Posted in Aging, Family

Balled-up Kleenex by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Momma and me, 2010

Momma always kept a balled-up Kleenex in her right hand (or in her pocket).

She used this all-purpose tissue to wipe her drippy nose caused by what she called her “hay fever.” When we were kids, she also used her Kleenex to wipe a snot-nosed child’s face or to stop a scraped knee from bleeding. In the 1960s right before entering our Catholic church for mass, she could use a not-too-crumpled tissue as a make shift head covering for a forgetful daughter who had left her chapel veil at home. I still remember her pinning the white tissue atop my head using a stray bobby pin from her purse. No need for her to fuss at me for my memory lapse. My pin-scraped scalp was punishment enough. 

In a way always having the Kleenex on hand is a “Mom thing” – a being prepared thing. (for small spills, runny noses, dirty faces, fresh lipstick blots, minor cuts, or sudden tears).

When Momma was wheelchair-bound and barely talked, she still kept a Kleenex in her hand. After she died, I looked through the small leather purse she had carried everywhere she went. Inside I found her wallet, which held My Daily Rosary prayer card, her drivers license, and her library card. Also, there was a tiny round frame with a picture of my sister Kelly, a half-used Wine with Everything lipstick, a nail file, Double mint gum, and a couple of balled-up tissues. I smiled. 

I’ve been going on long walks around 7:15 each morning, and I take along a Kleenex in my pocket. I use the tissue to open the black iron gate that surrounds our apartment complex, to scratch my nose, and to wipe my forehead when the temperature gets in the 90’s. 

After my walk, the tissue is ragged and sweaty. It seems to symbolize my fears and uncertainty these days. The tissue keeps me from touching my face or some random object. The Kleenex I shove into my pocket before I venture out (for a walk, to the grocery, on an errand) feels as necessary as a face mask or hand sanitizer. 

Either I’m turning into my mother or channeling  a parent’s attempt to be prepared for life’s surprises and disasters. If a balled-up piece of tissue gives me comfort, I’ll take it. And I’ll focus on not tripping on the cracked sidewalks while I listen to birdsong and car horns.

Posted in Aging

Old Stuff by Ginger Keller Gannaway

        In 2016 while cleaning out my grandma’s attic, I held up a dilapidated box that held tap shoes from 1960 when I was four years old.

“Should I keep these?” I asked a friend who was helping us go through the treasure and the trash in a home built in the 1890s.

“Of course!” said Mark.

“Can’t believe Momma saved them! Can’t think why I’d want these.”

“We like old things,” Mark explained.

An epiphany hit me like a couple of rusted TV trays and a stolen ash tray from Caesars Palace (circa 1966). I do like old stuff!  Mama Joe’s pie safe where Momma stored mismatched glassware and playing cards; Dad’s beat-up paint stool that my cousin found on Grandma’s back porch; stacks of brittle love letters between Reggie and Gerry (my parents) when they were courting in the 1940’s; a partial set of Shakespeare plays, faded, bent and water-logged, that an intuitive student gave me right before he graduated. “I found these in our attic and thought of you,” he had told me.

Mama Joe’s pie safe

Also, my tastes in movies are in the “old” category: Casablanca, High Noon, and Rear Window. Likewise, two of my favorite books are Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights. I adore my turntable and stereo receiver from 1972. The U.S. city I most love to visit- New Orleans – is a place where the past clings to everything like the moss in the live oaks.

Old stuff comforts me. It connects me to some of my best memories. When I use Momma’s bent-up aluminum bun warmer she got as a wedding present in 1954, I remember homemade biscuits in the kitchen with family gathered for a holiday. I smell coffee from a well-used pot on the stove and hear kids and adults vying for space and talking over one another.  I recall the taste of hot boudin from Johnson’s Grocery. 

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with old pictures. I especially love the black and white photos, the ones from before I was born and the ones of me as a child. Life seemed simpler and easier. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but that rose-colored tint does slip over my memories before puberty hit and sent me to the land of pimples and self-doubt. 

