Posted in Family, Grandmother

My Practice Grandchildren by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Each of my three grown sons have wonderful ladies in their lives. Two are engaged! I’m thrilled to know they have love in their lives that has helped them navigate the trials and tribulations of the pandemic. I also have a selfish wish I never say in front of these very groovy couples: I want grandchildren!

One day I want to brag and smile when I tell friends about the unbelievable beauty and intelligence of my offsprings’ offspring. But until then, I will be happy with my three beautiful and intelligent “practice grandchildren.”  Jaco, Sunny, and Guppy!!!

I first met Jaco when he was a baby and his mom and I walked our dogs together in my old neighborhood. She would walk towards my house early in the morning led by her dog Lou, a regal Great Pyrenees, and Jaco faced forward in a Babybjorn carrier. As Jaco got used to me, he’d kick both of his chubby legs and give me excited smiles when my dog and I came outside. After several months of shared walks, he’d say “Mi-Mi!” when he saw me. ( However, Natalie and I were not sure if he was referring to me or my dog Millie). He shared the same wide-eyed joy for an adult who tickled his bare feet or for a dragonfly that landed on his mom’s arm. (Babies from 4 to 10 months old are very easy audiences!) But on a stroll down a trail in an off-leash dog park when Jaco was the wise age of two and a half, he gave both of my knees a spontaneous hug and said, “I love you so much!” My heart filled with a rush of love that reminded me of that tummy flutter that happens in the early months of pregnancy.

Now at age four, Jaco has matured beyond such displays of affection. During our walks he talks nonstop about the movie Cars and quotes Lightening McQueen as if he’s the cartoon car’s agent. And his long light brown curls bounce when he’s reimagining a favorite movie scene until he stops along the trail to point at the ground and say, “Look!! A roly-poly party!” So I stop and marvel with him at the crowd of bugs squirming at the base of a cypress tree. His sharp eyes miss nothing, and his curious intelligence has that “carpe diem” attitude towards the natural world so that walking with him is always part Discovery channel and part Comedy Central when he makes up silly rhymes or remembers some of Tow-Mater’s best jokes. I’ve watched Jaco grow from a stationary baby to a super curious toddler to a confident older brother and he makes me believe the world can be sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows!

Sunny

My second “practice grandchild” fits her nickname like fine crushed ice settles neatly into the thin paper cone of a snowball on a summer afternoon. Sunny’s presence is always as welcome as a cold treat on a hot day. Almost 3 years-old, Sunday Joy (my friend Crystal’s granddaughter) daily surprises her parents and friends with a capacity for love and creativity that’s only surpassed by her intelligence and wit.

Her clothing style reflects her multi-colored personality. Some days her flowered dress will match the colorful barrettes in her hair and her rainbow sneakers. Other days she’ll wear  a couple of shirts, multiple scarves, five bracelets, a floppy hat and be naked from the waist down. Whatever outfit she chooses to throw together, she owns it whether she’s prancing in the backyard with her dog or chasing Oma Crystal around the living room. She started talking early and by two, she was belting out classics such as “The Wheels on the Bus” like a young diva or holding a small notepad and pencil while asking, “May I take your order?”  when pretending to be a waiter at her parents’ bar and restaurant, the Cavalier.

Sunny & Crystal at The Cavalier’s Wickie Walkup
Musical Sunny Bunny

Her grandpa Ric, who died of cancer before she was born, was the most soulful, wise, and loving human I’ve ever known. He had a smile reminiscent of Paul Newman’s grin in Cool Hand Luke. His joie de vivre lit up his whole face and shone through his mischievous eyes.

Sunny smiles like Grandpa Ric and she laughs like Oma Crystal, explosive and free. The way she greets a friends with a sweet-toned, “You want to play with me” reveals her big, generous heart, and the way she says good-bye with a hug shows her exuberant love. 

Every time I see her smile it’s like I won the Trifecta in the day’s biggest race. I always greet her as “Sunny Bunny! Sunny Bunny!” in a bouncy voice because she’s 26 pounds of laughs and smiles and JOY. 

I met my third “practice grandchild” the day she was born. Two years ago Natalie, Jaco’s mom, had a midwife help her deliver Gillespie, and I was lucky to be her first visitor because I picked up Jaco to give his parents a few hours of rest.

Guppy has large brown eyes that watch the world intensely. She took her time getting used to me. Like her brother, she surveyed me from her mom’s BabyJorn carrier. She did not smile as quickly as Jaco did. I had to earn Guppy’s smiles. During our dog park walks, I’d chat with Jaco about ladybugs and cacti. We’d find cool sticks to use as canes or drum sticks. And his little sister listened and watched, taking it all in and waiting for the time she’d have lots to say. The first time she called me, “Gingah,” it was barely above a whisper and she looked embarrassed by my huge smile and watery eyes. When she started walking she revealed her bold adventurous side. Her curiosity pulled her toddling ahead of us on the dirt trail. Soon she’d be climbing through a hole in a fence or chasing a butterfly without a thought of us. 

She first showed her trust in me at a playground this past fall. She held my hand and guided me to the bright yellow plastic slide and let me help her up the steps before she went down the slide backwards and head first- a daring toddler full of confidence.

