Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy

It’s known in our family as “Going Mary Alice.”

The lunacy of a first-time Mardi Gras reveler. Surely you’ve seen something similar.

But first, a bit about Mary Alice.

She was small in stature but mighty in her attitude. A native of the New York City suburb of Yonkers — pronounced in Yankee-land YAHN-kahs. She stood only about 5-feet tall, had two children and married my father years after his first marriage ended.

Her cursing fits would make sailors blush. On her first trip to Hattiesburg to visit my brother and me at Southern Miss, we had a huge house party. It was raucous, went deep into the night and had enough beer to make sailors drown.

She partied like she was 20 — and it caught up to her the next morning. 

The phone rang once, she ignored it. It rang again and she grumpily answered it with her head swirling in a post-party malaise. By the time I called her hotel room, she had had it.

She answered the phone, “What is this, f*&^%ing Grand Central Station!”

I cowered.

She brought that salty, feisty attitude to her first Mardi Gras in New Orleans — and the city has yet to recover.

Mardi Gras is March 5, but the celebrations have been in full effect since early January, when 12th Night officially kicked off the celebration. 

Ellisville will celebrate its first Mardi Gras parade on Saturday and Laurel will host its annual Mardi Gras parade on March 2. While those will be scaled-down versions of what takes place in Mobile and in South Louisiana, they will be exciting and fun nonetheless.

There is something about people tossing trinkets, beads, heads of cabbage and Moon Pies (a Mobile tradition) that sends people into hysterics. The beads are cheaply made and can be bought online for pennies. It’s the pursuit, though, that sends people bonkers.

It is akin to catching a foul ball at a baseball game. Anyone with $20 can buy a Major League baseball, but people will dive down four rows of seats, drop a $12 beer, knock over three children and a nun to secure a foul ball at the old ballpark. 

So what is it that sends people over the edge?

“They went Mary Alice.”

Years after that first visit to Hattiesburg, she and my dad were in New Orleans with friends celebrating Mardi Gras. They were staying at a nice St. Charles Avenue hotel with a front-row perch for the parades and the most coveted of all things — bathroom access.

They lined St. Charles as the parade rolled and she lost it. She threw elbows as if in a mixed martial arts match. She cursed and banged and batted her way to beads. She commandeered a nearby ladder — I mean, no one would ever tell her no — and her 5-foot frame now stood 9 feet tall.

She rocked and rolled as dad tried to hold the ladder steady. She never did what some women in the French Quarter do to get beads, but that is probably the only thing she didn’t do.

When it ended, she had fought and clawed her way into hundreds of pounds of beads, which she and dad hauled back to New York in a set of extra luggage they needed to buy.

She never went back.

Many moons later, in Mobile, my sister — the most normal, educated of the bunch — stood along the parade route in Mobile. Small in stature but strong and feisty, she battled with the masses to snag beads much in the same way Mary Alice had — minus the flurry of F-bombs.

At a break in the parade, there she went over a barricade going after a crushed Moon Pie! 

“Lori, you could get arrested for that,” brother Dan, who lived in Mobile, said. 

She didn’t care. She grabbed a plastic football for her son and a stuffed animal for her daughter before vaulting back over the barricade.

She had gone Mary Alice.

As parades increase in frequency over the next three weeks, veterans should keep an eye out for the rookies. Watch how something just overtakes their minds and bodies. Watch the lengths to which they will go to snag cheap Chinese-made trinkets. Watch how many “Go Mary Alice.” It is priceless.

And what ever became of the hundreds of pounds of beads?They remained in the new luggage safe and sound in the attic of the home Dad and Mary Alice shared in New York.

That is, until we brought Mardi Gras to Peekskill a couple years later for the annual St. Patrick’s Parade in March.

Parades in our home town consisted of lots of fire trucks, marching bands, youth athletic teams, bagpipes and not much more. Floats? No indeed. Throws? Hardly.

When Dad was selected grand marshal of the local parade, we marched alongside him, but not before digging deep into the great Mary Alice stash of beads and removing every green bead we could find. We walked in that parade tossing Mardi Gras beads to onlookers, who were stunned.

Many asked how much we were “selling those necklaces for.” Others took a strand of beads to the noggin — another Mardi Gras right of passage. And even more — yes, you guessed it — went Mary Alice.

Mardi Gras had finally made it to New York, albeit a month late and about 30 floats short. 

See you Saturday in Ellisville at 6 p.m., and then again on March 2 in Laurel, also at 6. Have fun, keep it classy and it is OK if you, too, go Mary Alice for a few hours. Once it hits, it is uncontainable.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Sean Murphy is editor of the Leader-Call. Email him at murph@leader-call.com.

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