Some years ago, my cousin’s daughters came to stay with me after a hurricane. One night, I prepared porkchops, some vegetables, and white rice for dinner. I was piddling another minute in the kitchen when I noticed the confounded look on my young guests’ faces. “Where’s the gravy?”


“What do we put on the rice?”

I had been away from Louisiana and lived with other cuisine cultures long enough to forget my roots. Without gravy or gumbo or seasonings with bits of sausage and chicken, white rice is just a sad pile of grains.

I experience similar befuddlement when I attend or watch parades like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Rose Parade in Pasadena.

Where’s the gravy? Throw me something, mister!

What’s the point of the parade if you don’t return with ten pounds of plastic treasures around your neck?

My minister pointed out last weekend (because we talk about our parades in church here!) that relatively little has been written about Mardi Gras parades and culture by “insiders.” Most pieces are written by outsiders looking in, and I’m not sure that outsiders can understand the importance of the gravy. Would they even notice if it was missing?

The Magic of Gravy

What is this gravy magic? The throws? The crowds? The Porta Potties?

I doubt it. While some krewes throw collectible hand-made throws, most are of the made-in-China plastic-beads-on-a-string ilk. The drunken crowds and Porta Potties are certainly not unique to our Mardi Gras parades. In fact, those are the things that keep some of us home or inspire us to hop on jets for a mini ski or beach vacation.

But even those of us who don’t bother with the nightmare of parking and finding the perfect parade spot know when the gravy is missing or isn’t up to snuff.

Between ski runs in the Rockies or piña coladas on the beach, we might attend the little parade that the locals put on.

“That’s cute.” At least they try to reproduce the excitement of engaging spectators who lunge for flying plastic necklaces and cups.

I would argue, however, that the big magic of our parades is less about catching throws—even coveted Zulu coconuts and Muses shoes— and more about the connections and interaction.

In New York and Pasadena, people come out to see the parade. They are spectators. Only those who are riding on the floats or marching are participants.

Mardi Gras parades involve the crowd. Spectators become more than the bystanders. Many arrive in costume, and you’d be hard-pressed to discern participant from spectator once the parade disperses.

And let’s not forget that electric bit of gravy magic: as everyone mills around the post-parade streets, you can bet that the spectators wearing neck-loads of plastic like battlefield medals locked eyes more than once with krewe members as they floated by, tossing shiny, plastic treasures into a sea of faces.

Hey mister! Throw me something?

They connected. For me, that’s the gravy.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2024

Looking for the perfect retreat to light up your inner artist? Check our our Inner Garden Creative Retreats.