Covert Matters Digest
Childhood Memories and Holy Week
By Roy Meachum
The Easter season started ten days after Christmas in New Orleans. While the rest of the western Christian world celebrated the three Magi arrivals in Nazareth, south Louisiana cooks turned out King Cakes, with dolls and china, representing royalty.
At the depths of the Great Depression, when I first encountered Mardi Gras—Shrove or Pancake Tuesday in England—tourists arrived on trains. Airline schedules were primitive. Forced to spend days traveling, citizens from colder climes celebrated briefly in New Orleans. The Great Depression didn’t help!
The city accumulated the nickname “Big Easy” years later, but in the 30s it was known for its lazy attitude toward vices, particularly around Mardi Gras. All year long parties abounded—both then and now. I acquired my first tuxedo when 14; mother was tired of paying rentals. Generally New Orleanians “gave up” something for Lent, usually alcohol. Some men limited their visits to houses; prostitutes were always around. After all, before it became a tourist haven, it was a harbor for hundreds of ships. Sailors swarmed all over the French Quarter, jostling aside both natives and visitors from around the world.
Before I could legally get into a bar, adults were my laissez faire passes. Several “uncles” ordered Crème de Menthe on the ice for “the young fella.” I’m reminded of one Good Saturday—when I was 8 or 9—traveling to a commercial district restaurant, off Camp Street. Lent officially ended at noon. We reached the saloon an hour early. Few stools and chairs were filled. I don’t remember an actual bell that sounded off at the appointed hour. All of a sudden, we had trouble hearing each other; waiters were shouting orders for food and most of all booze.
Largely Roman Catholic, there were people who went to church only Christmas and Easter; pews were filled both holy days. It made me later to consider doubtfully the figures attributed to archdioceses, especially where I grew up. I converted while I was in Holy Cross College, a boarding school; I now try to reach every Sunday Grace Episcopal Church.
But still I harbor memories of the Mardi Gras when flu kept me abed; I sat on a front porch rocker watching the people, including children, walking the sidewalk to nearby St. Charles Avenue, a block and a half away. Hoping no one spied me in a pitiable condition. A year later I wore the same rayon pirate’s outfit through the streets.
Over the decades I’ve learned to say Happy Easter from several countries I worked in:
Froehlich Ostend (German)
Joyeuses Pacque (French)
Buona Pasqua (Italian)
Kul Sa’ana Wa Enteh Tayyib (Egyptian Arabic)
Have a great day!
Roy Meachum lives in Frederick, Md. He has had a distinguished print and broadcast career for many years at The Washington Post, Frederick News-Post and WTOP-TV, forerunner to WUSA-TV and a long career in diplomacy.