My 3 grown sons rule my world as my husband of 31 years rules my heart. I love reading, writing, watching movies, and listening to music. I believe connections and balance will give me contentment in this complex, hurried world.
Marriage ain’t always easy.Three kids and 35 years together have made Gary and me balance understanding and comfort with annoyance and anger. Once when I yelled at Gary for leaving his used dental pics on the coffee table, he answered, “Sorry. I guess these ‘Little Murders’ really chip away at us, huh?” Then I thought how I let small annoyances turn into large complaints.
One Thanksgiving in an effort to stop me from obsessing about whether my husband would have enough leftover turkey gumbo when he returned from visiting his brother, Momma said to me, “Don’t you worry about Gary.Gary always takes care of Gary.” These days I sometimes extend that thought to“Gary only has eyes for Gary.”He, however,justifies his self-obsessiveness with, “I’m not a noticer.” ( Noticer –1. The act of noting or observing; perception or attention:That detail escaped my notice. thefreedictionary.com)
So what if he ignores the whole world when he does his daily Sudoku or he can’t find ANYTHING in the fridge or he did not notice that he ate the last chocolate raspberry Haagen-Dazs bar from a box he “bought for me”?He also gives my 90 year-old dad countless rides to and from doctor appointments, always has a buck for the down-and-out guy at the stoplight, and cleans a stack of dirty dishes with no complaints.
His tendency to stop up a toilet, watch CNN constantly, dirty 23 dishes for one meal, leave his bike in the back of the car, and grab his mandatory 9 hours of sleep a night could be viewed differently.
He’s developed expert bathroom plumbing skills.
He stays well-informed on current events.
He cooks with creativity and zeal.
He stays fit and well-rested.
My mom’s dear friend once told me she used to fuss at her husband for leaving the kitchen cabinets wide open (one of Gary’s favorite hobbies). Then years after he had passed away, she looked at me with watery eyes and said, “What I wouldn’t give to walk in the kitchen and see every single cabinet door open!”
I used to believe all those Little Murders slowly smothered the love I had for Gary.Now I see they make pin pricks in my heart that make our love tough and real so we have enough strengthto deal with the many “slings and arrows” of this life. Gary makes me smile at life’s idiosyncrasies and laugh at the love’s challenges.
There was an oak tree with a long, low limb. A 6’4” dad would put a girl on his shoulders and let her scramble into the crook of the tree’s limb where she could hold on to small branches and settle into the oak’s saddle. The tall dad would then grab the limb’s end and pull it down, down to the ground. Anticipation made the girl’s grip tighten. The dad would go down and up, down and up to the tune of an old nursery rhyme:
“Here we go down to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady ride on a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She will have music where ever she goes.”
Then the dad added an “Ole!” as he released the limb to make the girl spring up high as the tree was free to boing, boing, boing back into place.
Head and hair surrounded by branches and leaves, the girl felt equal to the free-flying birds.That 4-second thrill was a perfect balance of joy and fear.She looked down on her siblings from her queenly perchas they did the “Me next!” dance and she gave the mere mortals a slight smile before she accepted the dad’s huge hand that helped her dismount her tree throne.
Besides the wooden roller coaster at the beach, the “Bangberry Ride” was the girl’s favorite ride. With a rhyming song, a heavenly seat, a touch of danger, a parent’s attention, her sisters’ envy, and her stomach’s tickle, the ride was a moment of childhood perfection.
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”→
A few days ago my middle son gave me a late Christmas gift: a coupon for 2 free dinners at the restaurant where he works. “Cool! Thanks,” I told him with a hug. Closer reading of the coupon revealed my son’s name & “Merry Christmas” written on it.A re-gift, but still a free meal.
That same evening my youngest son stopped by to give us a gallon zip-lock bag full of hush puppies from the assisted living place where he works. Then he also handed me a to-go container with seafood sweet & sour soup from a nearby restaurant. I said, “I bet your dad will like this.” “It’s good and spicy,” he told me and then added, “but I did pick out all of the seafood in it.”
