Posted in Cajuns, Contemplations, Family

South Central Louisiana Proud by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Going home to Eunice, Louisiana for Daddy’s funeral memorial was a humid, eye-opening experience. We rented a small wooden house on 4th Street, two blocks from my grandma’s extra-large home on 2nd Street, the place I visited Grandma and Stel almost everyday of my childhood, the place Momma and Dad moved into after Grandma died.

I don’t know when I will return to Eunice; however, I had an epiphany that weekend – I truly appreciate the place I grew up in. I am South-central Louisiana proud. 

I love a place where the woman who measures out my two pounds of morning boudin asks, “You want that cut, Boo?” and a priest says, “The Body of Christ, Cha,” during communion. 

I love Rita, the tiny Cajun in Fred’s Lounge in Mamou who greets people at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings for the live Cajun radio broadcast and asks “Who’s your momma, hon?” Then she points to a bald man named Barry who plays the triangle for the band. “That’s my son,” Rita says holding her spiral notebook and Bic pen for signing in visitors. “He’s brain damaged, ya know.” I love how Rita later grabs my niece Jessica’s hand when the old me launch into their first French Cajun song, and the dancers two-step around the band that plays in the center of the tiny bar where the dusty, cracked framed photos on the walls and the tattered hand-lettered signs have not changed for over 50 years.

I love the sign outside Ronnie’s Cajun Cafe in Eunice (formerly the E-Z Shop Grocery) that lists the day’s plate lunch choices on a marquee: meatballs with rice and gravy, liver and onions, or backbone stew.

I love our local choices for damn good boudin: Eunice Superette Slaughter House, T-Boys, and my favorite- Eunice Poultry.

I love the new Clovis Crawfish statue (modeled after my dad’s illustrations for Mary Alice Fontenot’s book Clovis Crawfish and his Friends in 1961) set in front of the Eunice Depot Museum and the metal sign for the Reginald Keller Tennis Courts, even though everyone in town will always refer to them as the Fairgrounds Courts because they were built in a huge field where floats gathered before starting their homecoming or Mardi Gras parades.  

Most of all, I love the Queen Cinema that felt like a ghost town when Gary, Evan, and I walked there for a Saturday matinee. The guys chose a horror movie, but I headed into a small empty theater (the Queen now has three separate screens) with my popcorn and Dr. Pepper to watch In the Heights. I enjoyed a private screening in the picture show that Grandma Keller owned once, a place where my sisters and I saw almost every movie in the 1960’s and early 1970’s and we worked in the concession stand. My brother Emile was an usher and projectionist.

I shared a cool moment with the young girls working there. They were outside putting up a movie poster for the upcoming James Bond flick and moved inside to sell us our tickets and then went up the steps to the concession area to fix our movie snacks. I told them I once worked there and asked if the very yellow popcorn was fresh. They assured me it had just been popped and let me rattle on about my picture show connections. The fresh faced girls wore uniforms from a national theater chain, and there was a clear plastic cup for tips in front of the cash register. Other than that, the Queen Cinema felt the same.

For me, a cool dark movie theater on a hot afternoon is perfection. That Saturday I felt close to Grandma, to my parents, to my siblings, and to my hometown. The Queen Cinema was like coming home.

Eunice ain’t perfect or pretty – racism and sexism share space with spicy food and devout religion. A massive Wal-Mart claims the land my childhood home once stood on. Failed businesses like Jimbos dot the highway and give the town a tired look. But the Mosaic Coffee Shop, just a half-block from the Queen, has survived and LSU-Eunice keeps expanding.

At sixteen I felt embarrassed to say I lived in a small town in south central Louisiana. I preferred the congested streets and “sophistication” of Lafayette.  Getting away from old people who spoke French and the predictability of the noon whistle and the town’s prejudice had me straining to get to LSU in Baton Rouge as soon as possible.

For so many years I did not anticipate driving home to Eunice. It was an obligation, a responsibility to visit my parents (and a chance to buy a box of LeJeune’s pork/garlic sausage). Eunice’s small town charms eluded me. Its fierce mosquitos and slow motion pace had me planning my escape right after I got my fill of Momma’s cooking and Daddy’s jokes.

Now I claim my south central Louisiana roots. The spicy boudin, the rich farmland, KBon’s zydeco and Cajun playlist, and the residents’ straight-forward, tell-it-like-it-is attitude are things I’m proud of. The relentless humidity matches the strong, firm hugs and raucous laughter I share with cousins and friends from across south Louisiana. Cajuns are tough and brave and practice unapologetic honesty. I hope to forever be grateful I grew up with more cousins than I could count, rice & gravy and gumbo, a bi-lingual place with traditions that grab us when we’re little and keep most of us coming home for music festivals and Cajun cook-offs. When I drive from Texas and exit the interstate I call I-Tense onto the two-lane Highway 97 that runs through Evangeline and Iota, I smile when I see flooded rice fields full of crawfish nets and I smell those piney woods I call home.

