Posted in Contemplations

Sunflowers by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Nancy’s Sunflower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian Sunflower

Posted in #Confessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What in the world?” I gasped!

“I thought you’d like it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven-eleven…baby needs shoes!

Posted in Aging

Alexa, Remind Me to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t tell me, tell Alexa,” I say. 

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

“Mycookplease added to grocery.”

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

I’m sorry.  I didn’t get that.”

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

“Admochip cookies added to grocery.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmmm.

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

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

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

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

I think he missed the point.

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

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

Posted in Cajuns, Contemplations, Family

South Central Louisiana Proud by Ginger Keller Gannaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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