Posted in #Confessions, Contemplations, Family

Talking to Myself by Ginger Keller Gannaway

When I walk at daybreak along empty streets, I feel comfortable while I nod greetings to yard dogs and window cats. One golden retriever rests behind a low fence and blinks his eyes at me without barking. My mind jumps around as I take in my surroundings and forget my worries.

I see a huge Siamese huddling beside a porch and say “Look at that gordito.” I notice the lime-green Hyundai that perfectly matches the paint on its house and say, “Cool coordination.” Other times I shake my head and voice concern about one of my grown children: “Should have planned better.” Or I admit a personal failure: “Sticking my nose in the beehive.” I believe that thoughts gain power when I vocalize them. A statement like “I am a writer” could become reality.

So I talk to myself as I take heel/toe steps on cracked sidewalks and look up to locate a lone sparrow chirping in a skeletal tree or sideways to spot dogs yapping behind wooden fence slats. I review a recent argument with Gary and mutter, “Why can’t you notice…?” Or I say, “Hey, You” when the opossum cat sees me as she heads to her gutter hideout. I may get profound when I consider an unusual cloud: “Looks like hope… or loneliness…or a penis.” Then a serious jogger to my right passes and I wonder if he heard me. Does he think I’m a drunk or an escapee from the retirement home? I can’t believe I’ve turned into someone talking out loud to herself!

I think back to Daddy walking down Second Street to his office two blocks from Grandma’s house. As I rocked on the front porch, I watched him talking to the air. He nodded  and moved his right hand in short slicing motions to stress his main points. Maybe he was rehearsing something he’d say to a client or reminding himself to fix an unreliable toilet at home. Could he have been rehashing a conversation he’d like to rewind and redo? He often wore a grey or brown suit, but sometimes on a week-end he’d have on tennis shorts, a white undershirt, dark socks, and slide slippers. In either outfit I thought he looked ridiculous. Why did he need to say things out loud? He reminded me of Crazy Marie, an old woman who walked the downtown streets in her Sunday clothes and talked to herself. Marie walked fast and had a purse hanging from her wrist. She bobbed her head as she talked, sometimes making her wig crooked beneath her church hat.

I’ve told my three sons that “embarrassing your kids” is a parent’s duty, and I’ve done my best to carry out that parental obligation, learned from my mom and dad pros. Dad’s conversations with himself were one source of embarrassment. He didn’t care what passers-by thought when his one way conversations kept him engrossed in his own world. He had a lot on his mind, and walking and talking seem to go together like sighing and smiling. 

I remember hearing Evan chatting away in his room when he was three, and I wondered who he was talking to. I peeked and saw he was alone and playing with his Beanie Babies. So it’s natural for kids to talk to toys and imaginary friends. Later they learn to converse mostly with other living beings. When is it acceptable to utter our thoughts to ourselves? Do we give our thoughts get stronger when said out loud? Are consultations with ourselves common enough for people to ignore? 

Is becoming like my father – someone who often frustrated and embarrassed me- the natural order of things? I suppose I better have that discussion tomorrow morning around 7:27 with someone I know very well. 

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 Contemplations, Friendship, Relationships

Talking to Strangers  by Ginger Keller Gannaway    

The day after Christmas, Gary and Evan drove from Austin, Texas to Mariposa, California to visit Evan’s fiancee Tashea and to spend time in Gary’s mecca – Yosemite Valley – where he had rented heated tent cabins in Curry Village. Ever since he spent time there when he was eighteen, the park has beckoned Gary back, and he dreams of buying property near the park. To quote  John Muir: “Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.”

Yosemite, 2022

Three days later, a woman from Yosemite National Park called me.

“Gary?” she said.

“No, I’m his wife. Is everything ok?”

“I’ve been trying with no luck to reach Gary.  A big snow storm is hitting the park tonight, so we have to cancel his tent cabin rentals.”

“Oh no! For all three nights? Gary will be devastated.”

“We’re canceling on a day-by-day basis. Might just be one night.”

I sighed. “I so hope so. Are y’all ok now?”

And this compassionate stranger and I chatted about how wonderful Yosemite is and I shared my husband’s love affair with the park. “Gary’s 76 years old,” I said. “Yosemite is his favorite place on earth. He worked there when he was eighteen, and we’ve visited several times, taking our three sons when they were little and just this June with their significant others. Last night he got to the Yosemite Bug with our youngest son and his fiancee.”

