I’ve been living in Mobile, Alabama for ten years now. My husband and I would come down annually for a work conference and I always loved the city with its majestic live oaks lining Government Street, its glorious architecture which runs from the majestic Greek Revival Oakleigh Mansion to the quaint Creole Cottage and everything in between, and its proximity to Dauphin Island and New Orleans.
We happened to move here on Mobile’s Tricentennial and a friend’s going away gift was the book, Mobile:The New History of Alabama’s First City. ed Michael V.R. Thomason
I quickly learned of the history of Mobile. It’s establishment in 1702. The fact the it has the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country. (Yes, NOLA has the biggest, but Mobile boasts of the oldest!) The history of Africatown where the slaves of the Clotilde settled after the Civil War ended (six years after their illegal arrival in Mobile) and built a town based on their Tarkar (West African) traditions, fascinated me. It’s rich tradition in the sports world with five Hall of Fame inductees (Hank Aaron, Satchell Paige, Willie McCovey,Ozzie Smith, Billy Williams).
What I wasn’t prepared for was the real emphasis of Mardi Gras.
First, to me Mardi Gras was Fat Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday. The day you get to eat rich food. I had attended Shrove Tuesday pancake dinners before, so I got the jest of it. Eat the rich stuff and give up something you love for Lent.
So my very first Mardi Gras really took me by surprise.
Just after Christmas, I went into the grocery store to buy anything but turkey, ham, and pie. To my surprise, there stood a huge tree decorated with green, gold and purple beads, jesters, balls, all kinds of shiny ornaments. It was sublime – it was gorgeous – it was mystic. It was just the excuse I needed to put off taking down my Christmas tree.
So I asked the cashier, “Is there a place in town to buy Mardi Gras decorations?”
“Well,” she said, cautiously, “you could go to Toomey’s, but if you go to the parades you could probably get all you want for free.”
Maybe I should check into this Mardi Gras thing with a little more investigation. I had been so busy unpacking and getting ready for Christmas, I had neglected to really notice what was going on around me.
Sure enough as I drove home, I began to really notice houses with purple, green and gold wreaths on the doors, mailboxes that had been changed from red, green and gold, to purple, green and gold, cars with their rear-view mirrors dangling with beads.
This was great!
I hurried to Toomey’s. And there I found a Mardi Gras haven. Whole crates of beads, boas, cartons of moon pies, flashing beads, naughty beads, umbrellas, hats, the list was endless. If it could be glittered and sparkled and painted green, gold and purple, you could find it at Toomey’s.
So I, of course, bought a wreath for the door. Several jesters. Beads for the tree. And enough moon pies to put me in a diabetic coma.Then I started a tradition that lasts today. I went home, threw bags of beads at the Christmas tree, exchanged the Christmas wreath for a Mardi Gras one, and called up all my poor, deprived relatives and invited them down for the weekend before Mardi Gras.
So now on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, whoever can make it comes to Mobile for the Mystics of Time parade, some Moon Pies in every conceivable flavor and of course, that wonderful King Cake. We’ve added grand kids to the mix and it just gets better every year.