My dad was a 32-year-old bachelor when he was drafted into the US Army in 1941 and began a four-year tour of duty, much of it overseas.
Before he left for Italy, he told my cousins -- who were in their late teens when I was born but were just little 4- and 5-year-old girls at the time -- that he would bring an Italian baby home for them. Apparently they were terribly disappointed when, instead of proffering the promised bambino, he gave each a good luck keepsake, the fabled Little Bell of San Michele. I prefer to think of this story as an example of my dad's enthusiasm for playful teasing rather than any sort of commentary on his personal prowess, or lack thereof, while overseas. (Actually, I prefer not to think at all about the latter.)
Dad loved to tell tales of his Army days. (Actually, Dad loved to tell tales of most any kind, a trait that is apparently heritable.) He mentioned several times that on his first leave to Naples, he felt as if he had been there before. He described an unerring sense of where things were and how to most easily travel to them. Perhaps he was reincarnated, he mused, and had been a Neopolitan at one time. (He did always like their ice cream, he added.)
The dutiful daughter I was, I listened then discounted a lot of what he said.
But then, I took my first trip to New Orleans. And the same thing happened to me. I felt instantly that I knew the place.
My husband marveled as I negotiated the streets of the French Quarter, which converge at odd angles and change names without notice. I hadn't been there before, but, somehow, I sensed that I had.
Because we live just six hours away, we visited New Orleans fairly often while our children were growing up. Then, as if to cement our love affair with the city, our daughter decided to attend Tulane University there.
Now our trips became more frequent, our immersion into the culture more complete. With daughter as guide, we explored every mainstream and offbeat art venue, learned all the shopping areas -- from popular to obscure, ate at places only locals knew, and could tell at 50 paces the difference between a pedestrian snowcone and the city's revered Snow Balls.
One thing we never did in her five years there (four in school, one working as a researcher post-graduation) was attend Mardi Gras.
She thought we'd hate it. That the noise, the crowds, the dirt, the drunkenness, the strangeness of it all would be upsetting or at least offputting to us. She even discouraged us from attending the Krewe of Barkus parade, thinking the procession of pet dogs might somehow be offensive.
She, of course, never missed an event. I had apparently raised a very hearty (and perhaps somewhat sneaky) child.
Her freshman year she asked that I make a Mardi Gras tie for her male RA, with whom she and her roommate had become quite friendly. I found fabric printed with a mask montage -- appropriate in scale, daring in color treatment, and still quite masculine overall. I understand that, six years later, he still wears the tie each year.
And, six years later, I still had some of it left. So, as one of my first steps in my sewing closet clear-out, I made a table runner. In addition to the featured fabric, I used the traditional purple, green and gold of the season and added a little pink and turquoise for pop.