Posted in Confessions, Contemplations, Growing up

It Is What It Is

Fourth Grade

Fourth grade was not a flattering year for me.  I had just survived 3rd grade and having my teeth be bigger than my body when this happened.  I swear, no one bothered to tell me that those tight, plastic headbands were not complimentary to my face shape.  Sometimes my grandma and I would ride the bus downtown to Woolworth’s Five and Dime, and she would let me pick out something for twenty-five cents.  Perhaps that is why I had such a classic selection of headbands.

The Five and Dime Stores----ours was the Woolworth at NE shopping center… |  Childhood memories, Memories, The good old days

Grandma and I would walk up and down every aisle in Woolworths and after we made our purchases we would sit at the counter and eat lunch.  Grandma always got a tuna fish sandwich with the ‘best cup of coffee in the world.’  I would get a grilled cheese sandwich and a root beer.  Simple fare for simple folks.  After we ate, I would spin myself around and around seated on that bar stool at the lunch counter, while Grandma enjoyed her last sip of coffee.

The red, button-up sweater from Sears that I loved was all kinds of wrong, yet I have the pictures as proof that I was determined to look my best. Glancing back, I clearly see my stylistic mistakes, but at the time I felt well put together.

Still, I had a delightful smile, don’t you think?  

My 4th grade teacher was Mrs. Batson.   Mrs. Batson was no-nonsense all day every day.  She was a small but sturdy force, short in statue and long on obedience, and wore dark-colored, perfectly fitted suits with structured shoes.  She was tough and I was afraid of her, except that I kind of knew she liked me.  I was always the only one in my class who didn’t have a mother and because bad news travels fast, I must have been pegged as someone who needed a little more encouragement.

I knew this because even in her strictness, she would look at me and almost smile. Her eyes would tilt ever so slightly, and the corners of her frown would swing upward for only a second.  I always wondered if anyone else saw it, but I think it was just for me.  I mean, come on…. looking at this picture, Mrs. Batson was probably thinking, “Bless her heart!”

I learned during 4th grade that I had something called ‘buck teeth.’  And when I told my dad that Stanley Steinkruger called me that, he said, “Nancy Lynn, you just have an overbite.  And someday you will have braces that will help you have the most beautiful teeth in the world.  Don’t listen to the likes of Stanley Steinkruger.” 

Bless my heart.

This 4th grade photo was not to be my last ‘less than stellar’ school picture.  I had an overbite with a large space between the front two teeth, and a few more years of the plastic headbands. I even had another year of a red sweater in which I discovered turtlenecks are really not for me either. 

When I arrived at Wolflin Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, for my first day of 5th grade, I found out I had Mrs. Batson for my teacher again.  How could this be true?  But it was.  Mrs. Batson moved up to teach 5th grade and I was in her class.  5th grade turned out to be a doozy of a grade for me.  Somewhere between the first day of school and Thanksgiving, I woke up one day needing a B-cup bra and I was 5’5” tall.  I tried all year to practice the art of slumping down, so as not to look so much taller than the boys.

Top row, second from right

One more sad little piece of information was that as a baby I had had ankles that turned in toward themselves and because of that, I wore orthopedic shoes, even into the 5th grade,  like these black velveteen saddle oxfords.

Those shoes were heavy on my feet and so sturdy/clunky that as much as I tried to scuff or wear them out, they wouldn’t.  Nothing could penetrate those toes of steal.

 Just when I thought it could never get worse, the 5th grade girls had to see “the film” and as my luck would have it, this was also my year to become a ‘woman.’

Culminating my 5th grade school year, I was a full 5’6” tall.  I also found out I needed glasses. My dad let me pick out my glasses which were brown sparkly glitter, cat-eye frames.  I adored them and took special care to keep them in their case when they weren’t on my face.

 Next, came the years with braces and tight-lipped smiles to hide them.  It is what it is, y’all, and I have the pictures to prove it!  The day we got out for Christmas break my 6th grade year, Stanley Steinkruger was deep in his throws of flirting with me.  But bless his heart, he teased me by grabbing my glasses and using them to play catch with another boy.  You can guess the end of the story.  Broken glasses and hurt feelings. My father admonished my carelessness, and I was never friends with Stanley Steinkruger again.  The good news was I finally got a pair of slip-on flats and was allowed to give up my orthopedic saddle oxfords.

