One’s first parade celebrating Mardi Gras has all the necessary elements of a Jazz Age novel: the raucous crowd, sex-infused music, rivers of alcohol, and scantily clad women. Or, at least, that was my experience. That first parade, the Friday night Krewe of Lafitte parade in Pensacola, found me dressed for a ball among a crowd of friends trying to stay warm on Palafox Street. We were helped occasionally in our quest for warmth by a flask or two tucked discreetly in a coat jacket. Having never seen a Mardi Gras parade I was unprepared for the sound, color, and sheer spectacle that this procession brought to the people excitedly hugging the barriers. More than the slow warmth brought on by my favorite bourbon, this fervor kept me toasty throughout the event.
We waited anxiously for the parade to roll, finally hearing the cannon that signaled it had begun. Police on motorcycles were first, followed by the kings, queens, and grand marshals. Then the real floats began: pirate ships, tribal canoes, an octopus, and more; each one seemed more intricate than the last.
As each float rolled by, strung with lights and blasting music, I became infected by the bead fever that was sweeping through the crowd. Before long I was catching trinkets left, right, and behind me as Krewe after Krewe flung their treasure to an adoring public. The people screamed, the Krewe members smiled, shrugged, twirled, and laughed as they encouraged the noisy crowd.
Already weighted down with a mass of beads I became entranced by one particular bead being coyly offered via a Lafitte brigand. The pirate flirted shamelessly with the crowd for what seemed like hours before winking at me, me! , and tossing it into my waiting arms. I gleefully added the strand to my booty. After an exhilarating hour of this coquetting, catching and throwing, the parade was finally coming to an end; not a moment to soon for my overburdened neck.
I had collected what seemed like thirty pounds of beads and like any newbie, decided that I simply must wear every single strand. I struggled to keep up with my party as we headed back to rendezvous with the shuttle that would return us to the Civic Center for the Lafitte Ball. After waiting for what seemed like ages, we learned from a passerby that the shuttles were out of commission and we would need to make our own way back.
Not waiting to see if this were true, we, banking on the combination of Mardi Gras camaraderie and that special attention young women can command, flagged down an antique fire truck that had been in the parade moments before. Quickly realizing our need for transportation, our knights in a red Ford gallantly offered to drive our entire party to the ball. We piled in, our spirits high at this fortunate turn of events and settled in for the five minute ride to my first Krewe ball.
I’m sure I didn’t imagine the envious looks we received when our ride pulled up to the curb, disgorging the lot of us in a flurry of taffeta, netting, and heels. We kindly thanked our heroes, straightened our skirts and headed through the magic doors.
Before we even made it to the bar, I realized my poor neck and shoulders could take no more of the bead weight bearing them down. Not realizing what a tangle a case of beads can become I attempted to pull them off strand by strand until a friend, our Mardi Gras guru, came to my rescue. She showed me how to lift off the whole pile and then paw through looking for any special beads you might want to wear.
Looking through my treasure I discovered not one, but two amazing things. I had caught two "good” beads; what I now know are specialty beads. One an Asian themed strand featured a little boy and little girl in traditional dress with a medallion dead center bearing the year. My second prize was a traditional Mardi Gras themed strand with the masks, jester’s hat, and doubloons. Even my veteran friend was jealous as we realized what I had managed to cajole out of the floaters that evening.
In the years that have followed I’ve yet to replicate that level of success at a single parade. Every season I’ve managed to catch at least one good bead, although as I float more and watch less, I’m sure that will come to an end. Despite dozens of Mardi Gras memories, none have managed to replace the awesome feeling that came from catching that first specialty bead and realizing that for a brief moment of the parade I had been singled out to receive such awesome treasure.
By Candis Calvert
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