Reginald A. Keller, 1929
Geraldine and Stretch, 1952

According to the CDC guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic, I’m “high risk” and I could go to the local grocery store’s early hours for old folks.  I suppose Gary (age 75) and I (64 today) are old people. 

Too bad our society does not extend a love of old things to old people. No one I know looks forward to old age. We fear the weak mind and frail body as much as the loneliness and incontinence. I wish I felt the same comfort and peace when I hold someone’s wrinkled and arthritic hand that I get when I run my fingers over the dents of a bun warmer or the rough paint flecks of a wooden stool. 

Dad’s paint stool from Keller Advertising days

I’m not one of the enlightened. I wish these uncertain days with lots of time for reading and praying and thinking might guide me to an appreciation for old stuff that includes old folks. As much as I like my fat-faced images when I was two, I should be kinder to the 64-year-old I see in the mirror now. She’s doing the best she can with what she’s got, and  that needs to be enough.

Posted in Family

Cicadas by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Cicadas – 1963

trees in Eunice
Live oaks around my childhood home

I opened the shoe box gently to show Kelly my treasure.

“Just tree mess,” said Kelly as she moved the leaves, twigs, and moss around.

Couillon! They’re hiding from us.” And I gently picked up a green and brown insect. Its whirring whine made my three-year-old sister say, “Coooool,” as she petted its folded wings. 

“Careful,” I said and replaced the insect as my sister searched and found the box’s true treasure – a poopy-brown thing.  “Lookit this.”

“It’s dead,” said Kelly.  I set it on the oak tree trunk whose shade we sat in.  The brown bug took slow-motion steps up the trunk. Kelly could only stare.

“Looks like a seratops.”

Kelly reached to touch it with her index finger, but my larger hand covered my little sister’s whole hand.  “Leave it. Just watch.”

Our heads moved close, close to the bug on the tree. We watched it mummy-move some more.  Then it stopped.

“It’s dying,” said Kelly as she put her arm around my neck.

“Watch,” I repeated.

It took one and a half minutes for the younger girl to lose interest. “It’s really dead now,” she whispered into my ear.

brown cicada“Shhhhhh,” and I squeezed Kelly’s shoulder and pointed.  Kelly moved her head closer in. Did the brown bug’s back crack? Why was it killing itself? Then slow, slow a wet thing backed out of the cracked bug. Kelly remembered cartoons where a baby bird pecks its way out of an egg. She leaned in and almost kissed the tree bark.

I held her shoulder and brought my face over my sister’s.  As the new bug emerged, it paused to allow its folded wings to unfurl. The green translucent beauty of the wings brought soft gasps from both of us.

“Now he’s gotta dry off,” I said, and we both froze to witness the new and improved insect glowing atop the broken carcass. It seemed to be sunbathing in the broken sunbeams.

Kelly held her breath and I nodded my head. After awhile the cicada made its whirring, clicking whine to flyaway. Both of our heads tilted up to watch the miracle depart. 

Then I carefully took the split-open brown thing and placed it in my shoe box.

“Cool,” said Kelly.  I nodded and put an arm around my sister’s shoulder.

Kelly, age 3
Kelly, age 3

Posted in Family, Travel

Waves by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Waves

mom & dad with emile & me at beach
Emile, Mom, Ginger, Dad at beach, 1959

 These days, except for the triple-digit temperatures, it doesn’t feel like July. COVID19 has stolen the summer tradition of family vacations for many people. I have been looking back at my childhood and our yearly trips to the Florida beach.

     In 1964 I held Kelly’s left hand in my right and Gayle’s right in my left. In our new two-piece bathing suits we faced the bright white Florida shore with our backs to the Gulf of Mexico. Gayle and I stood in thigh-high water while Kelly jumped up and down so that the water went from her waist to her thighs. Our game was simple. Keep your head straight ahead and do not turn around to see the approaching surf. Listen for the sounds of the breaking waves and be ready to jump when the salt water slapped your backside. Also, do not break the holding-hands chain! I tightened my grip on Kelly’s hand as the four-year-old continued to bounce up and down like a human Tigger. “Stay still,” I said. “You need to concentrate and listen.” Kelly started to jump higher and shake her skinny hips.