Stale hush puppies and seafood-less soup.Thanks??
How do I feel about these leftover offerings from my sons? Have Gary and I simply taught them to be generous and frugal?I know neither of us looks like we miss any meals, and we are not ready for what my dad calls, “Wheels on Meals” yet.Should we feel offended?
Back when our boys were little, friends gave us their unwanted used furniture: a book shelf here, a side table there.Once a house cleaner brought us a framed picture to brighten up our bedroom. WTF!? Was our home such a decor disaster that virtual strangers saw the need to spruce up the place?
We did put everything given to us to good use (except for the picture which we gave to Goodwill after we fired the house cleaner when he helped himself to a bottle of white wine out of fridge one day).
Do we look like folks who need others’ leftovers? Should we take offense?
I have bought desks, a dresser, a bed frame, small tables, book shelves, and clothes from thrift stores. Even our dining room table first belonged to a teacher friend’s family.And my wooden pie safe that first belonged to Momma’s grandmother is something I treasure.I truly appreciate old, used things.
But old, used food??Of course, we often enjoy leftovers.Dishes like spaghetti, chili, and gumbo taste better as leftovers; the flavors become richer.
The word “leftovers” may sound tired and sad, yet leftovers can be delicious and comforting.We just need to make sure the casserole or dessert shoved to the back of the fridge passes the sniff test before microwaving it for Papa.
No shame in leftover food, furniture, or clothes.So I hugged my two sons and I will look forward to the free dinners as Gary adds brown rice to rich seafood broth for his supper. Merci beaucoup, ya’ll.
How long do mosquitoes live?This persistent skeeter has been stalking me for days. He starts his shaky flying routine ‘round my head and over my morning coffee. His uneven circles tease my eyes. Midday he’s at my desk with a whine that wants to be a buzzing, and his sad circles resemble a drunken stumble.At 10:33 p.m. he reappears in the worst way: like a ghost insect skittering around my face one moment and disappearing after I swat the air with my book. I practice patience and wait for Mr. Invisible to land on my hand and bite me so I can better aim and destroy him. However, this sly bug outsmarts me and won’t reappear until I give up, turn off the lights, and settle down for sleep.
His finale is the whine of insanity around my ears with his half-second landing and leaving over and over. My batting the air and even throwing off my covers only increases his craftiness. He disappears long enough for me to believe I have squashed him before the irrrrrrrrrr…irritating whirr returns, and I cover my head with the comforter because it’s better to suffocate than slowly go insane!
This mosquito madness is a metaphor for the worry that consumes me. The dark side of the street is my mind’s preferred hangout.
What if my oldest son never signs up for Obamacare and needs a heart transplant?
What if my dad lives to be 104 and Gary and I never get to live abroad?
What if our home with a cracked slab splits in two, and the morning sun shining in my eyes is NOT from a bedroom window but from a monster crack in my roof that reveals an unwanted piece of sky?
Realistic fears square dance with cray-cray ones, and the fiddler speeds up until all I know are swirling images of catastrophe.The foot-tapping of the caller and the clapping of the demented dancers become a David Lynch scene of horror:“Forward and Back” &“Do Sa Do” with hillbilly dancers who sport massive mosquito heads!
So I swat the sick scene from my brain’s “Oklahoma”-meets-“The Fly” dance number, and I scrub the toilet or dust a bookshelf. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
I even Google “life span of a mosquito” and I now believe this demon skeeter will die before I do. Yet is there a mosquito nest in my bathroom cabinet? Do houses on cracked slabs harbor an alternative universe of zombie mosquitoes that never die?! (No more Stranger Things for me).
I must get out of my head and my house, so I head to the farmer’s market. Wait a sec! Are those fruit flies around the blackberries? Or is that soft buzzing really a whinnnne!!??
