Posted in Pets

Gotta Get your Poop Out by Ginger Keller Gannaway

       

Every morning my husband and I count poops. While we walk our dog Millie, I move out in front and alert Gary about possible pet disturbances. I’m on the look out for bold cats who taunt us as they strut in their grassy lawns, other dogs on leashes who either ignore us or strain and bark as if our dog had just stolen their last pig’s ear, and any skateboarders. Millie is high-strung and the skateboarders’ whizzing wheels send her into fire-alarm barking.  Her mother was an Australian shepherd, and even at eleven years old, she is a fluffy 60-pound bundle of nervous curiosity and hunger. We never know which passing dog deserves a quick glance and tail wag greeting or which ones earn aggressive barks and angry leash lunges. When a dog we know Millie does not feel friendly towards or any skateboarder (aged 5 or 25) is within sight, Gary leads Millie to the other side of the street and does his best to distract her with doggie treats.

I also scan the sidewalk and grassy areas for discarded food scraps. Millie’s insanely powerful nose can detect a tiny barbecue chicken bone or a half-eaten tortilla chip a block away. Her sniffs will switch from the non-urgent “Who just peed here?” (so she can cover the piss with her own) to frantic, fast-moving sniffs that exclaim, “Where the hell is that blob of rotten cheese?!” I inevitably miss a hidden half cookie under some leaves or a week-old bite of ham sandwich camouflaged beneath a battered face mask. A dog-walker must be on high alert throughout the dog’s walk. 

And to get back to my first sentence, we also scoop the poop. I may be several feet in the lead when Gary announces, “We got poop!” And he counts the droppings and notes their locations because our dog likes the crop dusting approach when she defecates. She averages three to four turds per dump (and two poops per walk). I use thin plastic bags to gather the waste and dispose of it in the nearest public trash can. (Apologies for TMI ).

We count the poops because we don’t want to be someone who leaves dog ca-ca for others to step in. Of course, I’ve picked up dog poo for years, but we once had a yard, and I did not keep track of all of Millie’s poo. These days I’m so in tune with my pet’s bowel movements, I have asked Gary, “Did she poop today?” if he took her on a walk without me. This reminds me of my friend Mary’s memory of her “Aunt-Momma.”* Aunt-Momma believed all headaches, stomach issues, and general malaise were connected to one’s irregularity. Mary remembers how any time someone complained of a physical ailment, Aunt-Momma raised an index finger and made a quick hand flip before pointing at the child and asking, “When have you doo-dooed?”

We all need regular doo-doos. They keep us feeling better about life in general. One of my kids’ favorite books was “Everybody Poops” a gift from our friend Sue when she lived in Japan. The straight-forward artwork of animals and humans doing their business made sense even without a translation of the Japanese text. When we accept the stuff that makes us hold our noses and deal with the mess, we can get on with our day, realizing “Shit happens.” That’s it. We would not want it not to be a regular part of our lives.

So I’ve gotten used to counting Millie’s poops and picking them up.  Life will always drop shit in my path, and I deal with it and move on. Everybody poops and everybody feels better after a good doo-doo.

*Aunt-Momma is a story for a whole other essay!

Posted in Photography

Every Picture Tells a Story

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

Ansel Adams

            When I am behind my camera, I see things that others miss.  I feel new and young and inquisitive.  My world is more interesting, with colors so vivid it is almost too much to bear, and I am able to focus on what really matters, the fine details of the bigger picture.

            When I retired, I upgraded my little Nikon Coolpix to this bad boy, Nikon D3500.  The 3500 came with one lens that was adequate and allowed me to snap pics from 17-55 feet, but as I got used to taking photos and our travels expanded, I soon “needed” a larger lens.  (18-400)

            On a trip to Mount Vernon, Virginia, the historic home of George and Martha Washington, I found myself enthralled with the immaculate grounds, gardens, and the Potomac River.  You can actually sit in rocking chairs on the back porch and just stare at the beautiful trees, river, and horizon.  There are probably 40 plus rocking chairs set up just for visitors.

            By now, Boo knows nothing means more to me on vacation than taking photos.  He lets me wander and stop to snap as much as I want.  Sometimes he will call out worthy subjects and point to interesting sights, as he did at Mount Vernon.

            “Babe, look at the cool bird sitting on top of that huge magnolia tree.”

            I love photographing trees and as I was snapping away, I felt something behind me as two rather ‘weathered’ ladies tiptoed up, whispering, “We saw it too. You’ve got quite an eye.”

            I turned smiling, “Thank you.  It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”

            “Have you seen one before?”  they asked, still whispering.

            “Oh sure, lots of times.  We have them in Texas.”  I whispered back.

            “Ohhhhhh my, that’s rare.  They are usually only seen in this region.  Do you use a journal or keep track online?”  One lady asked.

            And that is when I realized that they thought I was a Birder.  Before I had to admit I was talking about the tree, the bird flew off and two more with it that had been hiding in the tree.

Impressively, I snapped photo after photo of the birds in flight and was able to follow the birds across the sky, all the while not having a clue as to what kind of birds they were. 

            The ladies stopped and burst into an applause. Then waved fondly as they moved on down the path.

            “Good luck!”  they called.

There is something about a large camera that makes people think you must be taking important photos and you must know what you are doing.  On my first ever trip to Mardi Gras, I went with my Sittn’ Ugly Sistah, Ginger, to her parents’ home in Eunice, Louisiana.  Our friends, Mary and Cynthia went too and the three of them really schooled me as to Mardi Gras etiquette.  Once we got to downtown Eunice, I was behind my camera soaking up the colors, sights, and action.