“He should stay at the Bug,” she said.  And she gave me the number for Gary to call when I reached him.

I used Messenger to give Evan the number, but because of spotty cell phone reception, he didn’t receive the news until they were on a bus with their luggage headed to the park. Two hours later Gary called.

“They cancelled our tents?! Where are they gonna put us up?”

“It’s not like that,” I said. “The woman said you should stay at the Bug.”

I heard him huffing and puffing.  “I’m walking to the office now. Gotta go.”

 That evening Evan called. “What did you tell the lady in Yosemite? All the workers acted like they knew Dad when we walked in. They’re letting us stay at a cottage in Curry Village tonight and giving us an employee’s discount!” Talking with a stranger about my family had brought us unforeseen kindness. We had connected over our love of Yosemite and she showed empathy for an old guy and his son.

Cottage in Curry Village

I enjoy talking with strangers because I’m curious about their lives. Like the cashier who works weekends at the 7-Day Food Store down my street who stays upbeat even after an attempted holdup. Or the young teacher who first exchanged waves with me and now gives me vegetables from her garden.

We rightly tell young children, “Don’t talk to strangers,” to protect them from sickos. But as adults, shouldn’t we feel free to talk with strangers? To make a connection, to commiserate, to say, “I see you. You’re not invisible or insignificant.”

Stranger talk starts with weather comments. I don’t try dangerous topics like politics, religion, or pandemic advice. But I smiled behind my mask when a very short woman who walks her very fat dachshund wanted to show me pictures of her grandkids on her phone. We always wave now, and I feel less alone on chilly morning walks because most strangers and I have more similarities than differences. Our encounters feed the fresh-faced optimist inside me and send my pimply pessimist with chronic indigestion and facial tics to her room for an indefinite time-out until she’s rediscovered her sense of humor.

The pandemic has separated us in a list of necessary ways, but aren’t we all still struggling to get on with life the best we can? If I ask a stranger, “What’s your dog’s name?” or tell a waiter, “Cool tattoo,” am I not making a connection? Not in the generic, robotic, “Have a nice day,” way. Specificity counts. This past fall, a school crossing guard and I bonded over both being from Louisiana, so right before Christmas, I gave her some boudin from Lafayette. We exchanged holiday greetings and our names that day.

Some friends give me a hard time about talking to strangers. They roll their eyes and take a few steps back as they maybe mutter, “There she goes again.” But I want to be like the protagonist on my favorite TV series Better Things. Writer, actor, and director Pamela Adlon ’s protagonist Sam Fox shares time with a quiet man on a film set or she gets to know the mother of her daughter’s Mormon friend. Her honesty creates powerful moments in her show. I’d say that a key rule when talking with strangers is “understanding, not judging.”
 

Talking with strangers has given me memories I treasure:

*taking a selfie with a scruffy guy at 7 a.m. outside Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.

The Professor, Maryanne, and me in Montreal

*getting a list of good places to eat in Montreal from a couple, nicknamed the Professor and Maryanne, who owned a tiny coffee shop and who got jazzed when I told them,”I’m Ginger!” So the three of us posed for a Gilligan’s Island tribute pic.

*meeting a groovy neighbor six years ago as we both walked our large dogs. She has become a close friend and the mother of my three amazing “practice grandchildren”!

Strangers have enriched my life, and even though every encounter is not hitting the jackpot, connecting with someone else may add serendipity to my life. I never know when a casual chat can lead to knowing three of the most wonderful children in the world!

Posted in Contemplations, Gratitude, Nature

Routines by Ginger Keller Gannaway   

Routines fool me into believing all is right with my world. When I follow my morning ritual, the day has the promised sweetness of a crisp, polished apple or a nectarine begging me to enjoy its juiciness. I get up with fresh brewed coffee and read, pray, think, and write while I “sit ugly.” Next, I go on a two-mile walk by myself and catch the sun winking at me through trees both bald and full. This by-myself walk lets ideas bounce around my brain while my feet do heel/toe steps, and I observe the natural world coexisting with the city. Birds perch in branches and on electrical power lines. Squirrels race through crunchy fallen leaves and greasy discarded food wrappers. The grass grows confidently in lush wooded areas and between uneven sidewalk cracks. Dogs’ barks mix with cars’ revving engines. And sweet flower fragrances swirl around the aroma of onions and potatoes frying on a stove.

I get tricked into believing life is balanced.