My later elementary grade years left me with a few scars, as much of growing up usually does.  Often, the ‘awkward’ years last longer than one would wish, and in the throes of adolescence, we do not see our own light.  We let other people tell us who we are and hush the swan’s song inside of our ugly duckling.

But Hans Christian Andersen knew what was true for all of us when he wrote:

It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most

essential things are invisible to the eye.

The Ugly Duckling

Ugly Duckling
Posted in Confessions, Contemplations

Kitchen Window by Ginger Keller Gannaway

My favorite Hitchcock movie is Rear Window, a perfect mix of mystery, romance, social commentary, and humor.  (And that’s not even including Grace Kelly’s beauty and costumes!)  Jimmy Stewart spies on his neighbors from his NYC apartment during a summer when he’s stuck in a wheelchair with an up-to-his-hip plaster cast. As a photojournalist he has fancy zoom lenses to complement the basic snooping tool – binoculars. Jimmy and his diverse neighbors’ rear apartment windows all open up to a courtyard where residents plant gardens, make sculptures, do exercises, and entertain guests. Jimmy spends so much time observing his neighbors, he learns their occupations, their personalities, and their secrets. 

I can relate to the thrill of spying on others.  When as a kid I rode in the back seat of our car as Dad drove down two-lane country roads, I loved looking into the windows of strangers’ homes. Early evening lighting made for the best views and entertaining speculations. Was the blue glow from a TV soothing a lonely widow or an exhausted parent? Did dim yellow light mean a candlelit dinner for two? What about glaring white lights that flooded several rooms? Could it mean a birthday celebration or a kid home alone and afraid of the dark? Every window held different story possibilities.

Now we live in a condo, and our second floor kitchen window has a front row view of the courtyard and pool, a laundry room, and the mailbox area. I watch my neighbors go to and from work, walk their dogs, lounge at the pool, or chat near the mailboxes. I have, like Jimmy Stewart, given them nicknames as I guess about their private lives. There’s “T-Squared,” a young guy who spends hours tanning and texting at the pool in hopes of winning the George Hamilton Lookalike Award. There’s “BB,” an older well-endowed, talkative busybody who goes braless and knows all the condo scoop, and “Solo,” a longtime resident who lurks poolside with his ever-present red plastic cup. And “Cookie Monster’s Owner” whose dog snarls at pets and people alike. (BB told me Cookie Monster once bit the guy who lives right below me). There’s soft-spoken “Poodle Man”, a smiling, kind guy with a well-groomed dog. “ER” has the apartment across the courtyard from me. He uses a walker, doesn’t respond to health workers knocking on his door, and gets wheeled out on ambulance stretchers twice a month. 

Although I’ve never suspected anyone in our complex of killing his/her spouse (as in Rear Window), a guy did die during the pandemic lockdown. His death went undiscovered for days! Also, the day we first moved into our unit, an angry couple screamed at one another from the sidewalk outside our condo fence until a resident  called the cops. As I lugged boxes of photo albums and kitchenware up my stairs, I heard a female from the sidewalk yell, “Hide behind your damn gate, assholes!” I had a small pang of worry that day; however, our apartments apparently hide only tiny dramas.

I like to wash dishes and survey the area outside my window. I notice when a resident has her grandkids visit and they take over the pool area. I take note of who swims laps on a regular basis, who reads in the loungers, who barbecues. I remember when Solo put tiny strips of paper on all of our door clips inviting us to his poolside birthday celebration one Sunday afternoon. It was a BYOB affair with chips and dip provided. Several of us showed up while Solo held court and someone in the pool blasted oldies from phone speakers. For a little while those of us there acted like neighbors who knew and cared about each other, yet most days we do little more than wave howdy. 

Sometimes I create back stories for those I see from my window. Did Solo once have an affair with BB but broke up with her after she told her next-door neighbor about his collection of bizarre Troll dolls? Is T-Squared texting conspiracy theories to Alex Jones’ Infowars? Will Poodle Man plot to poison Cookie Monster?

Just silly scenarios that stem from too many Netflix nights. Too many thrillers and true-crime dramas. As we start venturing out beyond our homes and apartments, will we get to know our neighbors better, or will we maintain our safe, private ways? Is it not easier and less messy to view others from a distance, choosing mystery over fact, imagination over reality?

