Posted in Boo, Confessions

There’s Nothing Wrong With That

            “Try these,” my husband said.  “Try on the Brooks or Saucony shoes; they’re really good brands.”

            “I  like ASICS,” I said.  “They feel great on my feet, and I don’t have to think about trying on something else.  They always fit.”

“Try something new, for Pete’s sake!  It’s good for you,”  Boo preached.

“Mother, you always get Cajun Shrimp on your toes, every time we get pedicures.  There are hundreds of other colors, and you pick the same one,” my daughters chide me.

            “I like Cajun Shrimp,” I said.  “There are too many choices and besides I know I already like it.  It’s my signature color!”

            When I go to the grocery store, I try to park in the same aisle, in approximately the same place so I’ll always remember where my car is.  I’m a creature of habit and maybe a little OCD, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  I don’t want to be that person searching the parking lot, looking for my black Honda Accord among all the others.

            Once, on a trip home from seeing the grandkids, we stopped at Buc-ee’s for a snack and some gasoline.  We’ve stopped there many times before, so I utilized the pristine restroom and then perused the many aisles of snacks, chips, nuts, candy, sandwiches, and jerky.  Boo waltzed by and called, “I’ll meet you at the car.”

            When I finally paid, walked out to the car, and plopped down in the front seat, I heard him say, “Ah ha!  I knew it!  I knew you would get Chex Mix.”

            I felt a little sheepish, but before I could defend myself, Boo started in, “Every time we stop for a snack, it doesn’t matter where we are, you take forever to look around and then you buy a water and Chex Mix.  I don’t understand you.  Why don’t you just go straight to the Chex Mix?”

            “I might miss something good if I don’t look around.”  

            “If you ask me, you did miss something good, EVERYTHING except Chex Mix.”

            “I didn’t ask you,” I lamely injected.  “But not that it’s any of your business, I did shake it up this time.  I got the Bold flavor.”

            “Oh Boo,” he said with a tsk tsk.

            “Oh, Boo yourself,” I snapped.

            I admit only to you and myself that I am set in my ways.  Life is full of so many decisions, do I really need to add more?  I like what I like.  Does that make me mistaken or worse, boring?  Maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

           In my mind, I am spontaneous and adventurous.  I try new things and live on the edge, but the truth is I appear to be stuck in my ways. Don’t get Boo started on asking me where I want to eat out.  For some reason, I always say I don’t care, but if he mentions a place, I usually don’t like it.  Ugh.    I have my favorites for just every day, and I am pretty set on what I eat at certain places.  Chick-fil-A: Market Salad. Panera: Chicken noodle soup or Strawberry Poppyseed salad. and Luby’s: Roasted chicken or fried fish, broccoli, and cornbread.  Just saying this makes me cringe.

Am I just an old, retired schoolteacher too addled to try something new?  Have I become boring and comfortable like melba toast and an old brown sweater?  I prefer to think of it as ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke,’ but seeing the truth about myself is a hard pill to swallow.

            Not too long ago, we went out to eat at Cheddar’s after church. “What looks good to you, babe?”  I asked. 

 “Oh, I don’t know what I’m hungry for.  What about you?” he asked.

            “You tell me first,” I said.

            “Nope, I want to see if you try something new.”

            “Oh, don’t worry about me, I will!”  I defied him.

I scoured the menu pretending to think about what I might want, but I already knew what I would get.  I ordered a predictable standby: Miso salmon, broccoli, and green beans, while Boo ordered something new.   He made his choice from a separate menu insert labeled “Three NEW Shrimp Feasts.”  And they used words like ‘Ultimate’ and ‘New twist on old favorites.’  His choice was a delicious looking shrimp pasta dish that was absolutely beautiful.

When our lunch came, I was already jealous.  

He looked at my salmon and broccoli and I drooled over his shrimp dish.  

“Can I have a bite?”  I asked.  “I can’t help it.”  

“Oh, Boo,” he tsked.

As of late I have really been trying to shake things up.  I now wear Brooks tennis shoes exclusively and even admitted to Boo that he was right.  I do like them better than ASICS.  I branched out at Panera and got one of their new ‘bowl’ lunches with chicken and quinoa. I’m also thinking about getting something different at Buc-ee’s next time we stop, and I painted my toe nails a Caribbean Blue, even though I felt conspicuous.

 Change is very hard for some of us and although I like the idea of being ‘out there’ to some extent, I am mostly a brown sweater with melba toast kind of girl.  I don’t mind being predictable and safe.  It’s just who I am.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Posted in Family, Mothers

Crooked Love by Ginger Keller Gannaway

I wrote and performed this essay in 2014 at  a Listen to Your Mother program. My son Casey is getting married next week (after two previous COVID cancellations) to a wonderful, beautiful woman named Catherine. I thought of how love travels down curvy, bumpy roads, yet those obstacles may make the love deeper, stronger. 

