Posted in Caring for others, Children, Dancing, fathers and daughters, Gratitude

Dancing with Daddy by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Dancing with Daddydancing with daddy1

That cliched image of a small girl’s feet atop her daddy’s dress shoes as he dances with her captures my relationship with my dad.

I am the oldest of 3 daughters of a demanding father. He has that “you don’t ask ‘why’ when he tells you to jump; you say ‘how high?’” attitude toward parenting. My sisters and older brother and I grew up with a protective mom who gave us warnings like, “You better be quiet; Daddy’s napping” or “You don’t want me to tell your daddy about this!”

However, his stern demeanor was often overpowered by his protective love and boundless generosity, especially for me, a kid who was different.

I have cerebral palsy, and my left side is smaller and weaker. I walk with a limp and have very limited use of my crooked left arm. Still, Daddy always told me I could do whatever my brother and sisters did. So I took swimming lessons, rode our Shetland pony, played kickball, softball, and a bit of basketball. And since we were a tennis-obsessed family, Dad even taught me an under-handed (but still legal) serve so I could play in tournaments.

His insistence for me to not let my disability constrain me gave me a cock-eyed view of reality. I believed I could do anything and thus I tried everything my siblings did. Not until high school did real life pull off that Dad-created self-assurance when a strict nun yanked me out of typing class because she realized I was typing with only my right hand. So like an episode of Malcolm in the Middle when the mom Lois watches a video of herself and sadly realizes she can’t dance gracefully like she thought she could, I began to see I was bumbling my way through most physical endeavors.

dear daddy

 

With the awkwardness and self-doubt of adolescence, I became more hesitant and shy although I did continue to play on the school’s tennis team and to excel in French which I took instead of typing. So however skewed my self-image had been, Daddy still instilled enough confidence in me so that I believed him when he said, “Go ahead and dive into the deep end of that pool”; “Get on that pony and ride bare-back”; “Climb that tree and grab the rope swing”; “Keep your knees bent and hold tight to that water-ski rope”; “Serve to her backhand and you’ll win that tennis match.”

So thank you, Daddy, for guiding me down life’s bumpy gravel roads and through the dark halls of loss and pain. Your unwavering belief in me and your support when I clung to your belt loop as you glided me across Grandma’s big living room floor have been enough for me to believe in what I can do more than what I can’t.

Love,

Ginger

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.

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 Caring for others, Children, Friendship, I love you, Parents, Poems Matter

Poems to Ponder by Ginger Keller Gannaway

For April, National Poetry Month, I offer you a few Poems to Ponder:lake house

  1. “I Spy Babies” by Shane Gannaway (my son)

    shaner
    Shane Gannaway
  2. “Spring and Fall”  by Gerard Manly Hopkins (probably my favorite poem)
  3. “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes (strong advice read by Viola Davis & the poet!)
  4. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost (in memory of poet philosopher Ric Fox)nothing Gold can stay
  5. Hearts Under a Microscope by Gary Gannaway“Tis true. Science says it’s so.
    Each heart muscle cell
    Beats to its own rhythm.
    Under a microscope
    It looks like a tiny heart,
    And it sounds likeYour heart Your heartpoem love
    Your heart Your heart.Put another heart muscle cell
    Onto the same slide.
    And it will beat to its own
    Independent rhythm,
    And it sounds like

    Heart my Heart my
    Heart my Heart my.

    Once the cells touch,
    A miracle occurs.
    The two cells begin to beat as one,
    And they sound like

    Your heart My heart
    Your heart My heart
    Our heart Our heart
    Our heart Our heart.

    ‘Tis true. Science says it’s so.(Valentine’s Day, 2010)

    “Shoulders”  (cool class video)by Naomi Shihab Nye ( what the world needs now)

  6. Shoulders
    A man crosses the street in rain,
    stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
    because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

    No car must splash him.
    No car drive too near to his shadow.

    This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
    but he’s not marked.
    Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
    HANDLE WITH CARE.

    His ear fills up with breathing.
    He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
    deep inside him.