 

People would stop and ask, “Will you take our picture?”  They never seemed to worry about seeing the picture or wondering where it would go, they just wanted to be photographed.  Couples would dance by on the street and pose, waiting for me to snap.  I gladly obliged.  I could almost hear the band and smell the gumbo through my lens.

I love photographing pets, and I could make a large coffee table book just on the pictures I have of our cat.  She’s very photogenic, if I do say so myself, and she is a subject that never gets old.

On a beach trip to Galveston, Boo broke speed limits and raced against time to get me to  ‘the best place in Galveston to capture a sunset.’  He googled the location and even carried my tripod, while helping me out onto the pier.   In Maine, he carried my camera backpack all the way on our three-mile hike around the pond. 

In Glacier National Park, he sprinted through the rain with my camera under his shirt just to make sure the camera stayed dry.  At family gatherings, he’s constantly asking, “Did you get that?”  He’s happy to see me happy taking pictures.  Even Uncle B, Boo’s brother, is supportive.  He gave me his tripod and is always sending me photos he knows I would appreciate.

When your heart jumps every time your camera locks focus- You’ve become a photographer.

Mark Denman

My heart jumps when I photograph my grandkids.  In fact, my favorite subjects are the people I love.  My second favorite is nature.  Any raindrop, insect, flower, tree, or animal; all gardens, mountains, oceans, and clouds.  My mind actually sees things within a frame.  It’s as if my vision is a camera lens.

Most of my photography is what the professionals call a “happy accident.”  I accidently get a beautiful shot and I’m not sure how it happened.  I’ve taken classes, yet sometimes I feel intimidated by people with seemingly more knowledge, bigger vocabularies, and fancier equipment.  But, as with writing, there are a lot of people who talk about it, think about it and plan to do it, and there are those of us who do.  I’m taking a chance, embracing imperfection and enjoying my photography more than I could ever explain.  It simply fills my soul, and that’s all I need to know.

Posted in Family

Up on the Roof by Ginger Keller Gannaway

View of our backyard in 1970s

Daddy could think like a kid. He sought out new experiences and made games out of mundane experiences. He’d invent silly activities a child could get excited about and a momma would fuss about.

“Reginald! Stop working the kids up! Tete dure!” was a go-to complaint from Momma.

One of Daddy’s kid ideas was putting us on his high, broad shoulders so we could climb onto our home’s roof and run around and be eye-level with the birds.

Maybe the activity originated from Emile’s football getting thrown up there by accident or Gayle throwing Kelly’s favorite stuffed animal up there on purpose. But it became a thing to do on slow afternoons.

No matter how the idea originated, Daddy understood the thrill of doing something unusual and with a dash of danger. I remember my hesitancy on the sloping asphalt-like roof tiles as we chased each other from the area above our den, down the long hall of bedrooms, toward the big living room, dining room, and above Momma’s kitchen. The experience could be scary, but I felt invincible and wild to be so near those long live oak branches as if I were a bold bluejay. We never stayed on the roof long. After a few whoops and hesitant games of tag, we’d hear the shrill call from the kitchen below us.

“Reginald! Mon Dieu! Get those kids off the roof! Tete dure!”

Momma had spoken. Her feisty anger was the voice of reason to Dad’s love of adventure.

Also, he gave us cool vacations every summer: from countless Florida beach trips to a drive up to visit cousin Ozman in Michigan with a stop in Chicago to see cousin Lucille. We all learned to appreciate the joy of  travel.

One year Dad got us a pony from his close friend Coach Cormier. We learned to ride Red bareback in our yard and in the rice fields that surrounded our property. Dad made us jump into the deep end of the swimming pool before we knew how to swim. He’d tread water in the ten-foot deep water and grab us when we bobbed to the surface. He invented the Bangberry Ride where we took “rides” on a long tree branch, and he fixed us a tire swing on a giant rope that hung from a branch twenty feet above our heads. After the tire fell off, he tied the rope into a massive knot so kids could swing out of the tree’s tall fork like Tarzan. He once scared a living room full of slumber party girls by coming out of the wood box next to our fireplace on his knees with Momma’s stocking over his face. He loved to surprise us!

Dad and Momma in Gubbio, Italy

When we became adults, he organized and paid for trips to Italy (one in Tuscany, another in Umbria). Dad never moved out of Eunice (until age 89) and ended up living in the home he grew up in: however, he and Mom traveled the globe when he worked for Southwestern Life: Hawaii, Japan, France, Germany, Greece, Bermuda. 

He loved to go, go, go as much as he loved creating unexpected adventures. Driving home from a Carlsbad Cavern vacation, he stopped the car in west Texas on an empty stretch of highway and said, “Let’s climb that mountain!” Coming from the flat, flat south Louisiana area, the rocky hill of about 200 feet did seem mountainous. Emile, Gayle, Kelly and I followed Dad’s lead and scrambled up the rough terrain full of cacti, sticky shrubs, and sliding rocks. Only Emile made it to the top, and even he got nervous after someone pointed out a large snake between some rocks. Momma stayed at the car with Kelly who was too young to climb very far. With the snake alert Momma let out a terrified, “Oh! Merde!” grabbed Kelly and got inside the car despite the hot summer temperature. On our way down the hill Gayle jumped atop a huge flat rock and pronounced herself “King of the hill!” 

Daddy took an immediate liking to that rock and said, “Let’s take this rock home! A souvenir!” We kids helped him dig around the base until he and Emile could free it and drag it back towards the car.

Forgetting the snake, Momma jumped out of the car to declare, “Reginald, what in the world are you doing?” 

Emile and Dad were struggling to get a 140-pound rock into our trunk. Gayle and I had moved a suitcase and Mom’s vanity case to the backseat to give the rock room. 

