Posted in Friendship

Grandmothering  

Grandma and me

When I was young, my Grandma was already old.  She was sixty-something when I was born, and I thought she was the oldest grandma I ever knew.  She had gray hair, walked with a cane, and had veiny, arthritic hands that had worked hard all of her life.

Our youngest grandchild was born in 2017 when I was sixty-four years old.  The irony of thinking about my ‘old’ grandma is not lost on me because I obviously color my hair, and during my knee replacements, I used Grandma’s cane to get around.  I often look down at my hands and wonder who they belong to, but I recognize these faithful ten.  They are my grandma’s hands.

Sundays after church at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Amarillo, my dad, brother, and I would go to Grandma’s for lunch.  She would cook a pork roast or fried chicken, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, and have a plate with white and wheat bread on it, with a mound of margarine, not butter.  For dessert,  there was always a pie.  Apple, peach, pecan, coconut cream, or lemon meringue, she could make them all, and each one was delicious.  Grandma would perk a fresh pot of coffee for her and my dad to enjoy with their meal and pie.  The coffee was perked on the stove and would last her a good two days or more.

“Pass the cream and sugar, please,” she’d say once we sat down at the table, and then she would pour a little splash of Pet Evaporated Milk, and a heaping spoonful of sugar into the dark, rich coffee to lighten it up.

 After our meal, we would each pass our plates to Grandma, who would scrape our scraps into a pile to be thrown into the compost.  Then my dad would take a nap and we would entertain ourselves until he woke up.  Woe to the one who caused him to wake up before he was ready.

While Daddy was napping after our Sunday lunch, Grandma would make us play Canasta.  Grandma was serious about her Canasta and used little round, plastic cardholders that eased her arthritic hands while she held her cards so no one could see.  She could play for hours, while my brother and I often lost interest after the first round or two.  But, at Grandma’s, we did what Grandma said.  We could sit out on the front porch and watch the cars drive by and see the coming and going of neighbors, or we could water her zinnia’s out back or pick up pecans from under the tree. And that was the long list of activities at Grandma’s.

Martha, my grandma, was also a wonderful seamstress.  She taught me to sew, and we spent hours in her bedroom with the black, push-pedal Singer sewing machine making dresses for me and my dolls.   Her quilts were all made by hand, so we sat by the window and with needle in hand, took small, tight, methodical stitches which one by one created a beautiful scene. Grandma only allowed me to stitch on my own small squares of fabric, while she tended to the quilt. My favorite quilt that Grandma made was out of scraps of corduroy.  The corduroy had been used to make me winter pants, and a house coat for herself, and one for my doll.

“You have to take your time, darling,” she would say to me when I got in a hurry.  “Let’s rip it out and do it again.” And because it was Grandma, I did.

When my girls were young and I was teaching school,  I made them special dresses and even corduroy pants with my new and improved electric sewing machine.  I sewed my wardrobe each summer for the teaching year ahead, but I’ve never made a quilt.  I don’t have the patience Grandma did for quilting and other things like her perfect pies.

Anyone who really knows me, knows I’m not a dessert person.  I can bake the perfect Grandma pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but as Boo always likes to say, “You’re a good cook, but you just don’t cook with love.” 

And that is true.

My grandkids have grown up with my slice-and-bake chocolate chip cookies, while my brother and I had homemade oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies with half of a pecan baked on top.   My grandchildren have Sister Schubert cinnamon rolls for breakfast, while Jimmy and I had Grandma’s famous homemade cinnamon rolls, the size of a salad plate, slathered with homemade icing.

When our grandkids come for a visit we say things like, “What would you like to do?  We’ll do whatever you want.”  I guarantee that sentence never came out of Grandma’s mouth.

We know what movies are on at the theaters.  We have cards for Dave and Buster’s, and we have fish sticks, tater tots, pizza, and chicken nuggets in the freezer.

            “I’ll take care of the desserts,” Boo will volunteer because he knows I’m not good at sweets and also I’m likely to suggest fruit.

We have car seats, booster seats and toys galore.  We record all the movies and shows they like so they don’t have to watch commercials.  We take them on trips and support their scout cookie sales, and we plan our holiday decorations around what we think they would like.

My grandma had neither the means nor inclination to do any of those things, but she did what she could and quite possibly, that was more than enough.  Grandma gave herself, her time, and her experience.  She wasn’t gushy or overly lovey dovey, but she was dependable and kind.  She was affectionate and Godly.  She was simple in her ways but extravagant in her love. And I hope my grandchildren feel the kind of steady love from me as I felt from my grandma because that means more than any toy or trip.

Two weeks ago, our little granddaughter was spending the night and as I lay in bed with her, having read a unicorn storybook, she asked, “Will you scratch my back?”

            “Of course,” I said, “But just until you fall asleep.”

She turned her little back to me and snuggled her soft blanket to her face, and my heart melted a little bit more.  I felt her relax, and I realized the trust she has in me.  I immediately thought of Grandma and how I would snuggle on her lap and ask that very same thing. “Will you scratch my back?”   She always said yes, which means she has another star in her crown, for the selfless time and comfort she gave to my brother and me.

As grandmothers go, I’d like to think of myself as a good one.  Nannie, they call me, and when they do, it’s like a blessing to my heart.  Someday they might reflect on how ‘old’ Nannie was and the way her knees creaked when she got down on the floor, but hopefully, they’ll remember the back scratches and hours of crafting or nature walks and the abundance of love.

Posted in Pets, Relationships

Pee-Mail by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Years ago I met the kindest octogenarian in a park near my home. While I was walking my dog Jambo, this man stopped to say howdy and give Jambo plentiful ear rubs and head pats. His voice was soft and his smiles quick. He shared wisdom without judgement. (I later found out he was a retired judge). He and I met often and enjoyed quick chats about the weather and local news, but he seemed to most enjoy time with Jambo. He’d take a knee to get nose to nose with my dog and rub his ears and tell him what a good boy he was.

Jambo – our first Gannaway family dog

One morning I complained about Jambo getting out of the back yard AGAIN. Our mixed breed was an escape artist – squeezing between the fence and its gate, digging beneath the gate after a rain, and even twisting the gate’s chain link with his mouth to make a hole and head for open spaces. We were lucky that we always got Jambo home – even once going to the animal shelter to pick him up after the 4th of July fireworks.

Judge told me, “Oh Jambo must have needed a walkabout, that’s all.” And then my dog got a second helping of ear rubs.

