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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2007
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Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer

Who's behind
the MASK?

Decatur woman carries on the Mardi Gras mystique in Mobile

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Watch for the woman in the lime green satin dress, matching bloomers and feather-trimmed pink mask.

On Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m., she will be throwing beads and MoonPies from atop the Neptune’s Daughters float in Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebration.

You may not recognize the Decatur restaurant owner and caterer in her lime headpiece, gold gloves, gold sequin trim and bright pink flower at her waist to match her mask.

When she puts on her costume, however, Jackie Grimsley escapes from the everyday reality of planning menus and buying food for The Casual Gourmet and becomes one of Neptune’s Daughters.

Grimsley is a member of that mystic society, along with several of her family members. She said she loves the Mardi Gras season, which got under way Friday and will culminate on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 20.

“This is the best therapy in the world, and it’s all for fun. You get on a float and ride for two hours, with people screaming for you to throw stuff at them,” she said.

The Mobile native grew up attending Mardi Gras parades and marching in them with her high school band. She and husband Darrell have lived in Decatur for 37 years, but they spend a lot of weekends driving back for parades and balls.

Jackie Grimsley, who owns The Casual Gourmet in Decatur, brought this King Cake back from Mobile, where she is a member of the mystic society Neptune’s Daughters.
Jackie Grimsley, who owns The Casual Gourmet in Decatur, brought this King Cake back from Mobile, where she is a member of the mystic society Neptune’s Daughters.
It’s not a cheap hobby, however, because mystic society members must buy their own throws and costumes. Grimsley estimates she’s already spent $600 or $700 this year on beads, MoonPies, packages of peanuts, stuffed animals, and plastic cups and doubloons inscribed with “Neptune’s Daughters” and the parade date — all to toss into the air and thrill the crowd.

“I ride on the very top of the float; I like to see everybody,” she said.

About 350 women are members of the Daughters of Neptune, including her daughter, Jennifer Grimsley of Nashville, and two sisters and two sisters-in-law in Mobile. Other friends and relatives are in different societies, so they stay busy going to balls during the season.

‘Tales of the Tropics’

This krewe will have 13 floats in their parade next Sunday, all decorated in a “Tails of the Tropics” theme. The design and costumes are different for each float.

She could have a long dress but thinks it would restrict her movement on the float. “Some of the others wear shorts and Capri pants and cute things — not lime green bloomers under a short dress,” she said. If it’s cold, she said, she’s too busy to feel it as she moves around the float in hose and tennis shoes.

Grimsley, who will be among 27 on a float called “Island of Corona,” said not to worry if you see her driving up for a catering job with a couple of giant blow-up Corona bottles next to the food in her van. It’s all for her Mardi Gras float.

She might have a King Cake, too, because she often brings those confections sprinkled with purple, gold and green sugar back from Mobile.

Catered dinner for 700

She went there for the last three weekends and even catered the Mobile Civic Center rehearsal dinner for 700 members of her group and guests last weekend, including King Neptune and his mermaids. That job will help balance the cost of her throws.

Grimsley plans to go back before her krewe’s parade and stay through Fat Tuesday. For her group’s ball, she must stay in mask and costume through the pageantry and dancing, but she will wear formal gowns for balls after other parades. The balls offer several bands and types of music, as well as plenty to eat and drink.

Darrell Grimsley escorts a member of Neptune’s Daughters after the Dames at Sea theme parade in Mobile in 2006. She must remain unnamed while in her costume and mask.
Courtesy photo
Darrell Grimsley escorts a member of Neptune’s Daughters after the Dames at Sea theme parade in Mobile in 2006. She must remain unnamed while in her costume and mask.
Her dues are $350 a year, and she must pay for her costume and mask. Her organization purchased a barn for its professionally built floats, which run more than $5,000 each.

“It costs about $100,000 to put a parade on the street,” Grimsley said, so they hold a lot of fundraisers, such as auctions, yard and bake sales and dances. They also aid charities and visit nursing homes to give out beads and trinkets.

She said she likes to try to please children by aiming her items in their direction.

“This year we have yo-yos and seahorses on a necklace that light up,” Grimsley said.

She makes up special bags with those types of trinkets for her two grandchildren and others attending from her family, but the best throwing schemes don’t always work out.

One year near the end of the parade route she was trying to throw all her leftover items to her son, but the people next to him caught the bounty.

“He said they were from Ohio and he just couldn’t ask them to turn it over to him,” said Grimsley.

Winter family reunion

Her extended family has a reunion during Mardi Gras, with about 15 families staying at a hotel through the weekend.

“Mobile’s Mardi Gras is wonderful for families; there’s even a family section several blocks long marked off for those who don’t want their children around drinkers.”

The rules for members of the mystic societies are strict, said Grimsley.

The group has fines as high as $500 (and sometimes expels) anyone who is drinking or baring any part of the body on a float or even appearing in costume off a float.

“You can get high as a kite just from riding a float,” she said.

Grimsley and her husband trade off: he goes to some Mardi Gras events and she goes to some Alabama football games.

“I just don’t ask him to wear tails more than three times a year,” she said.

About three years ago, he served as a parade marshal, riding a horse between floats.

“He wore a cape and a big plumed hat, too, but after a couple of years, he said that was all of that he cared to do.”

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