Posted in Aging process, Cajuns, Caring for others, Changes, Children, Friendship, Grandchildren, Grandmother, I love you, Mothers, Outdoors, Parents

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Tree by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Treemimosa tree

A momma’s love shines through her children, and Mama Joe’s eleven children wonderfully displayed their love for her.  Lizo Vidrine married when she was 15 and she and Joe Latour raised their 11 kids in Ville Platte, Louisiana.  As a kid, I remember going to Mama and PapaJoe’s every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons.  When Dad drove the family from Eunice to Ville Platte my siblings and I played a very lame car game called “Counting Horses” ( that’s a “whole ‘nother Oprah” as one of my good friends would say). We traveled a distance of 17 miles, but to 4 restless kids, it seemed like 77 at least! 

Back then we mostly kissed Mama & Papa hello and then headed to the backyard to mama's familychase Papa’s chickens and eat his scuppernong grapes until he came out yelling at us to leave his chickens alone.  Then we fidgeted inside for 8 or so minutes until Dad gave us each a dime to walk to Mr. Theophile’s tiny store on the corner where we each bought 10 penny candies that were placed in small paper bags.  To get to the store we had to pass Mama’s next door neighbor’s house that would later remind me of Boo Radley’s place.  My sisters and I usually ran when we passed neighbor Gazelle’s because she and her “not-quite-right” daughters lived there with at least 100 cats, and Gazelle yelled at us if she was sitting on the front porch with a gun beneath her chair.  (another Oprah-type tale).

However, many years later, Papa Joe has died and Mama Joe is bedridden and somewhat senile.  Now her seven children who live closest to her have each claimed a day of the week to come take care of her (or pay for a sitter if they cannot come that week).   Usually my momma drives my two sisters and me to visit Mama Joe.  Now the house is quiet and after Gayle, Kelly and I kiss Mama Joe hello in her bed full of pillows, we move to the small living room to read or watch a little t.v.  Momma stays in Mama’s bedroom and time ticks slowly be with the soft sounds of Momma talking to Mama. Later, the sitter arrives and talks with Momma in Cajun French.  Sometimes my sisters and I go outside and pick these hard pears or sour plums from Mama’s trees. Papa Joe had been a gifted gardener, and years earlier he had grown vegetables and fruits galore in his extensive garden.  Gayle remembers when he pulled a carrot from the ground once and handed her the best carrot she has ever tasted!

Mama Joe’s yard also had this mimosa tree I really loved.  Its beautiful softness, the feathery green leaves, with the flowers that looked like pink dandelions remind me now of my grandmother’s soft, strong beauty. Mimosa trees produce fragile, sweet blossoms in the late spring that attract butterflies and birds and that also contrast with the tree’s tough nature.   According to some gardening websites, mimosas do well in droughts and heat, which explains their abundance along southern highways.  Also, they produce these elongated seedpods that drop and spread their “offspring” far and wide.  The Japanese call mimosas the “sleeping tree” because their leaves gently fold for the night.  Like the mimosa tree, Mama Joe had a strong, calm beauty that mixed the Cajun Vidrine in her with the Native American blood my momma always claimed she had. (“Your mama’s great-great grandmother was an Indian princess, for real!”)  Also, her eleven seedpods heeded the Catholic directive  to “go forth and multiply” well. Mama and Papa Joe had 48 grandchildren and over 60 great-grandchildren and I don’t know how many great-grandchildren since the Latours are still healthily multiplying. 

Overall, Mama Joe was a sweet, smiling & laughing Cajun who married at age 15 and raised a family of 11, who only spoke Cajun French until her son P.J. married Polly (an amazing woman from California),  and so she learned to speak English to welcome a new member of her family, who cooked rice and gravy like a top chef, who loved life and good times almost as much as she loved all of her many children and their children, and their children’s children, and so on.  All Mama Joe gave forth was love and joy which she taught my own mother, Geraldine, to do for her 4 children, who then did her best to teach me to do for my 3 boys.  Like the mimosa tree, may all mothers continue to spread strong, soft feathery blossoms of love for their own seedpods.

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PaPa and Mama Joe

Thank you to Uncle Jack (Mama’s baby) and Aunt Faye for helping me with some Mama Joe details!

Posted in Cajuns, Friendship, Grandchildren, Grandmother, jobs, movie theater, movies, picture show

Working at the Picture Show by Ginger Keller Gannaway

liberty center

At age 13, I began my job in the family’s movie business at the Liberty Theater in Eunice, Louisiana.  I worked the concession stand at my grandma’s picture show.  Grandpa Keller had opened it in 1924 and had in later years owned 5 movie theaters in a town of about 10,000.