Another time I said, “Jambo would be perfect if he didn’t need to sniff every tree, bush, and fallen branch we pass.”

“Oh, he just has a lot of pee-mail some days,” said Judge.

I laughed and said, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Now that I’ve downsized to a smaller home and a larger dog, I believe the judge’s explanation was right-on! Our dog Millie smells tree trunks and fallen leaves with serious concentration before squatting to leave her own pee-mail. And she sniffs all angles of a fire hydrant, utility pole, or on-street mailbox. These manmade objects hold as much information as as a clump of dead grass does. Pee-mail comes in various lengths.

Millie – big dog in small place

After I read Sigrid Nunez’s  wonderful novel The Friend, which featured a remarkable Great Dane as a main character, I saw how dogs’ noses are their favorite way to interact with the world. Millie not only recognizes my scent from many yards away, but up close she smells what I had for breakfast AND what I had for supper three days before. A dog’s nose is at least 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, and it has about 225 million scent receptors compared to a human’s mere five million.

So Millie’s walks must include frequent stops so she can read all of her pee-mail. While she will stick her nose deep into a pile of leaves or sometimes a drain ditch, she does not always answer every pee-mail. After several seconds of aggressive sniffing, Millie may just walk on. Every third or forth “no response” is followed by a squat and release of her own pee-mail. I wonder if she smells something interesting (or perhaps confrontational) that requires leaving a reply. Is she “marking her territory” or telling a canine friend, “What’s up, dawg?! Long time no smell.” I’ve gotten used to the stop-and-sniff rhythm of dog-walking. I give Millie time to read all her pee-mail and to reply when necessary. I get concerned only when her sniffs become frantic as if  she’s searching for a small bit of very old cheese or a broken piece of a chicken bone. Then I must pull her nose up and hurry away from something she considers delectable but I know is dangerous.

Millie and I on a walk

I could take lessons from Millie. She reads all her pee-mail but only answers the important correspondences. And none of her responses are too long. She says just enough before she’s on to the next piece of pee-mail. Also, if we approach a dog walking towards us, she ignores the smells on the ground and greets her potential friend with good eye contact and a quick bark. Then the two dogs can give each other the ultimate compliment – some serious butt sniffing.

As interesting as an electronic piece of mail may be, it’s no comparison to face-to-face conversation. I strengthen my human bonds when I share ideas, stories, and even worries with others in person. We may offer one another advice or laugh about life’s crazy twists and silly slip-ups that remind us that comedy connects us, especially when we share our embarrassing moments or weird observations. We don’t need to smell each other’s britches to understand the crazy all around us. I suppose we humans rely on our ears and eyes more than our noses. E-mail is ok, phone calls are better, and face-to-face/in-person is the best kind of connection. 

Posted in #Confessions

I’m Not Afraid To Be A Scaredy Cat

            Recently I called my brother to ask, “Did we go trick-or-treating when we were little?”

            “Surely we did.  Didn’t we?”

            “The only thing I remember is one time Daddy drove us to the ‘rich’ neighborhood so we could get good candy.”

            “Oh yeah, but our paper sacks were a dead giveaway that we weren’t from their hood.”

            I’ve never been one for spooky stories or movies.  I don’t like spiders, ghosts, or demons.  I don’t listen to scary sounds or scary music, and I like the lights on.  No pitch black for me. 

I’m not afraid to be a scaredy cat.

            Right before the sixth grade, we moved across town, in Amarillo, to a newer neighborhood and a new school.  That year I was eleven years old, and sixth grade was a conundrum of emotions and hormones.  I was already 5’6” and filling out, shall we say, so there was no hiding the fact that I was the ‘new girl.’  I was the tallest kid in my class and had just gotten braces on my teeth.

            In spite of my newness, I was invited to a Halloween party at Tim Parker’s house, one of the cutest boys in 6th grade.  I may not have known everyone invited, but I knew they were the IN crowd and that I should be happy I was included.  The invitation was a little loose on details:  Meet at Tim’s house at 7:00 p.m. to play games and go Trick or Treating!   Conveniently, Tim Parker lived right down the street, so I planned to walk over at 7:00 p.m. and join the fun.  There was just one catch.  I knew my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr., would not let me go to a boy/girl party IF he knew about it.  So, I told him I was going trick or treating with my best friend and her brothers.  He would never understand that this party was a matter of life and death as far as my popularity was concerned. 

            For some unknown reason, my daddy didn’t check out my story, and at 7:00 p.m. that Halloween night, I walked over to Tim’s house ready to bob for apples, eat candy and laugh with my new friends.  I pushed down the guilt over not telling the truth and promised myself that next time I would do better. 

            I rang the doorbell and could already hear laughter coming from inside Tim Parker’s house, then everything got quiet.  The front door opened slowly but no one was there, and after waiting a couple of minutes, I took two steps inside calling, “Hello?  Hello?  Tim?”

            “BOO!” screamed voices from inside, and I jumped three feet off the floor.

            Everyone was laughing and after I gathered myself, I pretended to laugh, too.

            “Come on, we’re all in the basement,” Tim said.

            In Amarillo, as other West Texas towns, a lot of homes have basements in case of tornadoes or excessive hail.  Most basements are finished out with carpet, ping pong tables, and other activities for the kids, as well as blankets, flashlights, and safety equipment.  As I followed the others back down the stairs to the basement, I was already starting to feel that I might have made a poor decision.  The room was dark, except for a candle lit in the middle of a circle of kids, and the stereo was playing House of the Rising Sun, by the Animals.

            Two couples were slow dancing in the corner and everyone else was sitting in a circle with a candle and an empty bottle of Coke.

            I walked over to the circle and Lisa Claythorn patted the floor, “Sit by me,” she said, and just as I did, the music switched to The Beatles, She Loves You. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!

            “Let’s start the game,” I heard one boy say.  “Spin it!”

            As unworldly and immature as I was, I still knew what Spin the Bottle meant.  A bottle is placed on the floor in the center of the circle.  A player spins the bottle and must kiss the person to whom the bottle points when it stops spinning. The problem was I had never kissed anyone before.