Shane, Catherine, and Casey on our way to Eunice, Louisiana

Posted in Cajuns, Mothers

Poulette by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Geraldine Latour (aka Poulette)

Momma’s nickname was Poulette (Cajun for lil’ chicken) because she was always pecking around, picking up, cleaning, cooking, just forever in motion.  I remember Momma with a dishrag always in her hand, ready to clean any surface she passed. One of my favorite Poulette memories involves a hibou (Cajun for owl).  

I was in high school and awoke in the middle of the night to strange sounds from the front of the house. I crept down our long hall towards rustling clinks and clatters in the kitchen. Was someone fixing a midnight snack? I froze mid-step when I saw a three-foot brown and white owl perched in our kitchen sink. It settled its wings and met my open-mouthed stare with a slow blink and a freeze-tag pose. 

Like a first grader, I ran back down the hall to my parents’ bedroom.

I entered the dark room and said,“Hey! There’s an owl in the kitchen!” in a loud whisper as if embarrassed to utter such an unlikely statement.

  Dad raised his head to ask,“Wha?  Huh?”

“For real! An owl’s in our kitchen,” I said.

Daddy shook his head, lay back down, and rolled over.  

  But Momma was already putting her robe on and coming my way. 

“A hibou? Let’s go,” she said. 

We held hands as we walked down our long hall past bedrooms where my siblings slept and stopped at the orange Formica wall-mounted kitchen table four yards from the kitchen sink to have a staring contest with the owl. We now clutched each other’s forearm and accepted the reality of what we saw. The owl sat content in the spotless, stainless steel sink below a clean window with blue flowered curtains. Momma and I took measured breaths as if we were about to duck underwater for a long swim. Then she let go of my arm and tiptoed to the laundry room to the left of our kitchenette table. I headed back through the den to open our heavy back door. We had wordlessly planned to shoo the owl outside.  

Poulette emerged from the laundry room holding a broom like a long spear as she slowly advanced toward the kitchen sink. Her strategy was to scare the owl towards the opened door and sweep him outside. A sensible plan until my blind cat Cupid dashed inside just as Poulette raised her broom spear toward the hibou. I screamed because I believed the owl would attack Cupid. Momma changed direction and hurried to the door. Her rule of “No pets in the house!” had been broken!

Chat! Chat!” she yelled and tried to sweep my cat outside. Cupid dashed underneath the den’s couch thrilled and amazed to be indoors.

The owl watched our shenanigans without moving a feather. Momma stood next to me as I held the door open and she tapped the floor with the end of her broom handle like it was a sentinel’s staff, as angry at the cat for getting inside as she was annoyed to have an owl in her kitchen.

Momma with her kids, (Kelly, Gayle, Ginger & Emile)1960

We sighed in unison just as the owl decided to spread its incredible wings and fly toward us. Momma’s broom went under-the-arm and we hightailed it toward the living room.

Mon dieu!” said Momma while I let out an extended scream and forgot about my hiding cat. The owl calmly settled on a foot stool next to the sofa and became a statue again. 

We clutched forearms again.With our backs now against the front door, we suddenly had the same idea: Open both front and back doors to create a draft! 

So I opened the back door while Poulette turned the broom into a lance and headed back to the den and her hibou adversary. I noticed the broom’s bristles shake when I followed her and hid behind the fully opened back door and peeped out to watch the confrontation.  

Momma and me, 1959

My 5’ 2”, 100 pound mom, who shrieked and hid when she saw a tiny lizard, was now a warrior.  Her broom became Excalibur and she swung it above her head before thrusting it straight at her opponent. The owl had been looking longingly out the huge picture window in the den, but it now did that slow creepy head turn as Poulette advanced. 

With her broom sword ten inches in front of the owl, Poulette yelled, “Shoo! Shoo!” Then she lowered her weapon to sweep the air around its feet. The owl blinked twice, opened his wings, and smoothly flew out the back door as I cheered from my hiding place. Poulette whooped and alternated wielding her broom like a sword and sweeping the doorway.

“We did it!” I bragged as we hugged and danced by the door.  

“What a big hibou!” Momma declared.  

“But not too big for a poulette with a broom,” I said. 

She hugged me again and said, “ Cha, I need to sit down.” So we rested in the kitchen, took deep breaths, and laughed.

We never did find out how the owl made its way into our house. Maybe it was stunned or slightly hurt and a strong wind blew the back door open, so it coasted in. Maybe some prankster put it in our house. It stayed in our backyard in one of our live oak trees for an hour before taking flight and leaving us.

