I met my new favorite person in this world two weeks ago – Winslow McClain Gannaway! He weighed eight pounds, ten ounces and made funny faces while he slept. His mother Catherine said he looked just like his dad, Casey, my middle son. I saw Catherine in his chubby cheeks and soulful eyes as well as Casey in his long limbs and perfect nose.
We begin life with people wanting us to resemble our parents. “He has his dad’s big feet” or “his mom’s smile.” And as kids, we imitate our parents – combing our hair like Momma’s, pretending to shave like Dad. We often adopt their interests. Chefs have children who love to cook. The lawyer hopes his/her offspring will one day take over the family practice. A tennis player starts lessons for the kids as soon as they can hold a racket. For eleven years or so many children follow their parents’ lead.
As a kid I went to church every Sunday and learned to love our family’s traditions – from Good Friday crawfish boils to getting up before dawn for long vacations. Then my teenage brain veered into other directions, and I pushed back.
I went from loving to dance with my kid feet atop my dad’s size fourteen shoes to hating my size eight feet when I entered eighth grade. Would I, like him, need to drive to Lafayette to find oversized shoes? Would I even find women size twelves for when I became a senior?
I rebelled, rejected, and criticized my parents. I resented their help and worked hard not to become them. I felt proud of our differences and later believed my own kids would be closer to me than I was to my parents. I gave my kids more choices as I also hovered over their lives.
However, after all my pushing back on my parents’ influences, I realize I am stained with personality traits and habits that are just like theirs. My dad ate breakfast in white v-neck t-shirts and slacks. His undershirts had stains from previous meals, rushed shaving jobs, or paint from work. I remember Momma exclaiming,“Reginald!” at the table when Dad’s sloppy manners created round grease stains that Momma’s aggressive cleaning could not erase. So I judged Dad for his messy eating.
Just yesterday I noticed a circular stain on the right thigh of my favorite jeans. I can’t remember if I spilled the contents of a pork taco or the filling from a blackberry cobbler on that leg. When did I become stained with the flaws of my parent? Like Dad, I’m a messy eater. I also have big feet and hate asking others for directions. I love every kind of fruit and I salt my watermelon. I enjoy gatherings with relatives and friends where good food, strong drinks, and well-told jokes connect us. My siblings and I got his short-fused temper as well as his love of movies. He taught us and his grandkids how to pull our rackets back and to get our first serves in when playing tennis. I embrace Dad’s love of travel and adventure, especially the times that are unplanned and serendipitous.
When I was young relatives said I looked like my dad (which did not make me happy); I’d rather look like my momma with her petite stature and tiny waist. I still do have plenty of Mom connections. She loved her breakfast food well done. My husband often warns me: “You’re burning your toast!” and I say the obvious, “That’s the way I like it.” Over the years with practice I have learned to make good gumbo and crawfish etouffee, but I still dream of her pork roast with rice and gravy that I cannot copy. I also failed at mastering her portion-control ways; she never weighed over 110 pounds. She stayed a poulette (a small chicken) – dusting, picking-up, putting-away, ironing, cooking, and wiping clean every counter she passed. I did not inherit her need for a spotless kitchen and an organized living room.
I don’t think Momma nor Dad understood my love of reading and writing or my desire to live in a large city. They were small town born and bred, never leaving the south central Louisiana parish they raised their family in. Religion remained a major part of their lives, and they did their best to look the other way when their three grown daughters moved away from the Catholic Church.
I don’t attend weekly mass and I’ve not been in a confessional in more years than I want to confess to, but I often pray to the Virgin Mary and have rosaries in my desk, my car’s glovebox, and by my bedside.
The saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” fits my food tastes, entertainment tendencies, love of New Orleans and New York City, and interest in major tennis tournaments. I’ve learned to value my parents’ respect for close family ties and shared vacations. However, I have lived longer in Austin, Texas than I lived in Cajun Country. I believe in recycling, breakfast tacos, greenbelt hikes, tattoos, and lots of live music.
I have the Kellers’ obsession with movies and card playing and the LaTours’ love of music and laughter. The stains of my parents’ parents were pressed into their hearts and minds from those before them, so I claim the traits I’ve inherited, and now that Momma and Daddy have died, I do not want those stains to disappear. Like the thrift store robe that once belonged to my sister Kelly, I treasure old things, especially when they have imprints from my past.
I will hopefully leave my marks on my own three sons and their offspring. And one chilly day Winslow McClain Gannaway may ask me to make him some gumbo, and we will watch Cat Ballou together before I tuck him in at night and read him “Clovis Crawfish and His Friends.”