            A girl with long, red hair took the bottle and twirled it so hard, the bottle literally slid across the floor.  It landed pointing at a boy named Steve, who was in my class.  They both laughed and the circle of kids howled.  “Oooooo! Kiss!  Kiss!  Kiss!”  This red-headed girl, whose name I did not know, shook her head, flicking her red, glistening hair away from her face, and rose up on her knees.  She leaned forward and as she did, Steve leaned in for the kiss.  Oh, my goodness, how I wished I was dressed in a silly costume yelling “trick or treat!”

After the first spin, I was relieved yet nervous that I might be next.  I started to sweat and tried to calculate the odds of not having to spin versus who I would have to kiss. 

            “If you don’t kiss, you have to go through the spider webs in the closet and stick your hand in a bowl full of brains,” Tim said.

            As I sat calm on the outside, heart pounding on the inside, I thought about the whole kissing thing.  Lick my lips or stay dry?  Did the red-headed girl lick her lips?  Mouth open or closed?  Quick or slow?  Eyes closed or open?  What about my braces?

            “Where’s the restroom?”  I whispered to Lisa.

            “Upstairs,” she said, and I jumped up saying, “I’ll be right back.”

            I lingered as long as I could without seeming strange and made my way back to the circle.  In a haze of slow motion and fearful dread, I sat down in the first empty place.  Pat Fite, the absolutely cutest boy in the world, spun the bottle looking right at me.  As soon as my eyes locked with his, I diverted my gaze to the bottle which was beginning to slow down. What am I going to do if it lands on me?  Why did I even come here?  My throat is dry and probably my lips.  What if the bottle doesn’t land on me?

            My mind was racing, my heart was pounding, and my stomach felt as if it was ready to regurgitate everything I had ever eaten. The bottle was creeping to a standstill. I could see it pointing directly at the girl next to me, yet it continued to move in half-inch increments. It stopped right in front of me and when it did, the lights started to flicker, and we heard loud steps bounding down the stairway.

Tim’s big brother and two of his friends landed in the basement yelling, “Come on you guys!  It’s time to do some tricks!”  Everyone jumped up and our kiss was quickly forgotten.

            “Let’s go, come on!”  Tim’s brother said.  “Everyone has to steal a pumpkin and smash it!”

            Still sweating, but trying to play it cool, I said I had to be home by 8:15, and started moving toward the door.  Pat Fite touched my hand and said, “Maybe next time,” and the turntable played Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying by Gerry and The Pacemakers.

Once outside, the group went one way, and I went the other. Pat Fite called, “See you in Homeroom!” And I waved goodbye.  Waiting until the group was at the corner,  I ran the rest of the way home and as I breathlessly closed the front door, I heard Daddy call, “Did you get any good candy?”

Posted in Contemplations, Relationships

OWT’s (One Way Talkers) by Ginger Keller Gannaway

The Princess of our family

“Did I tell you about Lucky getting to ride the ferry with us?”

I nod and smile before I let my dog Millie pull me toward our apartment. I did not need a second telling of my neighbor’s trip to Galveston with her dog. When I move beyond the “Looks like another scorcher” level of talk with acquaintances, I learn about their pets, their family, and their personal tastes. While casual conversations may connect me with good neighbors, they are not all equal. Some people lead interesting lives and know the importance of clever wording and good timing. They also realize that a chat is better when both parties contribute to the conversation.

Then there are those who share endless ho-hum info. about their pets, family, friends, and hobbies. They have not an iota of curiosity about my pets, family, friends, or interests. They are One-Way Talkers and they’d be at home in a Seinfeld episode. They are clueless to the apathy of their audiences. I do not need to know a short cut to the cheapest La Quinta in El Paso or a pet’s favorite place to take a poo, and I don’t have time for someone’s else’s grandparent’s weekly activity schedule at the nursing home.

OWT’s follow their own rules of engagement:

  1. Give listeners a slew of details like what you had for lunch, what your cousin had, and what your great-uncle took home in a “doggy bag.” 
  2. Do not respond to fellow talkers’ own experiences about a similar experience. (If you explain your partner’s unfortunate bowel mishaps, ignore what the listener says about their cousin’s bad colonoscopy).
  3. Never give listeners an opening for conversational feedback. Listeners need only nod their heads or throw out “Huh-uh.” They should keep ears open and mouths shut.
  4. If a listener attempts a suggestion on how to deal with a dog’s allergy to polyester for example, interrupt him with a list of experts you have already consulted and describe your pet’s projectile vomiting tendencies.

My apartment complex has at least three OWTs and only one is worth listening to. Let’s call him Scheherazade. He’s in his 80’s and has been in the military, worked at our state’s biggest university, traveled all over our nation, and not always followed the rules. He went to New Orleans once to deliver a race horse and got involved in some Mardi Gras madness. His younger days involved bootlegging and sharecropping. He may repeat his tales, but he’ll add a twist or insert a new detail. And his stories include valuable life lessons. If one goes to New Orleans to carry out an illegal transaction, one should avoid going during Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. This type of OWT is as unique as a laid-back two-year-old who missed her nap.

So don’t think I’m cruel when I look out my window before I go to our mailboxes, and I don’t venture out if a certain OWT is nearby. And if I do get caught with this OWT, it’s ok to fib about having to hurry home because I have a Zoom meeting in two minutes. An OWT has followed me out to the parking lot when I said I had no time to talk and can continue telling me about Lucky’s upcoming grooming appointment even after I’ve gotten a half-block down the sidewalk. I may be mostly retired, but these days I don’t have the patience for OWTs  ever since Scheherazade moved away to live nearer his grandkids.

Posted in Boo, Contemplations

Boo #27

            We were standing in the kitchen, deciding which chips to have with lunch, when I noticed Boo was looking in his pill organizer.  You know, the Monday through Sunday plastic medicine container that has A.M. and P.M.?

            “Dang, I took my day pills at night again,” he said.

            “You’re kidding, right?”

            “No, I’ve done it before.”

            “I don’t know how it could get any clearer, Boo.  Monday A.M.”

            “I wondered why I couldn’t get to sleep last night, and besides, I’m worried about the car battery. I think it’s on the blitz.”

            Sometimes when it rains, it pours.  Sometimes the car battery lasts four-and-one-half years and other times, twelve months.  Sometimes the air conditioner unit goes out, and sometimes the day pills get taken at night.  No matter what happens in life, there is always something out there to steal your peace.

            Exactly two months ago I was recuperating from knee surgery, going to physical therapy, and trying to stay positive.  Day after day, by mid-afternoon, our house would be a balmy 78- 85 degrees and then it would partially cool off at night.  Until it didn’t. 

