It’s Mardi Gras day here in New Orleans, and everywhere else it is just Tuesday.
I am so lucky to have caught one of Natalie’s Muses shoes this year. I will display it proudly. Muses shoes are highly sought after, and this one means the most to me.
Below is the story behind my jeweled shoe. PLEASE, PLEASE take time to read this lovely story.
We began sorting Mom's jewelry in the days after her death. She had so much of it, mostly costume stuff, but also expensive pieces, including diamonds and pearls and gold and platinum. But how much a ring or a necklace would cost wasn't what mattered to me and my sister. We cherished the things she'd worn every day like her engagement ring and her "MOM" pendant. My sister got the engagement ring because it was too small for my fingers. I, the daughter who has no children, now have the necklace.
And many of those other pieces, those earrings and bracelets that had neither a high sentimental nor monetary value? I began using them to make Muses shoes.
My mother never visited New Orleans, not when I was a full-time resident for five years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, nor after Katrina when my husband and I purchased a second home there. She didn't fly, primarily because my father is afraid of heights and airplanes, something they determined when they went to Bermuda for their honeymoon trip in 1966 and he spent the entire trip worried about the flight home. She seemed happy with the boundaries of her world, the greater New York-New Jersey area.
My decision to take a job in New Orleans in early 1997 was a controversial one. I would be the first person in our immediate family to leave the East Coast. I would be living outside comfortable driving distance. My parents were not happy. I moved anyway.
Only months after that move, doctors had a name for the many health issues my mother had been suffering in recent years. It was multiple sclerosis, they said. I remember being on the phone in my apartment on South Carrollton Avenue and hearing my Mom say that. A little while later, my father called and said I should pack up and move home to take care of my mother. After all, he reasoned, I hadn't been in New Orleans that long and I didn't have any ties there.
And while this was true, I didn't want to go. I remember walking along the Mississippi River levee after those conversations. The water was high that year. I thought that was normal. I decided to stay. It's a decision I have never regretted.
My only regrets? That I could not share this amazing city with the people I loved most. It didn't matter how long I lived in New Orleans: My mother's knowledge of the city and state were bad stereotypes. When I moved to Mid-City near the Bayou, she said, "I hope you're not going to let your cats outside anymore." I said I was. She was shocked. She said, "What about the alligators?"
"Mom," I said. "There are not alligators walking down the streets of New Orleans. They do not have their own hangouts. This is a city. The cats will not be eaten by alligators."
She said, "Well, don't call me crying when they're dead."
Mardi Gras, too, fell into a stereotypical realm for her, one of boobs and beads. I would argue that the real Mardi Gras wasn't like that. She ignored me.
Then a chance encounter in an elevator in a New Jersey hospital cemented her beliefs. My father had had heart surgery. Loaded with beads, I'd flown home to visit him. My mother and I were in the hospital elevator, en route to a surgical waiting room. A white-haired woman who was at least 20 years older than my mother stepped in.
This is what happened:
White Haired Woman: You have a lot of beads there.
Me: They're from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Would you like some?
WHW: Sure. Thank you.
Mom (interjecting, loudly): They're from New Orleans and the Mardi Gras, so you know what you have to do to get them.
Without a word, the woman lifted her T-shirt so it covered her face, revealing a serious support bra, straps going across, up, everywhere. I silently gave her beads, which she put on. Mom was delighted.
When my father was able to take visitors, Mom and I rushed in and began babbling about the woman in the elevator. "I couldn't believe that worked," Mom said. Dad looked at us sadly, "Does anyone realize that I just had surgery and I'm in a lot of pain?" I think we gave him some beads as a penance.
I joined Muses in the krewe's second year. To this day, I love the parade and the costumes and the preparations that go into riding. I began a tradition on my first ride: Right before our float was about to roll, I would call my mother and ask her for advice. Her wisdom over the years was often the same: "Don't get too drunk! Don't fall off the float! Have fun!" She never got to see a parade, but the one photo she had of me on the dresser in her bedroom? It's from Muses. I'm wearing a purple wig. "That color looks really nice on you," my mother would say whenever I was home and the photo was in sight.
Mom died in mid-July. I finished my first shoe that incorporated her jewelry a few weeks later. I realized I wanted to make more shoes to honor her, but there was no way her jewelry would stretch that far. I purchased more costume jewelry in bulk. I made more shoes, careful to use at least one or two of her pieces in each.
I plan to offer some of these shoes to friends who have helped me get through the last few months. The others I will package and toss from our float. I'll include a note that will say every handmade Muses shoe is special but these have special significance. I'll take my mother's advice: I won't get too drunk or fall off the float. I'll have fun.
I count myself blessed to now have one of these shoes that mean so much. I adore the hand written note that Natalie attached to the shoe:
“Congratulations! You caught a shoe! This one is extra special because it includes jewelry that belongs to my Mom. She dies on July 18, 2014. Please treasure this shoe as I treasure memories of her. Happy Mardi Gras! Natalie, proud daughter of Pat Pompilio.”
It brings tears to my eyes. What a great tribute to her mom.
In other Mardi Gras news, Lisa Vanderpump of my fave Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules served beautifully as a celebrity monarch in last night’s Orpheus parade. Though I did not catch a bead from Lisa, it looked like she had an awesome time with her husband Ken, pooch Giggy, and daughter Pandora.
I hope you all have a HAPPY MARDI GRAS!
I'll be sharing the fun with seven more fabulous blogging friends!
All you have to do is link your post to one of our blogs and it gets seen on all eight...a great way to get more blog exposure!
*The party goes live on Wednesday night February 18th at 7pm*
I hope to see you all here!
It’s Carnival Time, y’all!