Millie Biscuit

I carry pepper spray in my front pants pocket, and the thumb of my right hand rubs the gadget’s activation button at the same time I give familiar fellow walkers a head nod.

Wake. Pray. Sip. Think. Write. Walk alone. Observe. Think. Connect. Walk. Think some more.

I need my five to seven a.m. time to myself. And when Millie pants too loud or J.T. meows incessantly, I curse the interruptions. I want morning rituals to calm the fears that hide just below the surface of my even breaths and soulful stares outside my office window. My nasty thoughts, like zombies, push through the dirt of their graves. Their thin, bloodless hands come out first followed by rotting faces with hanging eyeballs and slack-jawed mouths. Uneven groans and weak cries accompany their struggle to enter the world of the living. Some horror flicks claim they want to eat our brains. Sounds right. They’re after my wise thoughts, my positive vibes, and my fragile faith. So to avoid the zombies, I head out the door and let nature clear my head.

I enjoy the predictable moments of my walk, and I give strangers complimentary nicknames. On the spooky street, I see “The Other Aunt Toni,” a tall slim woman in her eighties who lives alone and sweeps her front porch or takes in the garbage bin with her walker nearby. Her solid independence and short, stylish white hair remind me of my dad’s younger sister who just turned 93. Further down the street, I wave to “John Goodman’s Brother,” a large retired guy with a spunky dog. His smooth voice, long, full face, and cool demeanor (he was once a part of a local rock band) evoke the essence of the actor who graced both The Big Lebowski and the Treme series. Sometimes I spot “Minari Grandma” – an energetic Asian woman in a large front yard with a wild-looking garden that she tends with a determined, don’t-mess-with-me-attitude. The flowers, vegetables, and ferns all vie for her attention as she tends to the wildness wearing a floppy wide-brimmed hat and bringing to mind the untraditional grandma in the movie Minari.  Seeing the same houses, yards, cats and people each morning gives me comfort. Predictability clears my head of predatory thoughts.

Until something makes me raise both eyebrows. A for-real dead opossum next to an overwhelmed garbage bin. A slumped over person sleeping in his parked car. A loose dog giving me the eye. 

Then I’m sure the zombies are hiding around the corner of the next house. And my mind remembers that life’s surprises are not always good. And the whatifs get more convincing. What if that person in the car was not just asleep? Could he have overdosed? Should I go back and knock on the car window? Do I need to call 9-1-1?

But I keep walking and a large beige and orange window cat looks at me, and I realize the zombies are not in that yard. And I turn down a wider street with fewer cracked segments of sidewalk. I see Walking Lady coming my way, and I know we will smile, wave, and comment on the weather when we get closer to each other. Soon I’ll get back to my condo where Millie will be pacing and Gary is sipping his first cup of coffee and working a Sudoko. I’ll eat a banana and in twenty minutes Gary and I will take Millie for a long walk. We may take a route similar to my by-myself walk

Sam & June

We will share our day’s agendas and comment on the a hot news topic or mention the emotional and physical states of our three grown sons. And we’ll stay aware of Millie’s poops. More routines to follow. 

Grandma’s Recipe

And the balance I first felt with my first cup of coffee may not be as steady, but I do know I am very fortunate. I keep on believing the world is more like eating a just-right banana than stepping in dog shit. The zombies in my brain will stay below the earth for now because I have three wonderful sons living nearby. Each has someone he loves above all others. I have a stereo system from the 1970s with a turntable that only sometimes goes backwards. I’m making my grandma’s “Madame Queen Cornbread Dressing” today (and a shrimp and mushroom dressing for my youngest son) in preparation for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. And my momma’s version of turkey and sausage gumbo will be made on Friday.

So Turkey Day’s routines will happen, and I feel mostly sure “all shall be well” and if things veer off course (like someone brings extra-powerful magic cookies) and the hosts become incapacitated for awhile, that will be a family story to tell one day. All will still be mostly ok. Wabi-Sabi, y’all!

Turkey Bob
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 Contemplations, Nature, Pets, Relationships

Mary Sunshine by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before we downsized to life in a condo, we lived a half block from a Catholic university. The campus was the perfect size for my early morning dog walks with Millie. We got up and out before classes began and made a big loop around the school, enjoying sun rise and the shady green areas. We didn’t see many people, mostly the groundkeepers and a few eager freshmen, with a rare professor spotting.

