right there in the living room. I hollered for my husband and he surveyed the whole house, even pulling down the door to our attic, which was filled with the critters. I sealed myself in the bedroom, finishing up a novel on my e-reader by its measly little light.
I told my sister about it on the phone this morning. She lives in Moundville, Ala., and reported that they’re having their own swarms there. She said that while breakfasting at the kitchen table she spotted a dark film on a nearby window sill and reached over to brush it off. Imagine her surprise when part of the sill collapsed under her hand. According to Wikipedia, one colony of these hungry insects can eat 13 ounces of wood a day.
What does all this have to do with us seniors? Nothing especially, except that many of us are pretty easily aggravated, and having to hide out in your own home will do it.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living Section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.