Looking at all the celebrations going on during this Mardi Gras season, it brings me back to my childhood in Elton, Louisiana. Elton is located some 100 miles from Baton Rouge and some 35 miles from Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana. At the time when I was growing up, there may have been close to 3000 people. Since then, the population has diminished to around 1100. The thriving downtown with furniture and clothes stores, a movie house, and drive-in restaurant is long gone. Mardi Gras was celebrated a little differently than it is today.
I may have been 11 or 12 years old when I started celebrating Mardi Gras with my friends. There was a parade formed by men who had tractors and pulled trailers filled with hay. Being a farming community, there were a lot of them around. These hay-filled trailers carried riders who went through town howling and singing. People rode on these so-called country floats, but there were no beads and trinkets that were thrown like in New Orleans. Like the old Cajun French would say, everyone just went to “pass a good time.”
Mardi Gras day was very exciting, especially if you were a child. We would look at that day as an extra Halloween. We would put on our costumes, which were normally made by our parents, or you could even wear your left-over Halloween mask. Some kids would paint their faces in different colors. Once we got dressed, we could start and the fun part. Unlike Halloween, it was celebrated during the day light hours.
Throw Me Something Mister!
Normally, 3 or 4 of us would join together and go from house to house in search of some goodies. One of us would knock on the door, and the other 3 would stay in the yard. Once the people of the house would answer the door, we would say, “Throw me something, mister!” like they do at parades today. The homeowner throw candy or fruit to us, the masqueraders, and some even threw money. But, before they threw anything to us, we had to earn it. We had to jump around in a silly dance.
Living in a small town, there were quite a lot of homes to go to because just about everyone participated in the fun. The way we celebrated Mardi Gras in Elton was different from today’s celebration because the masqueraders who received the treats. The celebration took the better part of the day. It was a day that the young people could have clean, safe fun, and the parents didn’t have to worry about them as things were pretty safe back then.
Toto Mardi Gras!
There was a saying that we used if someone asked us where we were going. We’d reply, “Toto the Mardi Gras,” as if our made-up faces didn’t make it obvious. To this day, I have no idea what that means, but since all the other kids were saying it, I did too. There was no king cake for us, and the color combination of purple, gold and green was unknown to me until I moved to Baton Rouge. Purple symbolizes justice, gold symbolizes power, and green symbolizes faith.
Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler
Mardi Gras in the 1950s was a fun time for the young and old alike. My parents didn’t drink alcohol, but who knows what the other adults did. It was a plain and simple celebration, and like they say in south Louisiana, “Laissez le bon temps rouler,” or, “Let the good times roll.” Life was simple back then. Just remember, that whatever way you celebrate the holiday this week, be safe and have fun.