Sunday, February 7, 2021

Death in the Time of COVID-19

It doesn’t get easier—saying good-bye to those you love.  You think once this pandemic is over, you will emerge from virtual hibernation, and the world as you knew it will still be there.  But, of course, it won’t be.  Time marches on, nothing will be the same.  Favorite restaurants have folded, stores have closed, live events have gone by the wayside, and people have died. 

Four people I loved died in the last six months, not of COVID, but because of COVID protocols, everything is different.

In May, my friend Beth died.  It wasn’t unexpected.  She was in a long-term care facility in deteriorating health.  I hadn’t visited her in quite awhile because of her precarious health and COVID restrictions.  She was brilliant before disease attacked her mind and body.  We talked about books, current events, mutual friends, Saints football.  Over the 30 years of our friendship, we were able to work together on projects in the field of early childhood, especially targeting underserved populations and children with cognitive or language delays. We presented at professional conferences.  We took several trips—to Europe and to our respective hometowns so we could see where the other person grew up.  Beth, I, and several of our friends used to get together regularly, never missing a birthday or holiday observation.  Fortunately, Beth’s daughter and husband were able to be with her at the end, singing hymns and reading her favorite Bible verses aloud.  There was no memorial service because of COVID.

Beth eats Thanksgiving dinner with us

My college roommate Brenda came to visit Ricky and me in March of 2020.  Brenda and I were like sisters during college.  We had been talking about her coming to see me for years, and finally it was reality.  From their home in Virginia, Brenda and her husband Roger embarked on a tour of the Deep South. Unfortunately, there were other realities in play.  Brenda had lung cancer and was enrolled in an experimental drug trial that had her cancer in remission.  Brenda and Roger were coming to our house from New Orleans.  Following Mardi Gras 2020, New Orleans was experiencing the spread of a novel corona virus that was killing people.  Ricky and I felt that Brenda would be especially vulnerable to a virus that attacked the lungs, but Brenda and Roger seemed oblivious to the dangers of COVID-19.  (This was before wearing face coverings was mandated or recommended.)  Roger and Brenda wanted to see the city.  Ricky drove us around Shreveport, stopping at tourist attractions that had few other visitors.  We ate outside on patios and took them to one of my favorite gift shops, The Enchanted Garden, so they could see handmade Mardi Gras masks and meet the mask artist who was also Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras King when I was the queen. 

I later learned that the experimental drug stopped working in June after buying Brenda three good years.  Roger reported that Brenda declined rapidly after that, dying in August.  I found all the photos of Brenda from our friendship and posted them for her family and friends to see.  Brenda was always laughing in those days. 

Brenda and me, March 2020

Amy, Teresa, Lynn, Brenda at college graduation

In September 2005 as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Ricky and I met Jolanta, Elizabeth, and Christopher when they were evacuated from the V.A. Hospital in New Orleans where Jolanta was working when Katrina hit.  In those days, it wasn’t unusual for staff members to take their kids to work when a hurricane was predicted, and no family members were available to care for the children.  Jolanta and her two children, Elizabeth who was in her early 20’s but had some special needs and Chris, a high school senior, were stranded in the V.A. Hospital for days after Katrina hit.  Jolanta and her colleagues who worked in the cardiac unit bagged patients who had been on vents to keep them alive.  Chris and older kids foraged for food in the hospital, while Elizabeth played games in a secluded room with the younger children.  Finally,  the National Guard evacuated the V.A. Hospital, and Jolanta and her two children ended up at Overton Brooks V.A. Hospital in Shreveport where my husband was a registered nurse.

When the van carrying Jolanta, Elizabeth, and Chris arrived at the V.A. in Shreveport, Ricky called to say he was bringing them to our house so they could stay in our guest cottage until other arrangements were made.  Jolanta, Elizabeth, and Chris stayed in our backyard cottage for several weeks until they found a nearby house to rent.  Bill, the dad of the family, had been working in Washington, D.C., but he soon arrived in Shreveport, too.  This was the beginning of a close relationship between our two families for the next 16 years. 

Bill and Christopher returned to New Orleans after Christmas 2005 when Chris’ high school reopened, and repairs began on the family home in Uptown/Carrollton area of the city.  Jolanta and Elizabeth remained in Shreveport for a year.  The V.A. transferred Jolanta to the Shreveport V.A. to continue her employment.  Elizabeth accompanied me to work, alternating between the two early childhood centers where I had offices.  Elizabeth blossomed in Shreveport.  My friends adopted the family and grew to love them, too. 

