Posted in Boo, Family, Relationships

Boo’s 20/20

Boo’s 20/20 by: Nancy Malcolm

“Your driving scares me!”  I said.  “Did you see that car?”  And I threw my arm across his chest in a move I used when the kids were little.

“My eyes are perfect,”  Boo declared.  “It’s you I worry about.”

“Maybe you need your eyes checked.  When was the last time you had an eye exam?”

“5th grade, by the school nurse.  I aced it!”  Holding one hand over his left eye. 

“I’m sure your school nurse was a lovely person and took her job seriously, but you have not had your eyes checked since elementary school?”

“I don’t need to.  I can see perfectly.”

Needless to say, I did not trust Boo’s last eye ‘exam’ as the current state of his eyesight.  As with most of Boo’s health care, I felt the need to lecture (that’s a harsh word) on the value of healthy eyes as we age.  You know, cataracts, glaucoma, and basic vision.  An eye exam can also warn of diabetes, high cholesterol, or other problems.

“Don’t worry about me, my eyes are x-ray vision!” he said. “Like Superman.”

“Well, if you don’t believe me, ask your doctor at next week’s annual exam.  See what he says.”  I was feeling smug that his doctor would agree with me and send him right away for an eye exam but sometimes I don’t trust Boo to ask his doctor the right questions.

When it came time for Boo to go, I handed him a slip of paper with three concerns to ask his doctor, just to ease my mind.

Do I need a flu shot and a pneumonia shot?

Check the mole behind ear that looks funny

Eye exam

According to Boo, his doctor, too, was a little surprised he had never had a real eye exam.

“So what did the doctor say?”  I asked.

“He asked me if I was having any problems.” 

 “What did you say?” I prodded.

“I said no. Then he asked me if  anything was blurry far away or close up?”

“And?”

“I said no.  Then he asked me why I wanted my eyes checked, and I said my wife thinks I need to.

“What did he say then?”  I asked.

“Oh.  Ok.”

The next week, Boo got his eyes examined, dilated and checked by a trained ophthalmologist, not a school nurse, and he came out with flying colors.

“You seem disappointed that I am truly perfect in every way.”

Maybe I was, just a little.  With Boo, I do worry about his health.  I’m glad to know he is now up to date on his flu shot, eye exam, colonoscopy and dental cleanings.  I’m still working on his nutrition, though.  His stash of candy and treats rival the grocery store check-out line, and his addiction to licorice is worthy of a 12-step program.

But, one thing at a time.  I’m proud of him for all he’s done and for now I will stay quiet and stop being Nurse Nancy.  

First the eyes….next the Twizzlers.

Posted in Aging, Family

Balled-up Kleenex by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Momma and me, 2010

Momma always kept a balled-up Kleenex in her right hand (or in her pocket).

She used this all-purpose tissue to wipe her drippy nose caused by what she called her “hay fever.” When we were kids, she also used her Kleenex to wipe a snot-nosed child’s face or to stop a scraped knee from bleeding. In the 1960s right before entering our Catholic church for mass, she could use a not-too-crumpled tissue as a make shift head covering for a forgetful daughter who had left her chapel veil at home. I still remember her pinning the white tissue atop my head using a stray bobby pin from her purse. No need for her to fuss at me for my memory lapse. My pin-scraped scalp was punishment enough. 

In a way always having the Kleenex on hand is a “Mom thing” – a being prepared thing. (for small spills, runny noses, dirty faces, fresh lipstick blots, minor cuts, or sudden tears).

When Momma was wheelchair-bound and barely talked, she still kept a Kleenex in her hand. After she died, I looked through the small leather purse she had carried everywhere she went. Inside I found her wallet, which held My Daily Rosary prayer card, her drivers license, and her library card. Also, there was a tiny round frame with a picture of my sister Kelly, a half-used Wine with Everything lipstick, a nail file, Double mint gum, and a couple of balled-up tissues. I smiled. 

I’ve been going on long walks around 7:15 each morning, and I take along a Kleenex in my pocket. I use the tissue to open the black iron gate that surrounds our apartment complex, to scratch my nose, and to wipe my forehead when the temperature gets in the 90’s. 

After my walk, the tissue is ragged and sweaty. It seems to symbolize my fears and uncertainty these days. The tissue keeps me from touching my face or some random object. The Kleenex I shove into my pocket before I venture out (for a walk, to the grocery, on an errand) feels as necessary as a face mask or hand sanitizer. 

Either I’m turning into my mother or channeling  a parent’s attempt to be prepared for life’s surprises and disasters. If a balled-up piece of tissue gives me comfort, I’ll take it. And I’ll focus on not tripping on the cracked sidewalks while I listen to birdsong and car horns.

