Here is a haiku by Ginger Keller Gannaway to start off April, National Poetry Month.
big-eyed baby pulled
in red wagon by tired dad
connected and apart
Here is a haiku by Ginger Keller Gannaway to start off April, National Poetry Month.
big-eyed baby pulled
in red wagon by tired dad
connected and apart
As I turned off the alarm, my mind went through this checklist: What day is it? Why did I set my alarm? What am I supposed to do?” And then it hit me….Senior hours at Costco!!!! I sprang from the bed like a shot of caffeine.
Since all of the craziness began, the essential stores are trying to work with the public by providing safety rules and procedures. There are wipes for your grocery cart, hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting, and marking X’s on the sidewalk so we are six feet apart.
A few stores like HEB and Costco are offering Senior Hours or even free delivery for those of a certain age, so we don’t have to fight the crowds and risk not getting our necessities. Boo and I had set our alarms, and talked about our strategy.
“Let’s hit the Kleenex first. I heard that runs out fast.”
Armed with a list, bottle of water and hand sanitizer, we drove full speed to Costco.
I have to admit it was exhilarating. The thought that we would get in before the throngs of families and small children was promising. We envisioned a peaceful, leisurely stroll through the aisles, during our early bird hour of shopping. (8:00-9:00 a.m.)
“I hope they don’t card me,” Boo popped off. “I look so young and spry.”
“You’re safe,” I said. “But, just in case, bring your ID.”
We were in a great mood, anticipating the best, when we turned into the drive leading to Costco.
We were thirty minutes early, ready to be the 1st in line when I heard Boo say,
“Oh, Hell no!” And I saw the line.
Hundreds of senior citizens in various stages of masks, gloves, and sunglasses, were in a line snaking twice around the outside of the store. What time did these folks get here?
If we were thirty minutes early, they must have camped out the night before, like waiting for concert tickets.
The patrons had diligently left six feet space between themselves and most seemed happy and chatted with their neighbors in line. Instantly, I thought about bathroom emergencies. I bet some of these people had on Depends merely as a precaution for the long wait. (note to self.)
Amazingly there were still a few parking spaces far, far away, which made me wonder if these people had taken a shuttle to Costco or had drivers drop them off. There was no way we would have made it into the store during the one-hour time slot. Sadly, senior hours did not happen for us.
Boo went on a short rant about bogus seniors in line and the possibilities that we may never have Kleenex again, so we drove by two more HEB’s in our neighborhood and after assessing the lines, just went home.
We vowed to make ourselves eat whatever we had left in the house, which meant the things I like and he doesn’t; quinoa, spinach and roasted red pepper hummus. We practiced social distancing as we walked in the neighborhood and up to the mailbox. It all worked out.
I have a new appreciation, though, for my senior citizen status. We’re tough. You have to get up pretty early in the day to get past us and I can see that Boo and I have a lot to learn as we compete with the other seniors. Stay prepared! Be flexible in a crisis and plan ahead! We’ll be ready next time!!
written by Nancy Malcolm
Happy Birthday in Heaven to my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr.
My Daddy was a “saver”. A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager. It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and an alternate.
When Daddy passed away we found boxes full of souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards. We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums. There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of his mementos.
My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying. Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!” “No, YOU take it!” Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of. His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out. Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” hoping he understood.
Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ from ten years ago. When I brought it home, I thought I would go through it right away. But, ten years had passed and I had just found the strength to open the box.
Inside were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essays, school pictures and more. I found an old, faded manila envelope, sealed with a piece of tape and enclosed were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him. Behind those cards were letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.
I unfolded one pristine piece of notebook paper and I was transported, as I read my brother’s childish handwriting.
Dear Santa, I hope that I have been good enough to deserve these things I want. I would like a bulldog tank, an electric football game and a boy scout nap sack. My sister would like a jewelry box, a ballarena doll, a girl cowboy suit and play doe, please. From: Jimmy and Nancy. December 16, 1958
This letter was written the Christmas after our mother died. My brother was nine and I was five years old. Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, just this one and one other.
