by Ginger Keller Gannaway (Me, Momma, Jessica & Ryan Keller in Calcasieu River,1981)
The Cajun Kellers from Eunice, Louisiana have always loved going to the water’s edge for vacation. Grandma Regina had her camp near the Calcasieu River in Indian Village, and she welcomed her six children and 25 grandchildren to enjoy visits there. Several times a year (and most of the summer), she, her boarder/ best friend, Stella Parrott, her hired help, Jane, who slept on the camp’s back porch, and whichever grandkids were available spent a few days at her Keller Kamp. The camp was an un-air-conditioned place with a huge screened-in front porch, a side sandbox, a huge middle room with 4 double beds, one baby bed, and a loud attic fan; a side-porch bedroom ; a long kitchen with a long wooden dining table and an extra-deep sink for bathing toddlers and babies in. Also, off the kitchen was a rustic, dark bathroom with a rickety shower whose wooden splash board banged down every time I tried lifting my kid feet over it to get into the dimly-lit shower stall.
The camp, like its water, had a hard, tinny feel. With almost everyone sleeping in one room, an 8-inch black-and-white t.v. that sometimes got one channel mounted near the attic fan, and no a/c, this wasn’t a luxury vacation. However, as a 7-year-old, I was in vacation heaven at the Keller Kamp.
On rainy afternoons we kids colored or played cards on the front porch’s picnic tables. Early mornings and late afternoons we’d dig deep into soft brown sand or take turns on the two swings that swung over the sand box that was once a covered garage. Our hands and fingernails would turn black from digging tunnels and building castles in that sand. Also, we were next to the river’s bay where mostly men and boys fished from the shore or took small row boats out into the river’s special spots where perch, catfish, and sac-au-lait were biting.
However, the camp’s main attraction was the Sand Bar, a magical “beach” on the Calcasieu that we reached by walking about half a mile through a wooded area (only when accompanied by an adult). The Sand Bar was a quiet piece of sand on the banks of that beautiful brown river. We marched there down a well-worn dirt path hauling our towels and drinks and snacks and a couple of folding chairs for the grown-ups. That walk built-up our anticipation for swimming in our special hidden spot. Once we arrived and set our towels out in shady nooks, no child dared even get her toes wet until the adult in charge (usually my 6’ 4” Daddy) tested the water’s depth. Daddy would wade into the moving water until he reached a spot he thought was just deep enough for us kids. On rare, magical occasions the river was so low Dad could walk completely across “to the other sand bar” with the water only reaching his lower thigh. Then our exploring and chasing and running and splashing had grand new possibilities. But most days we stayed on one side of the river and obeyed Dad’s, “Don’t go past this here stick or you get a spanking!”
Alright with me. The water was cool, the sand was soft and malleable and my siblings and cousins and I had endless types of games to play: chase, freeze-tag, Marco Polo, hide-and-seek, or original dramas we created based on our favorite tv shows at the time, Lost in Space and Gilligan’s Island. Other times I stayed to myself and created sandcastles or lay on my towel to read Archie comics. In addition to enjoying the pure joy of swimming at our “private” beach, there was the thrill of the river’s current. I would kneel in the water to get in deeper and feel the strong tug of the water pushing me and almost tipping me over when I was chin-deep. People had drowned in that river! And that touch of danger and uncertainty added to my thrill in the river. The cool water, the sorta muddy sand oozing between my toes, the river’s power, the shouts and laughter from the other kids, the sun shyly shining through abundant tree branches, the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on Evangeline Maid bread all blended beautifully to make every Sand Bar visit a memory of vacation perfection.
Years and years later, when Grandma had sold the camp and we kids bemoaned its departure from our lives, I asked Daddy about how much he had loved his time at the Sand Bar. He smiled slightly and drily said, “All I ever did was count heads the whole time we were there.” So the water’s edge meant different things to different Kellers, yet we all hold lots of memories about our wonderful Keller Kamp.
(Ginger, Emile, Kelly, and Gayle Keller at Keller Kamp sand box,1964)