Mardi Gras has many aspects. We’ve seen some of the great events, the costumes, the food, the parades in Lake Charles. Chasing the chicken is another.
These women were selling tickets to the gumbo dinner at the Grange Hall in Iowa, (I-o-way), a small town east of Lake Charles. The dinner is gumbo made from the chicken, the rice, the pig, or whatever can be begged, borrowed or stolen on the ride through town. That is tradition. Now, the dinner is cooked ahead of time and only the chicken gets chased, caught and released.
Everyone was getting ready and excitement filled the air.
Some chase with horses, others bring their ATVs, and trucks unload the kids who do most of the chasing.
The girl in pink told me she always catches the chicken and the boys get mad at her, so this year she isn’t chasing. “Besides, it’s to too wet and dirty out there.” She is so right. It has been a very rainy Mardi Gras.
These two men entertained everyone waiting to get started for the first drop. They drop chickens at several predetermined spots, and the chase commences.
The gumbo wasn’t ready when we arrived, but it smelled heavenly as we walked around and visited. Thanks go to this lovely lady cooking the chicken.
We would liked to have watched the chicken chase, which has a very serious history, but we had the good fortune to be invited to ride a float in the Fat Tuesday Parade. Isn’t that cool? The peasant classes in medieval times would get hungry as their stores got low. At times it was necessary to beg for food from the richer people and landed gentry. No one wanted anyone to know they had to beg, so they resorted to hiding behind masks, and costumes. Since just about everybody did it, it became a “festival”. They went out in a group with their wagons and horses to ask for food. Land owners wanted to be rid of the motley crew of beggars, so they would throw out a chicken or a pig and get back inside for safety. The beggars had to catch the chicken or pig. Sometimes they would find a bag of rice, bread, or onions left for them. They would go back to town and share the goodies and cook up a big gumbo for everyone to eat. The beggars, being masked could curse the king, make jokes about the aristocracy, or verbally flog an offensive neighbor without fearing retaliation, as they hid behind their masks.
The plan was to drive to Renola Simon’s house to meet the various krewe members who were riding this year, and to enjoy a lunch of deer sausage and king cake. The sausage was so good, we found out where we could buy some. And, we got our first look at the float which has been stored at Renola’s house where it was first built by her husband and other krewe members in 1989 or 90. Renola told us a horror story about the float. Right after the men finished welding the frame together, lightning struck nearby and ball lightning rolled about the metal float. A frightening and unforgettable experience. The men had just gotten off the float and gone into the garage to put away tools. This is the back-end of the float where we entered. It also has a bathroom, which, by law, all floats have to have.
Krewe members loaded hundreds of pounds of beads, roughly 50,000 strings of beads.
Behind the beads are boxes of Mardi Gras plastic cups.
Jim is showing off his dance technique after we loaded enough beads on hooks to throw. The bags next to the rails hold moon pies and other goodies to throw. One bag held snacks and drinks for the crew. One member brought cookies. We learned that riding a float is a big party. If it isn’t fun, why do it?
The logistics of lining up a parade of huge floats are enormous and once you are in place, there is lag time. We took a walk and examined other floats.
Other Krewes were dancing…
This krewe drove in with their beads in a trailer. You can see the back-end practically touching the ground. They were just unloading their beads and getting them onto their float.
After our walk, we did a bit of partying of our own.
Some guys got us wired up for music, and you can see the dance floor isn’t very big, but dancing is part of the deal. I get the guys names all mixed up, but I think this is Cliff and his wife. She made their costumes and put all those sequins on. He taught me to Cajun dance. The steps are pretty simple if you don’t look at your feet.
Everyone began to costume up. Some members like to throw stuffed animals and tease the crowds who scream for them.
This guy walked by the floats to show off his unique costume.
This young woman was also riding a float for the first time. She is a nurse and engaged to one of the krewe member’s son. We got a short lesson from Eva about how to throw beads.
When everyone was ready, they posed for a picture. Don’t they look great?
Then we were moving and throwing beads to the waiting crowds. It was so much fun to catch someone’s eye and land the beads right within their grasp. The crowd was thin and we only used half the beads, but what a thrill.
All thanks to this matriarch of the krewe, Renola Simon. When we returned to the house, she showed us her Mardi Gras room, with many costumes, prizes, souvenirs, and memorabilia of her many years in the krewe which was her and her husband’s social life. They went dancing every week, sometimes twice a week. She served as President, was queen twice, and now is financial officer. “It keeps me young,” she said. She is a marvelous personality I will never forget.
And Eva, too. Unforgettable personality. Her accent I only wish I had recorded, that down home true Cajun twang. And, she makes a great margarita, doncha know. I hated to say goodbye to Krewe des le Cajun.