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Mardi Gras in Mobile means family

Photo by Emma Newell

Chad and Tyler Miller learned to walk, talk and live as any other kid would. Shortly after the necessities, they learned how to throw.

However, this throwing did not entail pitching a baseball or passing a football. They learned how to throw—beads and MoonPies, that is. They learned the ropes of Mardi Gras.

The young brothers took turns climbing in the bed of grandfather Lester Burgess’s truck as he drove around the cul-de-sac of their neighborhood. One brother practiced saying, “Throw me something mister!” The other obliged, throwing the items until they only had plastic bags of mush and broken strings.

The Millers are native to Mobile, Alabama, a city known to be the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States. While similar to the famed celebration in New Orleans, Mobile’s version is a much smaller operation that involves a large portion of the community. For many Mobile residents, it’s a family affair.

Cart Blackwell, curator for the Mobile Carnival Museum, thinks the community-driven nature of Mobile’s Mardi Gras is why families are attracted to it, as it promotes a family-friendly atmosphere.

“Mobile’s Carnival has always catered to locals,” Blackwell said. “If you’re going to be working with someone or worshipping with someone, you’re going to obtain a standard of behavior.”

Locals recognize the value of Mobile and its traditions, and that is why they want to participate, Blackwell said.

The Miller family is no exception. Mike Miller, Chad and Tyler’s father, is a member of both the Conde Cavaliers and the Mystics of Time. However, the parade that’s most special to the family is the Conde Cavaliers, Mike Miller said.

Burgess was the first of the family to join the Conde Cavaliers in 1978, the year after it was formed. Mike Miller followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps in the 1990s, but he had to drop out of the parade a few years after because of time conflictions. He joined the Mystics of Time shortly after.

As oldest son Chad Miller neared 21, the age to join the Mardi Gras organizations, Burgess convinced Mike Miller to rejoin the Conde Cavaliers so that three generations of the family could ride together.

Now, Chad, Tyler, and Mike Miller, along with Burgess, all ride together on the same Conde Cavaliers float each year. This year, 2019, was the eleventh year that the three generations rode together.

Mike Miller said he believes that the tradition of Mardi Gras will be something the Millers continue for many years, and one of his sons is already an indication of that.

Tyler Miller has lived in the Virgin Islands, Key West and New York since joining the Conde Cavaliers, but he has never once missed a chance to ride in a parade with his family.

“It’s always been one of those things that never fails to bring us together,” Mike Miller said.

Mardi Gras is nonetheless an expensive experience for the family, as it is for many, Kim Miller, mother of the family, said. They have to pay membership dues, buy items to throw, get hotel rooms, and buy gowns and accessories for the ball. It requires heavy budgeting, but it’s all worth it, Kim Miller said.

Mike Miller said he believes that the tradition of Mardi Gras will be something the Millers continue for many years.

The Millers are not the only family that greatly invest in Mobile’s Mardi Gras. The whole city does, and it has continually brought generations of people together for one celebration of the community—one MoonPie at a time.


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