I was born crooked. I was a C-section baby, and the oxygen apparatus did not work in the delivery room, so the doctor had to give me mouth-to- mouth resuscitation to save my life. I suppose the time without oxygen caused my Cerebral Palsy brain damage.  My whole left side was affected: smaller, weaker, crooked left arm and leg.  

When Evan, my youngest son, at age five asked me, “Momma, are you handicapped?”  the query caught me off-guard, but I calmly answered, “Well, yes, I suppose I am.”  He accepted this fact and then thoughtfully added,“ But you’re just a lil bit handicapped, right?” So, I feel fortunate that I’m “just a lil’ bit” affected by C. P. even though I am always aware of my crooked self. 

Then how ironic is life, when ten years ago Casey, my middle son, had a horrendous accident (at age 20), and now his left arm won’t fully straighten and he has lost some mobility in his left side?  He, like me, has become a bit crooked. Is not all love, especially mother-child love, somewhat crooked?                            

1995 when I believed I had control of my 3 sons.

Mothers travel a truly crooked road. We begin the journey with quintessential closeness: breast-feeding and a connection that keeps us from sleeping through the night. We even convince ourselves our children are safe. Then God laughs and shoves the reality of the precariousness of parenthood in our faces. You think you are SAFE. Ha! Here’s an ear infection with a 102 fever.  How about an asthma attack?  Or a drug-related hellish accident?  Anytime that tight mother/child bond is fractured, we start to curse the heavens. “Why me?”  Our journey of love takes a sudden hairpin turn or it hits a pot hole, or a sudden speed trap, or a dense fog. The possibilities are endless.  And since mothers have indomitable spirits and bearlike bravery and superhero strength, we maneuver these highway dangers and we fight to keep our most precious loved ones protected. So surviving these inevitable pitfalls of motherly love tightens that mother/child closeness, no matter how old our child may be.                                            

Casey from birth has been my rough and tumble child. He was born so fast I couldn’t get the epidural I so wanted, and his face was bruised and smashed-looking.  At age two, he got stitches in his forehead, at four -staples at the back of his head, at seven- more stitches, at thirteen, a broken arm, and at fifteen-staples again. Later came the drinking, pot-smoking, speeding tickets, and DWI. The girlfriend drama and the pill problem followed.  On November 31, 2010 the whole teenage mess culminated around midnight when Casey fell 40 feet from an interstate overpass.  At six a.m. the next morning a passing jogger found him, unconscious, on a grassy patch of ground.

To this day Casey does not remember everything that led up to his fall, except that he had taken an abundance of Xanax. He shattered his pelvis, broke his left arm in several places, fractured two vertebrae, and sustained severe internal injuries (including a collapsed lung and a damaged section of his colon that had to be cut out). Miraculously he had no head injuries. I spent countless hours in the hospital: helping arrange Casey’s eight-plus pillows around his many broken parts, watching several seasons of Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a distraction from the pain and the boredom, making special smoothies his stomach would tolerate, learning about wound care, pampering him like when he was my bouncing baby boy.  After six weeks in the hospital and twelve different surgeries, Casey came home in a body brace and a partially-open stomach wound.                                                                                                                           

Today Casey is fine and living on his own, but he is still my rough and tumble boy. That dark, twisted nightmare of his accident has somehow toughened our mother-son connection. I remember walking into his hospital room at 6 a.m. once and Casey, sleeping with nuts and bolts sticking out of his arm, opened his eyes, smiled, and said it was “wonderful” when I arrived before he woke up.  Those long hours in the hospital, a mixture of shared silences and sudden heart-to-heart revelations, have made us better understand each other.

When we accept life’s crooked, rough side as much as we treasure life’s straight, smooth moments, we more fully understand the mystery and wonder of love….even when it’s crooked.  

I do not resent or hate my or my son’s crookedness, nor do I need to fix it. From the allure of a crooked grin to the loveliness of a crooked curl, I embrace life’s crooked love.

Posted in Contemplations, Dreams

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

            I was talking to Diana, one of my teaching friends, when the bell rang.  “I’ve got to get to the hallway,” I said, and my feet lifted off of the ground.  The next thing I knew, Diana and I were floating above the students, our arms down by our sides, watching the throng of noisy teenagers below us.  Flying felt effortless and while I seemed to be going so fast, I knew subconsciously, I was right on time.  I didn’t say it, but I was thinking how great it was to be able to fly through the hallways.  It seemed so natural.

            When I woke up that morning I was elated!  Finally, I had had a flying dream.  I’ve always heard people say that they flew in their dreams, and now I was one too.  Through the years I have had several life-changing dreams.  Dreams that taught me a lesson, enlightened a dark place, and even a recurring dream that I had for several years.

