We used to refer to it as “Going Mary Alice.”
My stepmother attended one Mardi Gras in her life, in New Orleans as part of a wedding celebration many moons ago.
Born in Yonkers — where locals pronounce it YON-kuhs — Mary Alice stood about half-a-banana shy of 5 feet tall. She could have hit 110 pounds if she were holding a boat anchor. Yet she was one of the gruffest, toughest women I have ever met when she wanted to be. When she didn’t, she was a sweet woman with a gruff accent.
At that one Mardi Gras, she went berserk.
It happens to most, if not every adult who attends their first Mardi Gras parade. Something takes over the senses. Decorum is tossed out the window in a quest for cheap colored beads and, as they say in Louisiana, the arrival of the “spring drink ware collection.”
As Dad told me many times, Mary Alice knocked over children and grandpas. She ascended a ladder to get a height advantage. She risked life, limb and arrest by going over a barrier to get stranded beads. When it ended, “we needed to buy another suitcase to bring all the crap home with us,” Dad said.
Carnival is in full effect with the next two weekends a nearly never-ending parade. Whether on the Gulf Coast, New Orleans or Mobile, Mardi Gras parades will be plentiful and easy to find.
In Jones County, revelers can get their fix on Saturday as the Laurel chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police will again showcase the city’s Mardi Gras parade, which is set to roll at 6 p.m. Proceeds from the parade will benefit projects the FOP undertakes, including the annual Christmas Shop with a Cop program.
The FOP took control of the parade when it was in shambles. Originally, the parade was operated by a group run by a felon and huckster named George Kilgore. As head of the Helping Hands of Mississippi Foundation, Kilgore helped bilk the public out of thousands of dollars, using the community’s generosity as his own piggy bank. He even rigged the charitable portion of the parade, so that the donations would be funneled into the charity he was using to enrich himself.
The Leader-Call exposed the scamming Kilgore. While never facing justice in his charity shenanigans, he is serving an eight-year prison sentence for horrific child abuse and abuse of his ailing wife. He is scheduled to be released in 2022, if the Mississippi Department of Corrections doesn’t swing the door wide open for him with an early release.
Since Kilgore’s involvement ended, the parade has flourished. The parade moved to a night time spot — perfect for a Saturday — and is one of a growing list of popular annual downtown events. It is a special night.
I now am a Mardi Gras regular. My days of going Mary Alice are over. I don’t jostle my way to the railing, preferring to stand back from the crowd. Don’t for a second think that you can’t get throws from such a distance. It just takes a little lagniappe.
Here is my advice for making the most of a Mardi Gras parade.
Pay attention. I once witnessed a young girl getting smacked in the face by an entire box of Moon Pies thrown from a float at a Mobile parade. I have been tattooed in the face with a bag of beads. The pessimist in me believes it is a purposeful act by the thrower. The experience is unpleasant and can be easily avoided by not taking your eyes off the floats
Eye contact. From a parade float, the throngs of people all meld together. It is a blur. As a reveler, try to make eye contact with a rider. Eye contact means throws.
Incorporate a cute kid. OK, this is where nephews and nieces come in really handy. At a parade in Mobile, I had my niece on my shoulders and we were peppered — I mean peppered — with throws. We are not talking cheap beads, but stuffed animals and enough footballs to start a league. My nephew Jacob learned a valuable life lesson that day, when his bead haul paled to that of my niece: cute little girls get more throws than boys ever will. Get used to it!
Make a game out of it. By standing back from the crowd, you can egg on the float riders. Yell, “Throw it deep! Throw it deep!” Many of those on board will try to express their machismo by seeing how far they can throw cups or beads. A special hint is to put your arms in a wide-receiver’s pose to give the float quarterback a target.
Be responsible. Remember, this parade is being conducted by police and their presence will be heavy. Have fun, but don’t let it ruin your experience or those around you.
Keep your shirts on. I will confess — no I won’t — but you can imagine what I might have confessed. It wasn’t pretty.
If Saturday will be your first parade, I realize you will ignore most of the advice above. That is fine. As I love to say, “My advice and $3 will get you a ride on the New York City Subway.”
So go ahead and “Go Mary Alice.” The only ones who will have more fun than you are those watching you.
Sean Murphy is managing editor of the Leader-Call. Email him at email@example.com.