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!