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

 

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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.

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Posted in Family

4/1/2020

Here is a haiku by Ginger Keller Gannaway to start off April, National Poetry Month.

4/1/2020

big-eyed baby pulled

in red wagon by tired dadShane Baby

connected and apart

 

Posted in Family

Daddy Was A Saver

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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.

Posted in Family

Don’t You Worry about that Mule

Don’t You Worry about that MuleMule 2

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.Worry Head 1

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.”mule 1

Posted in Family, Food

The Last Perfect Bite

The Last Perfect Bite by Ginger Keller Gannawaybite4

Momma bite
Momma Gerry taught me to savor every bite.

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.bite3

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!

gumbo momma
MaMa’s Gumbo
Posted in Family, Food

Momma’s Food for Thought by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Momma’s Food for ThoughtMama gumbo

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.

Mama & watermelon
Me, Momma, Ryan, and Emile 1987

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!slap ya mama