Hunting unsuccessfully for a column idea on Friday, I stuck my hands into the pocket of my winter jacket.
I pulled something out of the left pocket. It was a purple, green and gold Koozie that said, “Happy Mardi Gras.”
I must have caught it at a parade last year, and it sat in my jacket for a whole year, waiting to cheer me up.
As this weekend is the Covid-19 version of Mardi Gras — meaning it’s been cancelled in New Orleans — it’s the perfect time to tell a few stories about my favorite holiday.
The best place to start is the beginning. I spent my first seven years in the Midwest, where my dad worked for General Motors. He and my mother were both from New Orleans, so when he retired in 1969, they headed home.
It was an excellent decision, and on Jan. 31, 1970, my mother set my life on its path when she took me to my first Mardi Gras parade.
She and I watched the Krewe of Helios on Metairie Road. I was 8 years old and remember only two things about that day: There were a couple of hippie-looking biker dudes on motorcyles nearby, and I caught eight pair of beads at the parade.
Eight beads seems pretty slim by today’s standards, but it was my first parade, right? And back then the riders were more restrained; the streets on a parade route were not littered with unwanted throws the way they are today.
The idea of catching free gifts (useful for only two weeks a year) was fascinating and exciting. As an adult I have watched many children at their first parade go through the same emotions as I did.
Even better was when my father-in-law, the late Dewitt Smylie of Amite County, told me in the 1990s that he wanted to go to a parade with his three grandchildren. He was curious to see what the fuss was all about.
So Pawpaw went with us to the Thursday night parades. He stayed way in the back, just watching everything. He must have enjoyed it because he went again the following year. Each time we ate at Camellia Grill afterward. Those are wonderful memories.
My mother gets the credit for giving me the Carnival bug. She loved parades, and I’m sure she got that from her mother.
One time in the 1940s, the king of a parade waved his scepter a little too enthusiastically. It flew out of his hand and landed at my grandmother’s feet. She picked it up and handed it back up the float as the king blew her kisses profusely.
There are a million more stories I could bore you with. Fun things happen when you do five days and nights of parades each year.
A couple of people, aware that I go to New Orleans each year, have asked me if I’m OK since everything got cancelled this year. Generally, the answer is yes, although I figured out a few days ago that this would be the first Mardi Gras that I’ve missed in 38 years — since 1983, my last year in college.
Since that first parade in 1970, the only four years I missed were 1980 through 1983. A New Orleans police strike in 1979, my high school senior year, cancelled parades in the city. I recall being extremely agitated about it.
I also remember my first parade back, on Saturday, Feb. 25, 1984. It was the Krewe of Caesar on Veterans Boulevard in Jefferson Parish.
I was in my first year at the Enterprise-Journal and rushed through my assignments for the Sunday paper so I could get on the road. I met some friends on Veterans and was so happy to be at a parade again.
Maybe it’s time for a break. The last year has been tough for all businesses, and this one is no exception. Let’s just say I’m not bored, especially as our transition to a new print + online format intensifies.
I now believe that God sent several days of cold, rainy and possibly icy weather this way to make it easier for the parade junkies who feel a void in their lives. The parades might have been rained out anyway, so we can blame the weather instead of the pandemic. I won’t complain about being indoors for the next few days.
But in all honesty, if they were rolling, I would risk my wife’s wrath. I would have gone to Napoleon Avenue last night to see my son and brother ride Babylon, and then to St. Charles Avenue on Friday through Monday.
The best thing is that my kids would have been right there with me. My mother and grandmother would be so pleased. I raised them right!