            Sleep studies show that our brainwaves are most active during the REM sleep cycle.  Dreams occur when there is stimulation to the brain that brings thoughts to our awareness.  But in just the same way I could fly instead of walk, I have had dreams that I was digging my own grave, but the shovel kept breaking.  On the surface, dreams may seem obscure, even outlandish.  But look a little deeper, and there might be a lesson to learn, or an answer to a question.  Sometimes vivid dreams are a result of eating spicy food or binging on too much TV.  Sometimes they are a direct result of stress or anxiety.

            When my mother died in January of 1958, I was four years old.  One of the only memories I have is of her funeral.  My daddy had picked me up to look at her in her casket and then he leaned over and wanted me to kiss her goodbye.  I distinctly remember kicking and crying, trying not to get that close.  I clung to him like a second suit jacket, turning my head away from hers. 

            I am not here to judge my father, for right or wrong, he was doing the best he knew how.  But the trauma of that incident caused me to have a dream that returned often to me over the course of several years. In fact, I still recall it perfectly.

            It was night-time and I stood perfectly still inside my small, drafty, stucco house on Crockett Street.  I could hear the howling winds and the icicles breaking off of the eaves from the roof.  As a little girl of four, I knew I shouldn’t have been alone, but I was.

In the living room, the big picture window began to rattle, and I heard a scratching, clawing sound of something trying to get in.  The scratching and rattling dared me to peek outside, and when I did, a gust of arctic air blew toward the window and froze everything with a sheet of snowy ice.  I couldn’t tell where the ice came from, but it didn’t matter because soon the knocking and scratching was at another window.  Again, and again, at each window I would peer out to find it frozen shut until that last window when I looked out into the face of a stern, frozen Jack Frost.  His face was contorted and iced over, and he appeared angry and grimacing.  His eyes looked right into mine and challenged me to look away first.

I was petrified and barely able to breathe, when suddenly there came a loud knock at the door.  I stood completely still, heart pulsing in my ears, and my feet glued to the floor.  This time someone or something was pounding on the front door.   As if another force was pushing me toward the door, I felt my hand on the knob turning, turning until it opened and standing there was a coffin …open…empty and icy.  It was standing upright, open all the way and although I didn’t see anyone, I knew Jack Frost was near, and I knew who had been in that coffin.

This was the recurring dream that I had over many years after my mother’s death.  The same sequence of events, and the very same dream, year after year.  I’m sure a psychologist would tell me the icy Jack Frost symbolizes the chill of death.  It doesn’t take much to make that correlation, but what I’ve never understood, is why the dream returned to me year after year.  At some point between the end of grade school and puberty, the dream stopped, as suddenly as it began.  Perhaps it took that long for my mind to make sense of my harsh reality.

I have often dreamed of hosting a party at my home and the party gets out of control.  More and more people start arriving, and the music gets too loud.  I usually run out of food, and everyone is asking me questions all at once.  I’m frantic and trying to make things turn out okay, and then a tall, dark, and handsome stranger appears.

Once, after a particularly stressful day at work, I dreamed that a giant Olive Oyl head was talking to me.  (Olive Oyl, the girlfriend from the Popeye cartoons.)  Her huge head was filling up my dream space and she was yelling at me.  “Get a backbone!  Speak up for yourself!  Don’t let them get away with it!”  When I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve a problem with a co-worker.

I count myself blessed and lucky to be able to dream.  I usually try to write them down as soon as I wake up.  I love being able to look back at some of my dreams at certain times of my life.  The more I remember and record my dreams, the more dreams I have.  Silly, scary, frustrating, or fulfilling, my dreams are a window into my mind and soul.  They are an extension of me.

After my father’s death, twelve years ago, I had three very distinct dreams of him.  They were so real that I call them visitations.  In my dreams we would sit very close together and hold hands.  He looked so happy and healthy, a huge difference from his worn and fragile body before he died.  On the first visit/dream, he told me not to worry about him.  “I like it here,” he said.  “I’m doing good.”  That one dream has been a wonderful source of comfort to me. 

I feel such gratitude for the messages, and insights I have received from my dreams, and I wish the same for you.  As Cinderella encouraged her woodland friends, I encourage you to follow your dreams, listen to your dreams and thank yourself for the wisdom that comes from your heart.

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” — Song written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

Posted in Daughters, Relationships

I’m Not Assistant Manager of the Universe

            In much the same way Aretha Franklin sings R E S P E C T, find out what it means to me, I often belt out my favorite tune, C O N T R O L.(what to do… I know quite well)   I want everyone to do what I think is best for them, and I want things to go according to my plan.

            I do know what the right thing to do is in most situations.  I can predict positive outcomes and steer clear of pitfalls, and as a former Girl Scout, I always hold true to the motto, “Be Prepared.”

            Those that love me say, “You have too many rules!”  which is the polite way to say, lighten up!  But I can help you be all you can be, achieve your potential and excel at anything    your heart desires.  I know my way will be the right way to make your life smooth and successful.  I know what’s best, why won’t you listen to me?