Posted in Family

Cicadas by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Cicadas – 1963

trees in Eunice
Live oaks around my childhood home

I opened the shoe box gently to show Kelly my treasure.

“Just tree mess,” said Kelly as she moved the leaves, twigs, and moss around.

Couillon! They’re hiding from us.” And I gently picked up a green and brown insect. Its whirring whine made my three-year-old sister say, “Coooool,” as she petted its folded wings. 

“Careful,” I said and replaced the insect as my sister searched and found the box’s true treasure – a poopy-brown thing.  “Lookit this.”

“It’s dead,” said Kelly.  I set it on the oak tree trunk whose shade we sat in.  The brown bug took slow-motion steps up the trunk. Kelly could only stare.

“Looks like a seratops.”

Kelly reached to touch it with her index finger, but my larger hand covered my little sister’s whole hand.  “Leave it. Just watch.”

Our heads moved close, close to the bug on the tree. We watched it mummy-move some more.  Then it stopped.

“It’s dying,” said Kelly as she put her arm around my neck.

“Watch,” I repeated.

It took one and a half minutes for the younger girl to lose interest. “It’s really dead now,” she whispered into my ear.

brown cicada“Shhhhhh,” and I squeezed Kelly’s shoulder and pointed.  Kelly moved her head closer in. Did the brown bug’s back crack? Why was it killing itself? Then slow, slow a wet thing backed out of the cracked bug. Kelly remembered cartoons where a baby bird pecks its way out of an egg. She leaned in and almost kissed the tree bark.

I held her shoulder and brought my face over my sister’s.  As the new bug emerged, it paused to allow its folded wings to unfurl. The green translucent beauty of the wings brought soft gasps from both of us.

“Now he’s gotta dry off,” I said, and we both froze to witness the new and improved insect glowing atop the broken carcass. It seemed to be sunbathing in the broken sunbeams.

Kelly held her breath and I nodded my head. After awhile the cicada made its whirring, clicking whine to flyaway. Both of our heads tilted up to watch the miracle depart. 

Then I carefully took the split-open brown thing and placed it in my shoe box.

“Cool,” said Kelly.  I nodded and put an arm around my sister’s shoulder.

Kelly, age 3
Kelly, age 3

Posted in Family, Travel

Waves by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Waves

mom & dad with emile & me at beach
Emile, Mom, Ginger, Dad at beach, 1959

 These days, except for the triple-digit temperatures, it doesn’t feel like July. COVID19 has stolen the summer tradition of family vacations for many people. I have been looking back at my childhood and our yearly trips to the Florida beach.

     In 1964 I held Kelly’s left hand in my right and Gayle’s right in my left. In our new two-piece bathing suits we faced the bright white Florida shore with our backs to the Gulf of Mexico. Gayle and I stood in thigh-high water while Kelly jumped up and down so that the water went from her waist to her thighs. Our game was simple. Keep your head straight ahead and do not turn around to see the approaching surf. Listen for the sounds of the breaking waves and be ready to jump when the salt water slapped your backside. Also, do not break the holding-hands chain! I tightened my grip on Kelly’s hand as the four-year-old continued to bounce up and down like a human Tigger. “Stay still,” I said. “You need to concentrate and listen.” Kelly started to jump higher and shake her skinny hips.

“She loves you! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” sang Kelly.

Gayle echoed, “Yeah,Yeah, Yeah!”

I pulled and squeezed Kelly’s hand as our middle sister said, “We gotta be ready, y’all!” Kelly continued singing, but in a hesitant whisper of a voice. I held my breath to focus on the sounds behind us eleven seconds before the rushing roar of the waves announced water higher than all three of us. The wave pounded over our heads and all we knew was water. We screamed in unison as the frothy water pushed us forward and roared its dominance. We all lost our balance and our feet left the sand. Gayle and I stayed connected, but Kelly got pulled away and sent rolling in the surf. She got a mouthful of salt water and the waves sent her face into the sand. I rushed to Kelly’s rescue, dragging my other sister with me. I reached for my youngest sister’s arm, but my fingers squeezed a long ponytail instead. I yanked the dark chunk of hair over my head and pulled her to her feet. Her bikini top was askew and covered only one nipple. Kelly was too shocked to cry and reached for my waist to steady herself. I released her hair and Gayle reached over to help keep Kelly standing. With both Kelly’s arms around my waist and a wiggling Gayle on the other side, I did my best to walk my sisters to the shore. Soon we all three sat on dry sand.

beach with Stoneciphers
Beach trip in 1959 with the Stoneciphers

 