My kitchen window

Posted in Confessions, Dreams, Gratitude

Funny Girl Fanatic by Ginger Keller Gannaway

“I’d Rather Be Blue” song

I grew up a faithful patron of the Liberty Theater and the Queen Cinema in Eunice, Louisiana where I saw almost every movie shown from 1960 through 1972 (beginning of ratings system).  But I did not become an obsessive film fan until I saw Funny Girl in 1968.

Barbra Streisand’s unique voice and dramatic delivery made me want to stay for the 8:30 feature that followed the 6:00 p.m. one I’d just seen. At first “The Greatest Star” and “Don’t Rain on my Parade” were my favorite songs. My sisters and I pantomimed these tunes at home while Momma’s hi-fi in the den blasted through the ceiling speakers in the living room. After fourteen viewings, “My Man” (the one song filmed before a live audience) became my favorite. Barbra’s cool short haircut that framed her anguished face and her long drop pearl earrings were spotlit. All but her fabulous face, sleek hands and long fingernails seemed to disappear into the blackness of the stage. She began the torch song fighting back tears with a halting delivery. But her strength grew as her voice got steadier and louder until she threw out both arms and belted the last line with a power that made me hold my breath while my thirteen-year-old heart ached for reasons it could not yet comprehend.

The movie earned eight Oscar nominations and Barbra got the film’s one Best Actress win for her portrayal of the incredible Fanny Brice. Her self-deprecating humor and durable-as-rubber-tubing ambition spoke to my wallflower teen angst, and her rise to stardom despite her nontraditional beauty gave me hope. 

I was an extra shy girl with a limping left leg and a skinny, spastic left arm. I hid my mild cerebral palsy from most folks until a situation required the use of two healthy limbs. In my mind, I clapped with a hand and a claw. If I had to hold two paper cups at the same time, I’d touch the sides together in hopes my steady right hand could keep my shaky left from spilling the cups’ contents. Yet even if luck shone on me and very little water splashed over the rim, my CP hand could involuntarily squeeze the stupid flimsy cup and dump half its contents onto the floor.

Watching Funny Girl gave me hope of reaching my life goal of being the first big movie star to emerge from Eunice, Louisiana or become Barbra Streisand’s new best friend – two equally worthy aspirations.

So I spent nights at Grandma’s house where I could walk to the Queen Cinema three blocks away, and no adult needed to drop me off or pick me up. In the dark theater with my long-lasting Toostsie Roll, I could watch Barbra sing and roller skate her way to fame and later have Omar Sharif kiss her neck while he seduced her with dinner and song.

My naive self believed that I (like my movie idol) could conquer all challenges. My small Cajun existence could tell me I was weak and awkward and invisible to the boys I had crushes on. But in my mind I’d be wearing a red and black sailor top with black bloomers and stockings, and I’d have two long graceful arms of the same length extended while I threw my head back and twirled on an empty stage and sang, “Have you guessed yet/ Who’s the best yet/ If you ain’t I’ll tell you one more time/ you bet your last dime./ I am the greatest, the greatest star!”

“The Greatest Star”

The Liberty and Queen were like my second home, and Funny Girl made that home a portal of possibilities. Barbra inspired me to be braver. Maybe I had a crooked left side and I wore uncool corrective shoes. Maybe my hair frizzed out and my pimples surprised me on the most inconvenient days. My parents misunderstood me, my sisters ganged up against me, and the boys at school made me wish I could crawfish my way into a mud home whenever they were near. But Barbra had not listened to critics or let rejection stop her from conquering Broadway and Hollywood in her early twenties. She faced off with anyone who tried to rain on her parade. Her talent astounded me, but more importantly her confidence and tenacity made the teenage me feel less like a loser. Barbra Streisand’s movies and albums made me believe I was one of those “luckiest people in the world.”

Posted in Boo, Confessions

There’s Nothing Wrong With That

            “Try these,” my husband said.  “Try on the Brooks or Saucony shoes; they’re really good brands.”

            “I  like ASICS,” I said.  “They feel great on my feet, and I don’t have to think about trying on something else.  They always fit.”

“Try something new, for Pete’s sake!  It’s good for you,”  Boo preached.