            “Babe, I think something is wrong with the air-conditioner.” ( spoken in a stage whisper, because to say it aloud would make it true.)

            “Can’t be.  It’s not that old,” he said.

            “Let’s just call anyway.  Maybe it’s something easy.”

At first, it had taken Boo a few days of constant cussing and fuming, sweating, and pacing until he gave in and accepted the fact that we had to get a new AC unit. But, one week and ten thousand dollars later we were shocked at how quietly the air-conditioner purred, as the positively artic air filled the house.   We also got a new thermostat to replace the old one Boo had just recently learned to adjust.  Sometimes I wonder how Boo was able to graduate college and receive a master’s degree, but maybe that’s the way it is with the highly intelligent.

            A few days ago, I woke up and the house was 85 degrees again.  I went in to start the coffee and there was a note from Boo: “This house is sooo hot.  Something is wrong with new AC;  I pushed a bunch of buttons, but nothing helped.”

            I padded into the hallway and moved the thermostat to 74 degrees.  Then pushed the hold button.  ‘Permanent hold’ not ‘temporary hold.’  The house was all cooled down by the time he got up.

            “Why do you insist on pushing buttons willy-nilly and then complain something doesn’t work?”  I said.

            “There’s a 50% chance it might help.”

            “Speaking of 50%, what makes you think your car battery is going out?”

            As we all know, car batteries have a life expectancy.  The likelihood of having to replace the car battery is extremely high during the time you’re in possession of a car.

            The battery issue will sometimes begin subtly with a slow, gurgly engine start.  Or perhaps the little battery sign lights up with the sputtery start, but generally, there is a small window of warning before your battery just conks out. 

             “It took a while to start, but the battery light didn’t come on.  It’s been happening for a few days now,  but the battery light should come on,” said Boo.

            “Battery light or not, I think you should take it in any way and ask someone about it.”

            “Maybe tomorrow.”

            Tomorrow came.  The car would not start, and Boo had to jump off his car using the cables on our old truck.  Boo made it to an auto parts store that advertised free installation and was home by 1:00 with his lunch, Jersey Mike’s #2, Mike’s Way.

            “How did it go?”  I asked.

            “Ok, I guess.”

            “I’m glad.  How much was the battery?”

            “I got the best battery they had, that’s what Darryl said.  It was $212, not like the old days when you could get a new battery for $50.  The world is really changing.  That’s what Darryl always says.”

            “Who’s Darryl?”

            “Darryl works at the auto parts store.  He worked for twenty-five years at the local newspaper and then when he retired he went to the auto parts store.  He’s worked there for three years now. He lives close to us in a four-bedroom house off Brodie Lane, but I think he’s divorced.  He never mentioned a wife.  Darryl loves to cook and grills out three nights a week.  He’s quite a guy.”

            If I know Boo, and I do, he loves to ask people about their lives.  He can ask twenty-one questions in ten minutes flat, and people love to tell him their stories.  Boo should have stopped asking questions much sooner than he did because he proceeded to tell me more about Darryl.

            “Get this.. Darryl is Mexican American, but he said he might not stay at the auto store because they’re hiring too many Mexicans.  And they even hired two lesbians.  Darryl said he was just a regular guy and that he’d never met a lesbian before.”

            “Babe, what did you say?” 

            “I didn’t know what to say.  I mean part of me wanted to say, ‘I like lesbians, Darryl.’

But I wasn’t sure how that would sound either.  What could I say?  I couldn’t leave until he finished the battery.”

            “So?” I asked.

            “So, I just mumbled uh huh, and hmmmm.”

            “Oh my.”

            “Why do people tell me these things?”

            “Maybe you ask too many questions?”

“Maybe, but you have to admit, Darryl is a complex individual.”

“Darryl is some kind of guy, that’s for sure.”

In life, and especially with Boo, there are always people, places, and things that disrupt the steady, peaceful flow of living.  We try to stay Zen, yet there is a car battery, air-conditioner, or pill box just waiting to take us out.  There are many people in this world who have differing opinions and values and as long as Boo is on the planet, he’ll continue to ask questions and love hearing the answers.

Zen
Posted in Confessions, Fears and Worries, Growing up

Crossing my Fingers as I Pray by Ginger Keller Gannaway

I like to make the sign of the cross with my middle finger atop the nail of my pointer finger. Just in case. You never know. Can’t hurt. My spirituality mixes Catholicism with superstitious tendencies.

Including kindergarten, I attended thirteen – knock on wood- years of Catholic school. After our First Communion, my classmates and I went to mass once a week and confession once a month. Our church was down a covered sidewalk next to the elementary school that was a football field length from the high school and its wooden gym which almost touched the convent where the nuns who taught us lived. Except for our eighth grade teacher Sister Mary Margaret Mary, who focused on English and math all day, everyday, the nuns squeezed in regular religion lessons, especially during Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter). We said “grace” before our cafeteria lunches where all of us had to clean our trays or the Sister on duty would send us back to finish our peas (or spinach or tuna casserole).

Catholicism was all I knew. My family said the rosary every time we drove farther than thirty miles from home. No meat-eating on Fridays and no breakfast before Sunday masses. My scores of cousins were Catholic, as were my Camp Fire Girls troop and my classmates. I still have a 2X4 inch prayer book with the Order of the Mass, the epistles, and the gospels. I remember wearing a lace chapel veil (or a Kleenex bobby-pinned to my head) and kneeling near the front of the church to follow the priest’s lead. I recited the Act of Contrition from memory while turning my book’s tiny gilded pages.


Devout as I was, I still sometimes lied during my monthly confessions. I strove for specificity over believability because I thought Father got bored hearing all the typical kid sins: “I disobeyed my parents” “fought with my brothers and sisters” or “lied to my teacher.” Wouldn’t he prefer, “I broke Momma’s no-animals-in-the-house-rule when I convinced my sisters to bring Red, our pony, into the kitchen. She seemed so hot! We just wanted to let her drink from the kitchen sink. We were rescuing Red from heat stroke!”  Isn’t there a blurry line between truth and almost the truth? Besides, Fr. Forgette always gave us the same penance after each confession: “Say five Hail Marys and go with God.”