I noticed that other neighborhood walkers would often return my head nod, smile, or wave after they had seen me a few times. Some were natural greeters and said hi the first time our paths crossed, but most needed to get used to Millie and me first.

As for the students, the return greetings for my outreach attempts were about fifty percent. Often the young people wore ear buds and looked sleep deprived as they passed us. I’d catch whiffs of soap, body spray, or pot as they ignored my half wave or “Morning.” 

One September morning a gangly girl with jet black hair and rumpled shirt and jeans gave us an earnest, “Hey there.” I gave her a large smile and Millie wagged her tail.

“What a great dog! Can I pet her?”

Millie Biscuit

“Sure! Her name’s Millie.”

The girl got down on one knee and gave my energetic dog two-handed pets and ear rubs with praise like “You a sweetie! Good girl, Millie!”

We chatted and she told me she was a freshman and terribly missed her dog back home. She did not mind that an excited Millie pushed her dark-rimmed glasses off her nose. The girl left us with a huge smile as she repositioned her backpack and headed to a campus coffee shop.

I never ran into this sweet souled girl again even though Millie and I both wished we had.

We got regular waves from almost every person driving a cart loaded with gardening tools, but never ever from a blonde woman who seemed to be a groundskeeper supervisor. She drove her cart with a no-nonsense demeanor and wore a crisp, clean khaki uniform. Her short, curly hair hid under a university cap, and her snug shirt stayed tucked in her pants with her plain black no-name sneakers completing her all work/no play look. Once she caught me letting Millie off leash to run through a small overgrown field on the edge of campus. 

“Dogs on leash!” she snapped.

“Sorry,” I said as I used a dog treat to get Millie to head back to me. After that I let Millie off leash only on holidays and weekends when I wouldn’t run into Ms. Mary Sunshine.

In the early evenings we took Millie for another university stroll and came to know other dog owners.  We shared stories about the campus, and none of us had ever seen the blonde groundskeeper smile. She was known for her frowns and dog fussing. So it wasn’t just me and Millie.

For awhile I tried to get more than a scowl from Mary Sunshine, but I soon gave up and avoided her as much as I could. Who wants to encounter someone who glares at your smiles, looks right through your waves, and acts deaf to your, “Good Mornings”? I told myself she was the campus curmudgeon who hated her job and other living individuals as well.

On a random weekday morning Millie and I were finishing our university loop when I noticed Mary Sunshine near a small gas pump encircled by a chainlink fence that the university cart-drivers used. She knelt and shook dry cat food into a small bowl. I could make out a sweet voice calling the cats to breakfast. I couldn’t hear her exact words, but the tone was high-pitched and welcoming. I slowed Millie’s walk and gave Mary Sunshine alone time with her three cats who curled in and around her feet as she kept up the tender sounds.

Photo by umit ozbek on Pexels.com

I had noticed cats there before when Millie pulled on her leash as we walked past the gas pump, but I would never have guessed who was filling those water and food bowls.

I did not try greeting the blonde woman even after I learned she had a tender side. But I did think of her differently. She reminded me to be less quick-to-judge others, even people with permanent frowns and angry eyes. To stop jumping to conclusions about those who dress, speak, walk, or look at the world a certain way. A Mary Sunshine will not necessarily deserve my sarcastic name-calling. Maybe we all have a hidden softness that’s reserved for secret times with a selected few.

Posted in Contemplations, Dreams

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

            I was talking to Diana, one of my teaching friends, when the bell rang.  “I’ve got to get to the hallway,” I said, and my feet lifted off of the ground.  The next thing I knew, Diana and I were floating above the students, our arms down by our sides, watching the throng of noisy teenagers below us.  Flying felt effortless and while I seemed to be going so fast, I knew subconsciously, I was right on time.  I didn’t say it, but I was thinking how great it was to be able to fly through the hallways.  It seemed so natural.

            When I woke up that morning I was elated!  Finally, I had had a flying dream.  I’ve always heard people say that they flew in their dreams, and now I was one too.  Through the years I have had several life-changing dreams.  Dreams that taught me a lesson, enlightened a dark place, and even a recurring dream that I had for several years.

            Sleep studies show that our brainwaves are most active during the REM sleep cycle.  Dreams occur when there is stimulation to the brain that brings thoughts to our awareness.  But in just the same way I could fly instead of walk, I have had dreams that I was digging my own grave, but the shovel kept breaking.  On the surface, dreams may seem obscure, even outlandish.  But look a little deeper, and there might be a lesson to learn, or an answer to a question.  Sometimes vivid dreams are a result of eating spicy food or binging on too much TV.  Sometimes they are a direct result of stress or anxiety.

