Three decades ago, it was just folks in costumes inspired by Tennessee Williams novels and Queens in pickup trucks throwing produce at people during rush hour on a Friday. Now, the Mal's St. Paddy's Parade is an annual celebration of springtime and one of the things that makes Jackson unique, attracting a crowd of 60,000 revelers.
A great deal of the fun comes from dressing in crazy outfits, consuming adult beverages during the daytime and dancing in the streets--but it's also about doing so with friends, family and community. Perhaps none are better aware of the revelry's deep ties to family and community than the family of parade founders Malcolm White and his brother, Hal.
Malcolm's daughter, Zita White, participated in her first parade wearing a onesie, carried by her mom. She has only missed one in her 28 years on the planet. A true daughter of the parade, she fondly thinks of Hal & Mal's and the St. Paddy's Parade "like my older sisters--my dad's brain children."
Her cousin Brandi White Lee--Hal's daughter--agrees: "If you saw our family on parade day, you'd think we're crazy, but we're always a part of it." Lee even got engaged the night before the parade in 2006.
But here's the rub: Daughters of the parade though they may be, they are still daughters. Malcolm and Hal's marching krewe, the O'Tux Society, is male, so while Lee and White participated in various ways through the years--riding on floats, selling T-shirts, carrying banners--they never had a permanent parade home.
One day soon after last year's parade, in the office at Hal & Mal's, 34-year-old Lee looked at Zita White and said, "We need to start our own krewe!" And thus began the Nugget League of Mayhem.
"There were a lot of great girls and family members of ours who weren't in a krewe," White says. "We thought it would be fun to pull a group of them together so that we have not just a group that marches on Parade Day, but a network of women on whom we can rely for support for things year-round. It's about family and friendship."
White and Lee invited friends, who invited friends, and this year's initial 20 members came together--I am lucky enough to be one, and couldn't be more thrilled.
The girls swung into research mode to help define their krewe's identity. "Nugget" refers to the luck of the Irish and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, as well as referencing Lee's daughter Rivers, whom the family called "Nugget" when she was a baby. League members' "nuggets" (children) will dress up and march, too, as will other family members: Zita White's mom, Vivian (an original Sweet Potato Queen), will be marching this year for the first time in 12 years.
Rather than calling themselves a krewe, "league" connotes a team, and in a subtle nod to what may be the ultimate female buddy movie, "A League of Their Own," the league's outfits for the Second Line Stomp on Friday night will be baseball jerseys.
The league's colors, blue and green, combine St. Patrick's blue with the traditional green of his holiday. Accessories are a cape--like a league of superheroes--and a tiara, which really needs no explanation because, well, it's a group of girls. "Mayhem" keeps with the whole parade spirit, though there's also a secret meaning to the moniker that only krewe members know.
League founders wanted to have a unified look with their colors and capes, but highlight the individuality of the girls, so each member will decorate her own cape and tiara as an expression of herself.
"My inner craft master has come out," White says with a laugh, explaining that it's been fun to come up with ideas and then figure out how to make them happen. For instance, what kind of nugget can you throw without injuring someone? "People will know us for our throws, our tiaras and capes ... and our awesome crafts, she adds."
"I'm so glad that my uncle and family got together on a day 31 years ago and started this tradition that Mississippi can be proud of. And I'm excited to be a part of and carry on the tradition," Lee says.
Look for the Nugget League of Mayhem near the start of the parade behind the Green Ladies. Hold your hands high to catch a golden nugget.