I stayed mostly holy until I hit puberty. I smoked my first cigarette at a Catholic Girls Retreat in Grand Coteau when I was fourteen. Later cousin Gina and I stole Grandma’s cigarettes, and I sometimes skipped Sunday masses after my friend Janie started driving. In high school I adored a lovely, hip nun who played all of the Jesus Christ Superstar album during our ninth grade religion class. She made me consider the attraction of a religious life. Then the next year she left the convent to marry our parish’s young and handsome priest. My school friends and I had never heard a more romantic tale of true love, and life as a nun lost all of its appeal.

I thought I had true faith. I knelt by my bed most nights and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I may have been clueless about my town’s racial prejudices, but Mary seemed like the most accepting and understanding statue in our Catholic church.

To the left of the altar stood a life-sized calm, blue-robed Mary behind tiny candles in red glass cups and a cushioned kneeler next to a small metal receptacle for coins that paid for the candles worshippers lit. I believed my memorized words: “Our Lady, our Queen, and our Mother, in the name of Jesus and for the love of Jesus, take this cause in hand and grant it good success.”  I’d pray for help passing a test, to stop fighting with my sisters, for patience, for confidence, or for better hair. I had the faith of a naive thirteen-year-old who had not yet become a “cafeteria Catholic.” (Someone who picks and chooses which church rules to follow)

My junior year of high school tested my belief in the power of prayer and my faith in the Blessed Virgin Mary. At St. Ed’s the juniors helped plan the junior/senior prom. In the spring of 1973 the prom committee had narrowed down the entertainment choices to two Louisiana bands, one from our local parish or a Baton Rouge group called Cocodris (French for alligator). The latter featured two of my first cousins from Donaldsonville: George and his sister Boco! Closer to my age, Boco was my grooviest relative and the coolest person I had ever known. She first performed with The Fifth Autumn, her family band that toured Louisiana and beyond. Boco, her brothers George and Joe, her sister Sue, and a neighbor drummer had made up The Fifth Autumn. Once they even performed at my hometown’s only night club – the Purple Peacock.
 
Boco’s long straight brown hair, her honest connection with a song, and her smoky voice could hypnotize a room. George was (and still is) a talented guitarist and songwriter. If Cocodris could be our prom band, my quiet girl-who-never-dated wallflower persona might change to groovy-girl status.

I did not know how the prom leaders made their decisions, but I felt my tight connection with the Mother of God could pull some heavenly strings. In the church’s holy silence on weekday afternoons, I knelt in front of my favorite religious figure (after lighting a small candle) and prayed Hail Marys and original prayers that named my rock-and-roll cousins and promised that if they could wow the teens in our decorated gym with their musical talents, I’d hold off begging for anything until I turned eighteen. I had never prayed longer or harder for anything in my life. Here was a doable miracle! Mary could make this happen, and I had the hope and faith of someone who had yet to experience a major life tragedy.

George LaTour is in center, Boco LaTour is on the right

I don’t remember the day I heard the news that Cocodris would preform at our prom. I don’t remember how I asked Victor, the usher at the picture show I worked with who attended public school, to be my prom date. I’ve forgotten most of the songs they sang except “U.S.S.R.,” which George dedicated to me, my parents, and my sister Gayle (who was serving punch). However, I do remember Boco telling me at that year’s LaTour family reunion, “Ginger! You were floating off the gym floor when you walked in! Off the floor!” Dance details are forgotten, but I saved the obligatory prom pic and a 45 of Boco singing “Running the Mardi Gras.” Still, the joy of that night made me believe in the power of prayer. Mary had heard my words and granted my wish!

Does it matter that I cross my fingers when I pray? That one of my favorite lines in literature is from Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”? It’s a story about a boy’s friendship with an elderly relative and their fruitcake-making Christmas tradition. The woman was so superstitious that when they were counting the money they had saved for cake ingredients and ended up with thirteen dollars, she said, “‘We can’t mess around with thirteen. The cakes will fall…Why I wouldn’t dream of getting out of bed on the thirteenth.’” So to be on the safe side, they subtracted a penny and tossed it out the window. I understood that level of superstition.

Nowadays I avoid getting out of bed at the thirteenth minute of any hour. I close my eyes for a kind of snooze button effect and say a few Hail Marys if the clock reads 6:13. During my thirty-four years of teaching in public schools, when I stayed after the last bell to prepare my room for the next day’s kids, I’d straightened my class sets of To Kill a Mockingbird on the book shelves; I’d rearrange desks and pick up stray notebooks; I’d stack the next day’s handouts on my desk and write tomorrow’s agenda on the blackboard. But I never included the following day’s date. No “tempting fate” by writing a date before it arrived.

Faith can be an unbelievable force, yet it’s no guarantee. Despite innumerable rosaries and novenas, people I loved still died from cancer or car accidents or bad decisions. I handle life’s uncertainties like a daydream I had as a teenager: I’m walking down a narrow, uneven trail through a dense wood where the sun flickers through the branches. The ground is covered in leaves, and up ahead is an unusual patch – a mixture of soft, mud-colored nettles and sand and shallow water. Quick sand or sink hole? Who knows? The path holds danger like gray hurricane clouds. But I make the sign of the cross and keep walking. I take measured steps though the cool squishiness as brown water covers my bare feet, and I keep going because at the end of the trail might be cousins Boco and George performing an acoustic arrangement of Irma Thomas’ “It’s Raining.” Life’s uncertainties may curdle my stomach, but believing in miracles keeps my head full of dragon flies instead of mosquitos

Posted in #Confessions, Fears and Worries

Vulnerable

           

Story and Photography by Nancy Malcolm

Walking to the car, I was afraid I would not make it safely locked inside before the tears came.  The car was stifling, and as the engine came alive, I sat with my face in my hands crying big, hot tears of shame, and then something else. 

            I had just come from one of my last sessions of physical therapy.  Last November I had my first total knee replacement and this July I had the second knee done.  It has been an arduous year of pain, healing, and regaining strength and balance.  And after all of that, here I am reduced to tears in the parking lot of my physical therapist, right next to a Bed Bath and Beyond and a Party Pig. 

            If I am to tell the truth, which, by the way is a very vulnerable place to be, this is my first bout of tears since I started this transformational journey.  I have not cried since I made my resolve to complete the surgeries.  I could not waiver,  I had to stay the course and commit to the nineteen-month-long process.  There would be no turning back.

