Posted in Children, Clueless, Eunice, Louisiana, Grandmother, Growing up

Stuck by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Stuck

When I was 5, I pushed my fat face through the stair railings at Grandma’s house. I was sitting on the 7th or 8th step that led up to the spooky attic door where grown-ups had told us “Egor lived.” My first cousin Gina was in the hallway below me (maybe I had hoped to scare or surprise her with my silly stunt).  Unfortunately, I only succeeded in getting my head stuck between the wooden slats and crying like a clueless puppy who nudged a snapping turtle. 

ANDREW on stairs
My nephew Andrew who is too wise to stick his whole head through Grandma’s stair railings!

I do not remember who rescued me from my trap, but I do recall the embarrassment more than I remember the pain of pulling my big head free from the railings. Gina’s giggles mixed with my brother Emile’s taunt, “Ha!Look what Ginger did!” And my younger sister Gayle pulled her thumb from her mouth and asked me the obvious, “Why you do that?”

Years later Gina would tease me with, “Remember when you stuck your big head thru Grandma’s stair rails?” as we both laughed and clinked our Miller Pony bottles.  Gina was right.  I was a chubby-cheeked, Charlie Brown-headed kid who rushed into silly situations.

Fat Face
My “Village of the Damned” stare, and why does a 4-year-old need a watch?

I still have memories of a few unfortunate messes I found myself stuck in:

Age 8: Deciding to help a wounded opossum take care of her newborn babies as she hissed at me.

Age 15: Talking my 2 younger sisters (ages 13 &11) into hanging out at the motel swimming pool to flirt with some young army recruits stationed at Fort Polk. The guys tried talking us into meeting them later at their motel rooms. My wiser, younger sisters convinced me sneaking out to visit them later that night was a bad idea.

Age 19: Mixing cocktails in my roommate’s Volkswagen as we drove across the river on a Sunday afternoon to a bar where we danced with guys in their 30’s who later that week called us to see if we were available as “dates” for their friends.

Age 35: Driving 6 young boys to Barton Springs for a summer swim and being told, “We don’t allow day cares to swim with only one chaperone.”

My curiosity or my ill-guided bravery often led me to make a few bumpy, rocky decisions.  However, my stupid choices did not usually keep me stuck for too long. Back when I was stuck on Grandma’s stairs my mom or Aunt Toni likely rescued me. I even later served as a “cautionary tale” for future young cousins.

“Remember: Don’t be like Ginger and get your head stuck in those stair railings. Egor might come from the attic to get you!”

Posted in Caring for others, Children, Growing up, Introspection, Love, Mothers, Parenting

Fragile by Ginger Keller Gannaway

I remember the nervousness of holding my baby Shane 30 years ago. He was a couple of days old and hooked up to monitors and tubes in an ICU unit in San Antonio.  Born with transposition of the greater vessels, Shane had undergone an emergency heart procedure about six hours after he was born.  Dr. Bloom, a pediatric cardiologist, reopened the flap between the chambers of my first child’s heart with a balloon catheter that changed Shane from being a “blue baby” to a greyish-tinted baby. Shane would not be a healthy-looking pink Caucasian baby until he was big and strong enough to survive open-heart surgery to get his ticker to pump the proper amount of oxygen to his lungs.

Baby shane and mama
My mom (MaMa Gerry) and Shane Thomas

The morning I first held my baby in the ICU my mind held a confusing mix of excitement and fear. The nurse had to unhook Shane from a few monitors to place him in my arms as I bottle-fed him my pumped breast milk.

A week later a different nurse gave me lessons in swaddling and bathing my son. Also, I was handed a list of the signs of heart failure. She reminded me that Shane was still sick, and he would need extra care until he weighed 20 pounds and could undergo a 5-hour surgery.  Her directions, “Don’t let him cry too much” haunted me and Gary for the next 7 months.

