Some of my favorite childhood memories come from those vibrant days of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It took over a decade of living in Tallahassee to begin calling it home because my heart was still rooted in New Orleans. I love that city. We lived there when I was little while my dad attended seminary and again when I was in my early adolescent years when he was the minister at First Baptist Church of New Orleans when the church was located on St. Charles Street. I thrived in that city. The people are southern yet there is just a little something extra in them. The food was spectacular as well as the art and music.
The last Mardi Gras I attended was with a friend who was born and raised in NOLA. However, the one I still remember the most was the Mardi Gras right after Katrina. The city had just been devastated by a hurricane that brought a flood. I can still remember the hot tears rolling down my cheeks as we drove through the abandoned homes and businesses. They were still standing, but the massive amount of water that had come through made them inhabitable. We sat at a four-way stop on one of the busiest intersections of town because the traffic signals still weren’t running properly. Yet, the show must go on and the people still had a parade. To them, there is always something to celebrate, that is their spirit. The city isn’t the buildings, but the people.
I have wanted to share that feeling with my daughter ever since she was born. I wanted to show her what the essence of life is about. No, not drinking, like everyone thinks of New Orleans, but the party and to me, those things are not mutually exclusive. I want to impart on her that the party isn’t about the booze, but the excitement. We weren’t able to travel to NOLA this year, but it was time to begin showing her what carnival is all about to me, joy.
I found a fun little parade in Apalachicola, FL, which is about 2 hours away from us. It was a Mardi Gras puppy parade! This was perfect for her! When I told my boyfriend about the parade, he mentioned a Mardi Gras parade in Panama City as well. I said, let’s do both!
When we arrived in Apalachicola, there were dogs everywhere! I knew this was perfect! They had a section of the street overlooking the water blocked off with food and vendors. There were puppies dressed up in a multitude of costumes, as well as their owners. We walked around, saw the sights and she got her face painted. (Later, we realized the face paint was not, in fact, face paint, but what appeared to be acrylic and would not come off!) She had an absolute blast watching the pups walk by! I think she petted over 100 plus dogs! She was in absolute heaven! She had asked me, in all seriousness, before we got there is they were going to through puppies for her to keep! That did not happen, thank goodness. We spent a little over an hour there and left with big smiles and lots of shiny beads! We really could have gone home after that because she was one happy little girl, but why not drive the extra hour to see a bigger parade?
I love driving the back roads of Florida because there are some sights you just won’t see anywhere else. We stopped at a little park to look out over the bay and see a four-headed palm tree, the only one inexistence from what the sign said! We then ate a yummy seafood lunch while watching a storm roll in over the water. I was skeptical that the rain would hold off for the parade and that we would make it one time, but it did hold off and we made it right as the parade was starting!
I will remember that parade for the rest of my life. I will never forget the cuteness of my sweet little girl in a pink Sherpa that was a little too big for her holding her tiny arms out and chasing after beads because Lord knows she didn’t actually catch one of them. We smiled at her until our cheeks hurt. Want beads? Take an adorable, excited little girl and your neck will hurt from having so many. I was pleasantly surprised at the floats and the parade in general. No, it was no Endymion, but it was a good parade! She had a blast! When we were walking back to the truck she told me everyone was SO nice. She was also disappointed that she could not spend her doubloons! The drive was worth her joy and excitement, as well as watching her wiggle her little butt to the music. She gets it. She gets the joy that I want her to know. She dances out of happiness often, if not daily, and that was exactly what I want for her.
We ended the day at Pier Park in Panama City eating ice cream and trying to see the fireworks through the fog. I was so proud of her for being such a trooper and going with the flow. She got to meet a lady dressed up as Mardi Gras. She is now the proud owner of a pink Mardi Gras mask, too. It was truly a wonderful day! I was so glad she got a preview of the holiday her mom loves. Maybe next year we will be able to take her to the best Mardi Gras celebration I have ever seen in NOLA!