Language| Food| Music| Places | Mardi Gras Parades

New Orleans Memories

By Frances Shani Parker

Author of Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes

This nationally endorsed book is available in paperback and e-book editions at many local and online booksellers in America and several other countries. Two booksellers are Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Those of us from New Orleans know that her unique way of life and her soulful vibe are embedded in who we are. Her indestructible spirit will live on in us. Join me in memories of New Orleans.

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This is some everyday talk from my New Orleans (New AW-lins) memories:

Mardi Gras (MAW-dee-GRAW), a famous holiday celebration with many parties, balls and parades, comes to New Orleans just before the Lenten season. Crowds holler, "Throw me something, mister!" to masked riders on beautifully decorated floats. Doubloons (da-BLOONS), which are special coins thrown from parade floats by Mardi Gras krewes, are caught, along with beads and other trinkets. Painted coconuts are treasured throws at Zulu parades.

"Boo-coo" (plenty) eating goes on in my New Orleans memories. Po'boys are sandwiches similar to submarines, but made with crunchy French bread. If a po'boy is ordered "dressed," it comes with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and condiments like hot sauce, ketchup and "mynez" (mayonnaise). Another popular sandwich made with salami, ham, cheese and olive salad is the muffaletta (muff-uh-LOT-uh, moo-foo-LET-ta, or just ask for a muff).

A fried oyster po'boy is my favorite food. It seduces me, promises me hot saucy waters ahead that will drench me in pleasure. I willingly surrender to its tasty uniqueness that thrills me like a happy fish trapped in a net of euphoria. Did I mention I wail like a delirious pelican in paradise when I take each bite?

Beignets (ben-yays) are French-style, rectangular doughnuts coated heavily with powdered sugar. They're comforting pillows for your sweet tooth. Many people like to eat beignets with a hot cup of cafe au lait, a brewed coffee and chicory blend with milk.

King cakes, with icing in Mardi Gras colors (purple, green and gold or yellow), are like large, cinnamon-bun, coffee cakes, each with a hole in the center. They come with or without (traditional) cream filling. An exciting part about king cakes is the small plastic baby hidden inside each cake. Whoever gets the baby hollers, "I got the baby!" and receives a "reward" such as having to give the next party or buy the next cake. Once I ordered a king cake with a dozen assorted (black, white, gold, and silver) babies inside for a school staff.

Other great New Orleans memories include sugary, Creole, candy pralines (I pray that you will say PRAH-leens, NOT PRAY-leens or PLAH-reens), huck-a-bucks or huckle-bucks (frozen Kool-Aid in paper cups), jambalaya (jom-ba-LIE-ya, a dish of rice, meat and seafood), gumbo (a souplike dish made with seafood, sausage and/or chicken) and crawfish that need their heads sucked and tips squeezed to be eaten properly.

Dawlin' (that's you), these are New Orleans directions, so you won't get lost: uptown, downtown, back-a-town, front-a-town, crosstown, river and lake. Don't forget about "nawt" (north), "sout" (south), east and west. In the middle of any wide New Orleans street is the neutral ground (usually a grassy medium). The banquette (BANK-ket) is the sidewalk. You can walk there while carrying a go-cup (plastic or paper cup) containing an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage. You might notice residents do' (door) poppin' (minding other folks' business) or talking about "who shot John" (rehashing negative information from the past).

"Hey nah (now)!" and "Where y'at?" are popular greetings. So is "What 'cha know good?" Words such as "earl" for "oil," "catlick" for "Catholic," and "bat-troom" for "bathroom" are not unusual. Common expressions known in the African American community are the chants of Mardi Gras Indian "gangs" (tribes not Native American) that dress in elaborate, handmade, beaded "suits" (costumes) on Mardi Gras Day. This ceremonial tradition, which began in the 1800's, resulted from the historical bond between African Americans and Native Americans that began during U.S. slavery. Many African Americans who escaped from slavery lived with Native American tribes. "Two-way-pok-e-way," "jock-a-mo-fee-na-nay" and "iko iko" are well known battle chants. Nowadays, the "battle" is mostly about who's the prettiest.

After you "make" (shop for) groceries, you "save" them (put them away). When you buy something in New Orleans, you might get lagniappe (LAN-yap), a free treat. You'll be so pleased and surprised, you'll be tempted to ask, "For true, y'all?" Never, ever say, "You guys." For true.

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Now, I'm talking about food as in cuisine. That's the seasoned, sinful, sit-down, Creole and Cajun cuisine you can't help yourself from eating. I mean "can't beat that with a stick" (best) crabs, fish, shrimp (or "strimps"), crawfish (never "CRAY-fish"), turtle and alligator. New Orleans food is soothing, sensuous and spicy all at once. Taste buds experience explosive satisfaction that keeps people coming back for seconds, thirds and fourths.

What would New Orleans memories be without red beans and rice? Can you honestly look at this picture of red beans, rice and cornbread and not want some? Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, the great jazz musician, even signed his letters, "Red beans and ricely yours."