Tete dure! We do not need that!” Mom said as we all ignored her.

That small boulder then lived in our backyard where we found lots of uses for it: a makeshift table for tea parties, a home base for hide-and-seek games, a cool resting spot for cats and dogs during summer, a place to sit and dig mud off the sides of your shoes, and a low pedestal for young imaginary royalty.

Dad’s spontaneous and fearless ideas often clashed with Momma’s anxious and reasonable thoughts. He could be short-tempered and loud and bossy, yet he never lost that spark of kid-like fun. He played tennis until his mid 80’s and he went to the casino past the age of 90. Always up for a game of cards, a new restaurant, or a road trip!

Easter Fun

As parents, we do our best to give our kids as many good times as we can manage. Dad gave us vacations every summer: beaches, national parks, Six Flags, and Disney World. But my fondest memories are of playing in our own backyard. We were barefoot most of the time and always had a dog and some cats around. If a cousin came to visit, it felt cool to impress her with a unique form of fun. “Wanna get up on the roof?” 

Then after Dad’s nap, if he was in a good mood, I’d tell him, “Gina wants to get on the roof, Daddy.”

And he’d stretch his long arms and look toward the kitchen where Mom was cleaning or cooking. He’d give us a conspiratorial wink and head toward the back yard. First, Dad would bend low to the ground and help me climb onto his shoulders with my legs dangling around his neck. Then he’d take my right hand and I’d put my right foot on his shoulder. Next he’d hold my weak left hand tightly and give me time to put my left foot on his shoulder. I clung to his extra-large hands with bated breath as he walked my shaking torso right next to the lowest spot of our roof. My more agile brother and sisters had already shimmied up the metal T.V. antenna pole right next to our wooden garage. Gayle lay flat on the roof and grabbed both of my arms as Dad put one huge palm under my butt and got all of me up on the roof. Gayle then smiled at our cousin’s big blue eyes as Gina considered the risks involved in our game.

“Come on, Gina! If I can do it, you know you can!” I said.

Soon five squealing kids were running like monkeys just let loose from a cage. My siblings were fearless and kept their hands in the air as they padded along the hot roof tiles, but I preferred the Mowgli walk. Gina took her time getting her “roof legs” screaming as she figured out if the game with no rules was worth the risk. As our bare feet got used to the rough surface, we all moved faster and squealed louder. The five pairs of small feet made padding noises with uneven rhythms because we all made short runs and sudden stops. Our heads told us we were as powerful and brave as eagles, but suddenly we’d hear a strident shout from the kitchen area below us.

“RE-GI-NALD!! Get those kids off the roof! MAINTENANT!”

Merci beaucoup, Daddy! For being an exciting instigator and a wonderful partner-in-crime!

Posted in Relationships

Walker – Stalker

            The first time it happened, I was not prepared.  The sun was shining, and I had a spring in my step as I headed outside for my walk.  Two blocks down I heard, “Oh, howdy neighbor,” as I ran smack dab into John.

            On our first meeting I learned John was a retired college professor, married to a woman whose mother was ill, the mother lived in Poland, and he knew three languages.

            He was going home after his walk but decided to walk with me for a while, just to chat.

            “Won’t you be going the wrong way?” I smiled.

            “Oh, I don’t mind, I’ll walk with you at least to the next street.  What did you say your name was?”

            “Nancy,” I said.  “I live on the corner, there.”

            “I know,” he said, and we walked together to the next street.

            John, bless his heart, is in his late seventies.  He uses a cane to support his stooped frame but is surprisingly agile as he sprints across the street to see me.  Most days he has on a faded baseball cap, PBS t-shirt, and plaid pajama pants with tennis shoes.  He sports a dashing mustache and has twinkling blue eyes that light up when he smiles, and he’s always smiling.

            Because John often needs to stop and catch his breath, I slow down and just wait while he rests and entertains me with his steady stream of stories from the past.

            Lest you think I am sweet for listening, I have been known to look out my front door and scan the streets before starting to walk.  I selfishly want to be alone with my thoughts or Spotify favorites, and walk at a faster pace.  But, on many occasions when I thought the coast was clear, he will come out of nowhere and POOF, I’ll hear him calling my name.

            Once I left the house, calling to Boo, “I’m going to get the mail.  Be right back.”

It takes me fifteen minutes to walk up the street and back to our community mailboxes.  Forty-five minutes later when I returned; Boo was standing in the kitchen,

“John?”

            “John.”

            “He’s a walker stalker!” Boo laughed.

            John will start talking fifty feet before he gets to me, and ever the gentleman he says, “I see you’re going for your walk.  Do you mind if I join you?”

            Another time I lied, “Sorry, John, I’m trying to get a short walk in before I have to go to a doctor’s appointment.”   

But he said, “Me too, which doctor are you going to?  I’ll just walk with you to the next street.”

            John asks me questions about myself, too.  He now knows my husband’s name, how long I worked in education, how many children we have and how long we’ve lived in our house.

            Boo was mowing the front yard one day, when I suddenly heard the mower stop.  I figured he was emptying the clippings, but when the mower never started back up, I opened the door to check.  One foot out the door and I saw John, leaning on his cane, chatting up a storm with Boo.  I quickly and quietly shut the door and hid.  Some time later the mower sputtered back up and soon Boo came in calling, “John says hello.  Did you know he was a college professor?”

            Last year with the Pandemic and all, John would always stay a respectable distance while we walked, asking if I was comfortable about the six-foot rule.  But now I know John is vaccinated, his wife is visiting her mother, he married late in life at fifty-three, he has sciatica and he had lunch with two friends yesterday.  Things are getting back to normal.

