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The meaning of Mardi Gras beads

Daily Staff Report
Special to the Daily Jack Ruli looks through his son's bedroom window that was shattered by Hurricane Katrina. Mold clings to the wall behind him.
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NEW ORLEANS ” Jack Ruli lost everything in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, everything except for some strands of purple, green and gold Mardi Gras beads. It was a small token to be salvaged, but it would become a symbol of what the Ruli family would gain from their losses ” justice, faith and the power within themselves to move on ” the same qualities the colors of Mardi Gras beads, purple, green and gold, are said to possess.

Jack intended on throwing those beads in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade, but instead, he will throw them in Vail.

This year, Jack, his wife, Holly, and their two children, Courtney, 15, and Jack, 10, will bring the spirit of New Orleans’ to Vail as the guests of honor in the town’s Mardi Gras parade Tuesday, judging floats and giving away their only possession that survived the storm.



When Vail Resorts employees and members of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau wanted to adopt a family from New Orleans for Vail’s festivities this year, it was Rick Mickler, a second homeowner in the valley, whose primary home is in New Orleans, who suggested the Rulis.

“They’re the type of people that wouldn’t ask for anything from anybody,” Mickler said. “The Ruli family has experienced the worst Mother Nature has to offer, and the visit to the Vail Valley will give them the best she has to offer.”



Beaver Creek Resort Company, along with Beaver Creek Sports and the Vail Valley Foundation, are chipping in with ski lessons, ski rentals and lift tickets for the family during their stay, while participating Vail restaurants will offer Cajun-inspired cuisine and donate a portion of their Fat Tuesday proceeds to the family.

“With the Rulis not having an opportunity to celebrate Mardi Gras in the way that they have in year’s past, we hope they’ll be able to enjoy it in Vail this year” said Ian Anderson, marketing communications director for the VVCTB. “And I think the Ruli family will give Vail’s Mardi Gras parade a lot more meaning.”

And although Jack has hardly seen snow, he’s sure he can bring something to the table. The Rulis have always loved Mardi Gras. Jack can’t remember a year his family wasn’t riding on a float, marching in the parade or celebrating in the French Quarter.



“Normally I’m in the middle of Mardi Gras,” he said. “We are Mardi Gras. There’s no doubt about it. I can fit in.”

Jack had just returned home from a quiet morning of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when he caught wind of a hurricane stirring its waters. When he and his family followed government orders to leave their New Orleans’ Lake Front home the following morning, they thought it to be just another routine evacuation; no big deal.

They each packed a pair of shorts and blue jeans, a few T-shirts and flip-flops, enough clothes for two or three days. Jack, his wife, Holly, and their two children, Courtney, 15, and Jack, 10, had done this many times ” a “hurricane party” they called it ” and often would check in to a nearby hotel, a mini vacation. On the final Sunday in August last year, the family got in the car and drove to his brother-n-law’s, 30 miles away in Mandeville, La.

Hurricane Katrina hit Monday morning flooding the entire city of New Orleans, and two days turned into a month before the Ruli family returned home. But it wasn’t the same home they had left. At the height of the storm, the one-story house had been entirely submerged in 10 feet of water. An inch of sludge now carpeted the floor, an inch of slime covered everything else. Windows were broken. Furniture had floated and toppled over. Even the car that sat in their driveway had disappeared. Nothing was in its original place. The refrigerator had turned upside down and leaked toxic contents and a foul odor. The kitchen cabinets had collapsed, spilling broken dishes. Mold clung to the walls like colorful paint splattered carelessly where the waterline stopped.

Jack wore a mask and plastic gloves as he entered the home fearing everything was toxic. But he couldn’t bear the 100-degree heat and took off his mask. He breathed a sigh of relief upon finding a photo album he thought to be in tact, until he went to turn the page and at once the memories of his life peeled off and disintegrated. Everything they owned destroyed, and then he found some Mardi Gras beads he could salvage.

It’s been a long road for the Ruli family. They are now living at his sister’s house with three other families. His children are enrolled in new schools and starting to make friends. He commutes more than an hour to work each morning. He and Holly hope to be in the position to buy a home by midsummer.

“You throw a cat in the air, how does it land? On its feet. We’re all landing, but it’s still a tough fall,” Jack said. “When I found out about Vail’s offer, I felt, ‘Humanity comes through.’ People take care of their fellow man. It’s a warm feeling. It’s emotional. It’s hard to describe. It means a lot to me and my family. We’ve packed our beads.”

Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or laball@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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