I don't remember my introduction to Mardi Gras, but my mom does. She held an infant me in her arms during a parade on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans when I got whacked in the head by a small bag of beads. I never asked her whether I cried, but the damage was permanent -- I've enjoyed the annual celebration ever since.

As a kid, I took Mardi Gras for granted. To my young mind, Mardi Gras always was and always would be.

A news story I read the other day, however, got me thinking how immature those young thoughts were and what a priceless and fragile part of the culture Carnival is. The story, by The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge, appeared in The Courier and Daily Comet last week under this headline: "In suburban New Orleans, parades struggle to stay afloat."

It explains how many suburban krewes have either withered, folded or moved to New Orleans' Uptown route, where crowds, bolstered by tourists, are bigger.

The story floats other reasons for the trend, including rising costs, the displacement of many residents after Hurricane Katrina and a sagging interest among young people. The article doesn't mention it, but I remember when some of my friends started flocking to the glitz of Endymion, Orpheus and other so-called "super krewes" across the river, which stage giant parties with celebrity kings and big-name musical acts. They are the kinds of people who might otherwise have perpetuated Alla, Choctaw and Cleopatra as West Bank parades.

At least half a dozen parades rolled on the West Bank when I was a kid. Now, the story says, one remains.

It's hard to imagine my old neighborhoods in Terrytown and Algiers without parades. I remember how excited I was as a grade-schooler seeing those colorful, giant floats roll through my neighborhood. As I grew older, I cheered for my high school band and my friends who marched in it. I remember screaming "Throw me something, mister" to parents of friends or later my own friends as they tossed beads and other trinkets to crowds lining the streets.

Sure, I loved the parades "across the river," as my West Bank neighbors would describe it. But watching parades roll through my own neighborhood, surrounded by familiar faces, was a unique thrill.

We're lucky here in Terrebonne and Lafourche. Almost every community has its own parade, and, like the ones I grew up with, they owe their existence to neighborhood bonds. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to experience some of the same joys I remember from my youth, catching beads and trinkets from my new neighbors and friends and watching parades within walking distance of my house in Houma.

But change has affected Carnival here, too. One of the biggest came in the early 1990s after Houma's twin spans were built, making it unsafe to roll a parade across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. As a result, the several parades that once rolled though east Houma all moved to the west.

East Houma has one parade left, to the credit of a few men who shared a bond among themselves and the neighborhood where they grew up. They include Houma's "Mr. Mardi Gras," S.P. LaRussa; former Terrebonne Parish President Barry Bonvillain; businessman Arthur Breaux and the late Parish Councilman J.B. Breaux. They formed the Krewe of Mardi Gras, which rolled Saturday night for its 24th year.

Neighborhood bonds -- they're an important part of making sure Mardi Gras isn't limited to a couple of big parade routes in Houma or Thibodaux.

Getting children involved is important too. So when families enjoy a parade together, the action can have long-term consequences, even if no one gets hit in the head with a bag of beads.

-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com.