Shane seemed beyond fragile. Bathing him involved getting the bathroom sauna-room warm before we washed his squiggling, crying, slippery self.  Breast feeding was the one thing my newborn and I seemed to get right. Shane was satisfied with his meal, and I felt like my boy was perfectly safe for those round-the-clock connections we shared.

As Shane grew and learned to sit up and crawl, we developed a small amount of parental confidence (until he had his first earache, busted lip, bumped head, or gagging incident).  Later Shane survived his open-heart surgery ordeal, and we worried less when he soon walked and talked his way into toddlerhood. Then in 1990  Casey was born followed by Evan in 1993. I let go of many parental fears since I saw my 3 boys as rough and tumble puppies who were more unbreakable than fragile.  (Like in Truffaut’s “Small Change” when a toddler falls out an apt. window and bounces his way to safety on the lawn).

However, when my boys became teenagers my fears about their fragility returned, and I felt sure about nothing. From the first broken-heart moment to the first traffic violation or the middle-of-the night call for help, I realized that a teen’s belief in his own infallibility only makes him more likely to get in trouble or hurt.

Now my boys are ages 30, 27, 24 and to me they are still fragile. Years before Shane was born, my dad told me that a parent never stops worrying about their children. I hate to admit that Dad was right-on with that observation. These days I aim for balance between fear and confidence when I think about my three sons. I know all of them have strong, loving hearts and minds that will serve them well when Life hurls danger at their fragile parts.

my 3 sons
Evan, Casey, Shane in 2006
Posted in fathers and daughters, Growing up, Memories, movies, picture show

Movie Memory: Cat Ballou by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Cat BallouSince my grandmother owned the movie theaters in my hometown,  I saw almost every movie that came to Eunice, Louisiana from 1960 to 1975.  Movies were surrogate parents that gave my young head magical stories full of adventure, comedy, and music.

Cat Ballou remains one of my fondest movie memories.  Jane Fonda’s big-eyed bright blue innocence mixed with Lee Marvin’s slapstick drunkenness to create a revenge story full of heart and humor. I had a 9-year-old-girl crush on Michael Callan when he surprised and made advances on the naive school teacher, Catherine Ballou.  Then the teacher teamed up with outlaws, both inexperienced and over-the hill, to find the villain who murdered her dad. And tying the whole comic western together were Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye as the banjo-playing Greek chorus. (I still love the rhythmic sounds of “Wolf City, Wyoming…Wolf City, Wyoming.”)

I saw Cat Ballou 4 times in one week, and as I chomped on a full-sized Tootsie Roll, I thought Lee Marvin’s “Happy Birthday to You” mistake at Cat’s father’s funeral was the funniest thing in cinema in 1965.

Later my eyes got misty when Nat King Cole’s velvet voice crooned “They Can’t Make Her Cry” as Cat and her gang of guys slowly rode their horses toward their train robbery revenge plan.

At the end came the (Spoiler Alert) rousing rescue scene when Cat stands on the gallows in her virginal white dress and gives the sheriff “Let’s get on with it” as her final words. Next her merry band jumps into action with Kid Shelleen  simultaneously threatening to fall off his saddle and shoot an escape path for the group.

That year Cat Ballou was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and Lee Marvin beat out Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Rod Steiger, and Oskar Werner for the Best Actor award! At 9, I was clueless about the status of the Oscars; however, I was aware that a movie could take me back to 1894 when a dedicated daughter could become a train robber and gun down the owner of Wolf City Development who ordered her father’s death.  And a drunken, has-been gunfighter could sober up, clean up, and dress up in time to shoot his evil brother. Finally, the daughter, her young beau, and the other outlaws would still ride into the sunset to the jangly tune of “The Legend of Cat Ballou.”

Happy Oscars Day!! 

What are your favorite childhood movie memories? 