            In my mid-thirties I began to feel pain in my knees that was unexplained.  I was told to do strengthening exercises, and possibly have arthroscopic knee surgery to remove cartilage fragments.  But, as my thirties gave way to my fifties and sixties the x-rays showed osteoarthritis in the kneecap.  One doctor said, “You have the knees of a thirty-year-old and the kneecaps of an eighty-year-old.  Someday you’ll have to get your knees totally replaced.”  I have taken Rooster Comb (Hyaluronic acid) shots in my knees, cortisone shots, Celebrex and Aleve in large doses, and I’ve rubbed on every kind of ointment, even purchasing ‘Blue Emu’ cream, heralded as a miracle cure by my little Auntie Sue. 

            But, finally what made me ready for surgery was the excruciating pain and the even more excruciating embarrassment of not being able to walk down a flight of stairs, or go on hikes, or play on the floor with my grandkids. I felt like an imposter as I waited in line for the elevator with those who obviously needed it more than me.  I was ashamed of my disability.

            I want to be able to climb the bleachers of my grandson’s ballgames and dance with Boo at our 50th wedding anniversary.  I want to play chase with my grandkids and ride bikes until our heart’s content.  I want to enjoy what’s left of my time here on earth and if possible, if I am granted the blessings I may not deserve,  to do all of that without pain.  So, when my orthopedic doctor said, “I think you’re ready.”  I mentally prepared myself for the road ahead.

            Arthritis is a cruel disease that affects your joints causing inflammation or degeneration of your joints, creating great pain.  Sometimes, Osteoarthritis of the fingers, knees, or hips follows an injury.  I badly injured my knee while in college, by falling down a flight of stairs, but who can know for sure if that was the beginning culprit, only that it happened. 

            All of these things were not in my thoughts as I sat in my car after physical therapy.  Only minutes before I had been standing on a 3-inch-high wooden block, shaking like a leaf.  It had been two and a half months since my surgery, but it was time to tackle the stairs.  “I’m scared to bend my knee, I’m afraid it won’t hold me,”  I said.

            The fresh-faced, twenty-something-year-old physical therapist stood in front of me saying, “I’m right here, I won’t let you fall.”  And as silly as this might sound to you, I knew I had a choice.  I could try and keep trying or I could cower away in fear and settle for less. After all, I am a grown woman and if I say I’m not ready, I’m not ready.  If I don’t want to put myself through the pain and soreness, I don’t have to.

            My choice, though, was not to waste my pain.  I’d come this far and the thing I wanted most was right in front of me.  But, I was afraid, and I was ashamed that this young girl was having to help me when I should have been able to do it myself. I felt like a whiney baby, a scaredy-cat afraid of a 3-inch step when there are so many people who would be happy to be in my place.  My journey of pain and rehabilitation was finally coming towards a pivotal point, and I knew I had to find a way to push through.

            Sitting in my car, I was feeling months of hard work, pain, and the shame I have carried for a long time.  The shame surrounding what I should be able to do, shame at something that was not even my fault.  I am not a crier by nature, but I am tenderhearted, and sometimes that can serve me well. At that exact moment, I needed a little compassion.  I wanted to say, “It’s ok to be afraid, you can do it.  Give yourself some time.”  But all I heard in my head was negative. “You’ll never be able to do this.  Just give up.”

            The walk to the car was like a walk of shame until I sat down, and the tears fell. My tears cleansed a part of my heart that had been overgrown with fear and anxiety.  My tears were a release of the gratitude I feel towards my God and my surgeon, my family, and my friends.  My heart overflows with thankfulness that I am healing well, getting stronger, and relearning to climb stairs.  I am grateful to have less pain.  I am grateful for insurance and Medicare.  I am grateful for all of the kind, compassionate people who have been put in my path during this medical odyssey.

            It is not easy to let yourself be vulnerable.  You must first accept your truth, without judgment, and without comparing yourself to how you think others would behave.  Brene’ Brown, a famous professor, lecturer, and author actually wrote a book about vulnerability, Daring Greatly.  In that book, she says that “Vulnerability sounds like truth but feels like courage.”  And that is exactly how I felt.

            After the tears slowed, I drove home debating whether to tell Boo about my ‘meltdown.’  I was already trying to make light of my feelings by using that derogatory term.  But, right before bed, I told him everything and to my surprise, I cried all over again.  He listened, almost like he has never done before, and held me tight like a little child.  It seems Brene’ Brown was absolutely right.  My vulnerability to share my truth felt so courageous and Boo could feel the truth and openness as it went from my heart to his.  My willingness to be open transformed everything. The gratitude I feel for health and healing allows me to be afraid and do it anyway. The willingness to be vulnerable gave way to gratitude and that has made all of the difference.

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”  Brene’ Brown

Posted in Friendship, Reality, Sittin Ugly

Sittin’ Ugly

 

     In the early morning hours, before anyone else is up, while the cat is still stretching languidly in her chair, I begin my day.  In this quiet early hour, I can hear the thud of the newspaper being thrown on the sidewalks, the coffeemaker finishing the last few drops and I hear the solid, steady tick of our clock on the mantle. This is my selfish hour.  This is my cherished solitude. I must have it!!  This is my time to drink coffee and absolutely, unequivocally “sit ugly.”

     Sittin’ Ugly is a family tradition passed on by my 88-year-old Auntie Sue.  Her mother did it, she does it and now I do it.  I’m sure lots of other people on earth are doing it, but to do it correctly is an art.  The skill of sittin’ ugly is learned and perfected through years of practice. There are rules of course, and above all, one must respect another’s right to sit ugly.  There should be no judgment, the fact is, one just simply does…..sit ugly.

     Everyone has their own way to sit ugly. But there are guidelines that I find very comforting and helpful to follow. Anyone that is new to the art will surely want to comply. The rules are as follows:

1. There must be coffee. Preferably freshly brewed with everything extra that you need, (cream, sugar, etc.) and of course the favorite mug.  I’ve never known a tea drinker to sit ugly, but I suppose it could be done.

2. No talking!! No one speaks to you-you speak to no one. Sometimes it may be necessary to point or grunt especially if you have small children and they absolutely must encroach on your time. But, the only talking truly allowed is to yourself.

3. You must sit. My favorite spot is an oversized chair by the window. Above all else, you must pick a comfortable, familiar place to sit. It is always good to be able to put up your feet and have a little table nearby. Your sittin’ area should be away from anyone else who might be awake.

