Here is a haiku by Ginger Keller Gannaway to start off April, National Poetry Month.
big-eyed baby pulled
in red wagon by tired dad
connected and apart
Here is a haiku by Ginger Keller Gannaway to start off April, National Poetry Month.
big-eyed baby pulled
in red wagon by tired dad
connected and apart
written by Nancy Malcolm
Happy Birthday in Heaven to my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr.
My Daddy was a “saver”. A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager. It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and an alternate.
When Daddy passed away we found boxes full of souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards. We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums. There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of his mementos.
My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying. Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!” “No, YOU take it!” Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of. His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out. Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” hoping he understood.
Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ from ten years ago. When I brought it home, I thought I would go through it right away. But, ten years had passed and I had just found the strength to open the box.
Inside were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essays, school pictures and more. I found an old, faded manila envelope, sealed with a piece of tape and enclosed were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him. Behind those cards were letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.
I unfolded one pristine piece of notebook paper and I was transported, as I read my brother’s childish handwriting.
Dear Santa, I hope that I have been good enough to deserve these things I want. I would like a bulldog tank, an electric football game and a boy scout nap sack. My sister would like a jewelry box, a ballarena doll, a girl cowboy suit and play doe, please. From: Jimmy and Nancy. December 16, 1958
This letter was written the Christmas after our mother died. My brother was nine and I was five years old. Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, just this one and one other.
My Dad wasn’t always good at professing his love. He wasn’t the sentimental, mushy type. But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia. The cards and notes his children had sent and letters to Santa obviously touched his heart, although we never knew it.
His heart was inside this box that took me ten years to open. And, suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See? I have always loved you.” And finally, my heart whispered back, “I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”
written by Ginger Keller Gannaway
As we wash our hands to the lyrics of 20-second songs at least 32 times a day, make our own hand sanitizer, and contemplate buying a bidet, we must consider our spiritual and emotional needs as well as our physical ones.
According to John Steinbeck, “A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
Ever since Friday, March 13 when Dad’s skilled nursing facility personnel met family and friends in the parking lot to tell us that we could not visit our loved ones through at least March, I have worried about my father’s mental health as much as his physical health. That day, as I held a milkshake for Dad in my hand, I thought, “OMG! I have not explained the Coronavirus pandemic to him! He’ll think we’ve forgotten him!” I have been visiting him at least every other day since September of 2019, and when I ask what he’d like me to bring him next time I come, he answers, “Just bring Pooskie.” (That’s his nickname for me that made me cringe when I was in high school).
During most visits, I’d wash his face, comb his bed-hair, and encourage him to eat more of that day’s breakfast or lunch. Also, I’d refill his blue Wonder Woman water bottle with fresh ice water. Our talk would begin with me saying, “Tell me something good.” He’d give me a predictions for the Kentucky Derby winner; details about life in Ville Platte or Eunice, or a random bit of Louisiana history, “Governor Jimmie Davis got elected because of a song.” We did not fill all our time with talking. We’d look out the window or watch black and white movies on TCM. I’d hold his huge hand and he’d give me a tight squeeze.
Even though he’s 92 years old, bed-ridden, and has lost at least 40 pounds this past year, when I ask him how’s he’s doing, he somehow answers, “Things couldn’t be better.” He never fails to smile and say,“Hey, Pooskie,” when I arrive and “Thanks for coming,” as I leave.
So this last Friday I feared the “no visiting” precautions would send him into a depression. However, I totally underestimated the power of Brookdale Hospice. My dad’s team led by Ali, his smiling and very attentive nurse, have been miracle workers! Ali answers my texts quickly, and on Friday the 13th she was able to visit Dad. She explained the health crisis, checked his vitals, chatted, and gave him fresh ice water. A few days later Armistead, his music therapist, FaceTimed me and he and Dad sang to me! From Dad’s favorite “You Are My Sunshine” to a song I didn’t realize Dad knew (“San Antonio Rose”), they serenaded me for thirty minutes while I fought to hold back my tears. Then the next day Whitney, who gives him bed baths, texted and sent me a picture of a clean shaven Dad wearing his favorite purple shirt (“Geaux, Tigers!”) Also, Ali will tell the Hospice social worker Courtney to FaceTime me during her visits.
Dad calls the young, beautiful, and cheerful Hospice caretakers, “Doll” “Sugar Foot” and “Love Bug,” terms of endearment that let him off the hook for not remembering names. Also, he remembers to tell Armistead that his guitar playing and singalongs are the highlight of his week!