When Jolanta and Elizabeth returned to New Orleans, Ricky and I visited their home many times over the years.  The family, plus Bill’s mother, evacuated to our house when another hurricane threatened. We went to New Orleans when Bill’s mom died in order to distract Elizabeth from the preparations.  Elizabeth visited us in Shreveport and loved it.  When she was in New Orleans, Elizabeth called me every week.  She would keep the rest of her family abreast of events in Shreveport.  She was possessive of that role.

Tragically, three members of the Haney family are now gone.  Bill died in 2018 after a long illness.  We attended the funeral and grieved with Jolanta.  I talked to Jolanta afterwards, and she said it was so hard to go on without Bill, but she had to be there for her kids, especially Elizabeth.  Then in August of 2020, I talked to Jolanta.  She said she had lung cancer, but her prognosis was good.  However, in September of 2020 as I was driving back to Louisiana from Virginia, my husband called and said Jolanta had died.  There was a virtual funeral.  I sent a video in which I talked about my friend, the fascinating and totally unique Jolanta. 

Jolanta and Elizabeth at the TajMo concert

Now, unbelievably, Elizabeth too is gone.  Ricky got a call from Chris this week.  Elizabeth had some type of medical crisis and despite her brother’s rushing her to the hospital, she didn’t make it.  Elizabeth had medical issues.  I knew, in a sense, that Elizabeth lived on borrowed time.  Her mom and her doctors had brought her back from the brink more than once.  This time, it was not to be.  I talked to Elizabeth the Saturday night before she died.  She seemed happy.  Chris had her in a routine that she liked.  Elizabeth said the young woman who was her companion and helper took walks with her, sat on the porch swing with her when the weather permitted, and did some coloring and other "work" with her.  She talked about her dog Lila and cat Sarah.  She seemed the same as usual, now she is gone.  Rest in peace in the arms of your mother, my beautiful little friend. 

Elizabeth on her porch swing in New Orleans

I have no words of wisdom or comfort with which to end this essay.  They’ve all been said, especially this past year. We all know that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow.  Love your friends and family, embrace the now, live in the present, it’s all any of us have.

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Mountain Visit

I’m writing from the mountains of Virginia. I drove to my hometown to help my sister who recently had surgery. Mountain vistas relax me. I somehow feel more serene once I pass Birmingham and enter the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. My tranquility is an involuntary feeling, like reconnecting with an old friend. 

If I’m being logical, I’m not sure I would move back to the Virginia mountains even if the perfect opportunity arose. I love Louisiana. I appreciate the joie de vie of Louisianans. I cherish the diversity of people who live in Louisiana. I love the festivals, the food, the musical heritage, all my friends, and Mardi Gras—and I’ve grown accustomed to warm winters. During the COVID year of 2020, I even learned to embrace the torrid heat of our summers! 

Moreover, there is no getting around the fact that winter in Appalachia can be bleak—whole mountain sides with bare stick trees, brown foliage on bushes. The green of the evergreens can’t quite overcome the surrounding drabness. Add in the chill winds and lackluster sun—it’s still dark at 7:00 am in my hometown--and you begin to understand why I welcome snow when I’m here. Snow covers the ground, makes graceful folds of the hills and valleys, and sits on each branch and twig making them photograph ready. 

I’ve been visiting my sister for a little over a week, and finally we got snow! A moderate amount, about 4”—enough to cover up all the grass and turn tree limbs into pictures of perfection. I quickly move from window to window taking photographs, but did I go outside to frolic in the snow? The answer is no. Living in the Deep South for over 30 years, I don’t own much snow gear, e.g., warm slacks, sweaters, snow boots. At least that’s my excuse.
Snow in the Lamp Light
Room with a View
Pristine Backyard
Another Backyard View
My caregiver role assisting Beth post-surgery was to follow her around telling her not to do things that the doctor told her to avoid: “Don’t lift that potted plant.” “Don’t reach up in the cabinet to get that down.” “Don’t unload the dishwasher.” “You’re not supposed to do laundry.” 