My Dad wasn’t always good at professing his love. He wasn’t the sentimental, mushy type. But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia. The cards and notes his children had sent and letters to Santa obviously touched his heart, although we never knew it.
His heart was inside this box that took me ten years to open. And, suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See? I have always loved you.” And finally, my heart whispered back, “I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”
written by Ginger Keller Gannaway
As we wash our hands to the lyrics of 20-second songs at least 32 times a day, make our own hand sanitizer, and contemplate buying a bidet, we must consider our spiritual and emotional needs as well as our physical ones.
According to John Steinbeck, “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
Ever since Friday, March 13 when Dad’s skilled nursing facility personnel met family and friends in the parking lot to tell us that we could not visit our loved ones through at least March, I have worried about my father’s mental health as much as his physical health. That day, as I held a milkshake for Dad in my hand, I thought, “OMG! I have not explained the Coronavirus pandemic to him! He’ll think we’ve forgotten him!” I have been visiting him at least every other day since September of 2019, and when I ask what he’d like me to bring him next time I come, he answers, “Just bring Pooskie.” (That’s his nickname for me that made me cringe when I was in high school).
During most visits, I’d wash his face, comb his bed-hair, and encourage him to eat more of that day’s breakfast or lunch. Also, I’d refill his blue Wonder Woman water bottle with fresh ice water. Our talk would begin with me saying, “Tell me something good.” He’d give me a predictions for the Kentucky Derby winner; details about life in Ville Platte or Eunice, or a random bit of Louisiana history, “Governor Jimmie Davis got elected because of a song.” We did not fill all our time with talking. We’d look out the window or watch black and white movies on TCM. I’d hold his huge hand and he’d give me a tight squeeze.
Even though he’s 92 years old, bed-ridden, and has lost at least 40 pounds this past year, when I ask him how’s he’s doing, he somehow answers, “Things couldn’t be better.” He never fails to smile and say,“Hey, Pooskie,” when I arrive and “Thanks for coming,” as I leave.
So this last Friday I feared the “no visiting” precautions would send him into a depression. However, I totally underestimated the power of Brookdale Hospice. My dad’s team led by Ali, his smiling and very attentive nurse, have been miracle workers! Ali answers my texts quickly, and on Friday the 13th she was able to visit Dad. She explained the health crisis, checked his vitals, chatted, and gave him fresh ice water. A few days later Armistead, his music therapist, FaceTimed me and he and Dad sang to me! From Dad’s favorite “You Are My Sunshine” to a song I didn’t realize Dad knew (“San Antonio Rose”), they serenaded me for thirty minutes while I fought to hold back my tears. Then the next day Whitney, who gives him bed baths, texted and sent me a picture of a clean shaven Dad wearing his favorite purple shirt (“Geaux, Tigers!”) Also, Ali will tell the Hospice social worker Courtney to FaceTime me during her visits.
Dad calls the young, beautiful, and cheerful Hospice caretakers, “Doll” “Sugar Foot” and “Love Bug,” terms of endearment that let him off the hook for not remembering names. Also, he remembers to tell Armistead that his guitar playing and singalongs are the highlight of his week!
I cannot keep the guilt about Dad being “in a home” from clouding my mind at times, yet I believe he is in a safe place where the staff cares about him and keeps him comfortable. And in addition to meeting his physical needs, the facility and his Hospice miracle workers take care of his emotional/spiritual needs. They stay connected with our family and make sure all our souls can smile.
written by Nancy Malcolm
My eye doctor is twelve. She’s smart, thorough…downright delightful, and yet, I have clothes older than she is. At this mature time in my life, all of my doctors are getting younger while I am heading in the opposite direction.
My orthopedic doctor was talking to me about shots for my knees and said, “If you were my mother, I would definitely recommend this.”
“That’s sweet?” I thought.