“She loves you! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” sang Kelly.

Gayle echoed, “Yeah,Yeah, Yeah!”

I pulled and squeezed Kelly’s hand as our middle sister said, “We gotta be ready, y’all!” Kelly continued singing, but in a hesitant whisper of a voice. I held my breath to focus on the sounds behind us eleven seconds before the rushing roar of the waves announced water higher than all three of us. The wave pounded over our heads and all we knew was water. We screamed in unison as the frothy water pushed us forward and roared its dominance. We all lost our balance and our feet left the sand. Gayle and I stayed connected, but Kelly got pulled away and sent rolling in the surf. She got a mouthful of salt water and the waves sent her face into the sand. I rushed to Kelly’s rescue, dragging my other sister with me. I reached for my youngest sister’s arm, but my fingers squeezed a long ponytail instead. I yanked the dark chunk of hair over my head and pulled her to her feet. Her bikini top was askew and covered only one nipple. Kelly was too shocked to cry and reached for my waist to steady herself. I released her hair and Gayle reached over to help keep Kelly standing. With both Kelly’s arms around my waist and a wiggling Gayle on the other side, I did my best to walk my sisters to the shore. Soon we all three sat on dry sand.

beach with Stoneciphers
Beach trip in 1959 with the Stoneciphers

 

“I ’bout drowneded,” sputtered Kelly as Gayle said, “You ok now.” I sat in the middle and placed an arm around each sister. Together we looked at the watery wildness we had escaped. After thirty seconds of concentration on the power of nature and the suddenness of disaster,  Kelly stood to straighten her bathing suit. “Let’s build a sand castle,” she said as she walked to the beach chair Mom was sitting in. (Momma had been too preoccupied with rubbing baby oil on her legs to witness her daughters’ water misadventure). Gayle followed Kelly, but I stayed there staring at the waves. Just a couple of minutes before I had feared for my little sister’s life! I closed my eyes and breathed in and out, in and out.  A helicopter moved overhead and pulled a banner that proclaimed the freshness of “Dougie’s Shrimp Baskets.”

beach 1972
Ginger, Kelly, Gayle and Momma at beach in 1972

I stared at the pounding water on the shore four feet in front of me.  The steady rush of water as it spread over the hot sand and the wave’s retreat into the gulf hypnotized me. How could the water have such power?  It was loose and liquid and allowed kids to float atop it. It called out to folks to join in its cool beauty, its wild excitement, its thrilling danger. I closed my eyes and listened to rhythmic sounds that soothed me until I decided to help my sisters with sand castle creations.

Papa and Evan at beach
PaPa and Evan at the Beach, 1999

 

Posted in Family

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannawaydear daddy

For Dad (June, 2020)

There was a massive oak tree with a long, low limb. A 6’4” dad would put his oldest daughter 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 bend his knees down and up, down and up to the tune of an old nursery rhyme:

“Here we go down to Bangberry 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 fly up high as long as the tree was free to boing, boing back into place.

Head and hair surrounded by branches and leaves, she felt equal to the free-flying blue jays that hung out in their backyard. That eight-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 huge hand that helped her dismount her tree throne.

Besides the wooden roller coaster at the beach, the Bangberry Ride was her favorite ride. With a rhyming song, a heavenly seat, a father’s love, her sisters’ envy, and a stomach’s tickle the ride was perfection.trees in Eunice

Posted in Death and Dying, Relationships

From Fear to Hope

From Fear to Hope  by Ginger Keller Gannaway

For over two months fear has been part of my daily life. As COVID19 continues to kill about 1,000 people a day in the USA, I’m adapting to living during a pandemic. Then sixteen days ago an eight-minute and 46-second video shocked the world and stirred up other worries. Now protesters march in cities all over the world and demand justice for George Floyd. Everyday holds uncertainty and fear for so many people. Important change is rarely easy or peaceful.Am I next?