            When my mother died in January of 1958, I was four years old.  One of the only memories I have is of her funeral.  My daddy had picked me up to look at her in her casket and then he leaned over and wanted me to kiss her goodbye.  I distinctly remember kicking and crying, trying not to get that close.  I clung to him like a second suit jacket, turning my head away from hers. 

            I am not here to judge my father, for right or wrong, he was doing the best he knew how.  But the trauma of that incident caused me to have a dream that returned often to me over the course of several years. In fact, I still recall it perfectly.

            It was night-time and I stood perfectly still inside my small, drafty, stucco house on Crockett Street.  I could hear the howling winds and the icicles breaking off of the eaves from the roof.  As a little girl of four, I knew I shouldn’t have been alone, but I was.

In the living room, the big picture window began to rattle, and I heard a scratching, clawing sound of something trying to get in.  The scratching and rattling dared me to peek outside, and when I did, a gust of arctic air blew toward the window and froze everything with a sheet of snowy ice.  I couldn’t tell where the ice came from, but it didn’t matter because soon the knocking and scratching was at another window.  Again, and again, at each window I would peer out to find it frozen shut until that last window when I looked out into the face of a stern, frozen Jack Frost.  His face was contorted and iced over, and he appeared angry and grimacing.  His eyes looked right into mine and challenged me to look away first.

I was petrified and barely able to breathe, when suddenly there came a loud knock at the door.  I stood completely still, heart pulsing in my ears, and my feet glued to the floor.  This time someone or something was pounding on the front door.   As if another force was pushing me toward the door, I felt my hand on the knob turning, turning until it opened and standing there was a coffin …open…empty and icy.  It was standing upright, open all the way and although I didn’t see anyone, I knew Jack Frost was near, and I knew who had been in that coffin.

This was the recurring dream that I had over many years after my mother’s death.  The same sequence of events, and the very same dream, year after year.  I’m sure a psychologist would tell me the icy Jack Frost symbolizes the chill of death.  It doesn’t take much to make that correlation, but what I’ve never understood, is why the dream returned to me year after year.  At some point between the end of grade school and puberty, the dream stopped, as suddenly as it began.  Perhaps it took that long for my mind to make sense of my harsh reality.

I have often dreamed of hosting a party at my home and the party gets out of control.  More and more people start arriving, and the music gets too loud.  I usually run out of food, and everyone is asking me questions all at once.  I’m frantic and trying to make things turn out okay, and then a tall, dark, and handsome stranger appears.

Once, after a particularly stressful day at work, I dreamed that a giant Olive Oyl head was talking to me.  (Olive Oyl, the girlfriend from the Popeye cartoons.)  Her huge head was filling up my dream space and she was yelling at me.  “Get a backbone!  Speak up for yourself!  Don’t let them get away with it!”  When I woke up the next morning, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to solve a problem with a co-worker.

I count myself blessed and lucky to be able to dream.  I usually try to write them down as soon as I wake up.  I love being able to look back at some of my dreams at certain times of my life.  The more I remember and record my dreams, the more dreams I have.  Silly, scary, frustrating, or fulfilling, my dreams are a window into my mind and soul.  They are an extension of me.

After my father’s death, twelve years ago, I had three very distinct dreams of him.  They were so real that I call them visitations.  In my dreams we would sit very close together and hold hands.  He looked so happy and healthy, a huge difference from his worn and fragile body before he died.  On the first visit/dream, he told me not to worry about him.  “I like it here,” he said.  “I’m doing good.”  That one dream has been a wonderful source of comfort to me. 

I feel such gratitude for the messages, and insights I have received from my dreams, and I wish the same for you.  As Cinderella encouraged her woodland friends, I encourage you to follow your dreams, listen to your dreams and thank yourself for the wisdom that comes from your heart.

A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.” — Song written and composed by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston for the Walt Disney film Cinderella (1950).

Posted in Contemplations

Sunflowers by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Nancy’s Sunflower

As if celebrating our country opening up and people getting back to normal, sunflowers are popping up all around me. In backyards and parks, along highways, sidewalks and construction sites. These bright flowers worship the sun with their tall, strong presence. 

I love sunflowers! Their thick prickly stalks and itchy leaves contrast with their bright and sunny proclamation:“Hey there! Good morning. Get up and greet the sun with me.” 