            My grown daughters have been the recipients of much of my unsolicited advice, even when I try to sneak it in the backdoor.  In the past, I have offered to make out budgets, suggested career paths and long-term goals that could ‘help’ them be successful, and although my intention was to help, I know it felt intrusive.   As of late, I am doing much better until recently while riding with my daughter in her car:  “Oops, it looks like you’re almost out of gas.”

            “You’re right.  I’ll get some in the morning.  I still have 56 miles.”

            “I’d hate for you to run out while you’re on MoPac.”

            “Me, too.”

            “I always like to be safe and have a full tank.”

            Silence.

            “If you find a filling station, I’d be glad to pay for your gas.”

            “Thanks, Mom, I’ll take care of it.”

            I knew I should have stopped myself, but still I kept on.  I know that a grown woman with a college degree, full-time job, and living on her own can handle filling up the gas tank of a car she owns!  But still….what if?

New calf from Savannah Ranch

Whenever I start to say, “Have you thought about…?” or suggest a plan of action, I am met with “Yes, Mom. I know.”  Which is code for: mind your own business.  It has occurred to me lately that I might not know what everyone else should do.  Maybe they do know what is best for themselves.  Maybe I’m not Assistant Manager of the Universe.

            When I am so fixed on what everyone else is doing, I often neglect my own life.  When I’m stressing out over someone else’s choices, I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and lay there worrying.  What good does it really do?  Nada.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Everyone else happily goes about their  way and I am tired and worn out from useless fretting.  There’s a certain amount of insanity in doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to get a different result.   I can worry all I want to, but it will not change anything.

            Is my worrying and trying to control things giving the wrong message?   Am I telling those I love that I don’t think they are capable of taking care of themselves or worse, am I telling God that I know best?

            In my old age, I am finally learning to just let life happen.  There have been times when I have been fearful and uncomfortable about letting those I love make choices I don’t think are wise.  This anxiety and finagling the situation to follow my plan has sometimes worked out for the worse, and often when I spend too much time catastrophizing about a possible problem in the future, it never happens.   I’m Not Assistant Manager of the Universe, nor am I psychic.

            Once, one of our girls told Boo and me about a trip she was planning to Mexico.  Before she even finished, Boo said, “Are you going to use your sick days for this?  You really should save your sick days.  You might need them.”  Of course, to follow up I asked, “Do you have a passport?  You know you have to have a passport to go to Mexico.”  Friends, this was a forty- something-year-old daughter who works a full-time job with benefits, pays her bills on time, owns her own car and has children.  I’m pretty sure she knows how to navigate her sick days and understands that you have to have a passport to leave the country.  But still…what if?

            I’m Not Assistant Manager of the Universe.

Trying to be in control of my life and everybody else’s is a huge job, and while I might try to do it, this attitude damages relationships and ruins my health.  When I let go of the illusion that I have power over what other people think, do, feel, and say, I live in a more peaceful place.  When I step back and allow others to be in charge of their own lives, I am showing them love and respect, the kind Aretha sang about.

            As hard as it is to let go, I must.  I must do it for myself and for the ones I love the most.  I don’t want my tombstone to read, “She’s Finally Minding Her Own Business.”  I want it to have a sentiment that portrays the love I gave and received.  I want my family to genuinely be sad to see me go, not glad.

            And so, I get up every day, striving to follow the Golden Rule.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  I start fresh to let go and allow others to take care of themselves, giving them the R E S P E C T, they deserve.

            I don’t think God has a “Help Needed” sign hanging on the pearly gates, and if I am truthful, I will admit it is hard enough to control my own life, much less someone else’s.  After all, the birds sing and flowers grow without any help from me.  The world turns and the sun shines without my suggestions and my grown daughters are capable, caring, and wise.  Just for today, I will let go and trust that God is totally in control, and gratefully, I Am Not Assistant Manager of the Universe.

Photographs are my own. Flower pictures are from Wildseed Farm near Fredericksburg, Texas.

Posted in Family

My 3 Sons

My three sons and me in 1993

by Ginger Keller Gannaway

A picture from 2006 hints at the overwhelming pride I have for my three sons. They’re in the frothy waves on a Pensacola beach. The water in the foreground is a light green with a hint of yellow sunshine on one side. Beyond my boys the water goes from steel blue to a deeper (pardon the pun) blue that connects to the calm azure of the sky. They’re in thigh-high water and are caught in stop-action poses. Shane, the oldest, holds a Nerf football that he’s aiming towards his brothers who are both facing straight ahead. He clutches the ball at an awkward angle, illustrating his bookish, nerdy nature. Casey, a few yards away, holds his hands up with palms splayed open as if to say, “Here I am! Watch me!” He’s the only one looking at the camera as if he’s used to getting the world’s attention. Evan, a few feet behind and to Casey’s left, jumps up in the surf. His right arm is straight out and his left is down and away from his side, almost as if he’s balancing on a surf board or dancing across a smooth glass floor. White water droplets surround his face while he smiles at Casey. 

