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 Children, Gratitude, Mothers, Parenting, Parents

Love Never Fails

 

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Photograph by Nancy Malcolm

Love Never Fails:    
It’s hard to be a mother.  It’s gut-wrenching and heart-warming all at the same time.  Most of us begin motherhood with rose-colored glasses and sheer determination to be the best parent we can be.  We weave in and out of relationship advice, popularity contests, homework, and allowance.  But, sometimes our idealistic dream is shattered when our child has a life-altering accident, unwanted pregnancy or time in rehab.

In 2001 as the Twin Towers were burning, my heart was aflame with fear and uncertainty.  My youngest child had just gone to rehab for substance abuse.  I was so afraid for her future, and I was overcome with grief.  I never envisioned that the child I loved so much would one day become unrecognizable, foreign even to herself.  I did not wish for this compulsion or plan for it as I would a college fund.  Still, it was our reality….tough and raw.

I’ve always been skeptical of those parents who say their children are perfect. Or that ‘everything’s great! She’s my best friend.’  I felt guilty and ashamed that I had failed my job as a mother.  How could this happen to my child?  At times I cried myself to sleep at night because I loved her so deeply.

While my friends were sending out college graduation announcements for their children, I was celebrating the fact that my daughter had found a job on the bus route. While other kids her age were out partying, she was struggling not to and making a meeting every day. I was proud of her in ways other parents might never understand.

This beautiful child of mine turned 23 years old in rehab.  None of us could have predicted how her life would be today…..16 years clean and sober, teaching school and being a wonderful mother to my grandson. Our lives are full of gratitude.

There are a few of us who have walked the path of booby traps and detours, not wanting to look down, trying always to look up.  We carry our children over the land mines if we can, but if they must face the struggle themselves, we carry them in our hearts.  This too shall pass, we silently repeat, wanting to believe it with all of our beings.  We work hard to remember that ‘love’ will see them through.  Love is determined not to give up on even the hardest case.

Love never fails.

 

Posted in Children, Fathers, fathers and daughters, Friendship, Growing up, Memories, Outdoors

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bangberry* Ride (*Banbury Cross)

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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 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 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 Children, Pets

Muffy

 

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Muffy:      When my youngest daughter was twelve, we went to the pound to find a puppy.  A man met us as we came in and offered to show us around and tell us about the available pups.  We hardly noticed the tiny ball of fur tucked in the crook of his arm.

As we walked from cage to cage, we mentally scored each dog…too big, too small, too old, not cute, too much hair etc.  After seeing each dog probably more than twice, I told my youngest, that perhaps today was not the day for a new puppy.  The man casually said, “Well, of course, there is this little guy, “ as he held up the black and white fur ball in his arms.  “His family moved away and left him.  He does have a little issue with his right paw, but…..”, and he handed him to my daughter.  I won’t say it was love at first sight, but close!  She looked at me, I looked at the puppy, we both looked at the man and said, “We love him!  We want him!”

Before we took him home, the worker explained, “You see here?  This little guy has an extra paw on his right foot.  He might have been hurt or maybe born that way, but he should be just fine.”  I think he was named before we left the parking lot…’Muffo’ was ours!  All ours!

I won’t say Muffo was perfect in every other way, but almost.  Moving into an all-female household, his name quickly morphed into “Muffy”.  I don’t know why, but it did.  Some of our family and friends refused to call him Muffy, so he had other nicknames like Murphy or Mufster.  But, Muffy was a ‘metro-sexual’ male and didn’t mind the girly name!  He was secure in who he was.

 

Muffy was loyal, sweet, good natured and calm.  We babied him and loved him for 13 years.  He was an endless source of laughter, stories, and entertainment.  Sadly, as time went on, not only was his extra appendage more prominent, he developed cataracts and became blind.  He adjusted very well to his loss of sight, but there was this once…….

I had finally been able to afford new den furniture and so we gave away the old and had a two-day window until the new couch arrived.  On this day, I opened the back door to let Muffy in and as was his practice, he jogged to the den to leap up on the couch for a nap.  It was slow motion…..as I shut the door, turned and saw Muffy in mid air….aiming for his usual spot on the couch, which was NOT there.  Thud!  I always did feel terrible about that, but how could I have explained, what he could not see?

When Muffy knew you were eating something delicious and he was not, he would sit up, balanced on his hind legs, and hold his wounded, extra paw with his good front paw, and quietly beg.  He was never pushy or loud, but he always got our sympathy with his pitiful little beg and two paw wave.