Are the regular doctors in the forty, fifty, and sixty age-range giving up too soon? Are they retiring, traveling and taking it easy, just like me?
It seems wherever I go someone is calling me “Ma’am.” I respect the respect but I still feel thirty-seven inside, so it’s hard to compute.
If you are my age and visiting a dermatologist lately, heaven help you!
“What is this?” I asked him. “And what is this little red spot?”
“It just happens,” he said. “To people your age.”
Oh, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. And the force be with you if during your annual mole check, he burns, cuts or freezes something off of a sensitive area. “It just happens,” he says. “It could be worse.”
I also wondered if it really is true that our noses and ears continue to grow as we age? Well, I looked it up and apparently the cartilage in our ears and noses does continue to grow and then it droops. Gravity takes over and makes the cartilage in the nose and ears look bigger because it is sagging, just like everything else.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to bounce a quarter off of my butt. Maybe the ‘firm’ gene skipped a generation. I remember once, years ago, I thought I was firm, but I see now it was an illusion. Crepey skin is my new normal.
Recently, my grandson was sitting next to me on the couch. “Nannie,” he said in astonishment, “Look at your arm! Why is it doing that?”
“Doing what?” I asked, trying to play it off, as I pushed the skin back up toward my shoulder.
He lightly pinched a piece of skin above my elbow. “This,” he said, and I knew what he meant.
You see, years ago, I remember asking my Grandma the same thing. “Grandma, look! Your skin stays up if I pull it. Why does it do that?”
Be aware, children, be very aware! This could happen to you.
I will never again buy crepe paper to decorate for parties. It’s just too real.
Two years ago, I went on a crusade to fight the crepey skin situation. I had watched all the infomercials and ads on TV, and I truly believed I had found the answer. I asked for Crepe Erase for Christmas and my birthday. It was expensive, but I knew it was pure magic. It smelled wonderful and the best part was that Jane Seymour was their spokesperson. Jane Seymour is my age and she looks fantastic. Her skin is youthful and firm.
I was faithful to use it for one whole year. I exfoliated. I lotioned, rubbing in an upward direction. I prayed and yet….. I fear I was fifteen years too late to change the course of my crepe. I’m doomed to have grandchildren gasp in horror at my sleeveless arms.
I’ve had a good run. I really have, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Jane Seymour is with me as I march into the losing battle of aging. I have to believe sooner or later she will experience the devastation of the ‘ crepe.’ One thing is for sure, I won’t go down without a fight armed with hair dye, what’s left of my Crepe Erase and Aspercreme. The trifecta of aging!
by Ginger Keller Gannaway
When visiting a fellow teacher’s high school classroom last week, I overheard a student tell her friend, “I hate those old teachers.” The teen answered, “They shouldn’t let them keep teaching.” Then the first girl noticed my old self in the back of the room and apologetically added, “Just the ones with grey hairs, ya know.” (I’ve dyed my hair for eleven years.)
Teens. So entertaining. So hip and quick and yet so slow. They have razor sharp radar for any kind of prejudice except ageism.
Of course, we over-sixty folks are quick to judge as well: “My new doctor is twelve!” “My grandson is addicted to his phone.” “See those tattoos all over our waitress?”
Ageism is relative.
My favorite part about teaching teenagers is their funny, honest spitfire comments:
“Miss, your skirt got a stain from your hippy days,” or “Did the Civil War happen before or after you went to college?”
Our youth-obsessed culture may have persuaded me to dye my hair and update my 1970’s wardrobe; however, do I not now judge my 90-year-old dad who lives with us?
His grunts, sighs, belches, moans, and creaks annoy me almost as much as the messes he leaves in the bathroom. How does someone grunge-up the sink, mirror, countertop and floor just by brushing his teeth? But the worst part is the adult diaper crap. Seeing him shuffle to and from the bathroom in his pull-ups makes me dread my own scary future. It makes me want to hide out on a remote island alone where I leave my bungalow only to sit in my cozy backyard and listen to birds, watch squirrels, read a book and forget I’m wearing Pampers.