I cannot keep the guilt about Dad being “in a home” from clouding my mind at times, yet I believe he is in a safe place where the staff cares about him and keeps him comfortable. And in addition to meeting his physical needs, the facility and his Hospice miracle workers take care of his emotional/spiritual needs. They stay connected with our family and make sure all our souls can smile.
Don’t You Worry about that Mule
by Ginger Keller Gannaway
One of Dad’s favorite sayings makes me both nod and scratch my head: “Don’t you worry about that mule. That mule ain’t going blind.”
I totally get the essence of his advice, even if I don’t fully understand the specific imagery. A mule is a hybrid of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). A mule has more strength, patience, intelligence, and longevity than either of its parents. Darwin has said that with the hybrid mule’s superior characteristics, “art has outdone nature.”
I suppose my persistent and powerful worries can be compared to the superior pack animal – the mule. As I age, I have too much time to obsess over my endless list of fears:
Will my son get the new and improved job he seeks?
Will the ceiling slash in our living room turn out to need major roof repair costing thousands?
Will my car’s weird electrical issue where the doors automatically lock and unlock when I make a sharp turn or go over a train track one day keep me trapped when my car gets forced off a highway that crosses a deep river?
Will my dad’s nurses ignore his buzzer calls for help?
Will the latest global virus turn into scenes from the movie Contagion?
I’m not sure why Dad’s saying is about the mule’s eyesight, but maxims do not have to be logical, e.g. “Happy as a clam” or “Hunger is the best pickle.” They just need to suggest the essence of a piece of wisdom. Momma’s explanation to me of the Cajun phrase, “Tonnerre ma chien! (“Thunder the dog!”) was , “Well, it just means, ya know, ‘Thunder the dog,’ like you say, ‘Tonnerre ma chien!’ ya know.” There’s a feeling of an unexplained exclamation there, like a “Oh my God!” I guess.
So sayings can hold an abstract wisdom using concrete imagery, whether we’re talking about a dog in a storm or a mule with sight problems.
My worries sometimes tangle me in knots of fear. I lose sleep or overeat or snap at my pets and my husband. Then my senseless concerns never come close to reality. My son did not start holding up a cardboard sign on the corner of First Street and Ben White Blvd. when he was between jobs. My car has not trapped and drowned me at the bottom of Lake Pontrachain on my way to New Orleans.
Dad’s saying involves a mule because worries have strength and a sturdiness that stays with a person. However, mules also are known for being more affectionate than their parents. Therefore, I accept the fears of my nonsensical brain and remember that my head makes unlikely predictions.
Mules may get stuck in mud-filled ditches but they do not despair because they believe what Dad knows, “Don’t you worry about that mule. That mule ain’t going blind.”
The Last Perfect Bite by Ginger Keller Gannaway
Near the end of an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner, my husband once casually took a small bite of fried turkey, cornbread dressing, and smothered green beans off my plate.
I glared at him in shock. “Are you crazy?”
“I thought you were finished,” he explained.
My first instinct had been to stab his thieving fingers with my fork because that little amount of food was my carefully planned, highly anticipated last perfect bite.
As a Cajun who does not trust a person who does not LOVE food, meals mean a lot to me. I believe they are best savored and unrushed. How can some people scarf down food like dogs and finish in a few minutes a dinner that required 27 ingredients and three hours to prepare? Also, a person’s need to keep various foods separated on a plate confounds me. What would mashed potatoes be without their gravy? Why should we deny the black eyed peas a chance to get up close and personal to the slow-roasted beef? I love to change a plate of purposefully divided food into a mash-up of new flavors.
I actually plan my last perfect bite as soon as I get my first taste of the meal. How would stewed sweet potatoes complement tender and savory pork tenderloin? Wouldn’t the asparagus sautéed in garlic enjoy mixing things up with the curry shrimp? I relish how the flavor from one region twirls and smiles when it sidles up to a spice from a different culture. No wonder fusion restaurants are all the rage now. Belly Shack (Korean/Puerto Rican), Revolutionario (North African/Mexican), Valentina’s(TexMex/BBQ), & Bayona’s(Spanish/Italian/French/Indian/Mediterranean) offer international ways to thrill and delight their diners.
You might think that casseroles and soups have done all the mixing of tastes for the average diner. No way. Gumbo, a favorite of mine, emerged from incorporating diverse ingredients from a hodgepodge of places; however, that does not keep this Eunice, Louisiana girl from adding a dollop of potato salad into a hot bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo. Mix it up, cha.