Bette Midler has long known, “You’ve Got to Have Friends.” From the first friend I made in kindergarten to the dog-walking friend I made a month ago, friends have given me the support and the empathy I need to stay sane.
Ever since I read Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I daydreamed about that group of best friends that sticks together even after troubles may temporarily pull them apart. They snap back together even stronger.
Growing up in south Louisiana, my sisters were my closest friends, but technically they’re sisters, and each has her own best friend. I also have a first cousin I’ve gone through tragedies and comedies with, but she too has her own best friend.
In Texas I have friends who could be BFF’s, but they have friends they’ve known longer than me, and these friends know “where more of the bodies are buried” than I do.
So the single-best-friend-in-all-the-world is not my reality.
Instead, I have a group of Jockstrap Friends: friends who are close and supportive and know all my stinky secrets. (I considered calling them Bra Buddies, but a brassiere does not have the smelly, sweaty essence of a jockstrap). Jockstraps hold “the family jewels” in place, and in the bumpy, unpredictable ride we call Life, jockstraps have the comfortable elasticity to protect our most precious “friends” from sudden shocks and shoves.
Jockstrap Friends show up at hospitals and funerals as well as weddings and birthdays. In extreme situations they will even clean your house, cook your meals, hold your hair back while you puke, and take off work to drive to the International Crawfish Etoufee Cookoff in Eunice, Louisiana with you. Once three of my Jockstrap Friends even decorated my whole home for Christmas when my son was in the hospital!
Jockstrap Friends share many of your tastes in food, music, and movies. They accept your idiosyncrasies the same way your family does; however, you laugh more with Jockstrap Friends. Ya’ll share a 100%breathable cotton kind of comfortableness without them “riding your ass” the way family members might. You “show your butt” with a jockstrap friend and still maintain “optimum support and comfort.”
At times I’m sad I don’t have a one & only best friend, but it’s probably better to have a mess of Jockstrap Friends.That way whenever my next catastrophe hits, if one friend is having a hip replacement and another is flying to Oregon for the birth of her grandchild, I’ll still have that one friend who will help me clean out my grandma’s attic in August, help decorate the church’s activity hall for Momma’s memorial, or read the first draft of my YA novel.
In 1961 my dad created a 16-foot tall Santa Claus.At the time, he owned Keller Advertising and painted huge roadside billboards and local storefront windows. When I was 5, he designed, drew, and painted four wooden pieces that when connected made a smiling Santa that he would raise and attach to our 18-foot chimney. Our1950’s ranch style home was at the end of a winding gravel road off of Highway 190 on the outskirts of town. Dad set a spot light on Big Santa so cars could see him waving as they drove by. Also, Dad made the back view ofa 7 year-old boy and a 5 year-old girl waving at Santa. My red tricycle was set next to thepigtailed girl to create a Rockwell Christmas moment.
Over the years, my feelings about Big Santa have changed.
In the 1960’s Big Santa added magical excitement to my kid dreams of Mr. Claus’s superpowers. Santa’s smiling presence also gave my family a touch of local fame as folks drove past our place each Christmas, and we even made the Eunice News once.
Fast forward to the 1980’s after my grandma died, and my parents bought her 100 year-old home and we moved to town. Now Big Santa needed an 18-foot pole to support him as he waved to sidewalk visitors and Second Street motorists.Now Santa was a novelty who made his December appearance when I swooped into town for my mandatory college semester break.
In the beginning of the 21st century Big Santa loomed large in a different way.After my three sons were past their “I believe in Santa” phase, they helped their Papa put up the Santa the day after Thanksgiving and take him down right after Christmas day chaos.