Dad-guilt consumes me when I complain. He’s trying hard not to annoy us. He apologizes when we spend six hours at the VA clinic. He’s learning to take the short bus to the senior center for bridge lessons, and each night he says, “Good night, sweet princess” before he goes off to bed.
Still the saying “We all turn into our parents” never sounded so ominous. I worry and I pray and I warn my husband, “If you die before my dad, I will kill you!”
I tell my head to stop judging Dad the way teens judge “those teachers with grey hair.” My heart thumps “Be patient. Be kind” but my bratty brain answers, “Damnit! Dad’s fresh sheets got another poop smear down the middle.”
I need to change my heart’s chant to, “Be real. Be strong’” because one day my three sons might say, “Damn! Mom tried covering her bald spot with a Magic Marker again.”
Written by Nancy Malcolm
“Babe,” I hollered from the bedroom while folding laundry. “You really need new underwear. I can almost read the newspaper through these!”
I heard his footsteps and felt him lean against the door frame as he sighed, “They’re O.K. But, I guess you could get me another pair whenever you’re out. You know what I like. The usuals.”
And that, my friends, is how a simple conversation prompted an international experience.
Full coverage? Mid-rise? Boxers, briefs or compression? Silk? Cotton or polyester? These were the choices as I stood in the men’s department at Kohl’s among the stacks of underwear. I knew my husband had said ‘the usuals,’ but I was thinking this was a perfect time to spice things up. When I returned home with an assortment of new silky, multicolored, longer length undies, I really thought he would embrace the change. Instead, with a deer in the headlights look, he asked, “Didn’t they have mine?”
I dumped out the new packages and said, “Please? Try it, you might like it .”
I have to give him credit, seeing that he tried to envision himself as the model on the front of the package: slim, flat stomach and handsome. He stood in front of the mirror holding his stomach in and flexing his biceps. “O.K.,” he said, and agreed to give it a go. Truthfully, what else could I ask for? “Hubba-hubba,” I crooned and then gave a little whistle just to seal the deal.
As the days went on, he would incorporate a new pair here and there, but I could tell he missed his tighty whities. “These are a little too slick (aka silky) and too long. And, aren’t they too tight?”
“They might feel tight to someone who has been wearing underwear with questionable elastic,” I countered.
Finally, one morning he sauntered into the kitchen, where I was pouring my coffee. “Hey now,” he sang. “These are very snazzy!”
“Those?” I asked.
“Yea, these sexy French ones,” he said.
“French ones? Did I buy those?” I asked.
“Yea, see the tag? Sen~ah’ I like these. They’re perfect.”
“Babe,” I said. “You’ve got them on inside out. It’s HANES. Sen~ah’ is Hanes backward.”
And with a sheepish grin he said, “You know I’ve never been good with too many choices, and besides, I hate change.”
Suddenly, I realized I may have pushed him out of his comfort zone, away from the security of his tighty-whities, but it was worth it. My little puffed pastry was trying something new, even if it was inside out.
Viva la Hanes!! Baby, Viva la Hanes!!
Don’t You Worry about that Mule
by Ginger Keller Gannaway
One of Dad’s favorite sayings makes me both nod and scratch my head: “Don’t you worry about that mule. That mule ain’t going blind.”
I totally get the essence of his advice, even if I don’t fully understand the specific imagery. A mule is a hybrid of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). A mule has more strength, patience, intelligence, and longevity than either of its parents. Darwin has said that with the hybrid mule’s superior characteristics, “art has outdone nature.”
I suppose my persistent and powerful worries can be compared to the superior pack animal – the mule. As I age, I have too much time to obsess over my endless list of fears:
Will my son get the new and improved job he seeks?
Will the ceiling slash in our living room turn out to need major roof repair costing thousands?
