Posted in Cajuns, Family, Holidays

Lost and Found by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Christmas 1964

My childhood Christmases were down a winding gravel road in a ranch style brick home with my two little sisters and one older brother. The tree was displayed in the big living room between the fireplace and a large picture window that revealed some farmer’s soy bean fields and the broken remnants of a drive-in movie theater. On Christmas mornings Dad took soundless home movies of us dancing in our p.j.s while we held up that year’s Santa loot – 1960’s classics like Creepy Crawlers, a Midge doll (Barbie’s cousin), and a Mouse Trap game. Momma sat on the sofa and sipped Community Coffee.

Christmas breakfast was served in the best kitchen I’ve ever known. One swinging door opened to the cooking half and the other door swung into the eating area. That kitchen meant strong coffee and boudin with biscuits in the mornings, substantial noon time dinners that had to include rice and gravy, and mid-afternoon coffee with cake or pie. Supper was often leftovers or po-boys from Momma’s Fried Chicken. In between meals the kitchen housed bouree card games and Daddy (Papa) entertaining others with tall tales and bawdy Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes.

Grandma Keller’s House

Decades later after my grandma died, my parents moved into her two-story wooden home (built in late 1800’s). My husband, three sons, and I (plus my siblings and their families) celebrated all of our Christmases in their huge living room with a ten-foot tree crammed with ornaments and Momma’s gold colored paper-mache angel that stood in for the customary star. Momma arranged holiday decor in all the home’s rooms including fresh garland wound around the upstairs bannister.

My sons grew up with Christmas for sixteen people in that home, but in the 1960s and ‘70s, Grandma had Christmas Eve parties for sixty to eighty people: cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends who felt like family. Kids ran up and down the long, long hall between the crowded kitchen where grown-ups smoked cigarettes and spiked the egg-nog and the big living room where knee-deep stacks of presents took up most of the floor space. Kids waited for Big Jim (the picture show’s usher/bouncer) to climb the front porch steps and act as Santa for kids reluctant to get too close to the man who often told them, “Don’t make me take off my belt” when they got rowdy during a Saturday matinee.

For my kids, MaMa’s exuberance made Christmas mornings special. She would blast “Cajun Jingle Bells” to wake up the house, and she and Papa danced in the hall as their grandkids rushed to see what Santa had delivered. Even when the kids became cranky teens who worked hard to look unimpressed, Mama’s smile and her Christmas joy made all of us believe in holiday magic. The living room exploded with wrapping paper and boxes and pieces of plastic toys and opened candy containers.

However, by 2021 Mama and Papa have died and COVID has made travel difficult or unwise. So Christmas is smaller and less exciting. I’m relieved not to drive seven hours on I-Tense to Louisiana with its eighteen-wheelers and reckless drivers, who weave in and out of five lanes of traffic as if the cars did not hold babies and grandparents and pets.

And I don’t miss hauling presents in a van that barely had room for its occupants and luggage and special pillows and Beanie Babies. The year we gave Mama and Papa a Pottery Barn coat & hat rack, my youngest son wore no seatbelt and had to curl himself next to that five-foot tall present

We have lost some of that Christmas excitement we used to share back home in Cajun Country. We don’t see our huggin’ and kissin’ cousins or have Mama’s tight, tight hugs. And no Big Santa on the lawn to welcome us to Eunice. No boudin and coffee or Champagne’s stuffed pork roast (and Mama’s dynamite pork gravy to go with Christmas dinner) or LeJeune’s sausage or Maudry’s sweet dough pies.

Lil Shane and Papa with Big Santa

However, a smaller, no travel holiday does have its benefits. More time with my three grown sons and their special ladies. We play board games and we watch some TV – football or streaming movies. And we sit and talk and laugh a lot.

I lack Mama’s extreme Christmas joy, and we don’t rush off to early mass, but I feel extra blessed. This year we toasted to Mama and Papa (and Kelly). We told Papa jokes and Mama stories and remembered what Eunice felt like – walking to the Queen Cinema or Nick’s Restaurant or the circle tennis courts (now renamed the R.A. Keller Courts).