    We’re not going to be able
    to live in this world
    if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
    with one another.

    The road will only be wide.
    The rain will never stop falling.

    poem1

Posted in Caring for others, Children, Friendship, Introspection, Parents

Soul Sister (a.k.a. Cousin Gina) by Ginger Keller Gannaway

“Soul” Sister (a.k.a. Cousin Gina)

gina 3
Gina and I in Panama City, 1960

 

     We were walking along a Pensacola beach around 8 a.m., after coffee and before the rest of the folks got up. We aimed to walk to the distant pier and talked nonstop the whole way.  Like evenly-matched tennis players, we served and volleyed kid woes back and forth. “He sneaks out the house so often, we have to hide our car keys now.”  “Her grades have dropped ‘cause she skips all the time.” “His room reeks of pot.”  “I hear ya’!” 

     Somehow letting go of our tales of angst gives us a kind of inner release.  We offer the worry and fear up to the sun, the waves, the breeze, and we become free to laugh out loud. Gina and I totally “get” each other, and for two hours we feel better.  On the walk back to our beach-front rental, we even rush into the surf for a quick swim and more laughter as we jump and dive into the waves. Like a couple of kids!

     Gina is my first cousin and my “soul” sister.  Even though she lived an hour away from my hometown, we saw each other often growing-up.  We shared every Keller family reunion or big holiday party at Grandma’s house for sure.  Also, we had full weeks at a time during the summer when we visited each other’s homes or went to our Indian Village camp with Grandma and Stella.

     During the 1980’s we got married and raised our kids in different states.  We didn’t spend long visits together, yet later we grabbed summer getaways when we both became public school teachers. In 1998 and 2010 we even took trips to NYC to visit my sister Gayle and sightsee and reconnect.  Gina and I snap back together easily, no matter how long we have been apart.  We share our Cajun culture, our Keller connection, and our childhood memories, and our family tragedies. Gina is  a close cousin, a trusted friend, a wise woman, a spiritual guide, and my soul sister.  She has a wit like a whip, yet it’s made of purple yarn or silly string. Her sarcasm is swift, yet stingless.  And we share a deep, honest love of movies that began in 1968 when we were both enchanted by Funny Girl.  Walking from Grandma’s to the Saturday matinees at the Liberty and then returning to sneak cigarettes while Grandma napped were big teenage moments for me.  We also worked in the theater’s concession stand and played tennis, went swimming, and obsessed over cute boys to fill the lazy summer days with good times.

     Throughout the sad, sad times and the glory days, humor has helped hold us together.  Two years ago we shared a weekend in Galveston at her sister Dana’s beach house, and while attempting to take a selfie, Gina and I laughed so hard tears ran down our cheeks as we fought to keep the other bodily liquid from running down our legs!

     Now she and I even have similar living situations. My 89-year-old dad lives with me, and Gina lives with her 87-year-old mom (my dad’s sister). So Gina and I chat and commiserate and explain and laugh over phone calls.  We still “get” each other, and as we face family challenges, we share sorrows and successes and above all we laugh.  Gina is a devoted daughter, a mighty mother, and a strong Grandma GiGi.  Time with Gina is always honest and often hysterical. It can be gut-wrenching and still stay golden.  We connect easily, strongly, and soulfully.

gina2
Gina, Gayle, me, Andrew, Yvette in Pensecola (2009)
Posted in Caring for others, Children, I love you, Letting Go, Parenting, Parents