When middle sister Susan arrived, a week after Beth’s surgery, she said, “Beth acts like she’s already well. There’s nothing for me to do.” The three of us pitch in to cook the meals, Susan and I try to make Beth observe social distancing with her friends who bring her food and flowers. Today we three sisters sat and admired the snow from inside Beth’s warm house. When Beth’s husband arrived home from work, we tried to convince him that we had been busy all day.
Three Sisters
(I'm the oldest sister, this is probably how the other two feel)
Can your heart belong to multiple geographic locations? Certainly mine does. I will enjoy my visit to my mountain hometown for a few more days, then I head south to my other home. I love the Appalachian Mountains, but Louisiana’s unique ambiance has cast its spell on me and won’t let me go.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Snow Day in the South

Guess what?  It snowed in Shreveport last night--great big flakes reflected in the streetlights as it fell!  By morning the snow barely covered the grass, but it was enough to shut down all area schools today.  It’s several years between snowfalls here in the Deep South so we all enjoy it while we can.  Sadly, most of the snow melted by mid-morning today.  A friend posted a photo of her twins out in their yard with a big snowman that they woke up at dawn to build!

view from the front porch

About 3:00 am this morning the power went off, and our generator isn’t working properly.  When the repairman came last time, he said he couldn’t fix it because he had to see it while it was malfunctioning.  Ricky called this morning—the guy is on vacation.  Ricky started the generator manually so we could have morning coffee.  It stayed on long enough for that important function, then stopped again. 

The electricity is back on after six hours off so it’s all good.  We have gas space heaters scattered throughout the house and cottage so we don’t freeze even when power is off.  We light them during the day in cold weather.  At night, we huddle under covers.  When it’s cold and humid in the south, that chill creeps into the bones, something northerners may not realize if they haven’t experienced it firsthand. 

Ricky built another bird feeder, a shelf that he attached to the wooden fence outside the library windows.  We watch the birds and write down the different species we see.  We are having so much fun!  According to the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research study, Europeans who see the most bird species in their day-to-day lives are the happiest.  The authors calculated that being around 14 bird species provided as much satisfaction as earning an additional $150 a month.  During the pandemic as people have stayed at home more, birdwatching has become popular.  Since I read the article correlating diversity of bird species and happiness, I’ve been trying to figure out if Ricky and I see 14 species of birds in our daily lives! 

what species of bird is eating sunflower seeds?
Of course, the birds at the feeders in winter differ somewhat from the birds we see in the summer.  The hummingbirds have migrated, and the Mississippi kites, small birds of prey, have disappeared.  In the summer, we regularly observe 5 or 6 kites at a time circling high above our house and the near-by city park.  I did see a hawk flying toward the park the other day.  This time of year, we see and hear ducks in their V-shaped flocks heading toward water somewhere. 

Meanwhile, I’m studying the bird book trying to distinguish among all the brown birds at the feeders—are they juveniles of the species, displaying winter pattern feathers, or females?  I give up. 

Tufted titmice and juncos love the birdseed, and I recognize them.  We also have multiple cardinals and purple and house finches eating sunflower seeds from the feeders. Blue jays and mockingbirds prefer to hang out in the bushes and trees in the front yard.  Flickers walk up and down the old tallow tree in the back.

Like many people, I decorated with abandon this year for Christmas.  It didn’t matter that very few people saw my decorations.  It brought me joy.  On this snow day in January, reminiscent of a White Christmas, I leave you with a few photographs of my holiday d├ęcor from this past Christmas. 

Santa and his bicycles on the roof of our house

Frazier fir in front foyer

dining room table set for Christmas


Vintage pine cone elves on dining room mantle

Christmas cards on display

photos in the music room

library door

anything worth doing is worth overdoing: Christmas in the library

the plant room or sunporch

I love Christmas dishes, so here are dishes on display in the kitchen: 

Santa Christmas tree upstairs,
complete with old toys

Monday, May 18, 2020

Interesting Quarantine Take-Out Food

I belong to a writing group that meets once a week, now via ZOOM, and part of our group routine is to do ten-minute timed writings on common topics suggested by the group organizer.  Then, if the individual wants to share and read her writing to the group, she does.  This practice is part of a writing technique taught by author Natalie Goldberg.