I remember a field of large sunflowers in Tuscany right outside our bedroom window in the countryside near Pisa in June of 2003. The confident flowers were like a crowd of beaming faces welcoming us to Italy. We stayed there one night before driving to Lucca to meet my parents and sisters at an idyllic villa. Gary’s friend Morgan, who lives in London, had found Hotel Villa Maya for us. Our room was like an apartment for my family of five. The sunflowers seemed to stretch for miles and matched the joy of being in a country which valued delicious meals that lasted hours with families who sought out good times. We had a glorious Italian dinner in a large dining room the night we arrived and a fresh breakfast in the courtyard the next morning.

Sunflowers proclaim optimism to the world. They symbolize light, truth, strength, and loyalty. No other flower has such an open-faced smile and rustic beauty. And they’re as tough as Huckleberry Finn. The stalk will not yield to a pinch and a pull; you need clippers or scissors to cut a bloom. 

The National Garden Bureau has named 2021 The Year of the Sunflower, and our unusual wet spring, typical ever-present sunshine, and increase in new construction has given central Texas an abundance of sunflowers this summer.

So as we get back to life beyond the pandemic, we can follow the sunflower’s example. Stand firm, face the sun, and proclaim our readiness to meet and greet the world again. Van Gogh would approve of our sun-worshipping teacher.

Italian Sunflower

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 Contemplations, Gratitude

I Need Something Sweet by Nancy Malcolm

            There are days, we all have them, where it seems everyone and everything around us is sharp. Sharp tones or answers to our questions that feel snippy and harsh.    I call these tender days, a day when tears are close by and thoughts are deep.  On these days I feel alone in an alien world that thrives on being blunt or quick.  “I need something sweet, Lord,” I whisper in a quiet prayer.  “I need something sweet.”

            As I get older the tears fall more readily.  They often are on the brink, ready to fall and just as close is a smile open and ready to fill my face.  Maybe it’s because I realize I have less time to waste on foolishness, or hurtful people or things that don’t serve a loving purpose.  I appreciate more the answered prayers that are sent to me.  I feel the more I ask for sweetness in my life, the more is sent to me. 

            On one such tender day, two years ago, I was volunteering with my elderly Hospice patient.  She had wanted to go to the grocery store, just to look around.  I pushed her wheelchair up and down the aisles as she looked at make-up, smelled the candles, and marveled at the various types of crackers. We perused the Hallmark cards and bought some candy.  She just wanted to feel normal for a change and I wanted that for her too.  We had spent an hour wandering the aisles, when we got in line to check out.  The woman behind us kept staring and smiling at us and finally she said to me, “Is this your mother?”

            I smiled at my patient and said, “Oh, how I wish she was.  We’re just good friends.”

            The woman replied, “Well, you look beautiful enough to be mother and daughter.”

            And my patient said, “I wish we were.  She is the sweetest girl in the world to me.”

            I bent down to hug my little friend, and we both had tears in our eyes.  That was something sweet.

            I always find when I whisper my need for something sweet, God is waiting and willing to send it.  A smile from a stranger.  A love pat from my husband.  A phone call from my daughter.  A thank you from a friend.  There’s goodness on its way in many different forms if I am open to see it.

            My dear friend Mary, who has since passed away, always encouraged me in my photography.  She would call and ask if I wanted to walk the trails at the Wildflower Center, “Be sure to bring your camera,” she would say.  Then as we walked, she seemed happy for me as I found butterflies or dragonflies just begging to be photographed.  “Look over here!” she would say. “This butterfly is just waiting for you.”  She never failed to compliment me or brag to others about my talent.  She was something so precious that I can live on the memory of her sweetness for years to come.

            I feel the blessings when I encounter kind and generous souls inside my day.  The friendly cashier, gracious friends or a loving card in the mail.  I feel so lucky because my inner whisper, “I need something sweet,” seems to send my guardian angels into overdrive sending me all manner of beautiful expressions.  Even now as I sit at my desk, there is a gorgeous red cardinal outside my window especially for me to enjoy.

            I pray to be reminded that when I whisper, “I need something sweet,” there are others, too, who are whispering.  Perhaps it is within my power to be that source for someone else.  I want to be mindful of their whispers, too.  Take note of the whisper in your heart and the hearts of others. Ask God to let you hear the whisper and give you the courage to answer the call.

In loving memory of Eunice J.