Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Throw me something, mister!"

The date is a Tuesday in mid-February1948. The place is Palmetto Street in New Orleans, 8326 Palmetto Street, to be exact, in an upstairs apartment, which might be considered almost ghetto quality today. At that time, it was in an almost new building, having been built probably in 1945. I think it was new when the family moved to New Orleans from Mobile that year. There’s excitement in all four apartments and in all of the apartment buildings in the neighborhood. In fact, there’s excitement all over the Crescent City. It’s Mardi Gras!

The family in the apartment, the Cheathams—Nina, Arlie, and their third-grade daughter Sandy—are up early so that they can get ready for the trip downtown. They eat a quick breakfast and head down to the first car that Sandy remembers, a big, bungling, grayish-brown, second-hand Packard from an earlier year, probably sometime in the '30s. Their destination is Canal Street, the main thoroughfare for the famous Rex parade. Some people dress up in costumes for the parade even though they’re not participants. It’s just part of the festivities to be someone else for the day. But Sandy doesn’t do this. She’s a shy child, and regular clothes will do. It’s a bit chilly out, so she wears blue jeans and a jacket, something comfortable and borderline ladylike because she’ll climb up on her daddy’s shoulders to watch the parade.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic and streetcars filled to overflowing with parade goers are the norm. A festive, party spirit is everywhere . . . even in traffic. After Arlie parks the car on a side street (no parking meters in those days . . . just find a place where your car fits, and park), the three walk several blocks to Canal Street and find a good spot, a spot where Sandy can catch lots of things that the people on floats throw.

They can hear the parade coming before they see it because the wave of voices and music swells as the marchers and floats get closer and closer. Sandy is on her daddy’s shoulders now and can see everything—the bands from local high schools in their flashy uniforms, the floats with streamers and flowers and ladies in gorgeous costumes, the policemen on horseback keeping the crowds back. She hears the shouts of adults as they recognize neighbors riding on the floats . . . but most of all the cries of children either crowded around their parents’ knees or up on those special Mardi Gras shoulders of their dads, and she joins right in, “Throw me something, mister!” And throw things they do . . . beads, other trinkets, candy, and the always-present moon pies. The most popular children at school on Wednesday will be the ones with the most beads!

After a lunch of hot dogs purchased from a vendor with a cart, the tired little family heads home, where they’ll re-live the day, count the beads, and head for bed. After all, Sandy has to be on her way to Judah P. Benjamin School early the next morning.

1 comment:

Candy said...

Sandy, what a great memory and--since I lived in New Orleans for first and second grades it stirred similar memories for me! We lived on Magazine Street in a an old antebellum style home that had been converted to apartments shotgun style. I still have family there and I always wanted to visit at Mardi Gras with the boys when they were young but it just never happened. Thanks for sharing!!