Yet our tiny condo crams us all together in new, calmer ways. We still follow our favorite recipes: Grandma’s cornbread dressing, Mama’s green beans with potatoes and her sweet potato souffle, and turkey and sausage gumbo the day after Christmas. We remember to “Laissez les bons temps rouler” like Mama and Papa taught us to do.

Gary and I get to know our sons as adults. We share opinions about movies, music, sports, and even politics without wanting to slap someone. We enjoy spicy foods we grew up with and learn new ones. We laugh a lot and become closer to our sons and their lovely partners. Now Christmas with eight of us in a 900-square foot dwelling feels as right as biscuits and boudin in Grandma’s kitchen. 

Author:

I grew up as a crooked girl who dealt with a mild case of cerebral palsy. In a small Cajun town during the 1960s, I relied on my little sisters' support and energy to give me confidence and our grandma's movie theater to help me escape when life's "pas bon" moments overwhelmed me.

26 thoughts on “Lost and Found by Ginger Keller Gannaway

  1. What a lifetime of wonderful Christmas memories that continue today! Love ALL the stories about your amazing family, especially the ones that include Cajun food!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great pictures, I loved going to gma Keller’s on Christmas Eve. I spent my Christmases in Eunice(best memories ever) Remember one year we all went to the Purple Peacock?
    Great times, great memories!!

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    1. Billie! You know we had some crazy adventures growing up. The nights spent at Aunt Fanny’s were something else, cuz! How old were we when we went to the Peacock? 15?

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    1. Della showed me pics of your gorgeous granddaughter yesterday! You must be over the moon! Thanks for reading & responding. Joyeaux Noel to you and yours!

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  3. What a wonderful reminiscence!

    “I’m relieved not to drive seven hours on I-Tense to Louisiana with its eighteen-wheelers and reckless drivers, who weave in and out of five lanes of traffic as if the cars did not hold babies and grandparents and pets.“

    I made that trip across Texas with your husband in1968 (?). I don’t recall the dangerous traffic. But it was quite a road trip with dangers of another kind. Saved only by our innocence, from the many things that could have gone wrong.

    Thanks for the memories Ginger. 😇

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your faithful comments! Gary has been blessed in many ways – your friendship being a beautiful source of love & inspiration.

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  4. Your blog always brings me home. I tell my children it truly was a beautiful life. Thank you for bringing back those memories Ginger. Gina Breaux Bradley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heidi! Thanks so so much for reading and responding! I hope you and all your loved ones have a 2022 full of good times. I heard you had a great Christmas in Louisiana!

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    2. Heidi, thanks so much for reading and responding! I hope your Louisiana holidays were are groovy as could be. I hope 2022 behaves itself much better than 2021 did. Love and miss y’all!

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  5. Wonderful memories is food for the soul. Love the photo of you all and aunt Gerry.
    And your smile is so pretty in the one at your table!
    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Merci beaucoup, Sue! You’re right about good memories being “food for the soul.” Hope you had groovy good times with your wonderful family this holiday, and 2022 needs to give us better times for sure!

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  6. I loved Christmas in Eunice! I was just saying to my mom that the tree in Eunice always had so many presents underneath, it looked like it had thrown them up! We were so blessed to grow up with these memories. One of my most favorite and special memories is early morning Christmas mass with you, Ginger. I remember we’d grab a cutie from the fruit basket in the kitchen and sneak out to a still-dark, still-silent house. I remember Christmas carols a capella because there was no cantor that early, and I remember the priest singing Silent Night in French because…Eunice. I loved the feeling of leaving mass as the sun started coming up and returning to the house with everyone just barely waking up. Cajun Christmas music + dancing at the foot of the stairs, the food, the Big Santa, the tight MaMa hugs…all of it is very special to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jessie, your response had me crying as I remembered the sweet details you described so well. Especially that Silent Night in French. I really miss spending special Christmas time with YOU. What a blessing to hear your lovely voice singing carols next to me! I hope you are writing some of your memories about your 3 boys down. You have true writing talent! Love and miss you!

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