Will my car’s weird electrical issue where the doors automatically lock and unlock when I make a sharp turn or go over a train track one day keep me trapped when my car gets forced off a highway that crosses a deep river?
Will my dad’s nurses ignore his buzzer calls for help?
Will the latest global virus turn into scenes from the movie Contagion?
I’m not sure why Dad’s saying is about the mule’s eyesight, but maxims do not have to be logical, e.g. “Happy as a clam” or “Hunger is the best pickle.” They just need to suggest the essence of a piece of wisdom. Momma’s explanation to me of the Cajun phrase, “Tonnerre ma chien! (“Thunder the dog!”) was , “Well, it just means, ya know, ‘Thunder the dog,’ like you say, ‘Tonnerre ma chien!’ ya know.” There’s a feeling of an unexplained exclamation there, like a “Oh my God!” I guess.
So sayings can hold an abstract wisdom using concrete imagery, whether we’re talking about a dog in a storm or a mule with sight problems.
My worries sometimes tangle me in knots of fear. I lose sleep or overeat or snap at my pets and my husband. Then my senseless concerns never come close to reality. My son did not start holding up a cardboard sign on the corner of First Street and Ben White Blvd. when he was between jobs. My car has not trapped and drowned me at the bottom of Lake Pontrachain on my way to New Orleans.
Dad’s saying involves a mule because worries have strength and a sturdiness that stays with a person. However, mules also are known for being more affectionate than their parents. Therefore, I accept the fears of my nonsensical brain and remember that my head makes unlikely predictions.
Mules may get stuck in mud-filled ditches but they do not despair because they believe what Dad knows, “Don’t you worry about that mule. That mule ain’t going blind.”
written by Nancy Malcolm
As I walked silently from the room, I could tell even the air was different. Every molecule in that room had shifted from dark to light; tense to tranquil. I am a volunteer for hospice and this is the story of the day I saw the face of God.
Christopher House, in Austin, Texas, is a fifteen room care facility for hospice patients whose symptoms temporarily cannot be managed at home. Patients are stabilized and then allowed to return home if they are able, as per their wishes. It is a more comfortable alternative to going to the hospital. Each room has a bed, a private bath, and conveniences for family members who accompany their loved one. As a volunteer, I never knew who would be there from week to week, and when a patient was gone they either went home or on to heaven. It was the goal to allow our patients the dignity to die at home, just as they wanted, surrounded by friends and family, in the comfort of a familiar setting. But, the beauty and serenity of Christopher House is the next best thing to home.
On Tuesday as I started my two-hour shift, one of the nurses called me to room number nine. “She’s been in so much pain and I think she’s finally getting comfortable. Would you sit with her for a while? Her family wasn’t here today.”
“Of course,” I said and as I entered the room I saw my little patient lying in bed, positioned on her side, facing the window.
“Hello,” I said. “I’m Nancy and I’m a volunteer. Would you mind if I sat with you for a while?”
She didn’t answer, but I wondered if she could still hear me. Room number nine was painted in pale blue and had serene pictures on the wall. Her bed was next to a large window looking out to a covered patio with plants and flowers. The lights were off, but outside it was sunny and bright.
My patient was a tiny, older woman with caramel skin. She was in her twin size hospital bed, and beside her on the table was a large photograph of her and her husband on their wedding day, many years ago. She also had not one, but three Bibles in her room. One on the bedside table, one on the coffee table and one laying near the foot of her bed. All three were well worn with love and devotion.
I walked around the bed so we could see each other, but her eyes were fixed on the window and she didn’t acknowledge my presence. I continued to talk quietly, “Would you like me to read to you from the Bible? Let me get a chair.”
I couldn’t move her, so I wedged a folding chair between her and the wall. Taking the Bible from the bed, I sat down and tried to get calm.
“Do you have a favorite verse?” I asked.
I sat still and tried to match my breath with hers, but it was shallow and ragged, possibly from the pain. In and out I breathed, trying to slow down her pace, until I opened the Bible and said, “Let’s start with the Psalms.”
