Pageant is important to community

Published 11:03 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I’m still a Natchez baby.

In a town this old it takes years to grow to a wobbly toddler.

But I’m a baby who has crawled her first inch, spoken her first unintelligible garble.

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I’ve sat in the queen’s box at the Historic Natchez Pageant.

My first exposure to the event Natchez children know well by age 4 came three years ago, just after I’d moved to town. My aunt and parents came down for Pilgrimage, and we toured the homes, went to Pageant, the works.

We sat up high at the City Auditorium, and I clearly remember saying, “Why are those people down there so dressed up?”

A few weeks ago as I sat in my finest on floor level surrounded by guys in tuxedos, I wondered what the tourists in jeans thought of us.

Technically, we were part of the show. For us, it was a social event, a chance to see friends in the Pageant and the precursor to the royal ball. But to the tourists, the folks in black tie must seem like an important part of the performance.

I’ve seen Pageant twice now, and I can’t lie and say I think it’s a fine choice for an evening out. But I do recognize the importance it has played in this community.

Year after year it draws busloads of tourists from all over the globe. Some tourists are return visitors, many are not.

And I imagine they all leave with different opinions of our historic play. Many simply like to watch the hoop skirts twirl and the dancers dance. Some like the history. Others probably question why a time and a war built on slavery are portrayed so cheerfully.

Regardless, they came, and they watched. And they paid.

As a Natchez baby, the methods used to convince teenage boys to dress as they do and parade around on stage are a mystery to me.

And though the boys aren’t all smiles throughout their polkas, they are learning lessons not taught in my hometown.

For one, they know how to dance like a gentleman. They — and the girls — develop the confidence to move gracefully in front of a crowd.

And they understand, if only subconsciously, what it means to support the economy of their town.

Year after year, decade after decade, Natchez children have grown up on this stage.

You can look at the children in Little Maypole and pick out the future kings and queens. The royalty of tomorrow are the ones laughing and smiling today. They don’t know it yet, but a large chuck of Natchez tourism may soon lie on their shoulders.

The Pageant children will grow up surrounded by the Natchez ways. Implants like me will never be up to speed.

And that’s fine. I’m happy to be crawling.

I’d be interested to see gradual changes phased into the age-old Pageant — a faster tempo, more speaking and singing — but sitting in the queen’s box can definitely make a baby feel important.

It took a few nudges from the mother of the queen and the gentleman in a tuxedo to get this baby crawling, but a night in heels and a cramped queen’s box will surely mean first steps are just around the corner.

So whether you are there for the hoop skirts or the social status, Pageant is an important part of Natchez, and we owe its participants a nod of thanks and a round of applause.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or