4. You may be asking yourself, now what?  I have the coffee.  I’m sitting quietly. Now what? The “what” to do part is really up to you.  Sometimes I just sit and stare while sipping my coffee. Staring is perfectly allowable and even encouraged.  I also read my daily devotionals and have long conversations with God.  I contemplate my day and my life.  I think.  I don’t think and then I may stare some more, all the while continuing to drink my coffee.  This part may go on for as long as necessary.  One hour is perfect for me.

5. Lastly, about this “ugly” part.  Sittin ugly simply means that you come as you are, straight from bed.  No primping allowed!  One must be ones’ self.  Tattered nighty? That’s ok!  Acne medicine dotted on your face?  Beautiful!  Scruffy old favorite robe and slippers?  The older the better!  Sittin’ ugly is actually a super-natural phenomenon that makes you more good-looking.  The longer you have time to sit, the better you will look and feel. Try it and see!

     Sittin’ ugly is my personal time.  It is my favorite time of the day.  Sometimes I can hardly wait to get up in the morning just to sit ugly.  I am always at my best while sittin’ ugly, mainly because no one is speaking to me or me to them.  What a joyous, peaceful time!  What a perfect way to start your day, in fact for me, it is a necessity.

     Some mornings my little Auntie will call me and ask, “Honey, are you sittin’ ugly or can you talk?”  It is always good manners to ask first, in case one is not ready for conversation.  Attempting dialogue before ready may result in hurt feelings, premature agreements, or regret, so approach your morning chitchats with caution.

     My friend, here’s to “Sittin’ Ugly”, to having this special time each and every day and to the millions of us who find it necessary for the sustainment of sanity.  And, here’s to my precious Auntie Sue and all the beautiful ones who “sit ugly”.

My little Auntie Sue passed away after her 90th birthday.  She always had a kind word to say about everyone; she always looked for humor in every situation; she was always grateful and she always sat ugly…every morning and claimed it was the reason for her good health and good fortune.  I miss her every day.  RIP Auntie Sue!

Posted in Cajuns, Family, Growing up

Why Movies? by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Claude Drive-In in Eunice, Louisiana (1952)

Growing up I stared out my bedroom window at the broken remains of the Claude Drive-In that was built 1952 in memory of my grandfather Jake Claude Keller, Sr. who had died in 1951. Hurricane Audrey destroyed the theater in 1957. In the 1960s my siblings and I explored the drive-in’s rows of silent speaker poles and the concession stand debris (mostly broken glass, crumbling plaster, and splintered wood). I thought part of the screen was still standing, but that was just my imagination.

As an eight-year-old, I’d stare into the blackness and imagine watching a movie from my bedroom. The phantom sixteen by fifty foot screen’s flickering images didn’t need sound because the power of movies could always ignite my imagination. I’d make up the dialogue or I’d pretend I was watching a movie I’d seen so many times I knew the actors’ lines before they said them. The movie Cinema Paradiso reminds me of growing up in a small town where two movie theaters gave us most of our entertainment. I loved the scene of the whole Italian village watching movies outside after their cinema burned down. My mind’s eye saw the ghost of a drive-in just yards from my bedroom window.

In 1924 J.C. Keller, Sr. and his partner opened the first picture show in Eunice, Louisiana. Movie western stars Tom Mix and Lash LaRue* once spent the night in my grandparents’ home. I remember a large oval framed photo of the grandfather I never knew in my Uncle Jake’s office. Grandpa Keller wore a suit and his unsmiling, intimidating glare looked too much like my scary uncle for me to feel comfortable in that office.

Grandpa & Grandma Keller

Because Keller kids got in free, we saw movies multiple times and worked at the picture show as teenagers. Except for a fear of the usher/bouncer Big Jim that diminished as I got older, the Liberty Theater and Queen Cinema were places of acceptance and escape. Movies helped shape my personality and marked the milestones of my life.

Viva Las Vegas

Getting my first pair of glasses in 1965 meant I noticed the pattern on Annette Funicello’s one-piece bathing suit in Beach Blanket Bingo. After getting teased at school for my cerebral palsy, Mary Poppins taught me resilience  and optimism. Hair-pulling fights with my two younger sisters balanced out with our shared love for Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas  and our fascination with the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. When puberty confused me, Peter Sellers in The Party made me laugh at life’s unpredictability. Night of the Living Dead in 1968 convinced me that even the horror of getting my period was not as bad as a zombie apocalypse. The awkwardness and insecurities of high school seemed tolerable if I watched Barbra Streisand’s Funny Girl every day of its two-week theatrical run in Eunice. My love of Shakespeare and my attraction to stories of doomed love started with Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet and gained strength with The Way We Were and Dr. Zhivago. In the 1970s, Sidney Poitier’s The Heat of the Night made me question the racism around me while M*A*S*H and Cabaret let me enjoy satire before I even understood their messages. Movies soothed, entertained, and educated me.

In the Heat of the Night

I’m thankful for the ability to stream so many movies now. I’ve learned to love documentaries and foreign films and independent gems. The size of my television does not diminish the light and shadow of Kosakovskiy’s Gunda or the creative directing/ editing of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow. As I take in fast edits, slow tracking shots, and purposeful dialogue pauses, movies tell stories that give my life joy, even while I’m wiping away tears. I truly believe I am a better human being because of the movies I have known.

The Oscar nominations were announced February 8th, and March 27 will be one of my favorite nights of 2022! The Oscars have been “too white” and too xenophobic, BUT Parasite did sweep the awards in 2019, and Moonlight was the true best picture in 2016. I love all the hoopla and live jokes (both clever & stupid). I want to hear all acceptance speeches and enjoy all the classy, sassy, and ridiculous outfits the nominees wear. Like they sing in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: 

“Something appealing,

Something appalling,

Something for everyone:

A comedy tonight!”

Movies are as much a part of who I am as the Cajun food I crave and the LaTour and Keller cousins I love. So in 1963, I saw only the ghost of a drive-in movie screen down my winding gravel road, yet movie fantasies sustain me like the montage of Paul Newman smiles at the end of Cool Hand Luke. 

  • My cousin Sammy remembers watching LaRue’s live performance at the Liberty when the star tore a hole in the movie screen with his whip!
Posted in Reality, Truth

It’s Not Always the Way It Looks

            She sat slumped over on the red-flowered couch in my office.  Her hair, a dingy blonde with dark roots, was greasy and her face was stained with old make-up and fresh tears. 

            The police officer stood between us, his rough hands resting on his thick belt which held handcuffs, a radio, and the ever-present tazer.

