Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras

Jeanne got me to thinking about Mardi Gras today. Not the Mardi Gras that you see on TV, not New Orleans. But small town Louisiana Mardi Gras celebrations. I had a weekend condo on the river in New Roads, about 30 minutes west of Baton Rouge. Mardi Gras Day in New Roads was a blast! There was a morning parade, and then an afternoon parade. Tens of thousands of people would crowd into this small town, bands, food booths, lots of activities for the kids, lots of kegs for the adults. One minute you'd be walking around and enjoying the people, and the next minute you'd find yourself dancing in the street with a perfect stranger!

Lafayette, in the heart of Acadiana, is famous for its Cajun heritage festivals, and Mardi Gras is just another day to celebrate! More Cajun music than jazz, more college kids, louder, more rambunctious, fabulous food. Mamou, Abbeville, Houma, Plaquemine, Crowley, all small towns with wonderful Mardi Gras parades and celebrations. "Throw me something, mister!" The kids all eagerly lined up at the parade route to catch a cheap chain of plastic beads and some "gold" dabloons. Those prizes would be treasured for years and years, and almost always ended up hanging off of their bedroom doorknobs or off their dresser mirrors! Getting big enough to catch Mardi Gras beads was a rite of passage in South Louisiana!!

Living in Southwest Louisiana, we didn't have a Mardi Gras parade handy, but other traditions took its place. Mom and my aunt, DeeDee, would start cooking about a week beforehand, and Mardi Gras Day was open house at the Fontenots. The dining room table was spread with steaming bowls of crawfish bisque, etoufee, huge pots of gumbo, jambalaya, turtle sauce piquante. DeeDee was known far and wide for her baked goods and candy. There would be three or four layer cakes, pecan pies, lemon bars, and trays of pralines. Oh, and the fried chicken! That woman could make a grown man cry for her fried chicken! Daddy would make cornbread and homemade biscuits - and on the sidebar would be jars of fig preserves, homemade blackberry jam, mayhaw jelly, and tubs of homemade butter!

I remember one Mardi Gras when I was about seven or eight years old, very late in the afternoon Daddy saw me sitting away from the other kids in the back yard. He walked over and sat down next to me. "What's the matter, bebe? You okay?" I remember turning to him and saying, "Daddy, this is almost the best Mardi Gras ever!" He smiled and said, "Bebe, what could have made it any better?" He chuckled to the day he died over my reply. "Watermelon, Daddy. If we'd have just had some watermelon!" I honest to goodness don't know how he did it, but the next year we had watermelon at Mardi Gras!

And his famous (or infamous) line came from one of those Mardi Gras celebrations. Some visitors stayed very late - and everyone knew that Mardi Gras celebrations ended at midnight sharp! Midnight marked the beginning of Lent. Well, those folks just sat and talked and sat and talked ....... Dad totally mortified my Mom by standing up at 12:05 a.m. and announcing to the guests, "Come on, Minnie, let's go to bed. These people want to go home."

I'm so homesick, and I miss life in a small town. But I smiled a bunch today thinking about my family, almost all gone now, and my roots! I can't imagine a better way to grow up. I truly can't.

Laissez les bontemps rouller.

Happy Mardi Gras!


JudyL said...

Vicky, the description of the food made me re-check my count on the days til I go home. What I wouldn't give for a good bowl of bisque! Mom makes a great bisque but she doesn't like to make it. I have to beg . . maybe it's time to start begging.

Watermelon at Mardi Gras? That's almost a miracle!

I keep thinking one of these days while you're naming family and friends from LA, there's going to be a name I recognize but . . not yet!

We were Baptist so we didn't do a big deal at Mardi Gras but most of my friends were Catholic and though I never quite understood it all as a kid, I was surely happy to end up at their homes the day before Lent!

Thanks for the memories.

Judy L.

Vicky said...

Bobby Clark?

Jeanne said...

What beautiful memories!
We've enjoyed some wonderful vacations in New Orelans.

Laurie Ann said...

Thanks for sharing your memories. I think next year I'll have to celebrate Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday! Your family sounds like they were/are great!

The Calico Cat said...

Thanks for sharing your memory... My only memory of Mardi Gras is that girl in my school cam in with the beads and I wanted them soooooo bad! (We lived in south Texas at the time.)

Patti said...

Thank you so much for sharing your memories Vicky. I learned a lot! It constantly amazes me how little we Americans know about areas of the country apart from where we've lived - especially those who've lived in one town and/or state their entire life. I had no idea Mardi Gras was celebrated outside of New Orleans! As soon as I started reading your post I immediately thought "Duh! What a silly thing to think!" I guess I'd just never thought about it before - always associating the celebration with the city. Of course it really has nothing to do with the city and everything to with religious beliefs, celebrations, and the beginning of Lent. What a feast you describe! Of course we can get watermelon year around now if we are willing to pay the price, but I bet it was a lot harder for your dad to find it.

cher said...

loved the great tales of what Mardi Gras was like for you...sure did not celebrate that when I was young! What a loving family you were part of.

Linda_J said...

let the good times roll! One of our quilt group member's was from Louisiana--near Baton Rouge. Loved to dance and have fun. Great cook too. She moved to NM recently and we miss her like crazy.