In 1969 when I started my picture show career, my grandpa had died and my Uncle Jake and Aunt Rose managed both the Liberty and the Queen Cinema. Even though I was his niece (and a star concession worker), Uncle Jake terrified me. Frowning and growling were his favored forms of communication with his employees.  One Sunday afternoon my dad picked me up from an afternoon swim at the local city pool “to go work at the show” because the matinee that day had drawn a bigger crowd than expected.  Dad rushed me to the Liberty to help out.   I  jumped from the pool, quickly dressed and showed up with a still-dripping ponytail to start boxing popcorn and waiting on the long line of costumers.  When Uncle Jake showed up to check on his employees, I felt pride inside for being such a loyal worker. He emitted a soft snarl to get my attention and grumbled, “Ya look like a drowned rat.”

Luckily for me (and my fellow workers), Uncle Jake did not routinely check up on us at the show. So most of the time, concession stand work was a groovy gig.  Opening up routines included wheeling the wooden carols that held the candy bars out of a storage closet and checking the Baby Ruths and Butterfingers for random rat bites.  Then we pulled out large plastic bags filled with the previous night’s leftover popcorn. This stale stuff would then be mixed in with the day’s fresh popcorn. (Is this a normal practice in movie theaters, or was my uncle cheap as well as grouchy?) Next, we’d get money from the box office lady to start our shift with. Later we’d go back to Mrs. Pearl (our favorite) or Mrs. Fontenot (a bit fussy) for extra nickels, quarters, or dollar bills as the need arose.

We’d time popcorn popping with the film’s starting times since the smell lured in popcorn-1433326_960_720more customers.  Most days the work came in spurts – the 15 minutes before the movie began. And since the Liberty had only one screen, that meant only two busy times a night (week-end had more because of the double feature specials). Once a movie began, only the random harried mom with a squirrelly lil one or a bored teenager with a sweet tooth bothered us concession workers.  On slow week nights I always had a book to read, and I’d sometimes kill time with the teenaged  ticket-taker/ usher boy .

The job paid a slim $1.25 an hour, but it did include the perk of getting in free to movies.  However, as a Keller I already saw all movies for free, so I added a perk of my own.  I’d sometimes take candy bars to share with friends at school the day after one of my shifts.  I’d even “take orders” from some of my closest friends or a cute guy I was crushin’ on.   (“Hey, get me a couple of Milky Ways, will ya?”)

One of my favorite things about working at the show was that super-fine ice we used for the soft drinks.  Since workers unofficially got free drinks during our shifts, I’d pack my 8 oz. paper cup to the rim with that heavenly ice and then fill it with the best Dr. Pepper on the planet.  I think the syrup content on our soda machine was set too high, so our drinks were sweet, sweet.  And when a blockbuster like MASH or Patton was showing and we sweated to keep the popcorn popping and the masses served before the opening credits, a super-icy, super-sweet beverage never tasted better!

The jobs only 3 hazards were: 1.  Getting burned while making popcorn or cleaning the antique machine   2. Getting the stink eye or criticism from my uncle (“Quit over-filling the popcorn boxes; don’t make the sides pooch-out.” or “Put more ice in those drink cups!”)   3. Running out of popcorn during a rush.

For the four and a half years I worked at the “Liberty Thayter” (as Mrs. Fontenot would say), my good times far outweighed my bad times.  I was surrounded by folks who liked watching movies, talking about movies, and sharing movies. Often the usher, my fellow concession gal, and even the ticket-taker lady (especially sweet and witty Mrs. Pearl) discussed a movie’s good points, bad points,  or its message. Like the circus worker who shoveled elephant poop responded when asked why he didn’t leave such a shitty job. “What?? And give up show business?!”liberty at night

 

Posted in Cajuns, Children, Easter tradition, Food, Friendship, Grandchildren, Grandmother

Pock-Pock (a Cajun Easter tradition) by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Cajun Pock-Pock Easter Tradition by Ginger Keller Gannaway

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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.

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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.

            Here are our family’s Pock-Pock Rules:

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Ryan & Andrew in Eunice
  1. Two folks each choose an unbroken Easter egg.
  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)

     

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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.”

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Shane& his Easter eggs
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Kelly Ann & Ginger

 

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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!

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Easter in Eunice, 1985