Mardi Gras of my youth
Even before I knew what it meant, I can remember celebrating Mardi Gras. It was a special day for us South Louisiana Cajuns.
Most communities had their own way of celebrate Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of the Lenten season. Large communities like New Orleans and Lafayette held a carnival with hundreds of costumed children, clowns, ballerinas, large parades and lots of fanfare. Few of us rural people ever attended those festivals. For the country folks, the day began in the early morning with masked horseback riders going through the countryside collecting chickens for gumbo to be enjoyed later in the day. At the gathering, the country gentlemen always came with their finest horses and often left with a horse’s tail cut off. These same boys were responsible for putting red pepper on the dance floor. Drove all the “partiers” noses crazy. The boys would hide and roll with laughter. As usual, the adults were well juiced in the spirits and having a great time.
I recall one Mardi Gras incident that was somewhat sad. While the gumbo was being brewed in the chimney and fiddlin’, accordion music played as the grownups danced, this big fat cat lay sleeping in the corner. A few jokesters took the poor thing and put him in the big iron pot. Of course, the cat immediately died. When everyone felt hungry, they discovered many hairs in the chicken sauce. The Mardi Grasers went home with empty stomachs.
Many stories could be told about the pranks pulled by the older boys and young men.
The celebrating of this day is a Cajun tradition. Schools close and businesses come to a halt. Mardi Gras is instilled in the heart of anyone who ever took part in the celebration. Lent began the next day and for 40 days we Catholic kids took part in many religious ceremonies beginning with Ash Wednesday and continuing through Easter. Many of our days and nights were spent in worship at Mary Magdelene Church in Abbeville.
Cajuns, a fun loving people, were extremely serious about their religion – no dancing, drinking or partying in any form during Lent.
Some days were also often meatless. We were let out of school to attend The Ways of The Cross. Attending the old traditional Catholic services always spiritually moved this Cajun kid. So moved, in fact, that I almost dedicated my life to the priesthood. My life took a completely different turn, however, that even today I carry with me a strong feeling for Christianity. It was strongly instilled in me as a lad. Even though my life has drifted in many directions, one thing I never lost is my belief in God. The Lenten season of many years ago is deeply embedded in me. Two things a Cajun kid was made to do was respect his elders and attend Christian services. The upbringing and guiding hand of tough discipline often surfaces to make me right my course. Righteousness so pounded into the offspring of a Cajun, that even today, time or even grandma’s lye soap couldn’t wash it away.