“I ’bout drowneded,” sputtered Kelly as Gayle said, “You ok now.” I sat in the middle and placed an arm around each sister. Together we looked at the watery wildness we had escaped. After thirty seconds of concentration on the power of nature and the suddenness of disaster,  Kelly stood to straighten her bathing suit. “Let’s build a sand castle,” she said as she walked to the beach chair Mom was sitting in. (Momma had been too preoccupied with rubbing baby oil on her legs to witness her daughters’ water misadventure). Gayle followed Kelly, but I stayed there staring at the waves. Just a couple of minutes before I had feared for my little sister’s life! I closed my eyes and breathed in and out, in and out.  A helicopter moved overhead and pulled a banner that proclaimed the freshness of “Dougie’s Shrimp Baskets.”

beach 1972
Ginger, Kelly, Gayle and Momma at beach in 1972

I stared at the pounding water on the shore four feet in front of me.  The steady rush of water as it spread over the hot sand and the wave’s retreat into the gulf hypnotized me. How could the water have such power?  It was loose and liquid and allowed kids to float atop it. It called out to folks to join in its cool beauty, its wild excitement, its thrilling danger. I closed my eyes and listened to rhythmic sounds that soothed me until I decided to help my sisters with sand castle creations.

Papa and Evan at beach
PaPa and Evan at the Beach, 1999

 

Posted in Family

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Bangberry Ride by Ginger Keller Gannawaydear daddy

For Dad (June, 2020)

There was a massive oak tree with a long, low limb. A 6’4” dad would put his oldest daughter on his shoulders and let her scramble into the crook of the tree’s limb where she could hold on to small branches and settle into the oak’s saddle. The tall dad would then grab the limb’s end and pull it down, down to the ground. Anticipation made the girl’s grip tighten. The dad would bend his knees down and up, down and up to the tune of an old nursery rhyme:

“Here we go down to Bangberry Cross

To see a fine lady ride on a white horse.

With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes

She will have music where ever she goes.”

Then the dad added an “Ole!” as he released the limb to make the girl fly up high as long as the tree was free to boing, boing back into place.

Head and hair surrounded by branches and leaves, she felt equal to the free-flying blue jays that hung out in their backyard. That eight-second thrill was a perfect balance of joy and fear.  She looked down on her siblings from her queenly perch as they did the “Me next!” dance and she gave the mere mortals a slight smile before she accepted the huge hand that helped her dismount her tree throne.

Besides the wooden roller coaster at the beach, the Bangberry Ride was her favorite ride. With a rhyming song, a heavenly seat, a father’s love, her sisters’ envy, and a stomach’s tickle the ride was perfection.trees in Eunice

Posted in Family

Clothes Make The Man

 

DSC_0276_original

 

It was Saturday night and we were going to a party at a friend’s house.  I had been preoccupied figuring out what I was going to wear, making the appetizer and wrapping the hostess gift, that I didn’t give Boo too much thought.

He came into the bedroom fresh from his shower and started to get dressed.  When I walked out of the bathroom I saw him standing there dressed and ready to go.  “Are you going to wear that?”  I asked.  

Boo stood perfectly still and with a deer in the headlights look said, “I don’t know, am I?”

“Here,” I said.   “Try this shirt and change belts. OK?”

“Sure.”

This scenario has gone on for years.  I thought he was dressing in mix-matched clothes and frayed pants just to mess with me until finally one day after I announced,

 “Boo! You can’t wear that.” 

 He shot back with, “Yes, I can and I will.  Why do you wait until I’m already dressed and then tell me I’m all wrong?”  

He had had enough of my foolishness.

“If you want me to dress a certain way, just set it out for me,”  he said.  I really thought he was just being obstinate or trying to make a point with his clothing choices, but nothing was farther from the truth.  He really doesn’t care what he wears and he can’t tell if it matches.  IMG_3258

I felt terrible.  I had been scolding him like a petulant child and I really didn’t want to do that.

He told me in earnest that if I wanted him to look a certain way all I had to do was just set it out and he’d put it on.

“After all,” he said.  “You buy my clothes, so it’s kind of your fault if I look bad.”  While I appreciate his willingness to dress for success, I’m not responsible for some of his older, funkier shirts and shorts.  Nonetheless, we embarked on a new plan of action.

If I care, I take responsibility.  If I want him to look a certain way, I pick out his clothes.  On vacations where I care, like on a cruise, for example, I iron his shorts and pack for him, like a kid going to camp.  Shorts, shirts, underwear, socks all in neat stacks.  If he’s going to visit his brother or go with guy friends somewhere, I let go and let Boo choose his outfit.  Sometimes he surprises me and looks adorable, but mostly it’s clean but wrinkled shorts, a shirt with stains and tennis shoes.   