Some people say gumbo is Louisiana's greatest contribution to American cuisine. My grandmother's recipe convinced me. There are as many gumbo recipes as there are cooks. While gumbos may often have similar ingredients (actually, anything that lived might end up in the pot), each cook adds something special to the flavor.

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Growing up in New Orleans, I experienced music everywhere, including in the singsong cries of vendors selling ice and vegetables (vedge-a-TIB-bles). Living across the street from a bar greatly enhanced my music appreciation. In New Orleans, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, blues and zydeco float in the humid air like comforting breezes.

People crave New Orleans music like oxygen, even in death. After mourners leave the cemetery at a jazz funeral, a rousing celebration begins with the band playing an upbeat song like "When the Saints Go Marching In." The funeral procession continues, growing in size with many community members, all collectively called "second liners," who join in the joy with curious bystanders. They do a spirited dance called the "second line."

As participants continue their festivities through the streets, various bars are visited. Many people bob umbrellas, some brightly decorated, and wave handkerchiefs (or "HAN-che-kahs") in the air to the spicy beat of the music.

If you're ever in New Orleans and hear some body-rocking accordion music playing, you're probably listening to zydeco (ZY-de-co). The best thing to do is what I did this past summer when I heard a zydeco band in Detroit: grab a partner and get to steppin'!

Many say Mahalia Jackson, a New Orleans icon, is the greatest gospel singer ever. In my memories, I experience her powerful radio voice taking me where my feelings lived many years ago. Her records sold multimillions during her forty-five career years.

Just as New Orleans is known as the birthplace of jazz, the Marsalis family is often referred to as the first family of jazz.

The Neville Brothers play one-of-a-kind diverse music that embodies the New Orleans sound of the streets. Irma Thomas (Soul Queen of New Orleans), Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain and many, many others play prominent roles in a music legacy of New Orleans memories that have encircled the world.

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Because of its geographical location and various cultural influences, New Orleans is like no other city in the world. I stumbled across this shocking reality as I searched other cities for Creole and Cajun dishes, elaborate parades with throws, familiar speech patterns and a black-belt vibe I can't describe.

Xavier University, an institution often cited nationally for academic excellence, is the only predominantly African American, Catholic university in America. Xavier continues to excel as one of the nation's top producers of African American pre-med graduates in the biological, biomedical and physical sciences. Business students win national contests and are aggressively recruited by some of America's top firms.

A proud graduate, I experienced Xavier's outstanding benefits as an education major prepared to achieve excellence and positively impact lives of the future. With an emphasis on service values, Xavier affirmed my personal philosophy: "To the world you may be one person. But, to one person, you may be the world." Anonymous

Streetcars are a great way to travel around the city. As a child, I always had a sense of taking a real trip when I rode a streetcar, even if I didn't really leave town. Unfortunately, everything in the city was racially segregated then, and "colored" people didn't always get a seat. New Orleans memories connected to racial discrimination are not happy ones.

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral are two of many important landmarks in New Orleans. Both are located in the historic French Quarter, the original French city.

Hearing about "shotgun" houses (one-story houses with rooms lined up) increased my knowledge of architecture. I already knew that a "kitchen" was the short, tightly curled area above the nape of my neck. From downtown to the Garden District, New Orleans architecture features many cultures. The soul of downtown is the French Quarter where I've spent trillions of hours (during the daytime) roaming blissfully through a world of sensational sounds, sights and aromas.

In more recent years, I have had the pleasure of visiting a New Orleans landmark that didn't exist when I was growing up there. It's the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, a leading aquarium in the United States. This fantastic place has many interesting attractions for all ages. My sea-loving inner child felt right at home in this watery paradise and wasted no time creating another happy memory.

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Mardi Gras Parades

Laissez le bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll!

The world-famous Mardi Gras or Carnival season makes its annual debut on January 6, "Kings' Day," and ends on "Fat Tuesday," the day before the Christian season of Lent starts. Street parades attracting thousands of local residents and curious tourists occur daily. Parades are held during the day and at night. Let the good times roll! Laissez les bons temps rouler!


Mardi Gras parades created magical memories for me. The excitement of swimming in an ocean of festivity, the buoyancy from living fantastic fantasies thrilled my senses. They connected me with the same wave of wonderment flowing through every child who ever lived on this planet.

I store my New Orleans memories in a marvelous, mental, treasure chest painted with purple, green and gold brush strokes. All grown up, I still smile when I look inside. I hope you did, too.

Copyright 2005 Frances Shani Parker

Thanks for droppin' by, Dawlin'. By the way, I included some New Orleans memories in my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. This nationally endorsed book is available in paperback and e-book editions at many local and online booksellers in America and several other countries. Two booksellers are Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Visit my website at

Check out my blog at Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog.

You may e-mail me at (rewrite) < contact at francesshaniparker dot com >.

Frances Shani Parker
P. O. Box 07061
Detroit, MI 48207

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