The back screen door always slammed, loud.
No matter how hard you tried not to let it go, no matter how much your mother yelled, it always happened at the home where you were raised. In, slam. Out, slam. It was the music you grew up to, the song of your childhood and, as in “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom, it signified the place where you belonged.
Ivory Mae Webb needed somewhere to raise her children.
She was a mother and a widow in 1961, and living in her mother-in-law’s home wasn’t going to work anymore. With two toddlers and an infant in tow, Ivory Mae spent $3,200 cash on a ramshackle two-bedroom shotgun house on New Orleans’ east side, becoming the first in her family to own a home.
Three years later, the house was renovated and ready for occupancy, but the family had grown by then: Ivory Mae was expecting a second child with her second husband, Simon Broom, who was raising two girls. The Yellow House at 4121 Wilson Avenue bulged with the newlyweds and their newly-blended family of seven children.
After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the house was expanded again — poorly, as it turned out, by Simon, who worked at a nearby NASA facility and who fancied himself a handyman. Still, every bit of work he did was needed: over the years, five more children would join their siblings and every square inch of the house was used, says author Broom, who came along last.
Simon died when she was 6 months old. He never finished the renovations.
Nor did Ivory Mae, whose oldest did occasional fixes on the Yellow House as children moved out and sometimes back. Through the years, the house stood and sometimes sagged, a place where family was comfortable, even if no one else was.
It was home.
And then Katrina hit …
Home is: a spot for sleeping, four walls and a roof, somewhere for your stuff, the place for family, the reason you work. In this book, home is also packed with author Broom’s relatives, and some of them have more than one name. Home is a story that goes farther back in time than you probably need, but it helps you understand that the “The Yellow House” isn’t just a book and that wasn’t just a house.
Inside these pages and those walls, readers will find rooms full of the past in Bloom’s family, of New Orleans, and of its Black residents. They’ll find closets with skeletons inside, and corners full of dirty laundry, neither of which are sensationalized. They’ll find a dusty upstairs jammed with memories. And they’ll witness the kind of easy support that large, loving families enjoy, and it’s really good before things got really bad.
The page count here belies the fact that “The Yellow House” is a big book: big on story, on history, joy, and sorrow. It’s a tale of leaving and coming back home, and for fans of memoir and lovers of place, it’s a slam-dunk.
“The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom, 2019, Grove Press, $26, 304 pages