            “I found her behind the school, near the apartments.  She had an illegal knife on her,” he said and laid it on my desk.  “We can press charges.”

            “I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  I missed the bus,” she said.

            As an Assistant Principal in a large high school, I could tell by looking that the knife was over the five- and one-half inch legal limit.  The knife was an older-looking switchblade with dirt and a little rust on the handle.  It had obviously been used before and needed a good sharpening.

            “What’s your name?” I asked and turned my chair to face her.

            “Pepper.”

            “Pepper, is that your real name?”

            “No. My friends call me Pepper; everyone else calls me Charlene Davis,” she said and sucked in a jagged breath before tears started to fall.  “Please.  Please.  I had it in my purse.  I wasn’t going to hurt anyone unless they tried to hurt me.”

            “Thanks, Officer,” I said.  “Let Charlene and I talk for a few minutes.”

            “I’ll be right outside your door if you need me,”  he said.

            I brought up her student information on my computer and turned toward her,  “So, Charlene, tell me your story.  I see you don’t live at home.”

            Charlene took another deep breath and straightened her tank top, which didn’t quite cover her voluptuous body.  I asked her if she had a coat since it was cold outside.  She shook her head no. Handing her the sweater draped behind my chair I said, “Start from the beginning.”

            Forty minutes later I knew a lot about Charlene and a little about the knife.  I have spent thirty-six years of my life in education, and I’ve heard stories from students that made me cry.  Stories that haunted me and shook me to my core.  But Charlene’s story broke my heart.

 Charlene did not know her daddy, but her mother had known a lot of men who wanted to be called that.  It seems her mom had run off three years ago and left her and her three siblings alone.  CPS stepped in and separated the four sending the younger ones to one foster home, the brother to another, and Charlene to another.  Charlene had run away from four foster homes since then and was now living in a state-owned, group home for teenage girls in Austin, several hours away from her brother and sisters.  Not ideal by any means.

 “It’s ok,” she said.  “I’m leaving as soon as I graduate, and I’ll get my brother and sisters back.  I’ll take care of them myself.”

“No more running away though, or the next stop will be juvie.”

“I know. This is my last chance,” she said.

            “Graduation will be your ticket for a better life, Charlene.  I’m proud of you for staying on track with your grades in spite of everything that has happened,” I said.

            “I’ll be the first one in my family to graduate, Miss.  I’m really smart, and I have a job at Mcdonald’s on the weekends.  That’s where I met my boyfriend.”

            “Do you mind if I call you Pepper?”  I asked.  And she smiled for the first time.

            “Tell me about this boyfriend, Pepper.”

            “His name is Ryder and I love him.  He lives in those apartments by the McDonalds,  and after work, I go over to see him.  He gave me the knife.”

            “No flowers or candy?  But he gave you a knife?  And what do you do when you go over to see him so late at night?”

            “We do stuff.  You know, we love each other.”

            Before I could stop myself, I said, “Charlene, you know what causes babies, don’t you?  I hope you’re using some form of protection.”

            “Yea, mostly.  We try, Miss.  Anyway, usually, the bus is not running when I see him after work, so I have to walk home. He gave me the knife so I would be safe walking home from his apartment.  He’s sweet that way.  That’s why I need the knife back.  He gave it to me.”

            “Pepper, let me get this straight.  You work the night shift at McDonalds, then you walk over to his apartment.  You stay there for a few hours and then you walk yourself back to the home?  Why doesn’t he take you home or walk with you?”

            “He doesn’t have a car, Miss.  That’s why he gave me the knife, so I can be safe walking home.  He’ll be mad if I don’t have it.”

            “Oh Pepper, you are worthy of being safe and being walked home by your boyfriend.  This knife may cause you more trouble than you’re ready for.  Like today.  You know I have to take the knife.”

            “I know, Miss.  But I need it and I promise to hide it better when I come to school. It’s only four more months till graduation.  Please?  It’s scary walking home late at night.”

            We talked a few more minutes and then I sent her to class, while I kept the knife.

            Charlene flew way under the radar for the remainder of the semester.  I would see her walking through the halls occasionally, and she would give me a half-smile or a shy wave, not wanting anyone to know we knew each other.  But I wanted to hug her.  Feed her a healthy meal.  Keep her safe.  Ask about that damn boyfriend.

            Instead, one week before graduation, I called her into my office.  I knew she only had one more final exam to take, and I would never see her again.

            “Hi Miss,” she said as she knocked softly on my door.

            “Pepper, you look gorgeous today!” I said as I noticed her fresh hair and new outfit.  She was wearing a short, blue, flouncy skirt made out of layers of thin material.  Her top was buttoned up the front and covered the waistband of the skirt, with room to spare. Then I saw what I thought was a slight bump beneath her blouse.

            “The house mother gave me some money to buy a few new things before I graduate and have to move.  I’m having a baby, Miss.  See?”  And she cupped her small round belly to show me.

“Ryder wants a boy.”

“Wow,”  I said.

 “I have something for you.”  And I handed her a pink gift bag with ribbons and a small ‘Congratulations’ balloon.  She smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen and asked, “Can I open it?”

            “You sure can!!”  I said.

            She sat on my red-flowered couch and put the bag on her knees.  She took the fluffed tissue paper out of the bag one by one and pressed them flat.

“I’m going to save this paper.  It’s just like new.”  She said.

I had individually wrapped each gift: a set of lip glosses, JLO body wash and spray, a new hairbrush, and a precious stuffed teddy bear with I Love You embroidered on the stomach. And at the very bottom of the bag was one last gift.  “Don’t open that one until you get home, ok?  I think you’ll remember it.”  I said.

“Thank you, Miss.  This is my only graduation gift.  I love all of it and the baby will love the teddy bear!”  She hugged me and I hugged her right back, neither one of us wanting to let go.

“I’m so proud of you, Charlene Davis.  I knew you could do it.”  I said, as she blushed and smiled a soft, beautiful smile.  Wide-eyed, and a little teary she responded quietly, “That means a lot, Miss.”

We had a quick hug the night of graduation and I have not heard anything from her since. 

As with Charlene and the knife, it’s not always the way it looks.  Everyone has a story to tell if we will only take time to listen.  It is an honor to hear someone’s truth and hold space for their thoughts and feelings, whether we agree or not.  Our stories matter, we matter.  And for Charlene, I wanted her to know she matters in this world. 

Charlene ‘Pepper’ Davis matters.