Maw has her good pearls on so she’s happy — for now — kicking back in her folding chair, glass of Gallo perched high, carried like a royal scepter. She’s the queen of this Mardi Gras parade and no mistaken. No young hands or feet better get in the way of her doubloons.
There’s a break between parades and the neutral ground buzzes with children tossing a caught Frisbee, launching plastic footballs and parents serving up Popeye’s chicken, biscuits and gravy, red beans and rice. A father listens to LSU beat Florida on his transition radio and soon, like mules smelling the barn, other men come trotting over.
Suddenly, blasts from a utility truck can be heard in the distance. Our blood races. We stop our fun and gaze down St. Charles Avenue, hoping for a sign. Parents pull kids together, lecturing them on the dangers of getting too close, college students finish off their beers and all eyes turn uptown.
The utility trucks pass first and we cover our ears from the noise. “Why do they have to be so loud?” Maw Maw says, as she does every year, which makes us laugh and roll our eyes.
Next come the police cars looking official and throwing one bead per block, so we promptly ignore them, then the pot-bellied Shriners stuffed into tiny cars throwing candy all of us grab but none of us want to eat. Maw Maw downs her wine when she spies the royalty float. She stands, poised for action. Everyone gives her space because no matter how satisfied she is with her pearls, gleaned from last year’s Iris parade, she will fight to catch much more.
“Y’all don’t get under my feet,” she warns us. She points to the young kids to her right, two confident boys primed for action. “That goes for you all too.” The boys stare back in a combination of defiance and respect.
I smell the earthy richness of the towering live oak trees and a distant barbecue, catch a whiff of my street neighbor’s beer as he saunters by and belches. Everyone’s yelling now as the float draws near. Not far behind a marching band performs a pop song. I vaguely catch the float’s name, am even less interested in the parade’s theme. All my attention focuses on catching my bounty.
Maw Maw, I notice as I glance to the side, is already in possession of a long strand of pearls.