Recently, the topic was “Interesting Quarantine Take-Out Food.”  Most people wrote about what kinds of take-out food they’ve ordered during the pandemic shelter-at-home directive.  Ricky and I haven’t eaten any take-out food during our quarantine.  We used to eat out 3-5 times a week, but for two months, from March 15 to May 15, all our meals were prepared in our kitchen.  

I notice that it’s healthier for me to cook my own food.  I limit the sodium, I never fry foods, and I control the portion sizes.  We aren’t vegetarians, and I made different kinds of cookies on several occasions, but even so, I've managed to lose a few pounds during our time at home.  

My sister said she read that by the end of the quarantine, people would emerge a monk, a chunk, a hunk, or a drunk.  Ricky suggested a chunky, drunk monkey, but I’m not sure whom he was describing.

The only take-out food we’ve experienced is the food I’ve “taken out” of my kitchen to share with friends and neighbors.  I doubt anyone would describe it as interesting, but the recipients thank me and seem to appreciate it.  So far, my food hasn’t poisoned anyone.  

We even made a path on both sides of our wrought iron fence to make food sharing with our next-door neighbor easier.  It lessens the chance of stepping in cat poop.

Food sharing path way 
For the most part, my menus are reminiscent of the fifties and sixties.  For example, I’ve taken a variety of jello treats to an older neighbor, walking to her house with quivering and quaking jello and our hyper-excited dog Treble, a terrier mutt, in tow.  I’ve also shared old-fashioned potato soup, Brunswick stew, deviled eggs, baked chicken, rice and gravy, baked egg custard, green beans, tuna noodle casserole, and different variations of chicken salad. 

Deviled eggs
Baked egg custard (we had a surplus of eggs)
From Ricky’s kitchen repertoire, we’ve shared his ham and spinach frittata, red beans and rice, mushroom pasta, and shrimp pesto pasta.  Ricky has mastered the few dishes he makes, so only lucky people who live close by get to sample them. They don’t last long in our kitchen. 

Ham and spinach frittata 
Chocolate chip cookies
I like to bake but my products need to find other homes quickly.  Outgoing cookies include oatmeal cookies, lemon sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies and a variation on this theme—Bailey’s Irish Cream chocolate chip cookies.  

My friend Sydni gave us some homemade salsa and Ricky made huevos rancheros for brunch one Sunday.  Everything was delicious, and here's the proof:

Huevos rancheros and fresh carrot juice
Some friends have reciprocated with their own homemade creations, e.g., tabbouleh, salsa, banana nut bread, chocolate-covered strawberries, and vegetarian chili.  A neighbor who received a windfall 50 pounds of flour gave us a loaf of his homemade bread!

Homemade bread
I keep coming back to the assigned topic of  interesting take-out foods.  What interesting take-out have we experienced?  It had to be my attempt to make potato cabbage chowder, which I’ve made in the past.

This time, I decided to use my food processor to chop up the potatoes.  Clearly I did something wrong, because the potato pieces immediately started to turn a reddish color.  I decided I needed to get the potatoes on the stove right away.  I quickly chopped the cabbage and added it to the potatoes.  I cooked the potatoes and cabbage in broth, then added some seasoning, milk and cheese just as I’ve done before.  The soup turned gray, it looked horribly unappetizing.  My brave husband ate a cup of it and said it didn’t taste bad.  I ladled the rest of the soup into a container and put it in the refrigerator to re-evaluate later.  When I looked at the soup the next day, it was a congealed gray mass.  I was going to dump it out when a friend stopped by.  I told her the sad saga of my soup and showed the results to her.  She hates to see food to go to waste so she said she’d take it home to her son—and for some strange reason, he even ate it!

I like the writing of MFK Fisher who often wrote about food.  She said, Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.  Maybe our take-out food was interesting after all.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Decision-making During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I’m contemplating my daily choices during the COVID-19 quarantine and feel fortunate to be retired and able to hunker down indefinitely if need be. 

My husband Ricky is a retired Registered Nurse who worked at our local VA Hospital, at one time in the ICU before he moved to the heart cath lab.  I only worked occasionally before the pandemic, but when I did, it was in the School of Allied Health at our local medical school.  While this post is generally lighthearted, the world has a heavy heart, as do Ricky and I.  We ache for those in the medical field fighting the pandemic, we cry with those families who have lost loved ones, we sympathize with our friends and strangers who must fight off the disease while quarantined from the world, and we despair at the national political situation, and the lack of leadership and sound decision-making at the highest governmental levels.

