The damp night air sent a shiver down my back and brought with it a recollection of my first Mardi Gras King Cake Party.
The King Cake Party is the New Orleans introduction to the social scene for young people coming of dating age. The shiver could have been from being cold and tired, or the memory of how it all went haywire.
Every adolescent in New Orleans waits for it, the invitation to your first King Cake party. These parties are the prelude to dating. These cakes make their debut every year on Twelfth Night, January 6th, the official start of another Mardi Gras season, and are consumed in mass quantities until Lent.
The King Cake is a large doughnut shaped coffee cake, sprinkled with purple, green and gold sugar with a plastic doll hidden inside.
At these parties, when the King Cake is sliced, everyone gets a piece. Whoever gets the hidden doll in their piece, must give the next party. Parties are expected to happen weekly as the entire Mardi Gras Season lasts about six weeks. This creates great saga and drama in young lives and decidedly separates the popular from the unpopular.
So, with great enthusiasm and apprehension at 14 (OK, I am a late bloomer), I went to my first King Cake Party along with three of my friends. Tonight, my big debut at a girl-boy party, and I arrived in the family avocado green station wagon with my mother at the wheel. The avocado color was popular for kitchen appliances at the time, but it never should have been used on a vehicle.
We finally found the house on the third pass when my mother slowed down to 50 mph so someone could catch a house number. She decided from inside the car, sitting behind the wheel the house didn’t look like an opium den or brothel. She made a snap decision, slammed on the brakes, screeched to a stop and said, “Get out.”
As we disembarked the green machine she said to me, “I will be back at 11 to pick you up. Oh, and Brandy, if you get the doll, swallow it. I’m not having a party with all these kids at our house.” The car door slammed shut, she hit the gas and took the corner on two wheels heading home.
The party was uneventful, meaning, I did not get the piece of cake with the doll in it. With that impending doom put to rest I relaxed and tried to have fun.
Joyce’s parents had disappeared. They probably went to the next parish to get away from the loud music.
Two new guys walked in and the cute one walked straight over to me. He came up and stood next to me smiling.
Over the music he said, “Hi, my name is Ian and this is my friend, Eddie. Would the prettiest girl here give me the honor of dancing with me?” We danced and the music suddenly didn’t seem so loud. He talked to me asking my name, school, where I lived, everything. Ian offered to give me a ride home. I thought, Wow, he must be sixteen years old if he can drive!
BAM, it hit me. At 11:00 p.m. my mother was coming to pick us up.
I told him I had a ride with my friends. He offered to take my friends home as well. I had no idea how to tell my mother I had a ride, with a boy, I just met, who drove, for me and my friends. The butterflies in my stomach flew into a knot.
I said I couldn’t get in touch with my ride, and they were just going to pick us up at a designated time. Mr. Wonderful offered to take me home and let the “ride” take my friends. What planet did he beam down from?
My new suitor asked for my phone number, and I gave it to him. Did I stop thinking altogether?
My mother showed up early, waited at the curb impatiently, honking the horn.
I said I had to go. He said he liked me. He liked me! For the first time in my life, I was ‘in like’! I felt like a helium balloon that needed to be tethered. I drifted out to the car. My friends and I probably looked like little aliens getting into a big green space ship.
I got in the back seat and moved over but not fast enough since being “in like” had me distracted. My mother took off as Terrie stepped off the ground and before the car door closed. With my mother behind the wheel everything had to happen fast, no time to lose. She had to make good time. It did not matter that we had no particular place to be nor an exact time to get there. We had to get wherever we were going and we could not waste any time doing it. It didn’t matter that it was 11:00 pm, on a Friday night with no school the next day. It didn’t matter we were fourteen years old, in the car with a parent driving us home.
I didn’t see the next thing coming. The cute guy, Ian, didn’t tell me he planned to follow me home to make sure I got home safely.
My mother left the neighborhood on two wheels, sped onto the highway slamming on the brakes at every stop light. She hit the gas and took off when the light changed like she got the flag at the Indy 500. She slammed to a stop at a red light when Jeff and Eddie pulled up next to us driving his family station wagon with wood panels. I thought we had something in common and took it as a good sign, until…..