Hold on. Let go.A Parent’s Balancing Act by Ginger Keller Gannaway

 Hold On. Let balancing-act-momGo: A Parent’s Balancing Act
Remember. I must remember this. It’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m dropping my three-year-old Evan off at LaLa’s Home Daycare. Since I’m running late for work, I ask Evan to “be a big boy” and walk in by himself. We hug and kiss in the car. “O.K., Momma.” He walks to LaLa’s door, stops, waves, and throws me kisses. Evan will be o.k.holding-on-momLetting go of our kids, whether we’re dropping them off at daycare or telling them to call a tow truck when they’re stranded on a highway on their way to work, is a precarious balancing act. At first, we hold our infants so, so close. Those first few years our babies cry and reach for and only want their mommas. And, for the most part, mothers love being wanted. But soon parenting becomes a balancing act. Kids start to naturally pull away from the pampering and pestering, and just as naturally parents struggle with giving up control of these beings we “brought into this world.” From letting go of a tiny hand as my child takes his very first steps to letting go from an extra-tight hug when I leave that same son at his college dorm, I feel both excited and worried for my kid. As my mind pushes my three sons into independence, my heart aches to clutch them close and pat their heads.
Now Evan is 23, and I often pull up that sweet memory at LaLa’s. It’s a cold, gray day. Evan’s dressed in blue: blue sweat suit, blue jean jacket, steel blue knit cap pulled down over his ears. He takes his thumb out of his mouth, hops down from his carseat, and heads towards LaLa’s door. He’s all smiles, walking backwards, and throwing me kisses all the way down the driveway. Freeze-frame on that face. The smile that lights a universe. Those pudgy hands sending kisses my way. Those sweet cheeks and honest eyes that go down at the corners. I’ll hold tight to that sight, that face, that flood of love forever.
Next, I contrast that beautiful balance of holding close and letting go with last Wednesday when I attempted to help Shane, my 29-year-old, with his car. Shane’s car had stranded him on Hwy. 360 at 5:22 p.m. The thermostat was running extra hot while the engine was refusing to go faster than 45 mph. Now I know nothing about cars and I fear Shane knows less. I drove out to help him, and after he and I fumbled our way through adding a ton of coolant in what we hoped was the right receptor, he gingerly drove the wounded vehicle to his place while I nervously followed behind. Early Thursday morning Shane drove the still hot-running car to our longtime mechanic, and I met him there to give him a ride to work. Shane looked broken when he got into my CRV. Our mechanic had kicked Shane’s down-for-the-count ego to the curb for not towing his car to the garage the day before. There was talk of blowing a gasket or throwing a rod. Shane’s not-yet-paid-for car might be headed to the salvage yard.
“My life already sucks and now THIS!” he said.
“What, besides the car crap, sucks?”
“Well, there’s the fact that I got laid-off two weeks ago.”
“TWO WEEKS AGO!? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“ ‘Cause I knew you’d go berserk and stress me out even more.”
“Well…uh..maybe I could help. I could send you job leads or…”
“No! No! That’s not what- .”
“But I just wanna hel- .”
The rest of the conversation included unfair accusations, teary confessions, and probably some alternative facts. I inwardly told the mothering monster inside my head to, “Back off, bitch!” and the last five minutes of our car ride were a heavy, heavy silence. That day’s morning sunshine mocked our mother/son sadness. Later that day I texted Shane an apology mixed with a pithy proclamation of my love for him.
Why, oh, why doesn’t parenting get easier as we get older and wiser? Why can’t I, an English teacher, communicate with Shane, my English/ Communications graduate son?
I pull my boys in. I try to control. I say I want only to protect and serve my sons. I also want to watch my sons grow and prosper and succeed in life – in their own lives, that is. “Ay, there’s the rub.” Letting go of a kid (even in his 20’s or 30’s or 40’s…) can be like that part of the roller coaster ride when the coaster is at its highest peak, and I look at the straight-down track before the ride goes down, down, down with seemingly out-of-control speed. I LOVE that moment! I’m racing down a rickety track and my stomach jumps into my throat and I scream like a lunatic: a thrilling yet frightening sound! And for about 33 seconds I’m screaming and laughing all at once, and I don’t take a normal breath until the coaster slows and confidently ends where it began. So, seeing my kid scale a mountain or jump off a cliff (both literal and figurative ones) makes me shut my eyes and go, “Please God, please God, please God!” Then I later feel a wild and wonderful wave of relief when I open my eyes and behold my son’s full-body smile. mom-at-lunch-with-boys
Now when I recall my thumb-sucking Evan at age 3, the memory may morph into a bespectacled, bearded Evan at age 23 or blend into a poet/comic Shane, age 29 or a daredevil Casey, age 26. And the older Evan tells me not to “take it personal” when he or his brothers don’t answer my too-frequent texts or have time for dinner on Tuesday, a visit with Papa on Wednesday, a Netflix movie on Thursday, or a play date with our dog Millie on Friday night. My sons, like me, have their own lives. They’re ok. I’m ok. “Let be.”