My choices during this COVID-10 pandemic are many, yet virtually meaningless. 

Outside views from cottage porch
Patio as seen from cottage porch

Morning coffee in the plant room
Plant room fountain adds ambience
Should I sit outside on the cottage porch or in the old-fashioned, indoor plant room with its louvered crank out windows to drink coffee and write?  

If I sit outside, should I pet my cat, Katrina, or Treble, our mutt, who always craves attention? 

What should we fix for lunch? For supper?  We’ve eaten comfort foods, e.g., tuna noodle casseroles, roasted chicken, turkey burgers, chicken salad, salmon and fish, steak and potatoes, a variety of homemade soups, and several of Ricky’s specialties, e.g., shrimp pesto pasta, mushroom pasta, and huevos rancheros.  

Another culinary decision—what flavor of jello should I make?  We probably have eaten jello that I prepared less than a dozen times during our 25 years of marriage.  Now, during our COVID-19 home bound days, we eat it all the time.  Sometimes with fruit added, sometimes as a parfait, but never as jello shots!  I prefer to drink my booze.

What’s the best way to get dry jello mix off the kitchen floor—vacuum or Shark steam broom?  Note to self: water in the microwave can become super-heated though it doesn’t appear to be boiling.  When a solid, i.e., jello mix, is added to the water, the mixture erupts vigorously, startling the cook and causing her to throw jello all over the kitchen.  Related question:  what’s the best way to get rid of sugar ants in the kitchen while I’m hunting for all the fine jello dust I threw into the air?

We are definitely eating well, which leads to my next decision.  Where and how shall I exercise since the gyms are closed?  Should I exercise inside using my Walk Inside DVD, given to me by a colleague a year or so ago, or should I ride my exercise bike?  I have outside exercise options, too.  I can walk in my urban neighborhood.  I see much more of what’s going on when I’m on foot, so I can be that “Know-See” neighbor.  Do I want to go with Ricky when he walks Treble?  We look like we are maintaining social distancing from each other because I can't walk as fast as they can.  I bring up the rear, 6-9 feet behind them.  Should I pick up litter on our neighborhood sidewalks as my exercise one day?  It would also be doing something pro-social, but litter patrol now requires gloves, a mask, a grabber, and a trash bag. 

Picking up trash without PPE
Are there friends I should check on? Should I drop someone a note in the mail to let them know I’m thinking of them?  I’m fortunate, because I can interact with my neighbors regularly.  We share food and books, talk at the fence, visit briefly when we see each other on our walks.  Sometimes we sit on our porches, six feet apart, and talk. 

Do my plants need deadheading, fertilizing, or pruning?  Do I dare go to the nursery for more plants?  Do we have a possum, or is it a raccoon, living under the house, and what should we do about it?

Is there anything interesting going on that I can text my sisters, so we can be part of each others’ lives, since I don’t think I’ll be traveling to visit them anytime soon?  What about this week's hailstorm that dropped baseball size hail in the city just across the river from us—hail that went through people’s roofs into their attics, hail accompanied by 70-90 mph wind squalls that broke windows in their houses so hail danced around inside their homes?  This unusual event was part of a strong thunderstorm system that passed through the Ark-La-Tex.  Click here for YouTube video of recent hailstorm in Bossier City captured by Barksdale Airman.

Usually the most agonizing decision I face is what book should I read today?  I could easily read from my personal library for a year and still not read all the books I own. 

My recently repainted library
Some days I’m restless with anxiety contemplating the pandemic and the sadness and hardship it’s causing.  Other days, I’m generally happy during the stay-at-home directive.  I’m not sure what that says about me—am I shallow, easily entertained, or just content within my bubble?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Mardi Gras 101

“No one in Virginia will understand this unless they see it”
--quote from my sister, Susan Brooks, during her 2019 Mardi Gras visit

I’m originally from Virginia, and I moved to Louisiana without knowing any details about Mardi Gras.  I’d heard about New Orleans Mardi Gras debauchery on Bourbon Street, and that was my only mental picture.  I’ve lived in Shreveport for over 35 years now, and I’ve learned a bit about Mardi Gras in Northwest Louisiana. 

