Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Her Story

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 11:18 PM

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For the current Gambit cover story, "Rally of the Dolls," I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Mrs. Miriam Batiste Reed, sister to "Uncle" Lionel Batiste of the Treme Brass Band, and the self-proclaimed original Mardi Gras Baby Doll. The transcript of our conversation, which I will post here in segments throughout the week, amounts to nothing less than an oral history of the revived Baby Doll tradition and other latter-day Claiborne Avenue rituals — as well as a vivid reanimation of one woman's most vital memories.

 

I am the original Baby Doll. Katrina has left me out in California. I made 83 years old. And I’m not well enough to return.

 

My mother started out with her club. They were the original Baby Dolls downtown, the first Baby Dolls that came out. I was in a dancing school. Every Carnival she would take the dance crew to different restaurants, and we would perform a dance in order to make money to buy costumes. Then I decided I was going to come back and take up where Momma left with the Baby Dolls. The Baby Dolls had consisted of my nieces, my nephews, my sisters, my brothers. The whole Batiste.

 

The Batiste family was the original family from New Orleans. Everybody would cling to the Batiste family, from children, Indians, Skeletons, you know. I had did a lot of sewing. I had what you call a group of Baby Doll dresses. I must’ve had about 25-30 dresses. The satin, you know, and the Baby Doll panties with the ruffle on the back. Every year we would have a new one. The Dirty Dozen is actually the Mardi Gras. And if you see them, you would be surprised, because you think it would be a lady and it’s a man dressed in ladies’ clothes. I remember when I was small my brothers and them started out, and we’d have to hide our clothes, me and my sisters, because my brother would come with his friends: “Oh Miriam, let me use one of your dresses. Oh Miriam, let me use your shoes,” you know. My momma had open house everyday. Oh, I done fed, helped Momma. I’m a cook. I can cook, because my father worked at Gia Russa’s bakery shop off of Orleans. And we had a big table that my father built in the yard. And we would feed the other little kids.

 

That Uncle Lionel is something else. My nephew Bennie Jones, they organized the Treme Brass Band. When we paraded with Baby Dolls, we didn’t have no nice instruments. We had the washboard, the kazoo, the guitar, and a big number 3 tub for the bass drum. Every year I did the sewing, and we would sing all our old songs together. This is what happened. You see, when they took the Zulu and Mardi Gras off of Claiborne, that just broke up everything. That’s what started it.

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