They are all so at home on a beach. Most summers Papa paid for week-long vacations in Pensacola, Florida or Gulf Shores, Alabama. He’d rent a huge house that faced the Gulf of Mexico, and my siblings and I and our families showed up for hot days that centered around sand and surf with nightly meals for at least sixteen people. A trip to a putt-putt golf course, an amusement park, or Fort Morgan could interrupt the routine of hanging on the beach, but the pull of those crashing waves and the sparkling sand held most of us in a trance that lasted all seven days. The beach has a power that grabs ahold of all of our senses and makes us reluctant to leave her intoxication.

Evan, Casey, and Shane with Papa in 1997

My three sons each possess different talents and abundant cleverness. They know the importance of good music and cool movies, and they all respect the Cajun “lassiez les bon temps rouler” philosophy. When any one of them lets loose his good times laugh, I believe in all of life’s best possibilities.

I love the beauty of my boys in that beach photo. Somehow the three very different brothers are balanced in the breaking waves. I’m amazed that they really are my sons – wonderful individuals with big hearts and strong personalities; the source of endless surprises. I’m reminded of the lyrics from the Sound of Music song “I Must have Done Something Good.” (“Nothing comes from nothing/ Nothing ever could/ So somewhere in my youth/ Or childhood/ I must have done something good”)

As a parent, I made too many mistakes to even remember; however, I must have  gotten some things right because Shane, Casey, and Evan are like winning the Powerball lottery on Monday, giving it all away to help stop world hunger and protect the whales on Tuesday, and then winning the Mega Millions on Wednesday!!! (and I am NOT prone to hyperbole)

My 3 Sons, 2006

Posted in Contemplations

Sunflowers by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Nancy’s Sunflower

As if celebrating our country opening up and people getting back to normal, sunflowers are popping up all around me. In backyards and parks, along highways, sidewalks and construction sites. These bright flowers worship the sun with their tall, strong presence. 

I love sunflowers! Their thick prickly stalks and itchy leaves contrast with their bright and sunny proclamation:“Hey there! Good morning. Get up and greet the sun with me.” 

I remember a field of large sunflowers in Tuscany right outside our bedroom window in the countryside near Pisa in June of 2003. The confident flowers were like a crowd of beaming faces welcoming us to Italy. We stayed there one night before driving to Lucca to meet my parents and sisters at an idyllic villa. Gary’s friend Morgan, who lives in London, had found Hotel Villa Maya for us. Our room was like an apartment for my family of five. The sunflowers seemed to stretch for miles and matched the joy of being in a country which valued delicious meals that lasted hours with families who sought out good times. We had a glorious Italian dinner in a large dining room the night we arrived and a fresh breakfast in the courtyard the next morning.

Sunflowers proclaim optimism to the world. They symbolize light, truth, strength, and loyalty. No other flower has such an open-faced smile and rustic beauty. And they’re as tough as Huckleberry Finn. The stalk will not yield to a pinch and a pull; you need clippers or scissors to cut a bloom. 

The National Garden Bureau has named 2021 The Year of the Sunflower, and our unusual wet spring, typical ever-present sunshine, and increase in new construction has given central Texas an abundance of sunflowers this summer.

So as we get back to life beyond the pandemic, we can follow the sunflower’s example. Stand firm, face the sun, and proclaim our readiness to meet and greet the world again. Van Gogh would approve of our sun-worshipping teacher.

Italian Sunflower

Posted in #Confessions

My Adventures with Heidi’s Bier Haus OR How I Won Big with Britney Spears!

Some say I drive too slow and always follow the rules.  I cannot tell a lie and prefer to not jay walk.  I take my vitamins every day, save money every month and recycle.  I got my COVID vaccine and brush my teeth twice a day, but I love to gamble! 

I love the lights, bells, whistles, and smells.  I get invigorated when I hear cards shuffle or someone yells, “Seven-eleven, baby needs shoes!”  And although I do not smoke, I love the casino’s smokey smell and faint mix of cheap liquor and cheaper cologne.

Years ago, when my children were young, I despised gambling and the toll it took on my marriage, at the time.  I prayed for all those people gambling away their grocery money or milk for their babies.  I detested seeing little old ladies being pushed up to a slot machine, cup of nickels in hand, and an oxygen tank attached to their wheelchair.  The whole environment made me feel unsettled and out of control.

But, twenty years ago, when I took a gamble on Boo, everything changed.  I never feared he might bet the deed on our house or sell my wedding ring to pay off a debt.  Boo was disciplined in how much he allowed himself to gamble and when our money was gone, it was time to go home.  Not to the ATM.

We’ve gambled on cruise ships in the Caribbean, in Louisiana, Colorado, Vegas and once in an obscure casino in Montana.  Two years ago, when we went to Niagara Falls, we stayed at the Seneca Casino and Resort which was just blocks from the beautiful falls.