 Mardi Gras Queen
(banner Ricky ordered and hung at our house)
As my reign as Mardi Gras queen of the Krewe of Highland ends on October 18, I’m going to share some of my Mardi Gras experiences.  

Parade Day

Krewe of Highland XXIV on float
(Copyright, Henrietta Wildsmith, photographer)
What is a krewe?

For readers who don’t live in Mardi Gras land, in Louisiana a krewe is a group of people, usually a non-profit organization, that stages events or hosts a parade during carnival season.  Carnival, or Mardi Gras, season is pre-Lent and begins on Twelfth Night, January 6.  In the Christian tradition, January 6 marks the Feast of the Epiphany when the Three Wise Men visited the Christ Child.  Mardi Gras culminates on Mardi Gras day, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday in the Advent calendar.

Sometimes krewe members share common interests or vocations, e.g. in Shreveport, the Krewe of Justinian is comprised of lawyers.  The Krewe of Highland is a neighborhood krewe, associated with the historic neighborhoods of Highland and South Highlands. Our parade rolls on the Sunday afternoon before Fat Tuesday and traverses neighborhood streets.  The parade lasts about two hours from start to finish and passes close to my house, so every year we have a large party and invite all our friends and family who aren’t fortunate enough to live on the parade route.  Last year, the party went on without me because I rode in the parade.

My beads are loaded on the float,
the rain has stopped, we are ready to roll
Crowd waiting on the parade at our street in previous years

 Twelfth Night is the sixth-- the first big event

January 6th is a busy day for Shreveport Mardi Gras royalty.  It begins with a Mardi Gras mass at St. Pius Catholic Church.  At mid-day, there’s a luncheon sponsored by Loblolly, a social service group associated with Mardi Gras.  Food, music, and an auction raise money for Loblolly to continue their work in area schools.  Later, the evening of 12th Night, a big party with all the Mardi Gras krewes kicks off the Mardi Gras social season.  Each krewe decorates their tables, brings food, and socializes with one another or dances to the music of a band.  The krewes take turns organizing this annual event.

Royals at Twelfth Night
Medallion from 2019 Mardi Gras mass

Twelfth Night party
12th Night Decoration
“Throw me something, mister!”

Many krewes serve a social purpose, while also performing social service.  During the season, krewe members are frequent guests at schools and senior citizen facilities, where they lead mini-parades complete with Mardi Gras music and inexpensive beads that are thrown or passed out to viewers whose shouts of “Throw Me Something, Mister” are synonymous with Mardi Gras. 

Visit to elementary school Loblolly event
Child at Early Head Start center parade

Mardi Gras colors are purple, green, and gold, but beads come in every color of the rainbow, often featuring some sort of cheap medallion.  Each krewe, or individual member of the royal court, also has a specialty bead with a medallion that depicts that year’s theme for the krewe’s coronation and bal.  Some royalty have an individual specialty bead.

One older woman at a nursing home where the nursing administrator invited our Krewe of Highland to parade through the halls and visit residents in their rooms was not exactly welcoming.  When the other “royals” and I entered the woman’s room, she told us, “Get out, you’re crazy,” and she kept repeating this.  I was the last person to leave and I turned and said to her, “We may be crazy, but it’s in a good way.”  She laughed.

What the heck is a trash jacket and why would you want to wear one?

When krewes attend public events, they wear “trash” jackets.  These are usually tuxedo jackets, embellished with the krewe’s logo embroidered on the back and festooned with inexpensive costume jewelry brooches and sewn-on patches that have meaning for the individual.  Each “trash” jacket is unique and a little bit crazy.
Front of Queenie's trash jacket
Back of trash jacket

Trash jacket detail
Queen Teresa & Duchess Sheila visit Early Head Start

Trash jackets at Women's Department Club luncheon
During this year’s Mardi Gras mass, the priest said it made him happy to look out into the congregation at the sea of individuals wearing trash jackets representing all the different krewes.  It’s fair to point out that the Roman Catholic traditions of Mardi Gras practiced in South Louisiana are often lost on the staunch Baptists prevalent in Northwest Louisiana.  I’m not Catholic (nor Baptist), but I found the Mardi Gras mass to be moving and uplifting.  After mass, a family in the church treated everyone to king cake and coffee in the rectory hall. 

Where’s the baby?

