It was, I think 1981 when I first became “the alligator” at West St. Charles Rotary Club’s Alligator Festival.
It was necessary to find a way to make scholarship money, so the Rotarians back then decided on an Alligator Festival as the fund-raising way to do it. September is alligator season after all, and we do have an abundance of alligators in our parish. The guys would get together and fillet the gator meat and cook sauce piquante and fried gator for a festival. That started in 1980 with a cookbook to boot.
There had been a French codofil program in the parish that was coming to an end at this time. A French teacher would wear an alligator costume to advertize the program and I had admired it and talked to him a time or two. So, when he left the parish, he left the costume in my care. I decided it would be my perfect garb for an Alligator Festival. I was having a great time, dancing and cutting up in it. I suppose since no one could tell, so I thought, who I was, I could act as crazy as I wanted. The costume was silky and easy to wear with a big papier mache headpiece that I lined with batting material to keep more comfortable on my head. The tail was attached separately and I lifted it up by holding it on a loop on my little finger. I also wore tights and gloves and shoes that sort of went with the outfit.
It was fun going up in an air balloon to announce to St. Charles Parish residents that there was a festival that they should come to. I even picked up a friend of mine at the airport in the costume, as I had been at the festival, and would bring her back to it with me.
Dudley Webre was always so good at bringing his lumber to the grounds to build booths to sell goods in. Ed Wahden was adept at getting the electricity hooked up since he worked for LP&L. George and Carol Hull were two of the first cooks. All the guys worked hard, along with their wives doing everything. Kenny Schmill would make gator burgers and there were always a lot of non-Rotarians like Kenny who would come to help.
The festival has had several locations: Willowdale Country Club, Hahnville, in front of Coronado Park where the Walmart is, and now the Bridge Park. In order for it to grow, the Rotarians started farming out different booths and added rides. They also used to have real alligators for the children to pet. Their mouths had been taped for safety but some of the guys used to wrestle with some of the larger ones. Then it was decided since it was an Alligator Festival there should be a true alligator queen. So a pink ribbon, a yellow ribbon and a blue ribbon were tied each around the necks of three small gators. Likewise, empty jugs with the same colored ribbons were handy for festival-goers to vote for the prettiest gator by adding pennies to the jug of choice…for the SPCA.
Allen, my husband, had the job for several years of taking the three baby alligators to our house in cages for safe-keeping during the nights. That was before the festival was big enough to have guards. The gators had been rented from Kleibert’s Alligator Farm and one Sunday morning we went out to find that one of the gators had gotten out of the cage. We found out that Beau Jeansonne had gone out to get his morning paper and exclaimed, “what is that pink ribbon doing in my monkey grass?” He noticed that it was tied around the alligator’s neck, so he and Jerald Desselle (of white beans and rice with shrimp fame) proceeded to take the tape off the gator’s mouth and throw him into one of the Willowdale ponds.
That gator didn’t have a chance to win the contest that year. There was only one year that a real live person got to be queen. That was in 1986 and the honors went to our 12-year old daughter Amy. She won for selling the most festival tickets.
When I wore the costume it seems that I could look into the souls of small children. The soulful look in their eyes told me so much about them and many felt comfortable being and staying around the gator. I have also taken pictures with many of them. Of course I scared some children, but for the most part they seemed to love the gator and would come out and dance with me when the bands played.
I have enjoyed wearing the alligator costume all these years and was reminiscing with Amy about my experiences. She was the one who suggested that I write my memoirs as an alligator so I could give you a glimpse of how I remember things. Also it would allow me to bow out of this role and maybe pass on the headpiece to someone in Rotary who could take my place.