The Hibou event became part of our family folklore, an unsolved mystery.  However, one part of that story holds no mystery whatsoever: Momma Poulette had heroic bravery when it came to protecting her “chicks.”  Years later she may have no longer rushed about the house cleaning and organizing her family’s lives and ended up in a wheelchair before she passed away in 2015. But whenever she looked at me with her crystal-blue eyes and gave me her pure-love smile, I still saw the Poulette spark and remembered how she handled that hibou that weird pre-dawn morning.

Momma Poulette, 2012

Posted in Cajuns, Family, Food

Louisiana Gold by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Champagne’s grocery store in Eunice, Louisiana keeps the fresh crawfish tails in a special cooler in the back that customers don’t have access to. At the check-out you tell the cashier how many pounds of crawfish you want and they go to the “vault” in the back and return with your treasure. Before they ring up the pricey seafood, they count each of the crawfish packets in front of you.

Boiled Crawfish from Slim’s Spoon in Austin, Texas at Thicket Food Park

“You wanted four pounds: one, two, three, four.”

And they bag them as if you’re at a bank where the teller counts your stack of twenty dollar bills.

(I dramatically imagine this is what a big drug deal is like. “Three kilos of cocaine: one, two, three.”)

When I first witnessed this transaction, I asked the cashier why they did it this way.

“Had to,” she said. “Folks would get home with their crawfish and call us and claim they’d paid for four pounds, but we gave ‘em only three.”

I nodded and thought, “Fresh crawfish tails are like gold or diamonds  – precious, expensive, and hard to get.” They’re only available a few months a year and are mostly found in south Louisiana.

Crawfish, like small lobsters, have a rich sweetness that reminds me of being eight-years-old, barefoot on a May afternoon when I felt at home with myself and my family. My biggest worries involved sister fights and what sins I’d need to own up to once a week at school when the nuns led our class to that week’s Confession session. (Was it a sin when I made up a few extra sins because all I could think of was ‘I talked back to my mom’ or ‘I lied to my sisters’?)

I had not become fully aware of my cerebral palsy yet, and I didn’t realize the embarrassment of my left-leg limp or my left-arm crookedness. I played freeze tag with my friends and cousins. I bossed around my little sisters, and I believed my parents had more admirable traits than bad ones. Life was good! I took rice and gravy dinners and Friday fried catfish for granted.

However, I knew crawfish was special! Our huge Good Friday boil was one of the year’s biggest Keller family events. And crawfish etouffee was reserved for company from out-of-state or a wedding rehearsal’s supper or St Edmund’s Spring Fair.

I grew up around great Cajun cooks: my momma, Grandma’s hired help – Lee Ester Anderson and later Vivian Hill, my Uncle Jake, and a long list of Eunice ladies I knew. They cooked the Cajun Country way. “First you make a roux…” “Use the Holy Trinity: onions, bell pepper, and celery.”  “Add green onions and parsley at the end.”  “Cook until done.”

I didn’t start cooking like a Cajun until I moved to Texas and missed the gumbos and sauce piquantes. I had Mercedes Vidrine’s Louisiana Lagniappe cookbook that was really four combined books ( Beaucoup Bon, Quelque Chose Piquante, Quelque Chose de Douce, and Joyeux Noel). I practiced and used the best ingredients: LeJuene’s garlic pork sausage and crawfish tails from south Louisiana when I could get them.

My favorite crawfish etouffee recipe was read to me over the phone by Momma. A friend from her bouree card games had shared it with her. 

I like it because the crawfish tails are boss and do all the talking in that recipe. There’s not a roux or fancy veggies like mushrooms or asparagus trying to steal some of the attention. The recipe begins with the holy trinity cooked in a half stick of butter, and later you add a bit of white wine, the crawfish, some parsley and “C’est tout!” Of course, you use your favorite spice mix. I use Slap Ya’ Momma, partly because it’s made in Ville Platte and that’s where Momma’s from, but it also has the right amount of cayenne pepper. I have made this recipe for birthdays, Easter brunch, and special guests who visit us. 

This past week our good friend Della was in the hospital and going through scary procedures and tests, and when I asked her what she needed, she answered, “Some of your crawfish etouffee.” I was thrilled to see her eat two servings from her hospital bed when we were allowed to visit.

Cooking good food for the best people I know brings me true joy. And when that food is part of my Cajun upbringing, the joy doubles and does backflips.  Our Louisiana motto is, “Lassiez les bon temps rouler!” and that advice usually involves people dancing, laughing, and drinking. It also involves a big Magnalite pot simmering on a stove.  

My best memories are times spent in my grandma’s kitchen (which later became my momma and dad’s kitchen) where people of all ages crowded together to tell Thibodeaux & Boudreaux jokes and exaggerated stories while they ate good food. Whether we had Louisiana gold like fresh crawfish or strong coffee and hot bouldin, it all tasted better because we shared it with those we loved. 

Posted in Cajuns

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 Cajuns, Friendship

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.

Posted in Cajuns, Friendship, Grandmother

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.

mama joe1
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, Grandmother

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