King cakes are also a Mardi Gras tradition.  They are most often made from sweet yeast dough, rolled out to make a long piece of dough.  A filling is spread on the dough and the dough is rolled up, with the filling inside the elongated piece of dough.  Next, the dough is shaped into a round ring, leaving a hole in the middle.  Then the cake is baked and iced, usually with a simple confectionery sugar icing, and sprinkled with purple, green and yellow sugar.  There are dozens of types of King Cakes, and not all of them are sweet, but common King Cake flavors include apple, cream cheese, praline, chocolate, cinnamon, strawberry and cream, blueberry and cream, and Bavarian cream. 

King Cake party--Vote for your favorite king cake!!
King cakes get their name from the small plastic baby, which is hidden inside each cake.  The baby represents the Christ child.  The person who finds the baby in the king cake is responsible for bringing the king cake next Mardi Gras.  These small plastic babies are definitely a choking hazard, so the uninitiated must be warned about the babies.  Some bakeries place the baby on top, leaving it up to the buyer whether to place the baby inside the cake.

What’s in a name?

Every krewe has a king and queen and a royal court.  The court members have imaginative names.  For most of the krewes, the titles associated with their royal court remain the same from year to year, e.g.-- Duke and Duchess of Merriment, Duke and Duchess of Mystery, Duke and Duchess of Food, Duke and Duchess of Frolic, Duke and Duchess of Delight, Duke and Duchess of Deliciousness, Duke and Duchess of Harvest, Duke and Duchess of Spring, Duke and Duchess of Hospitality, Duke and Duchess of Mayhem.  The Krewe of Sobek has the Keeper of Earth, Keeper of Water, Keeper of Fire, and Keeper of Wind. 

Presenting the 2020 Queen of Krewe of Sobek!
Some krewes have a theme.  The Krewe of Excellence has the Duke and Duchess of Perfection and the Duke and Duchess of Superiority, while the Krewe of Elders has the Duke and Duchess of Wisdom and the Duke and Duchess of Longevity.  The Krewe of Gemini, the first krewe formed during the modern Mardi Gras era in northwest Louisiana, focuses on Shreveport’s geographic location in the Arklatex.  They have the Duke and Duchess of Texas, Duke and Duchess of Arkansas, and a Duke and Duchess of Louisiana.  There’s also a Duke and Duchess of Furry Friends, a Duke and Duchess of Rescue, and the Duke and Duchess of Pet Education—guess what krewe this is? Barkus and Meoux, of course.

Royalty, Krewe of Highland XXIV
Copyright Lara Leroux Photography
(Amanda Nicole Lara, photographer)
In the Krewe of Highland, you get to choose your own name.  I’m Queen of the Wild Things.  My court includes: King Dennis Beckman as King of Fantasy; Captain Sydni Smith is Keeper of Magical Things & Beautiful Beings, and our Co-Captain Michele Marcotte is Mystic Madam of Merriment.  We have a Duke of Pandemonium and a Duchess of Persuasion; a Duke of Division and his Duchess of Enchantment; and a Duchess of the Freak Show and a Duke of Hospitality.  And the list goes on. 

You can’t have royalty without a coronation

Every krewe has an annual coronation during which their king, queen, and royal court are announced.  These are usually themed parties held on a weekend night, and the attire ranges from Mardi Gras casual--wear Mardi Gras colors and trash jackets unless it’s 100 degrees outside.  This is when you can bring those light-up shoes and rhinestone shirts out of the closet.  Other coronations may suggest cocktail or formal attire.  I now own five long formals, two pair of piazza pants, and two cocktail dresses—not to mention the costumes required by the Krewe of Highland!  You can see some of the gowns of the queens below:

The Krewe of Highland coronations and bals are always costumed events that match the theme.  Our 2018 coronation theme was “Under the Big Top: Amazing Highland Oddities & Attractions.”  To see more about the Krewe of Highland coronation and events happening about this same time last year, click here and scroll toward the end of the post.  When you see several pictures of a woman wearing more leopard print than seems possible, you’ve found it.

In order to enjoy Mardi Gras, you can't take yourself too seriously.  If it's not fun, don't do it!

Stay tuned for more retrospective posts about my reign as Queen XXIV, Krewe of Highland, and the upcoming coronation of the next queen and events marking the 25-year anniversary of our neighborhood krewe.