Posted in Aging process, Caring for others, Old Age, Uncategorized

Home

man-1050524_1280

It will happen to all of us, this aging process.  If we are ‘lucky’ enough, we will grow old and eventually need more care, possibly more care than our families can provide.  This is a part of life.

 

Perhaps, we are the ones making choices for our loved ones.  We are making decisions on where to live and how to be cared for.  “This is your new home,” we say.  

 

I see it in their eyes and feel it in the atmosphere; “This is not my home.” they think.  Oh, some people adjust, like Auntie Sue.  She was positive, grateful and kind no matter her circumstance; no matter where she was.  But it is hard for others.  It’s not familiar or comfortable…it doesn’t sound like home or smell like home.  “My heart is not here,” they think.  “I want to go home.”

 

I don’t have a response or even an alternative suggestion; I wish I did.  For it is not always possible to give our loved ones the answers they want.  So, we dig deep into our souls and bring out our bowels of compassion, love and care.  We remember the dignity of others.  We respect privacy and requests for certain things….familiar things.  We do the best we can.

 

Yes, it will happen to all of us, this aging process; if we are ‘lucky’.

 

Posted in Caring for others, Children, Dancing, fathers and daughters, Gratitude

Dancing with Daddy by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Dancing with Daddydancing with daddy1

That cliched image of a small girl’s feet atop her daddy’s dress shoes as he dances with her captures my relationship with my dad.
I am the oldest of 3 daughters of a demanding father. He has that “you don’t ask ‘why’ when he tells you to jump; you say ‘how high?’” attitude toward parenting. My sisters and older brother and I grew up with a protective mom who gave us warnings like, “You better be quiet; Daddy’s napping” or “You don’t want me to tell your daddy about this!”
However, his stern demeanor was often overpowered by his protective love and boundless generosity, especially for me, a kid who was different.
I have cerebral palsy, and my left side is smaller and weaker. I walk with a limp and have very limited use of my crooked left arm. Still, Daddy always told me I could do whatever my brother and sisters did. So I took swimming lessons, rode our Shetland pony, played kickball, softball, and a bit of basketball. And since we were a tennis-obsessed family, Dad even taught me an under-handed (but still legal) serve so I could play in tournaments.

His insistence for me to not let my disability constrain me gave me a cock-eyed view of reality. I believed I could do anything and thus I tried everything my siblings did. Not until high school did real life pull off that Dad-created self-assurance when a strict nun yanked me out of typing class because she realized I was typing with only my right hand. So like an episode of Malcolm in the Middle when the mom Lois watches a video of herself and sadly realizes she can’t dance gracefully like she thought she could, I began to see I was bumbling my way through most physical endeavors.

dear daddy
My dad, Reginald Keller, and me, 1961

 

With the awkwardness and self-doubt of adolescence, I became more hesitant and shy although I did continue to play on the school’s tennis team and to excel in French which I took instead of typing. So however skewed my self-image had been, Daddy still instilled enough confidence in me so that I believed him when he said, “Go ahead and dive into the deep end of that pool”; “Get on that pony and ride bare-back”; “Climb that tree and grab the rope swing”; “Keep your knees bent and hold tight to that water-ski rope”; “Serve to her backhand and you’ll win that tennis match.”
So thank you, Daddy, for guiding me down life’s bumpy gravel roads and through the dark halls of loss and pain. Your unwavering belief in me and your support when I clung to your belt loop as you glided me across Grandma’s big living room floor have been enough for me to believe in what I can do more than what I can’t.

Love,
Ginger