Once, and only once, we stayed at the Isle of Capri in Bossier City, Louisiana, way before their remodel.   Boo was more excited about the buffet than gambling, but “I got us a great room,” he said.  We checked in and when we opened the door to our musty smelling room with bright green carpet, there was a huge hot tub right next to the bed.

“What in the world?” I gasped!

“I thought you’d like it!”

Three years ago, we stayed at the Paris Hotel, in Vegas. Our ‘gambling’ trips to Vegas are really more about people watching, seeing shows and walking the Strip, but one night I stumbled upon a Britney Spears penny slot that was life changing.  For the next two days, I was all Britney, all day!  Every time I hit big, she sang “Baby One More Time” and as I tumbled into extra spins she belted out, “Oops! I Did It Again.”  Even as we ate lunch or walked down the strip, I could hear Britney in my ears,  singing away, coaxing me to come back.  It was “Toxic!”  In two days, Boo and I won $900 and bought a Britney CD.

Just two weeks ago we went to Coushatta, in Kinder, Louisiana, surprisingly, the home of Britney Spears.  We were only staying one night and by 9:30 p.m. I turned to Boo and whined, “I hate this place.  I’ve lost all of my money!  I wanted to play the Heidi’s Bier Haus penny slot, but it’s too crowded and no one will leave.  I’m going to bed.”

Boo leaned over and handed me a twenty spot.  “Here, go see if Heidi’s got an empty seat.”

As luck would have it, I found an empty chair at Heidi’s.  I put my $20 in and I knew, betting sixty cents a pop, I could at least play for fifteen minutes.  The second time I hit PLAY, music started blaring and Heidi popped up, pouring beer, and spinning reels.  Even the guy next to me said, “Oh, you’re going to win big.”

I said, “Thanks, but it’s only $7.50.”

He looked at me, pointed to the screen, and said, “Lady, that’s $750.00!”

I looked around for Boo, needing his validation that this was real, when I suddenly hit on forty extra spins.  End of story, I won $1000.00 with Heidi, betting sixty cents with Boo’s twenty- dollar bill.  There was a small crowd around me and an old man singing the German beer songs right along with Heidi.  Boo videoed the whole thing.

I gave Boo back $30 as interest on his $20.

“I thought we would split the whole winnings, Love Bug.”  He said.

“No way!  I’m saving it for Vegas and your birthday trip to the Venetian.”

I safely hid my thousand dollars in my sock drawer as soon as we got home.

Being such a high roller has not changed me.  I’ll still continue on my Safety Sue lifestyle of driving slowly and flossing my teeth.  I’ll always try to tell the truth and tithe to the church.  But, as long as we’re able, I hope Boo will take me gambling, at least to the Winstar, every year until I’m one hundred years old.  Heck, if I make it to a hundred, maybe I should double down and go twice a year to improve my odds.  Why not?

Seven-eleven…baby needs shoes!

Posted in Aging

Alexa, Remind Me to Remember

I wish I had a dollar for every time I said, “Help me remember that.” or “Let me write that down.”  Other times I get cocky and just know I will remember that we need milk, olive oil and toilet paper.  Usually, obscure bits of information like security codes or an old phone number from our landline remain intact inside my mental steel trap.

The other 99% of the time, Boo will find a scrap of paper I’ve written on and confront my faculties.                                   

“Babe, do you really need to remind yourself to eat lunch?  That worries me.”

“It’s more like a plan for the day, so I can maximize my time,”  I counter.

Lots of people write packing lists before they go on a trip and strangely enough, I do not.  However, I do start packing a week in advance and as I remember things I want to take, I put them in the suitcase.  Very efficient, I think, versus Boo who packs the night before or morning of.  He has left for a week’s vacation with only shorts and no shirts.

My problem is that I frequently write more than one note for the same thing, and because of that, I now make my grocery list on Alexa. 

Boo will sometimes holler from the kitchen, “We need more mayo!” 

“Don’t tell me, tell Alexa,” I say. 

Boo will then holler at Alexa, from the other room, “Alexa, add mayo and cookies to the grocery list.”

“Mycookplease added to grocery.”

“No, Alexa.  Add mayo and chocolate chip cookies to grocery list.” Boo corrects.

I’m sorry.  I didn’t get that.”

“Alexa, add mayo and chocolate chip cookies to grocery.”

“Admochip cookies added to grocery.”

“Oh, good grief!”  I hear from the kitchen.

But Alexa has my lists for the grocery store, Costco, Walgreens and Target and she is amazing as long as I remember to take my phone when I leave the house

As much as Boo makes fun of my post-it notes lists, or scraps of paper reminders, he has at least three spiral notebooks going at all times.  One for things to do, another for the number of miles he walks a week and then one for writing down his checks, like a giant check register. 

YES.   I know what you are thinking.  Y E S  he does.  