“Mother, you always get Cajun Shrimp on your toes, every time we get pedicures.  There are hundreds of other colors, and you pick the same one,” my daughters chide me.

            “I like Cajun Shrimp,” I said.  “There are too many choices and besides I know I already like it.  It’s my signature color!”

            When I go to the grocery store, I try to park in the same aisle, in approximately the same place so I’ll always remember where my car is.  I’m a creature of habit and maybe a little OCD, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  I don’t want to be that person searching the parking lot, looking for my black Honda Accord among all the others.

            Once, on a trip home from seeing the grandkids, we stopped at Buc-ee’s for a snack and some gasoline.  We’ve stopped there many times before, so I utilized the pristine restroom and then perused the many aisles of snacks, chips, nuts, candy, sandwiches, and jerky.  Boo waltzed by and called, “I’ll meet you at the car.”

            When I finally paid, walked out to the car, and plopped down in the front seat, I heard him say, “Ah ha!  I knew it!  I knew you would get Chex Mix.”

            I felt a little sheepish, but before I could defend myself, Boo started in, “Every time we stop for a snack, it doesn’t matter where we are, you take forever to look around and then you buy a water and Chex Mix.  I don’t understand you.  Why don’t you just go straight to the Chex Mix?”

            “I might miss something good if I don’t look around.”  

            “If you ask me, you did miss something good, EVERYTHING except Chex Mix.”

            “I didn’t ask you,” I lamely injected.  “But not that it’s any of your business, I did shake it up this time.  I got the Bold flavor.”

            “Oh Boo,” he said with a tsk tsk.

            “Oh, Boo yourself,” I snapped.

            I admit only to you and myself that I am set in my ways.  Life is full of so many decisions, do I really need to add more?  I like what I like.  Does that make me mistaken or worse, boring?  Maybe, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

           In my mind, I am spontaneous and adventurous.  I try new things and live on the edge, but the truth is I appear to be stuck in my ways. Don’t get Boo started on asking me where I want to eat out.  For some reason, I always say I don’t care, but if he mentions a place, I usually don’t like it.  Ugh.    I have my favorites for just every day, and I am pretty set on what I eat at certain places.  Chick-fil-A: Market Salad. Panera: Chicken noodle soup or Strawberry Poppyseed salad. and Luby’s: Roasted chicken or fried fish, broccoli, and cornbread.  Just saying this makes me cringe.

Am I just an old, retired schoolteacher too addled to try something new?  Have I become boring and comfortable like melba toast and an old brown sweater?  I prefer to think of it as ‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke,’ but seeing the truth about myself is a hard pill to swallow.

            Not too long ago, we went out to eat at Cheddar’s after church. “What looks good to you, babe?”  I asked. 

 “Oh, I don’t know what I’m hungry for.  What about you?” he asked.

            “You tell me first,” I said.

            “Nope, I want to see if you try something new.”

            “Oh, don’t worry about me, I will!”  I defied him.

I scoured the menu pretending to think about what I might want, but I already knew what I would get.  I ordered a predictable standby: Miso salmon, broccoli, and green beans, while Boo ordered something new.   He made his choice from a separate menu insert labeled “Three NEW Shrimp Feasts.”  And they used words like ‘Ultimate’ and ‘New twist on old favorites.’  His choice was a delicious looking shrimp pasta dish that was absolutely beautiful.

When our lunch came, I was already jealous.  

He looked at my salmon and broccoli and I drooled over his shrimp dish.  

“Can I have a bite?”  I asked.  “I can’t help it.”  

“Oh, Boo,” he tsked.

As of late I have really been trying to shake things up.  I now wear Brooks tennis shoes exclusively and even admitted to Boo that he was right.  I do like them better than ASICS.  I branched out at Panera and got one of their new ‘bowl’ lunches with chicken and quinoa. I’m also thinking about getting something different at Buc-ee’s next time we stop, and I painted my toe nails a Caribbean Blue, even though I felt conspicuous.

 Change is very hard for some of us and although I like the idea of being ‘out there’ to some extent, I am mostly a brown sweater with melba toast kind of girl.  I don’t mind being predictable and safe.  It’s just who I am.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Posted in Confessions, Friendship, Nature

I Kill Plants

I Kill Plants
by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bless me, Mother Nature, for I have sinned.