When I’m walking with John, he smiles and greets everyone on our path.  He knows most of them by name and can tell me something interesting about each one.  He’s amazing.  His seventy-plus-year-old mind is as sharp as ever.  When I stop to think about it, John has been the highlight of my shelter in place, stay at home days.  He’s upbeat, never feels sorry for himself, and although he has to stop now and again to rest, he’s out there doing his thing. 

As much as I selfishly want to walk faster some days, I know there will come a time when I miss seeing John and hearing about his life.  Perhaps divine providence brought me John to slow me down and refine my patience.  He certainly has brought me company along my walks and a smile on those lonely COVID days.  It’s hard to believe that someday I may be out walking the neighborhood, looking for friendship and a listening ear.  I hope you’ll slow down and walk with me, at least to the next street.

Posted in Aging, Family

Not that Kind of Girl

by Ginger Keller Gannaway

I’m not that kind of girl.

Disclaimer: I have not technically been “a girl” in over five decades. In four months, I’ll qualify for Medicare! “Girl” is an affectionate way some women, even old ones, communicate. “Hey, Girl! Can you believe this weather!?” or “Girl! It’s been too long since we got together!”

Anyway…I’m not the girl who cares if my clothes match perfectly or I have on make-up or if my hair looks great. I’m tempted to use the current scapegoat, the pandemic, but I really blame my appearance apathy on my mom. She used to wear two shades of blue that were close to the same color but not quite. She’d sport an aqua top with cobalt pants with confidence. She got her hair dyed and styled every week and she liked getting dressed up for events every now and then, but she never spent more than ten minutes in front of a mirror before she faced the world. She cared how she looked but she cared more about other things, like good food, good company, and good times.

At a fancy place (Alhambra Palace) with my non-fancy family (Kelly, Momma, and Gayle)

A week ago I wore my Catcher in the Rye sweatshirt backwards for my morning walk without noticing, and yesterday I sat in my car ready to drive to the grocery store, looked down, noticed a large round grease stain on my navy pants, and never considered going inside to change. I will not retire a favorite t-shirt even after washing machine gremlins have eaten several tiny holes in the front of the shirt. I will wear black sandals with a navy skirt, and I’m not sure of the fall date that decides when it’s illegal to wear white shoes. 

When I was teaching, I did my best to look presentable. Our English department wing had a psycho central heating and cooling unit that liked to match the outside weather. If it was 88 in the Texas shade, our classrooms’ temp hovered between 86 and 90. If the fall air was around 52, that was the temperature setting for our rooms. I kept a brass coatrack in the back of my class full of hoodies and sweaters for kids to use while we read Dante’s Inferno or Into Thin Air (an account of climbing Mount Everest). I also had a lumpy multi-colored sweater draped over my teacher chair to help me with the frigid days. I remember a time I’d worn my maroon corduroy jacket with my thin cotton knit skirt and blouse as kids shivered in their desks. During the passing period I noticed my teacher friend in the hall with crossed, goose-bump covered arms. I offered her my lumpy sweater. She gave me a sweet, blue-lipped smile and rubbed her bare forearms.

“Thanks, but that sweater won’t match my dress,” she said right before the tardy bell rang and we each turned to enter our walk-in freezer rooms.

I am not that kind of girl! Looking well put together matters to me, but being cold or uncomfortable trumps style and beauty every time. I put extra time into looking presentable for weddings, funerals, and senior proms (when I’m a chaperone), but even then I’m okay, not great.

In 1989 when I was pregnant with my second son, I decided to get my hair cut extra short so that I could wash it, towel dry it, and go. I never mastered styling hair with a blow dryer, and I do not allow my hair stylist for over thirty years to use “products” on my hair. 

I’ve let my hair grow out in 2020 partly because… well… we were on pandemic lockdown, partly to let my hair cover up what old age has been doing to my neck. Then my sister convinced me to stop coloring my hair, and I now have the elderly version of Billie Eilish hair: whitish gray up to my ears and light brown to the top of my shoulders. 

Barbra’s Cool Eyes

When it comes to makeup, I use lip gloss most days and a smear of liquid foundation if I’m going somewhere fancy (like the post office or Target) or have a work-related Zoom meeting. I should not be trusted with eyeliner, mascara, or any other advanced beauty product. During my teens when my Barbra Streisand obsession was at its peak, I worked hard to imitate her smokey eye make-up that involved liner, eye shadow and black mascara, but I’m sure I succeeded in looking like a 15-year-old trying out for a part as a raccoon in her high school’s version of Dr. Doolittle. Once in the 1980’s I read in a Glamour magazine an interview with a model who complained that her sister “put her makeup on with her hooves!” I have always connected with that description of makeup application.

In 1985, after meeting Gary’s family for the first time, I asked him what his brother and sister-in-law thought of me (we stayed at their home). He said, “They said you were nice and that you didn’t wear much makeup.” I felt but a few seconds of disappointment until I remembered his family lived in the land of big hair and abundant makeup.

Me and my Boys in 1995

I am not that kind of girl. Not fancy. No frills. Come as you are kind of person. And almost all of my friends in Austin are similar. Maybe we like a throw-back, retro hippy look. Or perhaps I hold on to growing up in Eunice in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Long loose hair and braless halter top memories. In college it was thrift stores and jeans that got their holes and tears from honest living not from the manufacture’s assembly line. Even our stockings were full of holes!

I remember a scene in the movie Julie and Julia. Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) and Jane Lynch (as her sister Dorothy) are looking in front of a full mirror as they put on pearls to match their fancy dresses before entering a big party downstairs. Julia looks sideways toward her sister after they both consider their reflections, and starts with, “Pretty good.” Then a short pause and “But not great.” They shrug and laugh and head to the party. That’s how I feel about my looks after I try to get “all dolled up.” Pretty good. But not great.