“You know you could check your balance online,”  I say.

“I want to subtract it myself,” he says.  “That way there’s no mistake.”

Hmmmmm.

I’m really good at remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and doctor appointments, but my to-do list of lunch, walking and Target sometimes slip my mind.

I can remember vacations we’ve taken, dreams I’ve had, and Bible verses learned in first grade, but song lyrics and directions to Tyler, Texas sometimes throw me for a loop.

My memory is selective, some would say, but I prefer to think I have so many intelligent and important bits of information in my brain, that it is prudent to remind myself of the mundane.

Once, after a weekend with the grandkids, eating cookies, fish sticks, and McDonalds, I wrote a post-it note that said, “EAT HEALTHY.”  It was just my reminder to get back on track and stop sneaking  M&M’s, but Boo saw it stuck on my bathroom mirror and laughed, “I don’t have to remind myself to poop every day!  You’re a hoot!” 

I think he missed the point.

I’ve always had this need to jot things down, or record information, like blood pressure or books I’ve read.  I love making a list of things I want to accomplish for the day and then marking them off one by one.  I’m crazy for note pads, post-it notes, or journals and I have stacks of them to prove it.  I don’t know if there’s a name for that or not, but I’ll just take organized, efficient or conscientious. 

Don’t listen to Boo, I’m not losing it, I’m maximizing it!

Posted in Cajuns, Contemplations, Family

South Central Louisiana Proud by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Going home to Eunice, Louisiana for Daddy’s funeral memorial was a humid, eye-opening experience. We rented a small wooden house on 4th Street, two blocks from my grandma’s extra-large home on 2nd Street, the place I visited Grandma and Stel almost everyday of my childhood, the place Momma and Dad moved into after Grandma died.

I don’t know when I will return to Eunice; however, I had an epiphany that weekend – I truly appreciate the place I grew up in. I am South-central Louisiana proud. 

I love a place where the woman who measures out my two pounds of morning boudin asks, “You want that cut, Boo?” and a priest says, “The Body of Christ, Cha,” during communion. 

I love Rita, the tiny Cajun in Fred’s Lounge in Mamou who greets people at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings for the live Cajun radio broadcast and asks “Who’s your momma, hon?” Then she points to a bald man named Barry who plays the triangle for the band. “That’s my son,” Rita says holding her spiral notebook and Bic pen for signing in visitors. “He’s brain damaged, ya know.” I love how Rita later grabs my niece Jessica’s hand when the old me launch into their first French Cajun song, and the dancers two-step around the band that plays in the center of the tiny bar where the dusty, cracked framed photos on the walls and the tattered hand-lettered signs have not changed for over 50 years.

I love the sign outside Ronnie’s Cajun Cafe in Eunice (formerly the E-Z Shop Grocery) that lists the day’s plate lunch choices on a marquee: meatballs with rice and gravy, liver and onions, or backbone stew.

I love our local choices for damn good boudin: Eunice Superette Slaughter House, T-Boys, and my favorite- Eunice Poultry.

I love the new Clovis Crawfish statue (modeled after my dad’s illustrations for Mary Alice Fontenot’s book Clovis Crawfish and his Friends in 1961) set in front of the Eunice Depot Museum and the metal sign for the Reginald Keller Tennis Courts, even though everyone in town will always refer to them as the Fairgrounds Courts because they were built in a huge field where floats gathered before starting their homecoming or Mardi Gras parades.  

Most of all, I love the Queen Cinema that felt like a ghost town when Gary, Evan, and I walked there for a Saturday matinee. The guys chose a horror movie, but I headed into a small empty theater (the Queen now has three separate screens) with my popcorn and Dr. Pepper to watch In the Heights. I enjoyed a private screening in the picture show that Grandma Keller owned once, a place where my sisters and I saw almost every movie in the 1960’s and early 1970’s and we worked in the concession stand. My brother Emile was an usher and projectionist.

I shared a cool moment with the young girls working there. They were outside putting up a movie poster for the upcoming James Bond flick and moved inside to sell us our tickets and then went up the steps to the concession area to fix our movie snacks. I told them I once worked there and asked if the very yellow popcorn was fresh. They assured me it had just been popped and let me rattle on about my picture show connections. The fresh faced girls wore uniforms from a national theater chain, and there was a clear plastic cup for tips in front of the cash register. Other than that, the Queen Cinema felt the same.

For me, a cool dark movie theater on a hot afternoon is perfection. That Saturday I felt close to Grandma, to my parents, to my siblings, and to my hometown. The Queen Cinema was like coming home.

Eunice ain’t perfect or pretty – racism and sexism share space with spicy food and devout religion. A massive Wal-Mart claims the land my childhood home once stood on. Failed businesses like Jimbos dot the highway and give the town a tired look. But the Mosaic Coffee Shop, just a half-block from the Queen, has survived and LSU-Eunice keeps expanding.