Muffy was with us through thick and thin; holidays; vacations; moving cross country; and empty nesting.  I never felt lonely as long as he was around.

Muffy was the OG of K-town and the NKOTB in Austin….he was the epitome of a perfect pet.  Charming, cute beyond words, sensitive because of his handicaps, loyal and an excellent judge of character.  In fact, 15 years ago, Muffy convinced me that my then boyfriend would make a great husband…and he was right.  Muffy knew a good person when he met one.

Our Muffy was agreeable but not a pushover; caring but not overbearing.  He was precious and we loved him.  In fact, everyone who knew Muffy, loved him.  Afterall, wouldn’t we all love to be admired like that?  He had it all and more!  There will never be another Muffy!

We love you Muffy and miss you terribly!  RIP little guy!

 

Posted in Children, School, Teaching

Pinball Classes by Ginger Gannaway

pinball 1

I tell my high school kids that I stopped teaching middle school because I was tired of students falling out of their desks for no apparent reason.  No shoves or outside forces were involved.  I could look up from taking roll and a typical 7th grade boy would suddenly be seized by an unexplainable spasm and be half on the floor, half in his seat as he struggled to hold on to his pencil.

I suppose between the sudden hormonal changes and the powerful mood swings these 11 to 13-year-olds lost control of their own bodies and their minds as well.

While teaching for 15 years in Texas middle schools, every day was like spending time in a Louisiana casino.  Full of annoying sounds and ever-changing emotions!  Each class was a crap shoot or a sudden spin of a roulette wheel.  You never knew what you were gonna get, and at the end of the day you either felt like a lucky winner or a huge loser.

Maybe managing a middle school felt more like being a steel ball in a pinball machine.  As the school bell rang, I’d spin out onto the playing field where I’d bump from one desk to another while a variety of issues and voices would light up the board.  From the front of the class to the middle row and then to the back left corner, the class’s demands and emotions would pop and sling me from one ding to the next ping.  Questions like flippers would hurl me around the room as personalities clashed and kids played slap/ tickle.  At the end of the period, I’d be swept down the machine’s drain, only to have the spring-loaded rod pull back and send me spinning onto the next class’s playing field of slingshots and ramps and bumpers and kickers.

So, so many different kids were part of the pinball machine; however, one student I’ll always remember was Victoria.  What a bold, loud, and commanding presence she was!  Whether  Victoria was trying to get a friend’s attention by throwing a pencil at his head or trying to finish writing a personal narrative by demanding, “Miss!  Make those ‘fruit bowls’ behind me shut up!” she made herself known.

One afternoon another student, Sonya, particularly pissed-off Victoria, and the two girls started yelling at each other from across the room of my rickety portable building.  My feeble efforts to calm the girls down completely failed when Sonya lunged at Victoria after Sonya’s friend Amos urged her to “Get the bitch!”  The noise quickly drew my next door teacher neighbor ( and former Army sergeant) Mr. Samuels into my room.  Mr. Samuels grabbed Sonya while I ushered Victoria to the back corner of the room.  As Sonya proudly displayed  a tangled yard of braided hair in the air the same way Beowulf victoriously held up Grendel’s bloody arm, Victoria grabbed the last word and exclaimed, “Give me my weave back, Bitch!  I paid good money for that!”

Sad to say, I remember another fight that broke out one day when Mr. Samuels had taken his class on a field trip.

This time two boys had decided to take their mutual dislike of one another to the “who’s the alpha dog here?” level.  In a typical 7th grade class two simple words may be all it takes to set off a “throw down.”  On this day during Sustained Silent Reading time, Randy had motioned to Sarah to look over at Josh (the football team’s star tackle) who was moving his lips as he read his Goosebumps novel.  Sarah noticed what Randy wanted her to see, and the mean-spirited boy loudly whispered, “Jumbo Dumbo!” loud enough for several kids AND Josh to hear.  In an instant, Josh was out of his seat and had overturned Randy’s desk. The class erupted into a welcomed frenzy that ended their SRR.  Soon others were moving desks around to create a fighting ring, as my loud demands to “Come on! Cut it out!” were drowned out by, “FIGHT! FIGHT!  FIGHT!”

Now slimy Randy was no fighter , so he actually picked up his desk and held it in front of himself like a shield.  Josh just smiled and swatted the desk out of Randy’s shaking hands.

As much as I wished Randy would get the comeuppance he deserved (He was a habitual liar, cheater, slacker, instigator, and all-around jerk), I knew his blood would ultimately be on my hands, so I frantically used the class landline to call for help.