I do not care whether my hair looks styled, my clothes are neat and coordinated, or my face is blemish-free. With hooves for hands and a far from perfect body, I am content to be pretty good because I hope to never be “that kind of girl.”

Me at 15

Posted in #Confessions

True Confession #1

1971

A Fork in The Road

            My junior year in high school I was invited to the senior prom by my crush, Clay Thornton.  It was exciting to be included with his senior friends and to dance the night away, pretending to be way more worldly than I was.  Before we left my house, Daddy announced, “Be home by 11:30, Nan.  Nothing good happens after midnight!”  Even though I was about to be seventeen, my curfew never changed, no matter what.

            Clay was tall, handsome, polite, smart, and played on the football team.  I had also been wearing his letter jacket for quite some time, proving to the world our mutual admiration.  We dated on and off my whole junior year and until he went away to college.

            I started my senior year fresh, unattached, and looking forward to graduation.  In the ‘70’s, at Tascosa High School, in Amarillo, Texas, you were assigned to a home room alphabetically.   I had been with the same “C” students for three years.  Once we got alphabetized in the tenth grade, that was it, until we graduated.  Mr. Thompson was our homeroom teacher and also taught government and economics.  He had been in the Naval Reserve with my dad, which was awkward, and he chewed on cigars that he carried in his front shirt pocket.  He was gruff, crusty, and personally I don’t think he gave a hoot about what we did as long as we were quiet.

            There was one student in our homeroom who was not in our usual classes, Tim C.  He was super tall, exceptionally thin and had an odd way about him.  We knew he went to special classes, but no one was out right rude, just dismissive.  Tim was quiet around our rowdy “C” students, so sometimes I went out of my way to say hello to him or smile when passing in the hall, to which he would raise his hand in a half wave and speed off.  I tried to be kind, while also tolerating a few snickers at Tim’s expense.  Wanting to do what’s right and wanting to be popular is a hellish place to be.

            I had plenty of dates my senior year, almost every weekend.  When I wasn’t working at Montgomery Wards in the stereo and record department, I enjoyed going to parties, attending games and definitely looked forward to my senior prom, graduation and going off to Baylor University in the fall.  My grades were more average than Daddy would have liked, but I thought of myself as ‘well-rounded’ and didn’t worry too much about it.

            I was home one evening in February, when my dad came to my room. “There’s a boy named Tim on the phone who wants to talk to you.”

            I couldn’t think of anyone I knew named Tim until I picked up the receiver.

            “Hello?”

            “H-hii N-n-ncy, this is  Ti-im Coley from h-h-home room.”

            “Hi Tim,” I said calmly, feeling awkward.

            “H-how are y-y-you?”  he asked.

            “I’m fine.”  I could feel my eyes widening and my heart started to pound. I kept thinking ‘ohmygosh,ohmygosh,ohmygosh.’

            “W-w-well, I have s-s-something to ask you.  It’s very i-i-i-important.”

            “Yes?” My mind racing, I thought oh no, he’s going to ask me on a date.

            And plain as day he said, “Will you please go to Prom with me?  M-m-y mother w-w-will take us and bring us h-h-home.”

            Sitting on the floor of my living room, right beside the bookcase clutching the phone so tightly I thought I might faint, my mind went blank.  I was unprepared and nervous and suddenly I burst through the silence with, “Uh, Tim, it’s awfully early to be asking, isn’t it?”

            “I-I kkknnnow, I’ve been wanting t-t-to ask since last y-y-year.  But my mother said I had to wait.”

            “Thank you, Tim.  I need some time to ask my dad.  Can I let you know soon?”

            “OK. S-s-s-ee you tomorrow.”

And with that, we hung up.

            It was all my foolish mind could think to say as I stalled, not wanting to hurt his feelings.  Instead of just saying no, I prolonged my torture by being dishonest.  I thought if I could just wait a few more weeks, someone else would ask me and I would be off the hook.  All I knew was I could not go to the prom with Tim C.  What would my friends say?

            Almost three weeks went by and my agony was palatable.  Every day at school was a game where I tried to hide so I wouldn’t run into Tim.  I finally, in my angst, wrote Tim C. a note.

Dear Tim,

Thank you for inviting me to prom, but I forgot someone had already.

 asked me a long time ago, so I have to go with them.

                              Thank you, Nancy

            The next day after the bell rang, I dropped the folded note onto his desk as I hurriedly left homeroom.  In my blinded teenage fog, I thought I had done a good thing and was happy the ordeal was finally over.  One side of me was happy and felt free but the other side of me kept saying, “I think you hurt his feelings.”

            You cannot possibly say anything to me I haven’t said to myself in the last fifty years since then.  Tim C. never spoke to me again.  He would look down when I walked by and he avoided eye contact even more than before my sorry excuse.  I disappointed him and myself.

            February turned into March into April, and there was not one prom invitation extended to me by anyone else.  As much as I dated and had friends, the closer it got to prom, the quieter my social life got.  Couples paired off making special plans.

            In 1971 girls did not go to dances in groups, it just wasn’t done.  It was a date’s only situation, and that was a situation I was not in.  The night of my senior prom, I was at home. 

            I was in my room when my dad knocked on the door and came in. “Honey,” he said, “you’re just too pretty.  The boys were afraid to ask you and they probably thought you already had a date.”  He hugged me, and in that moment, I broke into sobs of hot salty tears.  I wanted to tell my daddy what I had done and how I lied to Tim and hurt his feelings.  I wanted to confess this awful secret and get it out of me.  I was so disappointed in myself and my cruel actions, but I knew my father’s disappointment would be worse to bare.  I didn’t deserve his kind words and sympathy.  I deserved to be dateless the rest of my life.  And worse, I let my shame keep me silent about my actions for many more years to come.