Putting up Big Santa became a complicated family tradition.In 2007 my
dad was 80, so he mostly directed his grandsons (my boys and their 2 cousins) in the raising of the Santa.First, they hauled the four sections from the back of the garage and cleaned up Mr. Claus before laying him facedown on the front lawn.Then several wooded 2X4’s were arranged and screwed to the Santa sections to pull him all together. Next 4 or 5 guys sorta lifted and walked Santa towards his standing pole and secured him in place with screws and wire.Papa sat in a folding chair and barked orders to his grandsons. By 2012 he had his walker beside him, and the boys did their best to keep Papa from grunting and struggling to stand to correct their construction mistakes. Of course, mistakes were as inevitable as Papa’s complaining and cussing. Once my middle son wisely suggested they buy new tools since my dad’s hammer head had a tendency to fall off its wooden handle, and the screws were more rust than metal. (“This would be a lot easier if we weren’t using tools from the Stone Age!”) Papa scoffed at such nonsense: “Give me that damn hammer! I’ll do it.”
So the grandsons worked with worn-out tools and rotting wood as they maneuvered around a short-tempered, crooked-backed, bossy-coach of a grandpa. Big Santa became a dreaded sort of family tradition. “If we get up early enough tomorrow, we can get Santa up before Papa wakes up,” said my youngest on the fortunate Black Friday of 2014.
Despite the frustration and anger that accompanied Big Santa’s arrival, family and friends still loved to pose in front of him each holiday. He made a dramatic backdrop, and passers-by often stopped to snap their own Big Santa moment.
Now Dad is 90 and living with us in Texas. Big Santa still spends his off-season days in Grandma’s garage. His fate now is in cousin Chiquita’s hands since she bought Grandma’s home.Hopefully Big Santa will still come out to wave at the small town folks of Eunice, Louisiana, who parade past his tall smile.
Irma Thomas’s “It’s Raining” is one of my favorite songs.At the New Orleans Jazz Festival once Irma was walking around the fair grounds when a light rain started falling, and a group of festival-goers serenaded the Queen of New Orleans so she gave them a royal bow.
Growing up in Louisiana, I have a reverence for rain. Driving in a blinding downpour can be a nuisance, but it’s not scary for me. Like folks in Fargo and their snow, folks in Cajun land are used to their rain.
Plus there’s the comfort of a steady rain, especially if you’re on a front porch in a comfy chair sipping something good with good friends or sharing the serenity with your own self.
I know rain also arrives angry as a demon during storms and hurricanes. I remember my dad boarding up windows and us losing power for days. Back in 1965 after Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans,I remember Dad driving down I-10 and seeing the flooded streets with tricycles and sofas floating by.
A few years ago some friends and I were driving on Texas Hwy. 71 when we broke the “Turn around; don’t drown” rule. We had stopped at a stretch of road that was covered with water, and we debated risking going across. After we saw 3 cars in front of us drive through (and rats swimming across the road), I urged our driver to “Go!!! Now.” as another voice demanded, “Don’t do it!” We made it over safely although we also yelled at the top of our lungs for good luck.
I have, however, more comforting rain memories than scary ones. Like being at Grandma’s camp in Indian Village on that perfect screened-in porch. I’m sitting at one of the two picnic tables coloring with my cousins. Grandma and Stella Parrottsit in large wooden rockers with other less-important adults sitting in folding chairs at the other side of the porch, drinking Salty Dogs, telling stories, and playing gin rummy on TV trays.Not far away the Calcasieu River is being replenished, getting ready for the fishing boats to visit her soon.
I let the fat steady drops of rain match the contented beats of my 7-year-old heart. And if I have any thoughts of the future it’s that the river water will be higher and more exciting when an adult takes us down to the sand bar the next day.
Nothing like rainy afternoons to remind us to live in the moment and absorb the sounds and smells of a natural kind ofcalm.
Yesterday at the Texas Teen Book Festival I heard the powerful writer, poet, rapper Jason Reynolds speak. He talked about a teenaged student he once taught who regularly cussed him out in class, and later Reynolds realized the boy was illiterate. However, this student was also extremely clever, creative, and very resourceful. Not being able to read or write caused him to act out in school because of frustration and anger.
