A blog by Lori Lyons

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't let the parade pass you by

When The Coach and I first spotted our little Norco cottage more than 20 years ago, we fell in love with it pretty much instantly.

First of all, it was unique. Neither of us wanted a cookie-cutter suburban tract house to live in, and this one certainly is not. Built in the early 1930s from a catalog plan, it's either a Tudor cottage or a Cotswold Cottage -- I haven't been able to find the exact architecture style. I know it's kooky and quirky, just like me. There are two downstairs bedrooms. The attic was converted into living space sometime in the 50s and the stairs are in the spare bedroom.  There's now an upstairs half-bath, but you have to sit sideways to use the toilet. All we added was a white picket fence and, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, a swimming pool.

 "It's got character," everyone says.

It was built by Dr. Almerico,  the then-dentist for Shell Oil Company, which developed its refinery in what was then-called Good Hope, Louisiana.  The refinery came to be called the New Orleans Refining Company, which eventually was shortened to NORCO, which eventually became the name of the town. Yes, I live in an acronym. (This is NOT to be confused with Norco, California, which apparently also is an acronym for a railroad company.)

Dr. Almerico's House, as it is still known, was one of the first houses built in the area, one of the first brick houses built in the area. Some called it "The Mansion." Whatever they call it, it's somewhat of a landmark.

There are two others just like ours in our immediate vicinity -- one about seven miles from us in LaPlace, which is an almost exact replica in reverse. Their porch is on the opposite side of the house and glassed in. The brick is different too.

 There is another about 20 miles from us in the town of Garyville. Their porch is also enclosed, but is on the correct side.

But our house has something neither of those has -- a parade!

My house during the parade!

Well, it didn't when we bought it. But for most of the 1970s and since its revival in 2001, the annual Norco Christmas Parade has rolled on the first Sunday in December through the streets of Norco and right up to my house. No, really. It pretty starts and ends at my at my little cottage, bringing half the town of Norco plus untold numbers of family members, friends and, oftentimes, complete strangers to my one and a half bathrooms. And I pretty much feed all of them too.

It starts with Santa, who is one of the first to arrive at my house on the first Sunday in December. Of course, at that point he's just a really cool guy named Joe Shine. And, because we live in Louisiana, he's usually wearing shorts and a t-shirt and flip flops. After making his way through the crowd of family, friends and strangers, he taste tests the ham and other pickings for a while before deftly disappearing into the room that has alternated as my stepson's room, my nephew's room, my in-laws' room and, now, my daughter's room, to transform into the Jolly Old Elf.

He usually finds the accommodations accommodating -- except for the year when we had a not-so-Louisiana-like December and had the heater turned on full blast and he sweat his jolly old ass off while getting dressed.  Or the year the local minor league baseball team's nutria mascots locked themselves in there for a while and made Santa wait his turn.

Mrs. Claus makes her appearance a short time later, but smart one that she is, she's already dressed and ready to go.

A short time after noon, a local elf whisks the Clauses away to a local helicopter pad where a local businessman awaits to whisk them off on their pre-parade aerial tour of Norco. They spend several minutes flying over the parade route and stirring up the crowds below.

And one of my absolute favorite parts is when they fly over MY HOUSE, waving TO ME and my family, friends and the complete strangers. The helicopter then lands a short distance from my house, on the Mississippi River levee, where the parade officially begins.

In the meantime, a steady - ahem - parade of people meander through my house, around my buffet table and in and out of my bathrooms. Friends, family, friends of family, family of friends, cheerleaders, dance team members, members of the marching bands, politicians, teachers, bus drivers, baseball players, football players, these Star Wars people, policemen, firemen -- you name it. And more than a few times, the Coach and I have whispered in each other's ear, "Do you know who that is?"

It doesn't matter. We welcome them all. And happily give the Ten Cent Tour to anyone who asks.

At 2 p.m. the parade rolls under the direction of Stephen Weber, who happens to be the principal at The Coach's high school (Yep. The parade master is his boss.) The organized chaos meanders up Good Hope Street then down ours, for about two hours.

And it's run pretty smoothly over these 13 years, too. Well, except for some occasional horse poop... and trains... and  the year Elvis' pink Cadillac blew its radiator right in front of our house... Or the year there was the unfortunate tasering incident that made newspaper headlines ... Or the year Shell nearly exploded right in the middle of everything...

The parade as it reaches my house. This was last year. See the big black cloud in the background? That was extra special effects thanks to Shell/Motiva, which had some sort of "incident" the morning of the parade.

No, this is no Mardi Gras extravaganza, although there is lots of bead, toy and candy throwing. There are floats from the local elementary schools, the Cub Scouts, a group of Kids Kicking Cancer and other community groups. Coach's baseball team collects canned goods, which are distributed to local families over the holidays. The football team collects coats. In between there are marching bands, cheerleading teams, dance teams, a troupe of Star Wars characters, groups of horse riders, antique and specialty cars, lots and lots of pageant queens and lots and lots of local dance and marching groups. Every year it seems we also get inquiries from folks in Norco, California, who want to participate as well.

The World Famous 610 Stompers!
This year's parade was extra special, with the local all-male dance troupe, The 610 Stompers and the famous Marching 100 from St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. We also helped some folks get Santa to help with a marriage proposal along the route.

And of course there is a giant float carrying the famous visitors from the North Pole. Once the Clauses reach our house, the float stops. Folks grab a ladder and let Mr. and Mrs. Claus climb down. Oftentimes, they trot -- OK, sometimes they run - into the house and straight to the bathroom.

A few minutes later they emerge again and merrily  make their way across the street to the community Christmas tree, where they happily pose with children and families for photos and pass out giant candy canes. That's actually one of my favorite parts of the day, watching the little kids get their few minutes with Santa. Sure, some are terrified, but we do our best to help Mom and Dad get that elusive photo.

The Clauses and Us! (no tasering in the background this year. That's another whole story...)

  By the time darkness falls, the community tree is lit, folks are carrying their exhausted children home loaded down with beads and candy, and the exhausted parade folks are strolling through my house scrounging for whatever leftovers we have. This year, we had an entire ham and lots of bread, and way too much pastalaya, which we sent over to the local high school to feed the football team, which was practicing for the state semifinals.

Eventually, Santa sneaks his way back to the magic room in the back, where he makes his transformation back into a regular Joe. I have to say, he has done a great job of guarding his secret identity over the years, especially when my house is full of little children. This year was the first year my 12-year-old daughter kind of confronted him, saying "So. You're the guy that's been coming to my house all this time." And it was just a year or two ago that my mother-in-law piped up and asked, "Who is that guy who shows up at the end of the parade every year and eats all the leftovers?"

This year we pulled up some of the old photos on the computer to show Joe Santa how much our baby girl has grown over the years. The parade was revived in the same year she was born (although with a different Santa and Mrs. Claus that first year.) But we can pretty much document her life on his knee.

The Tweenager and Santa

Meanwhile, the Coach and I get started on cleaning up the mess by letting the dogs back inside to vacuum the floors. We pack away the leftover ham and the punch bowl cake and the Donnie Dip (so-named because it's one of our friend's favorite) and toss out the one remaining olive (WTF is up with that?) and start thinking about next year.

And although it's a lot of work before and after, and I can barely walk for days, I tell my husband every year, "We are never moving from this house." Why on earth would I want to?

For more information on the Norco Christmas Parade, please visit our web site -- norconoel.com (I am also the web master!) You can visit us on Facebook too! 

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