Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's Mardi Gras!

New Orleans has begun the wild festival called Mardi Gras.  To strangers, this bizarre party is merely a hedonistic feast in which we indulge.  It is a time when locals and tourists simply act like fools.  Well, it is and it isn't. . . .

New Orleans is not the only city to hold carnival.  Rio's is reputedly even wilder than ours, but the celebration itself has its roots in ancient ritual and faith.  To the observant, Mardi Gras is the celebration that precedes the holy season of Lent.  I'm not saying we don't indulge--or overindulge--during Mardi Gras.  It is an indulgent time, but it is much more. A whole industry now revolves around Mardi Gras.  Tourists come to celebrate.  Locals party with family and friends.  Some local actually leave town to avoid the madness, but many of us don't hesitate to join in the fun.

We belong to krewes based on our various allegiances or affiliations.  Some of the old line families belong to exclusive clubs that exclude others.  This practice was very controversial a few years back when various groups accused the krewes of discrimination and racism.  Some of these krewes chose to leave the party and no longer parade.  They chose to hold their private balls but not share in the public fun.  Of course, this did not stop the fun.  Other krewes formed in response to the controversy.  Harry Connick Jr. started one that includes locals as well as prominent musicians and artists.  Still other krewes satirize local politics.  What links these people to each other and to New Orleans is the desire to share in the culture and convivial company that  marks Mardi Gras.

My guy loves Mardi Gras, and last weekend, we celebrated like the true followers of Bacchus we are.  We drank beer at the Avenue Pub.  He wore a foolscap while I danced like a teenager.  We'll party this weekend, too, and kick back with the Super Bowl, that great display of American athleticism.  We'll join the party on Mardi Gras Day, but on Wednesday, I'll be at Mass, receiving my ashes.

After Hurricane Katrina, some criticized our celebration.  How could we party after such a terrible time?  Weren't we showing disrespect to those lost in the flood waters?  Well, aside from the economic benefits Mardi Gras brings to the city, the festival was important to our own spirit.  We had to show the nation that we weren't quitters.  We weren't going to walk around in sackcloth, reveling in self-pity.  We were a devastated city, but we rose from the floodwaters triumphant.  The best way to remember the dead is to carry on.  We may have drowned in the water of burst levees, but we did not drown in tears.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Dad and the Dachshund

Whenever I think of my first dog, a little dachshund named Shy (because she was such a shy girl), I think of my father.  My parents had picked her from a litter and given her to me.  I was three and very innocent. (You'll see how gullible in a minute.) They placed the small ball of fur in my arms, and she licked me mercilessly.  I loved her instantly. We slept in the same bed and shared many wet nose kisses.  

My father trained race horses, and my curious little critter loved to visit the stables, walking in and out of the horse stalls.  No one was sure what happened. Maybe she sniffed around a horse's hooves too much and incurred its wrath.  To him, she was probably no more than a pesky mosquito.  At any rate, the horse kicked her.  She was severely injured.  My father raced her to the veterinarian, but she died along the way.  My parents never told me this. My mother didn't know how she'd tell me.  My father said he wouldn't break my heart.

. . . Instead, they devised an elaborate tale.  She was recuperating at the veterinarian's office.  Please remember that I was three, not simply stupid.  She'd eventually come home, my parents assured me.  What I didn't know was that my father was searching for a dog that looked like mine.  He journeyed from one end of New Orleans to another, disappointed with each visit and telling my mother, "They're not like our Shy."  He eventually drove to Baton Rouge and found a dog, somewhat younger, that looked like my lost pup.  My mother told me that my dog would be smaller because she'd lost weight. Like most three year olds, I believed my parents.

I slept with the new pup that night, never thinking she was a different dog.  (She licked me just as much as my first  precious angel.)  Only years later did I realize the ruse my parents had devised, but by then, my daddy was gone.  I never had the opportunity to thank him for his love and his sacrifice.

I can't look at pictures of me with my dachshund without thinking of him.  Lately, my father's image has flashed before me.  Was I patient enough after he'd suffered a stroke and heart attack?  He'd given so much to protect me.

I love you, Daddy.  I miss you.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Grade school

Grade school was the bane of my existence.  All of my life, I have been a quiet person who minded my own business and hated bullies.  Bullies, however, found me.

When my dad was living, we lived in a very exclusive area, and I was enrolled in an "excellent" Catholic school with a bunch of students whose parents were considered upwardly mobile and progressive.  All they were in reality were bigoted white flighters who were raising a bunch of spoiled, privileged brats.  My parents had grown up poor but proud; my father was what they called in the old days "a self-made man."  My mother, God bless her, was anxious for me to have everything she hadn't.  When my mother was a girl, she'd attended Catholic school at St. Joseph's with her siblings for the $1 reduced tuition, not the $3 paid by her more affluent counterparts.  Her dad, a house painter, repaired the church and school's paint job so his children could go to Catholic school, making their sacraments in a timely fashion.  None of my mother's siblings attended the more expensive Catholic high schools.  Such tuition would have been too extravagant.  While my father trained his horses and rented stables, we could pay, and my mother had high hopes for me.  I was to make friends among the New Orleans area affluent and meet all the "right people." Please understand: my mother was no snob, and I loved her more than anything in the world.  However, she'd been fed an untruth by the learned establishment, deluded into thinking that rich people were "classy."  We all found out the ragged truth in a very short time.

Many of the students of this bastion of the established order were witches, bullies, and privileged brats who deserve a place beside Osama bin Laden in hell.  They believed that their proverbial "shit didn't stink" and loved picking on someone whose father trained racehorses.  I hated most of them with a passion, and I soon learned to look upon their misguided superiority with scorn.  To this day, I hate bullies and all they stand for.

Recently, some of these same people friended me on Facebook. They now want to kiss up to me because I've published some books--name droppers to the end.  I was polite with these women.  Unlike them, I'm not a bully or a rude person, but I reminded them of their behavior towards me and other less boisterous and less "affluent" people.  I let them know I didn't want to be reminded of the "good old days." To me, they weren't good. To the new year and erasing bad memories.