There are numerous childhood memories woven into the holiday fabric of the Natchitoches Christmas Festival. Whether it was marching with my Weaver Elementary French class in the long forgotten Children’s Parade, turning blue in the thirty degree weather or drinking a thermos of hot chocolate and eating homemade sandwiches with my siblings, it was always pure Christmas magic.
Many celebrities and politicians have been featured as Grand Marshall’s in the parade. I remember Vanna White, Lorne Green, and many more. Even the iconic Budweiser Clydesdale Horses made several appearances before the cheering and eager crowds. Enormous marching bands and famous dance lines would attend from near and far. You truly never knew what the Festival would hold from year to year.
If you were raised attending the festival in the 1980’s you will remember that there were no barriers to stop the joyful children from running into the parade route to glean the streets of parade swag. Maybe the crowds were smaller, maybe the children were less rambunctious or maybe we weren’t concerned about safety as much…however you remember it, it was purely a grand time. This was also the first time that the Christmas lights were turned on downtown.
There was so much anticipation in those large old-school multi-colored lights. They were the grandparents of the new energy efficient LED lights that we enjoy today.
With all of the beautiful childhood Christmas Festival memories, there is only one that still haunts me until this day. I often wish I could erase it from my highlight reel of shame.
One year while I was approaching late elementary school age, I remember that my parents went to a garage sale one festival weekend. This was something my parents enjoyed every single Saturday morning. They would visit yard sales for items needed in our household, dine on a sausage biscuit and drive really slow back to the chaos that their three children had waiting for them.
During this time penny loafers were hugely in style and all of my friends had a pair except for me. Every time I would ask for these shoes my dad would say, “I can make you some penny loafers, hand me your shoes and some duct tape.” His humor did not make me laugh as much as he thought it should.
As fate would have it, on festival weekend they found a pair of almost shiny new loafers just in the perfect size for my growing feet. They even came with two pennies in the pouch. I was all set to go and I wore them with so much pride to the festival parade. I was in high preppy fashion. You could not have purchased me for what I thought I was worth. Grinning from ear to ear I was sitting on the curb in front of the now Parish Library admiring my shoes and watching the parade.
Life was so good. I was catching mountains of candy while enjoying my new loafers.
Just as I was looking down to pick up candy that was hurled my way, I noticed that the heel on my loafer was very crooked and possibly would not make it through the day. What in the world happened to my treasure? All of the sudden I felt all of the pride and joy drain from my body. I asked my parents if they knew the shoes were faulty. Clearly they knew and didn’t care. My mother told me I could get glad in the same pants I got sad in and I should be lucky that I even had shoes on my feet. She recalled stories of my dad growing up and never having shoes to wear to school unless it was winter time, his family would even cut the toes out of the shoes so their feet could continue to grow. It was kind of hard to argue with that point. So, I moved on and started to ponder on what story I would tell my friends when they asked why my shoes were completely jacked up.
I was deep in thought as the Budweiser Clydesdale Horses rolled down the street in all of their majestic glory.
That was it! It was a sign from above. I would say that I ran into the street to gather candy and a huge horse stepped on my penny loafers causing great distress on the heel of my shoes. No one ever said I was skilled liar. I was about ten years old at the time and it seemed logical to me. I continued to wear the loafers for the rest of the school year and my friends were wowed by heroic tale of fighting the Clydesdale horses for more parade candy. It was a silent badge of honor on the outside but on the inside I knew it was a tall tale that logistically could not have happened.
Many years later I look back on those days and just shake my head. I wish I would have been a confident kid who rocked the crooked loafer look and invented a new trend, but I wasn’t. Being raised poor was not fun because you were constantly comparing and contrasting yourself with other children who were more well off. One thing it did do was build a strong sense of gratitude that has carried me thorough adulthood. It gave me a deep appreciation for everything that God has blessed me with. It even softened my heart to be empathetic to children to who are not blessed with very much and try to cover it up.
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”