I kill plants.

No matter the species, I can strangle any root system or poison any shoot system in the modern botanical nomenclature.

I do enjoy plants, especially herbs like mint and basil and flowers such as magnolias and azaleas. I have tried for decades to keep small cacti and large-leafed friends alive, yet like a demented serial killer I can destroy what I admire.

Relatives and friends have tried over the years to break the curse of my plant murders. Just last year Cousin Claudia, who can work magic in any yard with her easy-going optimism, gave me a “condo warming” gift: an air plant. “You can’t kill it,” she said as she set it atop my great-grandma’s pie safe where it gasped its final breath thirteen days later.

Master Gardener Cynthia

I have a knack for overwatering or under-watering green things. In 2018 when we planned to sell our house, I needed indoor and outdoor plants to help give our place a welcoming vibe, so my Master Gardener friend Cynthia showed up to help. She is a modern day Artemis who is in tune with nature’s trees and flowers as well as the woodland creatures. She chose hearty plants from Home Depot for us and wrote detailed directions for their care before she left me alone with the blooming babies. Cynthia also got me a teen-aged ficus for staging the place for prospective buyers. She decluttered our home and had chrysanthemum “pops of color” for the front yard. My place was as neat and clean as a young private awaiting her first morning inspection from a hard-nosed drill sergeant.

Thankfully, our house sold in less than a week, and Cynthia swooped in to rescue the nervous yet brave plants from my clutches because she’s known me for many years and has witnessed my starving, drowning, or burning of healthy plants. Even if she believes the deaths were caused by neglect and not premeditated crimes, I wonder if she’d let me off with involuntary manslaughter if she were a juror at my trial for killing more plants than a low-grade natural disaster. Against her better judgement, Cynthia entrusted me with the ficus after she ran out of room in her Nissan Cube when she packed up the staging plants to offer them a safer home .  

Cynthia’s Own Garden

That spunky ficus managed to stay alive for eighteen months. When this year’s February snow surprised Texas, I brought the plant inside, hoping it had more life to live. Yet in days its leaves developed black spots as it shriveled in the corner of our guest bedroom/office and bid adieu to the cold, cruel world. I soon discovered I had horribly over-watered it when after the snow had melted, I hauled it outside and heard water sloshing around in the heavy planter it was set inside.

I used to feel guilty about dismembering, suffocating, maiming, and torturing innocent plants that came under my care. So many people love digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and tending their flowers and vegetables so that they later enjoy the beauty and bounty of their gardens. 

In 1970 my favorite movie was Barbra Streisand’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Her Daisy Gamble character coaxed flowers from the soil by singing to them. The movie’s opening begins with “Hey, buds below! Up is where to grow!” as Barbra sings, skips, and swirls around an expansive rose garden while hundreds of flowers bloom with the help of the camera’s time-lapse magic. I loved that song (“Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here”) almost as much as I loved the  66 groovy outfits that costume designer Cecil Beacon had Barbra changing into during the movie. Her flowered babydoll p.j.s matched her flowered sheets which matched the flowered wallpaper of her bedroom!

“Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

I digress.

Drowning or starving plants is not the worst confession I could make. It’s not like I throw every curse word I have ever heard at my cat when she meows incessantly at three a.m. for food. Or I fear newborn babies because they look like fragile, unpredictable aliens. I’m not a monster!

Crystal and her Orange Tree

And to be honest, I have not killed every plant I have ever owned. I still have a weak ivy Cynthia left behind when she staged my house. A perky good luck bamboo from Crystal lives on my kitchen window sill. Crystal follows the law of averages rule when it comes to plants. She once told me, “I plant so many plants, trees, and vegetables, something is bound to survive!” 

Crystal’s Law of Averages Yard (and Ripley)

So my murder rate is close to 87% if I consider all the plants I have ever known. 

Does a lawn count? The front yard of the home we sold had more St. Augustine grass than bald, brown patches two years ago. Also, the backyard had winter rye grass whose soft green blades stayed alive long enough for us to close the deal on the house. However, my son Evan was responsible for readying the backyard and planting those grass seeds. He even called to remind me to water the yard regularly until the tiny green shoots poked out of the dirt as if Barbra Streisand’s voice beckoned them to a world of promise.