My mother blurts out, “Everyone lock your doors!” Still in a euphoric state from the party I did not notice her tone of impending doom.
He waved at us, so I waved back. My mother screamed, ”What are you doing with your boy crazy self?”
“Well, Mom, you see…. I.“ I tried to tell her I knew them, but my answer cut off by the station wagon lunging forward causing my head to whiplash.
She stomped the gas pedal at the green light, and Jeff followed by moving into the lane behind us. At this point she started yelling at an even higher pitch. “ See what you have gotten us into? Just shut up.”
Since this is not the first or the most unusual behavior my friends have witnessed my mother doing, they knew better than to try to explain. They kept quiet hoping to arrive home alive.
I tried to explain that I knew these boys but she cut me off screaming, “Just Shut Up! You and your boy crazy self are going to get us all killed! You’ve caused enough trouble already!” So much for open dialogue.
Did I hear right? She thought these guys were dangerous? She would soon realize not only was I boy crazy, but I fraternized with these two sociopaths at the party.
My friend, Terrie, looked over and gave me the ‘it is no use’ eye roll. She has been my friend since second grade and knows the caffeine highs my mother can ride.
After several attempts to diffuse her, she would not listen and responded with her voice increasing an octave each time; “Don’t Mom me, just shut up! Look at the mess you got us in.”
A mess? What mess? These two boys were certainly a fearful vision, following us up the highway in his parents’ wood paneled station wagon. My mother had it on some greater authority that the “Woody” is the vehicle of choice for the suburban hoodlum. I got a glimpse of the speedometer and the needle pointed to 100 m.p.h. Then, she began running red lights.
“I think I can lose these two.” She increased the distance between us, only because Ian stopped at the red lights and waited for it to turn green. No other cars were out, only us in the green station wagon and the boys following us. I don’t know how they did it, but Ian kept us with her. She got angrier by the minute which made her drive faster.
Riding shotgun in the green urban assault vehicle is my sister, Sherry wearing her Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ nightgown. At an early age she learned to increase the saga and drama if the order of events did not suit her by turning on the waterworks. Sherry had crying down to an art form and could dispense a flood of tears at any moment’s notice. She wanted to go to the party with me. My parents said no, she could not tag along since she wasn’t old enough for a boy girl function. Once the car chase started she saw her opportunity to add to the demise of my evening.
The boys were still close when my mother decided to peel off into Terrie’s quiet little neighborhood at 11:15 PM driving 80 mph. Ian maintained his mission of seeing me home safely, although I don’t think what was tantamount to a police chase, is what he had in mind. He stuck with us, almost riding my Mother’s bumper. My Mother got a lead on them, and turned into someone’s driveway, threw the automatic into PARK, killed the engine, turned off the lights and commanded all of us to “HIT THE FLOOR”.
There we sat, Mother, Sherry, Terrie, Suzanne, Danielle and me, parked in a stranger’s driveway, on the floor of our car. Sherry started whining somewhere back when the chase turned to sobbing. Suzanne, Terrie, Danielle and I sat on the floor in the back seat. I could see them looking at me by the light from the streetlamp.
My mother told all of us to be quiet, but made no effort to quiet my sister since the boohoo audio added to the seriousness of our situation. She added, all this was my fault because I flirted by waving at two psychopaths with my boy crazy self. As if we needed further clarification.
After what felt like an eternity, she gave the “all clear”. She thought she lost them and it safe to venture on taking my friends home. My mother backed out the driveway cautiously. It is a wonder the people who lived in the house with the driveway did not call the police on us. At the four way stop at the corner, there they were, parked, waiting and looking around for us. They rolled across in front of our car, waved and turned off in another direction. My Mother froze. I did not wave back. I barely gave a head nod to them by way of acknowledgement.
The only one terrified, besides my mother, during the ordeal was Sherry. Her crying escalated into sobbing, which she did all the way home. The sobbing and my mother’s tirade woke up my father. My dad only tuned in long enough to hear my mother had not wrecked the car and went back to bed.
This all happened, oh about 13 years ago, and, of course, he hasn’t called me……..yet. How long do you think I should wait?