            The night of my senior prom I learned a huge lesson about honesty and decency.  The laughs and embarrassment I thought I would have gotten for being Tim C.’s date might have instead, been a lesson in love and kindness for all of us.  There is always a fork in the road, where we make a choice that brings us up higher or takes us down lower, and the choice I made was not the best.    

Perhaps Tim C. doesn’t even remember me now, but if I could, I would tell him how sorry I am for my behavior.  And if I could do it all over again, I would choose differently.

I learned something inside all my disappointment, and shame.  I learned how I wanted to treat people and that being a kind human being was more important than potential popularity or perceived coolness.  I learned honesty really is the best policy, and that morals are private, but decency is public.

Posted in Cajuns, Mothers

Poulette by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Geraldine Latour (aka Poulette)

Momma’s nickname was Poulette (Cajun for lil’ chicken) because she was always pecking around, picking up, cleaning, cooking, just forever in motion.  I remember Momma with a dishrag always in her hand, ready to clean any surface she passed. One of my favorite Poulette memories involves a hibou (Cajun for owl).  

I was in high school and awoke in the middle of the night to strange sounds from the front of the house. I crept down our long hall towards rustling clinks and clatters in the kitchen. Was someone fixing a midnight snack? I froze mid-step when I saw a three-foot brown and white owl perched in our kitchen sink. It settled its wings and met my open-mouthed stare with a slow blink and a freeze-tag pose. 

Like a first grader, I ran back down the hall to my parents’ bedroom.

I entered the dark room and said,“Hey! There’s an owl in the kitchen!” in a loud whisper as if embarrassed to utter such an unlikely statement.

  Dad raised his head to ask,“Wha?  Huh?”

“For real! An owl’s in our kitchen,” I said.

Daddy shook his head, lay back down, and rolled over.  

  But Momma was already putting her robe on and coming my way. 

“A hibou? Let’s go,” she said. 

We held hands as we walked down our long hall past bedrooms where my siblings slept and stopped at the orange Formica wall-mounted kitchen table four yards from the kitchen sink to have a staring contest with the owl. We now clutched each other’s forearm and accepted the reality of what we saw. The owl sat content in the spotless, stainless steel sink below a clean window with blue flowered curtains. Momma and I took measured breaths as if we were about to duck underwater for a long swim. Then she let go of my arm and tiptoed to the laundry room to the left of our kitchenette table. I headed back through the den to open our heavy back door. We had wordlessly planned to shoo the owl outside.  

Poulette emerged from the laundry room holding a broom like a long spear as she slowly advanced toward the kitchen sink. Her strategy was to scare the owl towards the opened door and sweep him outside. A sensible plan until my blind cat Cupid dashed inside just as Poulette raised her broom spear toward the hibou. I screamed because I believed the owl would attack Cupid. Momma changed direction and hurried to the door. Her rule of “No pets in the house!” had been broken!

Chat! Chat!” she yelled and tried to sweep my cat outside. Cupid dashed underneath the den’s couch thrilled and amazed to be indoors.

The owl watched our shenanigans without moving a feather. Momma stood next to me as I held the door open and she tapped the floor with the end of her broom handle like it was a sentinel’s staff, as angry at the cat for getting inside as she was annoyed to have an owl in her kitchen.

Momma with her kids, (Kelly, Gayle, Ginger & Emile)1960

We sighed in unison just as the owl decided to spread its incredible wings and fly toward us. Momma’s broom went under-the-arm and we hightailed it toward the living room.

Mon dieu!” said Momma while I let out an extended scream and forgot about my hiding cat. The owl calmly settled on a foot stool next to the sofa and became a statue again. 

We clutched forearms again.With our backs now against the front door, we suddenly had the same idea: Open both front and back doors to create a draft! 

So I opened the back door while Poulette turned the broom into a lance and headed back to the den and her hibou adversary. I noticed the broom’s bristles shake when I followed her and hid behind the fully opened back door and peeped out to watch the confrontation.  

Momma and me, 1959

My 5’ 2”, 100 pound mom, who shrieked and hid when she saw a tiny lizard, was now a warrior.  Her broom became Excalibur and she swung it above her head before thrusting it straight at her opponent. The owl had been looking longingly out the huge picture window in the den, but it now did that slow creepy head turn as Poulette advanced. 

With her broom sword ten inches in front of the owl, Poulette yelled, “Shoo! Shoo!” Then she lowered her weapon to sweep the air around its feet. The owl blinked twice, opened his wings, and smoothly flew out the back door as I cheered from my hiding place. Poulette whooped and alternated wielding her broom like a sword and sweeping the doorway.

“We did it!” I bragged as we hugged and danced by the door.  

“What a big hibou!” Momma declared.  

“But not too big for a poulette with a broom,” I said. 

She hugged me again and said, “ Cha, I need to sit down.” So we rested in the kitchen, took deep breaths, and laughed.

We never did find out how the owl made its way into our house. Maybe it was stunned or slightly hurt and a strong wind blew the back door open, so it coasted in. Maybe some prankster put it in our house. It stayed in our backyard in one of our live oak trees for an hour before taking flight and leaving us.

The Hibou event became part of our family folklore, an unsolved mystery.  However, one part of that story holds no mystery whatsoever: Momma Poulette had heroic bravery when it came to protecting her “chicks.”  Years later she may have no longer rushed about the house cleaning and organizing her family’s lives and ended up in a wheelchair before she passed away in 2015. But whenever she looked at me with her crystal-blue eyes and gave me her pure-love smile, I still saw the Poulette spark and remembered how she handled that hibou that weird pre-dawn morning.