I watch and read updates about the unrest and the impassioned calls for justice. Cardboard signs on the fence around an elementary school two blocks from my apartment show support for the ones demanding change.

black lives matter3

black lives matter

The protesters are a mix of people from different age groups, different races and different countries. Most marches are peaceful; some involve violence. But all show bravery and determination. Change has to happen! I love the verbs used by rapper Killer Mike. We must : “Plot. Plan. Strategize. Organize. Mobilize.”

Even as I wear a face mask and practice social distancing when I leave my home (and I know the virus is not going away for a long while), I feel hopeful for our future because people are coming together for change, for justice, and for a better future. A friend in New Orleans sent me a beautiful picture of protesters in Jackson Square. He said he felt a sense of love and energy and hope! Amen to that!

NOLA hope

Sam Cooke sang it so well!

 

Posted in Friendship

Find Your Joy

Find Your Joy by Ginger Keller Gannaway
Babs 1

I’m revisiting Barbra Streisand’s discography during these stay-at-home covid times. Getting back to what I loved when I was a teen. I first listened to her albums over & over on a small record player in my room while wearing cheap plastic head phones so I could crank up the volume on “The Nearness of You” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” In 1970 I was obsessed with records like Simply Streisand and My Name Is Barbra, full of old standards and Broadway show tunes. Barbra sang songs like they were three-minute plays with her one-of-a-kind enunciated phrasing and sustained belting. Her vocal bravado soothed my nervous, awkward, lonely thirteen-year-old soul. I hadn’t listened to these records in a long time and I’m now rediscovering the joy they still give me.

magnoliaSo if you have time to yourself (or not), find your joy in what you love. Read, watch t.v. or YouTube, cook, sing, meditate, talk with friends, write, juggle, draw or paint, play dominoes or cards, jog, shop online, do spring cleaning, look at old pictures, hone your video game skills, pamper your pets, take long walks, tickle your kids or grandkids, plant a garden, or learn to whistle. Do whatever makes you smile or fills you up with joy!

As the pandemic makes a lot of us slow down and stay put, we should be kind to ourselves and spend time every day doing something that makes us feel joyful.

How do you find joy?

Posted in Friendship

Uncertain Times

Uncertain Times written by Ginger Keller Gannaway

These COVID19 days taunt me with uncertainty. When will it be safe: to visit a friend? to eat in a cafe? to schedule an appointment? to STOP WORRYING?

Uncertain times
Walking in Armadillo Park

All this reminds me of walking my high-strung dog. Since mid-March my neighborhood is crowded with folks walking their dogs, kids playing on sidewalks, teens whizzing by on skateboards, and cats lounging in yards with “I dare you” stares.

Black cat
A.J. (Almond Joy)

millie bisquit
Millie Biscuit

 

Walking Millie (a 60-pound shepherd) is like traveling with a string of firecrackers that could pop at any moment. She sniffs and pulls as we walk. So Gary walks ahead doing recon – looking down the sidewalk for other dogs or strollers that make us cross the street to give them space. I watch the ground for a discarded fried chicken bone or a smashed reptile my pet might gobble up. Millie can smell a bite of rotting pizza at least half a block away!  I carry treats for positive reinforcement when we avoid an explosion of barking and I hold the leash tightly. For we must venture outside for poops and “pee mail” and a bit of exercise.

Uncertain times call for diligence and distancing as we carry on through our nervousness and fear. Things will improve. Stay safe and sane, y’all!

Uncertain Times2

Posted in Friendship

Gratitude List in the Time of Coronavirus by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Gratitude List in the Time of Coronavirus

by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Every morning while I “sit ugly” and drink my coffee, I meditate and pray. Part of my routine is reading my gratitude list. However, in these crazy coronavirus times I cannot enjoy all the things from my recent past: “Live Music” “Movie Theaters” “Dinner with Friends and Family.” So now I slow down for a new gratitude list.

 

gratitude snail
Slow down

1. Netflix movies & Better Things on FX

better things

Indiewire Review of Better Things

2. Take-out from local restaurants(Cavalier’s burgers and deviled eggs)cavalier

https://www.thecavalieratx.com/menus

3. Hospice Angels who FaceTime me when they’re with my dadGratitude of hands

4. Bird Song & wild flowers on dog walksgratitude flowers

5. Nature WalksIMG_0524

6. Reading and Writing Time

giphy

What new things are you grateful for?