Reading and writing can give us powerful ways to connect with our world. Literacy gives us voices. And just like the frustrated toddler who cannot make his mother understand that he does not want apple juice; he wants grape juice because apple juice reminds him of the time his cousin force-fed him a jar of apple sauce, we need to communicate our desires as specifically as possible to those around us. Also, this need to communicate grows larger as we grow older. Our world becomes flooded with information from so many sources, and we receive info all day long so that we often feel the need to respond with our own opinions, thoughts, and dreams. We take in so, so much that we naturally want to give out or give back to the universe that is always trying to get our attention.
Some people respond to the world with physical actions (athletes, dancers, builders, designers); others make music or paint or act or create comedy; others do research, conduct experiments, invent things, or study formulas; others pray, advise, teach, protect, or help others. Some connect to their world through writing. They share ideas that inform and entertain others. They examine past worlds, evaluate our present world, or create new worlds. No matter the method or aim, they write these “words, words, words” to help themselves make sense or even cope with their own lives.
Even though I have written all my life, I did not consider myself a “writer” until about three years ago. Now I remember way back in the third grade when I had gotten on a silly poetry kick where I wrote terrible riddles and rhymes for my classmates. I produced notebooks full of pitiful poems for an audience that admired unoriginal and ridiculous rhymes. (Remember they were 8 years old!)
“We might cry
and wonder why
Our world’s a mess
with nothing but tests.
But don’t give up.
Don’t hit your pup.
Don’t go in a trance
or poop your pants.
We will soon have nothing to fear
Cause in just 10 days summer is here!”
As a timid, bespectacled girl who walked with a limp, I basked in my peers’ brief attention like a happy turtle on a sunny stone in a small pond. My little head poked out and I was smiling at the bright warmth of their third grade praise. But in less than a week the world returned to its normal ways and I went back to my shell of shyness.
Fast forward 50 years and now I write for family and friends on a blog with a fellow writing friend. The experience actually reminds me a lot of third grade. I feel comfortable and uneasy at the same time. I enjoy the little blue-colored likes and the comment here and there about what I write, yet I also worry that I will either bore or annoy my not-8-year-old audience. However, my writing uneasiness is nowhere as strong as the joy I get when I write. Writing makes me feel worthwhile, and all my physical and emotional shortcomings are revealed only when I decide to uncover them.
Is that not powerful? I control what is thrown up on the computer screen or down on the page. Freedom of expression can be like wiping the sweat from your forehead or pulling a splinter from your thumb or letting out a laugh that I fought to hold in and then I laugh until it almost hurts and I take a deep breath that turns into a soft sigh and ahhhhhh. All seems right with my world for a short time.
Nowadays even folks who claim to “hate writing” have power of expression with their tweets and their FB posts. And the Instagrammers and the Snapchatters use pictures and videos to express themselves.
BUT the power of words for me is the most special. Words are not full of color and sound and flash and movement. They are mostly basic black and are carefully arranged like sticks and stones in row after row. They could be scrawled on a filthy bathroom wall or printed unevenly on a homemade Valentine or etched into granite or scripted with swirls and dots on a suicide note, but all the words were written to connect with someone, somewhere. These stick figures of anger, pain, love, hope, despair and wit have the ability to cause us to think and to feel deeply.
These days I do not feel powerful about anything in my life except writing. Most of life feels way beyond my control. I scribble my way through heartaches and confusion as well as through successes and celebrations. I fill journals, yellow tablets, cards, and letters with sorrow and regret and joy and gratitude. And whether the words I write make sentences that have honest strength or sentences that have awkward confusion, the sentences are mine. I may throw the words away or rewrite them in different ways or hide them in the back of a junk drawer. But I have power over my words and every time I write I feel less alone and less powerless.
