Posted in Grandmother

Big Jim by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Big Jim

Liberty 1927
Liberty Theater, 1927

My siblings and I in a way grew up in a movie theater.   Grandma Keller owned our hometown’s two movie theaters, and she let her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren get in free.  My brother and sisters and I saw every movie that came to town. That lasted until 1968 when the ratings system began (G, M, R, and X). My parents viewed the Liberty Theater and Queen Cinema as free “babysitters.” We sometimes were dropped off at the show with paper bags holding hamburgers from Ruby’s Cafe if Momma and Dad’s night out began early. I remember strolling past a line of movie customers and waving at Miss Pearl (the ticket seller) as we made our way inside. A new ticket taker would get, “Our grandma is Mrs. Keller,” if he tried to stop our jaunty picture show entrance. Continue reading “Big Jim by Ginger Keller Gannaway”

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 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. 

Posted in Friendship

The Car Trip



When we take family vacations, our criteria consists of having fabulous food, spacious accommodations and fun for everyone.  Flash back 50 plus years ago and things looked mighty different.  My daddy believed in vacations, that’s for sure, but the logistics were sometimes painful and always frugal!

My daddy was an Electrical Engineer and former Navy Captain.  This combination does not allow for errors or give room for spontaneity (unless it is planned)  Daddy was trim, 6’2” tall and could do anything and fix anything and he was always right.  Another important fact is that Daddy’s idea of fun was planned, purposed, budgeted and sometimes mandatory fun!

When I was growing up, my Dad would meticulously plan our summer vacations.  Our travel group included my dad, my brother, Grandma and Great Aunt Lena and of course myself.  On this particular trip we drove from Amarillo, Texas to Colorado to camp out in the mountains.  Picture the five of us and all of our supplies/luggage loaded into and onto our 1958 Mercury sedan.  You know,  the type of car where 3 can sit comfortably in the front seat.  I will never forget that car because later I burned a hole into the front seat with a cigarette lighter.  I just wanted to see if it would burn…and it did, but that’s a whole other Oprah.

We had 2 tents packed.  One for the girls, big enough to set up cots so my Grandma and Aunt didn’t have to get up and down too much.  And a pup tent for my brother and dad to share.  We had a Coleman stove packed, all of our food for the week, fishing poles and various other important items.  Between the US Navy and the Boy Scouts of America, we were prepared for every possible scenario.

To this day, I can remember the smell of the car.  My grandma packed our lunches.  There was always a thermos of coffee for the grownups and a Shasta soda for my brother and I to split.  There were always bananas, apples and grandma’s banana nut bread.. Ah…..preening down the highway in our loaded 58’ Mercury, singing songs and fighting over who got the window seat.  Everything was wonderful until someone had to stop for an unplanned bathroom break or something flew off the top of the car.  No luggage racks for us!  Our gear was tied down with my dad’s rope, sailor knots and strong will.  When we finally arrived, the grownups began the daunting task of setting up camp.  Daddy’s naval training and my brother’s boy scout knowledge gave them the inspiration to think their master plan would work.

My now wonderful big brother, was then a 12 year old know it all, girl hater, smart mouth big brother.  He was really only nice to me when someone was looking or it would serve his purposes in someway.  To this day, I do remember my part….as I would push him to his limits and then when he threatened to hit me or sit on my head and fart, I would scream,“ Daaaadddy, Jimmy’s bothering me.”  I’m not proud of it, but it was pretty effective for quite awhile.

Grandma did the cooking, of course.  I don’t remember what we ate, but I do know that my Grandma believed that sandwiches were not real food, so we had to have a “hot meal” everyday.  On the premise, of what goes in must come out, Grandma brought a large, white porcelain jar for our bathroom needs.  Honey pot, chamber pot…you get the visual, I’m sure.  It was mainly for us women folk, as the guys used the woods.

We spent the week fishing, hiking, and enjoying the fresh mountain air.  Moving on to one particular day.. It was the day we were to break camp and drive to Silverton.  We were going to ride the Narrow Gauge Railroad from Silverton to Durango.  There is probably a Murphy’s Law that says ‘what you packed cannot be repacked in quite the same way’.  I remember my Dad’s frustration in getting everything back into and onto the car.  I’m pretty sure I was not much help, but eventually we were loaded and started the drive.   That is, until we got stuck in the mud.  My brother, grandma and aunt all got out to push the car while my dad steered and I sat “quietly” in the back.  Finally, we were back on the road, although not as clean as when we started.  My dad drove like a bat out of hell as we raced to the station and ran to make the train on time.

I don’t know how to describe what happened next except to say Great Aunt Lena was afraid of heights.  She didn’t really want to sit by the window and with a tight grip on the seat, she began to pray aloud the whole way asking God to save us from plunging to our deaths!  Everyone was cranky and muddy (except me) from being prodded and rushed by my dad.  Suffice it to say that his words of,  “By golly, I paid for these tickets and we are going to enjoy this train ride if it kills us!” put us in check.  Chug a chug a choo choo….and off we went..

After the train ride, we settled back into our assigned seats and began the trek home.  Yes, my Daddy loved a trip, loved to plan it and most of all control it.  I remember the stress, the tension and calamities, but I also remember his face.  Occasionally, when things were going smoothly, the work was done and he was casting his line into the stream…he would smile.  Truly smile.  He had pulled it off, we were on vacation, enjoying our little family and creating memories, and that we did!