At sixteen I felt embarrassed to say I lived in a small town in south central Louisiana. I preferred the congested streets and “sophistication” of Lafayette.  Getting away from old people who spoke French and the predictability of the noon whistle and the town’s prejudice had me straining to get to LSU in Baton Rouge as soon as possible.

For so many years I did not anticipate driving home to Eunice. It was an obligation, a responsibility to visit my parents (and a chance to buy a box of LeJeune’s pork/garlic sausage). Eunice’s small town charms eluded me. Its fierce mosquitos and slow motion pace had me planning my escape right after I got my fill of Momma’s cooking and Daddy’s jokes.

Now I claim my south central Louisiana roots. The spicy boudin, the rich farmland, KBon’s zydeco and Cajun playlist, and the residents’ straight-forward, tell-it-like-it-is attitude are things I’m proud of. The relentless humidity matches the strong, firm hugs and raucous laughter I share with cousins and friends from across south Louisiana. Cajuns are tough and brave and practice unapologetic honesty. I hope to forever be grateful I grew up with more cousins than I could count, rice & gravy and gumbo, a bi-lingual place with traditions that grab us when we’re little and keep most of us coming home for music festivals and Cajun cook-offs. When I drive from Texas and exit the interstate I call I-Tense onto the two-lane Highway 97 that runs through Evangeline and Iota, I smile when I see flooded rice fields full of crawfish nets and I smell those piney woods I call home.

Shane, Catherine, and Casey on our way to Eunice, Louisiana

Posted in Fathers

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

            As much as my father was a stern, ex-Navy, electrical engineer, rule follower; he had a light, gentle side that was creative and musical.  This lighter side occasionally escaped to participate in artistic activities, but they were short-lived and methodically planned.  Happiness came when he was outdoors, building things with his hands, fishing or traveling.  The rest of his encouragement came from music, specifically jazz.

            When Daddy played his Pete Fountain 33 LP and Just a Closer Walk with Thee came alive, there was a shift in his demeaner.  His feet moved and his face smiled.  He was transported from our little three-bedroom rental, away from the duties of work and caring for two small children without a mother.  He was at peace. 

I am weak, but Thou art strong.  Jesus, keep me from all wrong.

I’ll be satisfied as long, as I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

            He would sing and dance around the house while those smooth clarinet sounds came through the speaker.  We only had a turntable that played one album at a time, but we knew Daddy’s albums were sacred.  He wiped them off before and after each use with a special soft, black cloth and when finished, gently slid them into the correct cover jacket.  “There’s only one way to take care of your records and that’s ‘the right way.’”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

When my feeble life is o’er, time for me will be no more.

Guide me gently, safely o’er, to Thy kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore.

            When Daddy passed away in 2009, we opened the white, 3-ring binder that would guide us through his service, burial, insurance, obituary, and anything else we needed to know or do.  We would have expected no less from his take-charge personality, as organization was one of his greatest skills.  He planned for everything from vacations to tornados, so it was only natural that he planned for his death.

            Although most of us considered him tight with his money, he loved to save it, make spread sheets about it, and keep track of every penny.  Thus, his funeral was pre-paid, meticulously planned and organized in that 3-ring binder with homemade dividers.  The dividers were yet another example of his creativity and frugalness.  Why buy something when you could make it yourself?

            Years before his death, he tried to show me his binder every time I came for a visit.

“Everything you need to know will be in here,” he’d say.

            “I know, Daddy.  I just hate to think of you being gone.”

            Still, I would sit beside him and let him go page to page explaining every detail. 

            When Daddy passed, Just A Closer Walk with Thee was played, as he requested, piped in over the mourners.  It was not Pete Fountain, but the good old Methodist hymn played by an organ.  In the end, my father stuck by his rigid, conventional rules for a proper send off.  But I have often wondered if Pete Fountain might have led him with a smile as he reached those kingdom shores.

            I wish Daddy could have stepped out of his fixed way of thinking and had a little piece of himself that might have surprised a few.  Not everyone knew he had a softer side and maybe he liked it that way.  The old hymns were his comfort zone and whether heard from an organ or a smooth clarinet, his funeral was just as he wanted.

            In this fast-paced, all-about-me, live for today world, I fear the pre-planning folks may be few and far between.  Daddy’s propensity to control and prepare gives me pause, as I realize how thoughtful it was in the end, like a gift from beyond.  He saved us from worry, and more stress.  He kept us from having to make decisions on what we ‘thought’ he might want, and mostly he had everything just the way he wanted.

            As for me, I hope to be prepared and pre-paid.  I want an old-fashioned sing-along with hymns and songs that express my sentiment.  I want my girls to know that I’m ok and happily crossing to that kingdom shore, and if Pete Fountain happens to make his way onto the play-list, well, you’ll know I’m dancing on streets of gold.  “This one’s for you, Daddy!”

Just a closer walk with Thee.  Grant it Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee.  Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.