Posted in Friendship

Pock- Pock by Ginger Keller Gannaway

A Cajun Easter Tradition

Now in April, 2020 the coronavirus pandemic is keeping us from celebrating in the same ways with all of our loved ones this Easter. Here’s an essay I wrote awhile back about one of my favorite family traditions. Y’all be safe and sane!

easter1
Evan & Mama Gerry

     Chubby fingers clutch a pale pink and green boiled egg.  Concerned eyes flick back and forth from the egg to the bowed head of the chubby-fingered 4-year-old girl’s 8-year-old brother, a boy with destruction in his eyes.  The boy firmly holds a bright blue egg, and as he quickly raises his egg a few inches above his sister’s egg, the girl muffles a scared squeak as the brother aims and delivers a decisive blow to his target. POCK! “Ah-ha!” the destructor declares as he witnesses the broken crown of his sister’s special Easter egg (the one that took her a full 6 minutes to dye because she patiently dyed the pink half before carefully turning her egg over and holding it in the green dye for several long minutes).  The girl juts out a “boudin lip,” yet she dutifully hands her victor brother the cracked egg.  “My egg’s the champion!” brags the boy as he tosses the pink and green egg into an overflowing basket of slightly cracked Easter eggs. He struts around the grassy backyard holding the blue egg over his head.  Other kids in church clothes throw sideways glances his way, but his sister simply reaches for a Goldbrick egg in her Easter basket to ease the loss of her two-toned egg.  MaMa Joe tells her cocky grandson, “Way to go, cha! You beat your cousins!” but PaPa Joe sulks in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and the purple guinea egg which he refused to give up to his grandson a few minutes earlier.

easter5
Momma Gerry & Emile

For now 8-year-old Claude Emile revels in his Pock-Pock Championship for an Easter in Ville Platte, Louisiana.

Such is the way in Cajun land on Easter morning.  Friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandmas and competitive grandpas compete with their multi-colored boiled eggs to win the title of Pock-Pock Champion on a bright spring day.

  Our family’s Pock-Pock Rules:

  1. Two folks each choose an unbroken Easter egg.
    easter7
    Ryan and Andrew face off!

     

  2. One person holds his/her egg with the fat side up and faces the opponent.
  3. The opponent holds his/her egg with the small end towards the other egg.
  4. The egg-holder on top taps the other’s egg until one of the eggs cracks.  (Most folks prefer a soft, slow tapping motion that makes a “pock-pock” sound and that keeps the game going longer. * Emile’s quick, hard hammer-like hit irks me).
  5. After a few pocks, both folks will hear a deeper sort of cracking sound that signals the breaking of one egg. They pause at this point and examine their eggs’ ends; however, sometimes the crack is not visible and a few more pocks are needed to reveal the definitive cracks that label one of the egg-holders a loser.
  6. The holder of the uncracked egg is that round’s winner and he/she gets to keep the broken egg. (Unless you’ve pocked-pocked with Papa Joe and his favorite egg)

     

easter4
Caseman &Big Papa

My momma learned from her dad (Papa Joe) that guinea  and duck eggs were harder than regular chicken eggs, but this was not always the case.  Cajuns can be very competitive (even when the prize is a grubby boiled egg), and some have resorted to cheating.  One Easter Emile made a plaster of Paris egg and painted it yellow.  He managed to trick the younger cousins and the older relatives with poor eyesight, but when cousin Kenneth discovered the trick, the final pock-pock sounds came from Kenneth whacking Emile’s “tete dure.”

 

easter3
Kelly Ann & Ginger

 

easter6
Casey & Jana

I have always enjoyed this Cajun tradition, and even though Emile’s grandkids don’t particularly like or even want to keep boiled Easter eggs (They prefer the plastic eggs filled with jellybeans or chocolates), the kids still enjoy the pock-pock competition.  This Easter I look forward to  spitfire Amos (age 5) going up against his calm cousin Evan (age 24) and may the best egg win!

easter2
Easter in Eunice, 1985