Momma Poulette, 2012

Posted in #Confessions

Progress Not Perfection

            I admit I have visions of grandeur.  I see my home and the belongings therein, as neat, tidy, and organized.  I know how Martha Stewart folds her towels so she can have the perfect linen closet and I have watched Marie Kondo on Netflix enough to know if I am over-burdened with unnecessary things.  I envision my possessions in their uncrowded, beautiful spaces, but my follow through is lacking.

            Besides my usual ‘junk’ drawer in the kitchen, there is ‘the pile.’  I confess that I am a stacker.  Beside my refrigerator is a stack that started with two pieces of mail I intended to do something with.  I should have opened the mail and immediately taken what action was necessary:  pay the bill, return information requested or discard the paper.  I postponed the action, which lead to this.

            Two pieces of mail turned into three cookbooks I haven’t used, a bulk pick-up reminder, one cat toy, a sequined seashell from my granddaughter, a white board and a flyer with coupons for pizza, which is now expired.

            Remember when Covid first started, people were posting on social media about using their time wisely to do home repairs or clean out closets?  Boo and I spent hours playing dominos and spades.  We walked and napped equally, and never cleaned one thing.

             Organizing my closet in an ongoing project that never gets completed.  I have sorted by what I wear and what should be given away.  I have refolded, rehung, and repurposed.  I tried to keep only what I love and brings me joy, but I kept hearing my dad’s voice, “You might need that to paint in someday.”  Another problem was when I asked myself if I loved an article of clothing, I would often answer, “I used to love that. I might wear it again.”

The ten prom dresses I wore when I was a high school administrator and had to chaperone Prom, a long black crocheted vest I might use for a 70’s costume someday, a navy- blue suit I wore two sizes ago that was my all-time favorite, a couple of wedding dresses (that’s probably too much information), and an old chambray ‘work shirt’ with candy cane’s embroidered on the pocket and collar are all examples of ‘my problem.’

            A few years ago, my dear friend Linda came over to help me organize my closet.  We took everything out and laid it on my bed, dresser, and floor.  She was overly polite as she pulled out twenty-two belts and ten formal, cocktail purses.  “Wow,” she said, “maybe you can decide on just a few you like the best.”  (I told you she was polite.)  The next few hours flew by as she challenged me to give away things I hadn’t worn or didn’t even like.  But, somewhere along the way, she pointed to a stack of hangers on the bed and asked, “Don’t you think you have enough?” 

“I have a problem with hangers,” I confessed.  “I like good hangers, remember Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest?”  Linda gently guided me to throw some away and donate the others, but secretly, I wanted to order more from QVC so I could hang everything on the same color hanger. When a salesclerk asks me if I want to keep the hanger, I always say yes.  I even have a few wire hangers that have crocheted coverings that Auntie Sue gave me years ago.  I know I have a problem, but I just can’t get rid of those.

            At one point, I thought I would just call and schedule a visit with Marie Kondo, here in my home.  If I had her here, in person, I thought I could change.  But sadly, her website says I will never get her, only one of her consultants at $100 an hour and paid travel expenses.  So, I took the $100 and bought cute baskets and containers to store more stuff in.

            Once, my daughter and her friend took everything out of my pantry and organized just like it was a grocery store.  “Mom, that expiration date was three years ago!” she began, and it went downhill from there.

 “Mom, why do you have three devilled egg plates?”

 “Doesn’t everyone?” I countered.  “Besides one day all of this will be yours and your sisters.”

 “Mom, do you ever use any of these cookbooks?”

 “I used to,” I lamely answered.  “Before you were born.  Besides, I love cookbooks.  They’re so pretty and colorful and I always find things I want to cook.”

Eye roll from daughter.

Lastly, “Mom, what’s the fascination with so many cans of black beans?”

“Once, I thought about going vegan.”

Disgusted eye roll.

My meek and sometimes weak answers did not deter them as they made me throw away out of date items, and tiny bits of saved crackers or chips that wouldn’t even feed a bird.  Don’t even get me started on the stack of grocery bags and bottles of wine.  “I don’t want to run out,” I whispered under my breath.

            Almost everything I own is either potentially useful or sentimental and that is why I have such a hard time letting things go.   I seem to lack inspiration and dedication, but, at the same time I can’t give up the dream of one day being color coordinated, pared down and organically organized.  I just hope you won’t think less of me as I straighten my piles and keep the three pairs of shoes, I haven’t worn in two years.  I might need them to paint in someday.

Posted in Cajuns, Family, Food

Louisiana Gold by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Champagne’s grocery store in Eunice, Louisiana keeps the fresh crawfish tails in a special cooler in the back that customers don’t have access to. At the check-out you tell the cashier how many pounds of crawfish you want and they go to the “vault” in the back and return with your treasure. Before they ring up the pricey seafood, they count each of the crawfish packets in front of you.

Boiled Crawfish from Slim’s Spoon in Austin, Texas at Thicket Food Park

“You wanted four pounds: one, two, three, four.”

And they bag them as if you’re at a bank where the teller counts your stack of twenty dollar bills.

(I dramatically imagine this is what a big drug deal is like. “Three kilos of cocaine: one, two, three.”)

When I first witnessed this transaction, I asked the cashier why they did it this way.

“Had to,” she said. “Folks would get home with their crawfish and call us and claim they’d paid for four pounds, but we gave ‘em only three.”

I nodded and thought, “Fresh crawfish tails are like gold or diamonds  – precious, expensive, and hard to get.” They’re only available a few months a year and are mostly found in south Louisiana.