Her face was tight and her brows knitted, and I could see that her body was stiff. She looked uncomfortable, but the nurses had used pillows in all the right places to help her be supported and relaxed. I started to read and to my surprise, my voice was shaking.
Again I breathed in and out, slowly, and I started over.
Softly, I read Psalm after Psalm, stopping occasionally to let the powerful words sink in. It seemed that every verse I read was speaking to love, peace and trust and was just what I imagined she might want to hear.
“Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us according as we hope in thee.”
I continued until I felt the shift in her breathing. I felt it change from the shallow uneasiness to the slow and deep inhale and exhale. I was unaware of the time as I talked quietly to her in between the verses. Finally, I heard just the faintest whiffle of a snore and I closed her Bible and looked up.
That is when I saw the face of God.
Her body was totally relaxed and her face was smooth and youthful not a wrinkle to be seen. Even though her eyes were closed now, one lone tear was left to roll down her cheek and her lips were in a slight, pale smile. There was a light that surrounded her, nestling her like hands cradling a baby. You might think, “Oh, it must have been the light from the window.” But, I know it was not.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thy own understanding.”
I knew her pain was gone. I knew her body was resting and I knew her face was God’s face. The power of those ancient words had changed her.
Quietly, I climbed out of my wedged space by the window, but I left the chair and her Bible open on it. Room number nine was different somehow. The air had changed, and there was a light and a feeling of peace so beautiful that I didn’t want to leave, but it was my time to go.
The next week when I returned to volunteer, my little patient was gone. “She went home,” the nurses said, and I knew that was true. She was home.
The Last Perfect Bite by Ginger Keller Gannaway
Near the end of an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner, my husband once casually took a small bite of fried turkey, cornbread dressing, and smothered green beans off my plate.
I glared at him in shock. “Are you crazy?”
“I thought you were finished,” he explained.
My first instinct had been to stab his thieving fingers with my fork because that little amount of food was my carefully planned, highly anticipated last perfect bite.
As a Cajun who does not trust a person who does not LOVE food, meals mean a lot to me. I believe they are best savored and unrushed. How can some people scarf down food like dogs and finish in a few minutes a dinner that required 27 ingredients and three hours to prepare? Also, a person’s need to keep various foods separated on a plate confounds me. What would mashed potatoes be without their gravy? Why should we deny the black eyed peas a chance to get up close and personal to the slow-roasted beef? I love to change a plate of purposefully divided food into a mash-up of new flavors.
I actually plan my last perfect bite as soon as I get my first taste of the meal. How would stewed sweet potatoes complement tender and savory pork tenderloin? Wouldn’t the asparagus sautéed in garlic enjoy mixing things up with the curry shrimp? I relish how the flavor from one region twirls and smiles when it sidles up to a spice from a different culture. No wonder fusion restaurants are all the rage now. Belly Shack (Korean/Puerto Rican), Revolutionario (North African/Mexican), Valentina’s(TexMex/BBQ), & Bayona’s(Spanish/Italian/French/Indian/Mediterranean) offer international ways to thrill and delight their diners.
You might think that casseroles and soups have done all the mixing of tastes for the average diner. No way. Gumbo, a favorite of mine, emerged from incorporating diverse ingredients from a hodgepodge of places; however, that does not keep this Eunice, Louisiana girl from adding a dollop of potato salad into a hot bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo. Mix it up, cha.
When I glance over a plate lunch’s assortment of possibilities, I let my fork pick up a piece of baked chicken and add a little rice and gravy before I balance some maque choux (a Creole corn dish) on top and end by using the fork tines to jab a cherry tomato from my salad. Then after lively dinner talk, some sips of wine or iced tea, and my compliments to the cook, I decide on my last perfect bite. I balance my favorite flavors and anticipate that bite that may include two, three, or up to to six different dishes; it is always a groovy way for life’s diverse tastes to surprise and delight me. Trust the mix, baby, trust the mix!