Even though Randy started to try some ridiculous Tai Kwon Do moves, Josh had a smirk on his lips and hate in his eyes as he moved in for the pummeling.

Then out of nowhere Victoria jumped off the ground and onto Josh’s back! (Did I mention she was a big-boned girl?) She actually had Josh in a headlock.  “Ms. G, don’t worry! I got him!” she exclaimed.  “I got ’em!”  I think the unexpectedness of my rescuer’s actions caught most of the room by surprise.  Two of Josh’s teammates lost their mob mentality and helped Victoria subdue Josh.  I quickly got Sarah to take Randy outside on the portable’s porch, and within minutes the school’s SRO arrived to help contain the situation.

Now, Victoria may not have been an A-student or an eager writer or a lover of literature, but that day she proved a strong asset in my chaotic pinball class.  The moment of that chokehold told me Victoria was ultimately on my side and she became one of my most trusted and respected middle school allies in education!

Posted in Children, Introspection, jobs, School, Teaching

What Teaching Kindergarten Taught Me

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What Teaching Kindergarten Taught Me:

My teaching career spanned seventeen years.  Ten years teaching high school and seven years teaching kindergarten.  The chasm is not as deep or wide between the two as you might think because a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old have similar behaviors and thought processes.

Some of my most fun and also frightening teaching memories came from my precious kinder kiddos.  The first year I made the switch from high school to kindergarten, I was constantly wondering why.  Why do these kids not stay seated when I ask them to?  Why can’t they line up in a straight line?  The answer was easy….those were two skills I needed to teach them.  Who knew?  As I quickly learned, the first month of kindergarten is solely dedicated to learning processes, systems, and procedures.  How to line up, how to make it to the bathroom on time, and how to work together safely and without a meltdown.

Boogers:     Sniffles, picking and blowing are all things done with the nose or let’s just call it like it is…boogers.  Problems occur when you are not prepared for Booger mania!  For example,  the sneeze felt round the room; or when known nose picker runs up and hugs your legs passing who knows what onto your skirt; or how about when above said nose picker is chosen line leader for the day and gets to hold the teacher’s hand?  I’ve been known to hold the wrist instead, feigning a sore finger.  One must always be vigilant to pickers and be prepared for the unplanned grasp of the hand.  Although it’s not PC, it would be so cool if you could wear disposable gloves while teaching.  Is there any wonder why Kleenex is number one on the school supply list?
Potty talk, potty time and potty problems:    For some reason, pee, poop, and fart are the 3 funniest words any five year old knows.  Just say the word ‘fart’ and you will cause a group of kindergarteners to collapse into giggles, jokes or stories.  For example:  Once during an appraisal by my principal, a whole classroom dissolved with one fart.

On this day at story time, I had my 25 five-year-olds sitting perfectly still on the carpet in front of me.  We were reading a story which I was incorporating into a fabulous English Language Arts lesson on Sequencing:  What comes next in the story.  I was sitting smugly in my chair, 25 sets of eyes were all on me, my Principal was sitting at the back of the room taking notes when all of a sudden, in the quiet pause of the story….a precious little girl farted.  I tried to bite my lip, keep on reading and act like nothing happened, but one moment later a little one from the back of the group asked, “Did you hear that air biscuit?  One after another the group popped up with other statements:  “I did!”  “Who did it?”  “What’s an air biscuit?”  “That wasn’t a biscuit, it was a fart and it smells!”

Picture me calmly (I was really starting to sweat) asking the class to put all eyes back on me and putting my finger to my lips, tried the silent shhhhhh.

Chaos ensued when another child pointed out the culprit…I didn’t want to, but I glanced at the back of the room and saw my principal hysterically laughing and trying to hide his face while his shoulders were uncontrollably shaking.  He politely excused himself and said, “Perhaps I can come back later.”

I never really got it back together after that, so we went outside to run and play and return after a bathroom break, and try it again.  Sequencing lesson:  What happens after a child has a loud air biscuit?  Mayhem.

On most days, my classroom was calm and uneventful.  You know, those days when you wish Norman Rockwell was capturing the essence of your teaching career?  Those seven years in kindergarten were sweet, funny and oh so endearing.  I learned a lot about life.  I learned boogers and farts are funny at any age.  I learned to be more inquisitive, laugh more, see the joy in everyday events and love with all my heart!

Hey, sometimes “poop” happens… but it’s how you deal with it that matters.

 

 

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!