Our pastor gave up on preaching about the evils of attending parades named Bacchus, Zeus, and Endymion. He told us to come to church and then enjoy the fun of New Orleans! Sometimes we even opened our church for snacks and bathroom stops.
A kaleidoscope of senses, the beauty and scents around St Charles Avenue enveloped us--the rich green grass, huge, stately oaks draping their branches just above the ground, pink azaleas in full bloom, and handsome homes with well-manicured lawns and gardens.
My dad would always drop us off with our belongings--paper bags for holding the loot, an icebox filled with sandwiches and water, and usually a ladder and maybe a lawn chair if we were lucky enough to own one at the time. Then he would expertly navigate the narrow, car-filled streets until he found a parking space to squeeze in--almost always under a shade tree since we did not own a car with air conditioning.
Then it was time to watch and wait. Just watching the people lining up around us was fun enough. Someone was always dressed in a ridiculous costume and the green, gold and purple mardi gras colors abounded. Since we watched the parades in the "family friendly" areas, we felt safe, and although the beer flowed freely, not too many people over-imbibed.
Finally, the parade would start. I liked the marching bands the best with their syncopated dances. Next would come the prancing, well-groomed horses with their masked riders dressed like royalty. My dad became an expert at whispering in the ears of one of these krewe members and gaining a doubloon for my mom. Then the decorated floats rolled slowly by carrying the krewe and the beautiful girls chosen to be queens and maidens for the day.
The members of the floats tossed glass or plastic beads, toys, stuffed animals and doubloons to the eager, shouting crowds. Aggressive and eager, my mother expertly grabbed beads and stomped on doubloons. Sometimes the competition was stiff and the beads would shatter--this was before the cheap glued plastic beads tossed today.
One time, I remember us going to a parade after church. Mama was in her high heels and carrying my baby brother Nathan at the time. She managed to step on a doubloon, her favorite item to catch, and she considered it hers. Some guy tried to pry her foot up and take it, but she determinedly remained balanced keeping her foot on the ground and hanging on to my brother. Finally, he gave up enough that one of us--Aaron, I think, was able to snag it for her.
Tired after a very long day of parade watching, we would begin the long walk to the car with all our belongings. Once we made it home, we would go through our loot and select our favorite items to play with. A few days later, my brothers and I would pull out the beads and play Mardi Gras by standing on my brothers' twin beds. That usually didn't last long because my parents didn't allow us to jump on the beds!
My mother saved most everything we caught and figured out something to do with it. The glass and quality beads were melted into Christmas ornaments. She sold some of the stuff back to the Mardi-Gras krewes for the next year. After having grandkids, mama kept boxes of goodies under beds and in closets for the children to play with. My handicapped daughter Bethany still likes swinging the beads.
So on this Shrove Tuesday, I wish I were there! Laissez les bons temps rouler!