When I glance over a plate lunch’s assortment of possibilities, I let my fork pick up a piece of baked chicken and add a little rice and gravy before I balance some maque choux (a Creole corn dish) on top and end by using the fork tines to jab a cherry tomato from my salad. Then after lively dinner talk, some sips of wine or iced tea, and my compliments to the cook, I decide on my last perfect bite. I balance my favorite flavors and anticipate that bite that may include two, three, or up to to six different dishes; it is always a groovy way for life’s diverse tastes to surprise and delight me. Trust the mix, baby, trust the mix!
Momma’s Food for Thought
Momma cooked rice and gravy every day for us. She made dinner at noon and supper at night. We had fish on Fridays (shrimp or crawfish for special occasions). Gumbo was in the fall and winter and boiled crawfish on Good Friday.
Momma’s rice and gravy, whether served with smothered steak, baked chicken, or pork sausage, was lick-the-plate-if-I-could delicious. I would hum my “Yum-yums” at times, and she’d laugh and warn me, “No singing at the table.” She loved all fresh vegetables and liked her toast almost burnt. Her dessert preferences were sweet dough pie, a moist bundt cake, or anything with fresh figs.
Momma taught me to appreciate and enjoy good food. She never weighed much over 100 pounds, yet she loved to cook and share meals with loved ones like a true Ville Platte Cajun. For her, the perfect breakfast was hot boudin and dark roast Community coffee. If you added a small greasy paper bag of fresh cracklins, the morning got even better.
I remember our summer dinners of ground beef and onions over a bed of Watermaid rice with field peas and cold sliced homegrown tomatoes on the side. Late August afternoons often meant cold sliced watermelon topped with salt at our backyard picnic table after we had been swimming or playing tennis.
Momma taught me to follow a few of her important food rules:
*Brown your meat well to make the “gradeau” you need for a gravy.
*Do not put seafood in your chicken gumbo or vice-versa.
*Never make an étouffée with “those Chinese crawfish.”
*If you give up sweets for Lent, you can have yogurt-covered raisins because Miss Jen said “those don’t count as sweets.”
Most importantly, my lil momma taught me that good food mattered and you gotta enjoy every bite. I may not have hot boudin in Austin, but Community coffee is everywhere now, and I can pretend my doughnut is a slice of blackberry sweet dough pie.
Merci beaucoup, Geraldine Latour aka Poulette aka Momma aka MaMa for teaching me that the best things in life have a bite of spice and taste so good you wanna Slap Ya Mama!
I’m forever turned around when we travel to East Texas. Every twist and zigzag, every highway or county road seems to melt into another. I never really know where I am, until we round a corner leading to the lake, Lake Tyler.
Being an Amarillo girl, I still marvel at the number of trees lining these roads and properties. The tall east Texas pines are standing proud, guarding the secret beauty of the land.
As we make our way to my brother-in-law’s home, we see glimpses of the lake around each bend. In between the beautiful homes is a peek at the water, with a promise of more. Everyone has a boat it seems. Lake life is The Life!
Ahhhhh, finally I begin to know where we are and as we swing into the long straight driveway, tranquility takes hold. Everything slows down. The family dog and the neighbors’ dog race out to greet us. No leash law here, only welcoming barks and wagging tails. “Pet me first!” they say.
The family home is facing the road but as you enter the house you see the true focal point with windows all along the back, showcasing a lush backyard leading to the water. Gorgeous, large trees make a statement as even the woodland creatures check out the new arrivals. The covered back porch is probably my favorite spot, as it is the length of the house with large fans and comfy rocking chairs. The porch is your morning coffee shop and your afternoon happy hour, encouraging you to sit, sip and stare…no other requirements needed
I admit I was once skeptical of the East Texas lifestyle. But, I’m a believer now, as I breathe in these Piney Woods and hear the friendly clerk at the gas station say, “Thank Y’all, come again and have a blessed day!”
The complete genuineness and country easiness lure me in and ask nothing of me but to appreciate the beauty of the land and the people. I can’t believe I was once so chichi that I eeked at the bugs and was fearful of gophers and anything else too woodsy. I thought my city ways were safer and much preferred. I was wrong.
This East Texas life has grown on me and each time I visit, I feel more at home and peaceful. I see more beauty and gain more respect for the honest family values and sincere friendliness. I am truly grateful for my tie to these Piney Woods. And to borrow a phrase from the Stop and Go,
“Thank Y’all for reading, come again and have a blessed day.”