Posted in Aging process, Cajuns, Crawfish, Introspection, Worries

Splatter Brain by Ginger Keller Gannaway

                                                                 Splatter Brain 

Splatter paint Evan
Art by Evan Gannaway

My brain feels so unfocused and rudderless…

Clovis Crawfish
from Clovis and his Friends by Mary Alice Fontenot; illustrated by R.A. Keller

Like a crawfish let out of the sack during a Good Friday crawfish boil. 

I slowly travel through the backyard grass, claws held high, trying to escape the boiling pot of doom. However, I’m tottering directly towards the danger zone. Soon the guy wearing the “Suck My Head” t-shirt will pick me up by the mid-point of my back so that my snapping claws can’t reach and he’ll plop me into the roiling pot with the rest of my family and friends.

Also, I’m a crawdad with one claw smaller than the other because a bluejay attacked me Clovis and Bluejayonce and flew away with my left claw.  I’m now navigating the tall grass like a drunk Cajun leaving an LSU football game and looking for his pick-up. However, I need to “roll on  between the ditches” as Emmylou & Rodney advise,(“Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”) so maybe, just maybe, I will make it to a scrub bush away from the joking, yelling crowds, and I will nestle into a soft spot of shade and relax until a white Chihuahua sniffs me out. She lets loose a few yaps before a swift  snap of my right claw catches her black button nose and she hurries off toward the next new smell. I lay low for awhile until I feel like I’m dying of thirst (because I am).

Wait a second! I just let my brain turn me into a crawfish fighting for its life.  See what a splatter of nonsense I have brewing in my head.

Now I’m the mad water inside the crawfish pot! The water teems with Slap Ya Momma spices and Crab Boil and onions, corn, and potatoes. Someone left the lid on too long and I’m about to boil over.  The day’s demands overwhelm me! This girl is on fire, but not with power and focus — with her bald scalp flaming and her head making a Scanners explosion!

If I can just make myself count my breaths and look at the tree branches coming into focus as the sun pinkens the sky, my Splatter Brain will calm down. I  will use prayer and meditation, and all shall be well….until my next Walter Mitty moment.

Posted in Aging process, Changes, Friendship, I love you, Love, Marriage, Support

“Little Murders” by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Little Murders*  by Ginger Keller Gannaway

*A play by Jules Feiffer written in 1967

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.

love.jpg
Love circa 1984

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. 

  1. He’s developed expert bathroom plumbing skills.
  2. He stays well-informed on current events.
  3. He cooks with creativity and zeal.
  4. 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 strength to deal with the many “slings and arrows” of this life.  Gary makes me smile at life’s idiosyncrasies and laugh at love’s challenges. 

IMG_1917
Love, 2016 (Tesuque, New Mexico)
Posted in Children, Fathers, fathers and daughters, Friendship, Growing up, Memories, Outdoors

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bangberry* Ride (*Banbury Cross)

Bangberry ride1
Dad/ Papa with Grandson Ryan on the Bangberry Tree

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.

Evan in tree
Evan in Bangberry Tree, 2005

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 perch  as 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.

trees in Eunice
Oak trees around my childhood home
Posted in Christmas, Entertainment, Grandchildren, Grandmother, Growing up, movie theater, movies, picture show

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 Aging process, Caring for others, Children, Food, Introspection, Leftovers, Sharing

Leftovers by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Leftovers by Ginger Keller GannawayLeftovers

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?

Pie safeI 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.

Posted in Aging process, Dancing, Introspection, Mosquitoes, Worries

Mosquito by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Mosquito

by Ginger Keller Gannaway

mosquito
By RA Keller from Clovis Crawfish & his Friends

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).mosquito swarm

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!!??mpsquito1

Posted in Austin, Texas, Cajuns, Friendship, Support

Jockstrap Friends by Ginger Keller Gannaway

bike-original-mm-jock-strap-whiteJockstrap Friends (by Ginger Keller Gannaway)

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.IMG_4335

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. IMG_4339 (1)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.”mardi gras with mark

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.