Famous writers tell unknown writers that they should continue writing whether or not their writing ever finds an audience because writers write because they feel they must. It does not matter if anyone ever reads what they have written.
Such advice looks good on paper and sounds good in a pep talk; however, in reality writers usually write for others, not only for themselves. Writers may feel powerful as they write, write, write. However, if their words are never read by others, that power fades over time as their sentences get cozy with a small kind of silence.
So thank you, thank you to those who read my words.
At 61, I am out-of-shape and off-balance (both physically and mentally).
It makes perfect sense that I’m prone to falls. In the last year or so, I’ve had 3 falls. Each time I felt like it was a slo-mo fall. In those 3 or 4 seconds I told myself, “Get a grip and straighten up! You don’t have to fall.” Of course, I fell faster than I could utter the previous words.
Two of the falls happened as I was walking my 60 pound dog, Millie. Millie did not yank me down outright, but on both occasions she tugged at her leash enough to throw me off balance. Both times I was not properly monitoring Millie’s unpredictable behavior. For Millie, another dog seven blocks away seems like special canine crack.. Her ears wiggle, her head faces the distraction and her eyes look for what her nose smells. At such times, I wrap her leash tighter in my hand and I search for what has excited her senses. When I discover the approaching dog, I say, “Leave it, Millie” and I follow with “Good girl!” if she fights her urge to bark like a fire alarm and try to run toward the other animal. However, before Fall #1 I was chatting with my brother as we walked and I fell in the damp grass when Millie made an extra-quick turn around. And for Fall #2 I thought Millie and I had safely walked past a strange dog with no barking, and then she split up my “Good” and “Girl” with a sudden halt to smell a branch near a gutter. And both of my knees slapped the pavement in a flash. For both falls I inwardly cursed Millie even though I knew my crappy balance and old lady reflexes were to blame.
Lately, I feel like my skin, my bones, and my internal organs are conspiring to murder me. They are sick and tired of my clumsy stumbles and my spastic trips & falls. “Just die already” they mutter to each other. “All you do is bumble, fumble, and tumble your way thru a day.”
Although my two aforementioned falls were superficial and handled with a few 4X4 band-aids and some Neosporin, my 3rd fall was a bit messier. It happened in the summer when I was in my hometown with my siblings and a very loyal friend cleaning out my grandma’s attic.
Our first mistake was deciding to clean out an attic in a 152 year old house in south Louisiana in August! We would get up early to face the attic’s heat and dirt and chaos, and then get the hell out of Dante’s Inferno before noon. Then we’d walk to Ruby’s for our plate lunch reward. That Monday as we were walking back to our attic work, I tripped on an uneven piece of sidewalk and made an ungraceful dive into the concrete. The fall included an elbow scrape and a quick head-bounce as a finale. I did not pop up after this fall. I thought I heard muffled snickers, so I pitifully said, “I’m really hurt here.” Loyal Mark immediately tried to help me up, but I told him to hold up as I needed to carefully figure out how I was gonna pull my overweight, off-center self up from the ground.
I managed an unladylike, slow, painful rise from the broken sidewalk as I brushed twigs, grass, and leaves from my palms, forearm, and knees. I straightened my cockeyed glasses and discovered the plastic frame was cracked to the left of the nose bridge. Now I was humiliated, scraped-up, and potentially blind.
“Falling” sounds so much like “failing” and I feel like a falling failure a lot lately.
My mirror states the obvious- “You old…Bitch!” Yet my mind and my heart argue with the obvious truth of my aging. I still understand a novel’s subtle themes or a movie’s complex visual metaphors. My insides still flutter when I hear a powerful song, and I still yearn to enjoy cool going-ons around town. However, when I do go out, the risk of embarrassment has gone way up. My physically crooked, lazy, off-balance, inflexible, unsightly self will most likely show itself to be the 61-year-old specimen it is.
I will continue to fall down a lot. And that’s just a chance I gotta take.