I have to let it go because he has agreed to let me have my way.  One by one certain shirts have mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with new ones.  Occasionally he will dress and demand his right to wear what he considers “OK.”   I do feel like he is becoming a snappier dresser and now that he has a few go-to outfits, I give more compliments and fewer critiques.  

I’m trying to keep my mouth closed and not ask the question that has no right answer, “Are you going to wear that?”  Now, what about that underwear…..

Posted in Family, Food, Relationships

It’s Not Like Granny’s

IMG_3146

Granny Malcolm

 

He saw a can of salmon on the kitchen counter.  “Are we having salmon croquettes?” he asked with a huge grin.

“Yep.”

“ I love salmon croquettes!  My granny used to make them.”IMG_3149

In the humble circles of Texas, we eat salmon from a can.  Of course, now that we are more worldly, we enjoy fresh salmon broiled or baked, but salmon croquettes are what we grew up on.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in Amarillo, we only ate canned vegetables, canned tuna, even ham from a can.  It’s hard to imagine now, but that tin smell and taste seemed normal.  Nothing came in an easy-open pouch or fresh frozen.  The croquette recipe I remember is:   canned and drained salmon,  saltine cracker crumbs,  an egg,  and maybe chopped onion if you want to get fancy

 You first had to dig out all of the small bones from the can-shaped salmon.  We were always warned that you could choke and die if you swallowed a bone!  Then, you mix it all together and form patties that you coat on both sides with cornmeal.  Next, you pan fry until golden brown.  Yum!

Boo grew up in a small east Texas town.  To this day, his brother, who still lives there, doesn’t lock his house or car.  It’s just an easy-living atmosphere.  When Boo was in high school and could finally leave campus, he and a friend would walk to his granny’s house for lunch every day.  Sometimes they would eat sandwiches, but mainly Granny made those growing boys a hot meal; meatloaf, fried chicken, pot roast, and salmon croquettes.  So when Boo saw the can of salmon, he immediately thought of dear Granny, God rest her soul. 61048007487__F2BF2BA6-F46A-4CA1-BA8D-E175087C4A0F

There are many meals I’ve made through the years that did not quite match up to Granny’s.  Usually, the comments from Boo go something like this:

“Where’s the gravy?”

“Granny used to always make mashed potatoes with meatloaf.”

Most of the time I catch myself before snapping, “Well, I’m not Granny.  God rest her soul.”

Granny must have been a saint.  She loved to cook and see her children and grandchildren eat her food.  She equated food with love and Boo has told me several times that my cooking is good, but to make it great I’d have to cook with my heart, not my head.

Even Boo cooks with love.  On nights when we agree to just fend for ourselves, I get cheese and crackers and then I hear Boo rattling pots and pans and I smell bacon.  Granny used bacon with everything.  He will whip up a beautiful omelet, bacon and blueberry pancakes, while I sit down to my hard cheese and a few Ritz.  “I didn’t know you were going to do that!” I whine.  “I cook with this, Boo (making a heart shape with his hands) I cook with this!”IMG_3145

While I admit, love is the furthest from my mind when I’m preparing a meal, I do pride myself on the fact that you will not starve at my house.  My food is nutritious, simple and I have a few never-fail recipes, but my heart is just not in it.  I’m not dear Granny, God rest her soul.

While I was mixing my croquettes, I asked Boo, “How did Granny make the salmon croquettes?”

He looked at my ingredients and said, “Well, for starters Granny chopped up the onion so fine, I couldn’t see it.”  I got out the knife and rechopped onions even smaller, trying not to be resentful.  And, about thirty minutes later, when I saw the contented smile on Boo’s face and heard him say, “This is just like Granny used to make,” I knew I had succeeded.

“Thanks, babe,”  I said and I sent up a special thank you to Granny, God rest her soul, for helping me find the love.  I salute the Granny’s of the world.  All of the beautiful people who live to love and love to cook.  I admire them and respect their spirit, heart, and soul, and I admit I could stand to be a little more like Granny.

 “Granny, if you’re looking down on me, please give me a little nudge now and then, so I can make Boo happy with my culinary efforts.” 

 Grant me the serenity not to snap at his requests for gravy, 

the courage to try new recipes, and the wisdom to know my limitations. 

 Amen.

7697013

Posted in Family

Daddy Was A Saver

SCAN0051

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.”

Posted in Family

No Sad Souls Here

 Sad soul signwritten 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,” asIMG_0031 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.