Crawfish, like small lobsters, have a rich sweetness that reminds me of being eight-years-old, barefoot on a May afternoon when I felt at home with myself and my family. My biggest worries involved sister fights and what sins I’d need to own up to once a week at school when the nuns led our class to that week’s Confession session. (Was it a sin when I made up a few extra sins because all I could think of was ‘I talked back to my mom’ or ‘I lied to my sisters’?)

I had not become fully aware of my cerebral palsy yet, and I didn’t realize the embarrassment of my left-leg limp or my left-arm crookedness. I played freeze tag with my friends and cousins. I bossed around my little sisters, and I believed my parents had more admirable traits than bad ones. Life was good! I took rice and gravy dinners and Friday fried catfish for granted.

However, I knew crawfish was special! Our huge Good Friday boil was one of the year’s biggest Keller family events. And crawfish etouffee was reserved for company from out-of-state or a wedding rehearsal’s supper or St Edmund’s Spring Fair.

I grew up around great Cajun cooks: my momma, Grandma’s hired help – Lee Ester Anderson and later Vivian Hill, my Uncle Jake, and a long list of Eunice ladies I knew. They cooked the Cajun Country way. “First you make a roux…” “Use the Holy Trinity: onions, bell pepper, and celery.”  “Add green onions and parsley at the end.”  “Cook until done.”

I didn’t start cooking like a Cajun until I moved to Texas and missed the gumbos and sauce piquantes. I had Mercedes Vidrine’s Louisiana Lagniappe cookbook that was really four combined books ( Beaucoup Bon, Quelque Chose Piquante, Quelque Chose de Douce, and Joyeux Noel). I practiced and used the best ingredients: LeJuene’s garlic pork sausage and crawfish tails from south Louisiana when I could get them.

My favorite crawfish etouffee recipe was read to me over the phone by Momma. A friend from her bouree card games had shared it with her. 

I like it because the crawfish tails are boss and do all the talking in that recipe. There’s not a roux or fancy veggies like mushrooms or asparagus trying to steal some of the attention. The recipe begins with the holy trinity cooked in a half stick of butter, and later you add a bit of white wine, the crawfish, some parsley and “C’est tout!” Of course, you use your favorite spice mix. I use Slap Ya’ Momma, partly because it’s made in Ville Platte and that’s where Momma’s from, but it also has the right amount of cayenne pepper. I have made this recipe for birthdays, Easter brunch, and special guests who visit us. 

This past week our good friend Della was in the hospital and going through scary procedures and tests, and when I asked her what she needed, she answered, “Some of your crawfish etouffee.” I was thrilled to see her eat two servings from her hospital bed when we were allowed to visit.

Cooking good food for the best people I know brings me true joy. And when that food is part of my Cajun upbringing, the joy doubles and does backflips.  Our Louisiana motto is, “Lassiez les bon temps rouler!” and that advice usually involves people dancing, laughing, and drinking. It also involves a big Magnalite pot simmering on a stove.  

My best memories are times spent in my grandma’s kitchen (which later became my momma and dad’s kitchen) where people of all ages crowded together to tell Thibodeaux & Boudreaux jokes and exaggerated stories while they ate good food. Whether we had Louisiana gold like fresh crawfish or strong coffee and hot bouldin, it all tasted better because we shared it with those we loved. 

Posted in Nature

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

My backyard sanctuary is home to two new families.

Being an amateur photographer and Birder I use words like cute or sweet to describe the new families that have inhabited our decorative birdhouses on the patio. I call them chickadees but I’m not positive they are, so maybe one of you will know for sure.

Every year these little birdies spend a week or two preparing a new nest for their springtime babies.  It is hard work to fly back and forth, collecting leaves, string, feathers, and twigs to weave elaborate homes for their soon-to-be eggs. Below you see our bird taking in a rather large piece of white, paper-thin material.

Building the nest

When the nest is built, the mother-to-be will unceremoniously enter the nest, lay eggs, and begin to brood.  Although, we saw the birds building their nest, we were surprised when we peaked in one day and saw the mother looking back at us.  Even if the mother were to be scared away, she will come right back for the two-week incubation period. 

We definitely saw the little brown bird building the nest in the bluebonnet house, but during Easter weekend our son-in-law peeked into the white house and saw babies. How, we wondered and when did this happen?

Shortly after Easter the babies hatched in the bluebonnet house.  We do not hear their faint cries yet, but there is quite a commotion that ensues nearly all day long as the parent birds fly back and forth, looking for food and bringing food to the babies.   I read that when the eggs first hatch, the female will brood the young and the male will bring food.  After brooding both female and male will search for food.  Right now, I’m assuming the male flies out to locate worms, seeds, insects and berries. When his beak is full, he flies to one of the patio chairs and surveys the area.  Then he will fly to the roof or a plant near the birdhouse, and after looking around, he will land on the perch, glance around, then stick his beak into the birdhouse.

Boo, Emmy Cat, and I are mesmerized at their beauty and diligence.  We spend way too much time watching from the window and sometimes from outside, as I sit at the table quietly observing. Usually after a few minutes the birds will resume their work after they’ve decided I am no threat.  Even the other birds watch with anticipation.

We have stacked more plants on the rack to deter any neighborhood cats or other animals from disturbing the new family, while we wish we could do more to keep them safe, nature has its way.

I would love to know from you fellow backyard Birders if these are chickadees?  And are the brown ones in the same family? The brown and black/white birdies are both going to both houses! What’s going on? Boo said this is like an episode of Sister Wives!

Inquiring minds want to know!

Emmy sits for hours watching her birdies.