Mardi Gras: A Delta boy’s real-life education

By BY MARK H. STOWERS FOR THE E-T,

Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!

The celebration began more than 300 years ago – Mardi Gras.

The eventful and historical procession of food, fun, beads and parades has morphed and adapted into the rich traditions that engulf all of New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast.

It is alleged that Mobile, Alabama is where Mardi Gras started. But the music, parades, picnics, floats and excitement are all part of one big, dang skippy fun holiday.

Costumed revelers dress in purple, green and gold and wear the beads of previous parades with hopes of gathering more each year.

Back in February of 1980, I got to experience the celebration from Waveland to New Orleans when I said “yes” after one of my best friends, named after the famous actor Jim Redigo and was the next to last son of the late Dr. and Mrs. A.M. Phillips of Moorhead (whom I was asked to not name and will now refer to as Dwight) asked if I wanted to go to Mardi Gras.

I didn’t drink at the time but somehow thought this trip was a great idea.

We piled into my maroon Chevette and headed south down Highway 49 towards the unknown.

Dwight had cousins on the coast that owned Lil Ray’s Restaurant in Waveland (but Katrina wiped it away).

There are two others both run by family members.) It was a weekend filled with teenagers older than me asking me to buy them beer, lots of crawfish and learning the magic of corn flour for frying, watching lots of teenagers consume beer and experience the sights and sounds that is New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

I didn’t drink at the time. Not sure if that was a good decision or not…lol…

One of our excursions found Dwight and me in the backseat of a late 70s model Ford Mustang going over the nearly 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain bridge. I may have peed in my pants a little  out of fear of the blood alcohol content level of the driver I didn’t know and wondering how I would taste to the alligators that surely were trolling beneath us. After another close call of losing a van sideboard to a concrete bridge en route to a different parade, Dwight took charge and told everyone that “Mark would be doing any and all driving for the remainder of the trip.” So, I did and we all survived my sober Delta driving in the Big Easy and beyond.

We stood in freezing temps yelling for beads that I have no idea what became of. We met a slew of Cajuns and to garner more treasure, Dwight would jump up and push off my back to gain more white boy altitude and catch beads for all of us. He landed on a poor drunk woman’s foot in his Dingo boots and all I heard was her drunken stammer of, “Who’s hitting my toes with a hammer?”

Being in Louisiana, my underage self bought my older brother John a case of Coors you couldn’t purchase in the Magnolia State at the time. We “bootlegged” it home in the backseat and somehow made it through a license check road-block on the way back to the Delta. I hope he enjoyed the beer as I really don’t remember.

I’ve only been once to Mardi Gras but overall it was fun and I’d love to do it again. Just not from the backseat of a Ford Mustang and this time with a little more beer for me.