This Easter I dyed eggs with my “practice grandchildren” in Crystal’s backyard. Sunny, as hostess, made sure we all had enough Annie’s cheddar bunnies. Jaco sat next to me and reminded me of Lightning McQueen’s best scenes as he carefully placed eggs in blue, green, purple, and pink cups of dye. Guppy sat across from her brother and often dropped her eggs on the wooden picnic table where they cracked, so she’d start to peel the boiled egg, giving more attention to eating than coloring. Natalie, Crystal, and I used white crayons to draw flowers, stars, polka dots, and names on the pre-dyed eggs. The artistic dying of eggs interested the kids for 30 minutes before Sunny led her company to the yard’s sandbox and toy cars and trucks and a bubble machine. I felt honored to share an Easter tradition with my three favorite kids. No matter what trouble the news focuses on, I have hope that my “practice grandchildren” will continue to make the world sweeter, brighter, and better.

Posted in Contemplations, Grandmother

The Mantle Clock

That black mantle clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home.

            Occasionally, as a child I would spend the night with my grandma.  She lived in a small, stucco duplex on Hayden Street in Amarillo, Texas.  Modest is an accurate term to describe my grandma’s house, modest and comfortable.  Grandma lived a simple life and was quiet by nature, and since she did not own a television, her house was very quiet, too.  The rattle or clang of pots and pans in the kitchen or the on and off of her sewing machine was the only noticeable sound, except for a long sigh or wince as she lowered herself into the swivel armchair by the window, smoothing her apron and rubbing her knees.

On the mantle, proudly displayed in the center, right above the little gas heater was her black mantle clock.  The ticking sound was steady and rhythmic and set the tone for Grandma’s house…methodical, never rushed.        

            My brother and I would ask to wind the clock when it wound down, and often she would let us, but only under her watchful eye and direction.  She kept the key that wound the clock safely placed behind it.  We understood that if the clock was wound too tightly, dropped or mistreated in any way, it would have to be taken to a clock repair shop and that would cost money.  We instinctively knew she did not have the extra funds for that, and so we treated her clock with much respect.

            At night as I lay on the lumpy pull-out sofa bed, under two or three handmade quilts, I would fall asleep to the ever present rhythm of the clock.  My heart would begin to beat in time with the ticking and I would be lulled into a deep, peaceful sleep.  During the day, the clock struck on the hour and half hour with a coil gong striking sound, but at night the gonging sound never made it into my dreams.

            Now, in my den, on the mantle is a little French, battery operated clock that reminds me of Grandma’s mantle clock.  In the mornings I find it peaceful yet strong as it regulates my heartbeat and sets the perfect tone to ‘sit ugly.’  Listening to the steady ticking reminds me to relax and slow down before the demands of the day take over.  There is so much noise in our world, so many sounds that assault us from morning till night.  Alarm clocks, blaring music, angry news, sirens or car alarms to warn us of various violations.  Have you ever noticed that even commercials are louder than the television show itself?

The other day, I bolted out the door to get in my daily walk.  I was halfway through my route when I noticed that I had been “thinking” or at least having mental chatter the whole time. I almost wasted my walk, my time to recharge.  When I quiet my mind and listen to nature, my walk is restorative.  When I worry, think too much or rush my walk, I waste the gift of today. 

 Birdies singing, squirrels scampering, the rustle of the wind through the trees; these are the sounds that heal.  Nature heals us if we will let it, if we listen to the rhythmic beat of the earth.  Everything and every living being falls into the pattern flow of the earth and if we purpose it, our footsteps are like the clock, peaceful yet strong, left-right, left-right.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist priest and author of Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, said, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”  As you walk, you are aware.  Aware of your being, your thoughts, your surroundings, and your blessings.  The blessings given to you by nature.

            Grandma’s mantel clock was one of her most prized possessions.  It was the center of her home and the focus of her life, especially as she got older.  I think the steady ticking and hourly gonging comforted her and reassured her she was not alone.   That classic, black mantel clock stayed with Grandma even in the nursing home, and when Grandma left this world, my brother became the proud recipient.  He has it, even to this day, on his mantel, front and center.

            We all need to find our rhythm, something that centers us and regulates our insides so that the outside world doesn’t wear us down or threaten our peace.  Whether it is the steady ticking of a clock, the rhythmic pace of a mindful walk or sitting quietly with your hand over your heart, this is the day we have been given.  We must embrace it.   The path to peace is always methodical, never rushed.

Posted in Grandmother, Relationships

Martha Margaretha

Valentine Queen

Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from Grandma.  She was my source of information on becoming a woman, wife and mother.  Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.

Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas.  They were so poor that her parents sent the last two siblings to live with another family because they could not feed them all.  She was only able to complete the 3rd grade because everyone was needed on the farm.  Grandma told me once that she did not remember laughing as a child.  “There was nothing to laugh about,” she said.  “We worked from sunup to sun down.”  And so my grandma, Martha Margaretha, was a serious, no nonsense kind of gal most of the time, but there was a little girl inside who longed to have fun and feel carefree.

Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes and nightgowns.  She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself.  She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles!  I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes.  Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I.  Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out, while working tirelessly to make it come together.

Martha had two main rules on beauty:  Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them.  In Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items.  There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using.  She wore Lady Esther loose face powder, and kept the box front and center.  If I close my eyes I can smell the sweet fragrance and remember the way Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged and kissed her.  She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it, if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent.  The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.

The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box.  The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section.  Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces and brooches, most of which came from us, for Christmas or birthdays.  She also had a small little cameo that she pinned on for special occasions.  I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet glamorous pieces.  Grandma truly believed in accessories, and although coming from humble beginnings, she wanted to look her best.  It was very important to her.

With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’.  No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure.  Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home.  Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth.  I remember once, while visiting her in ‘the home’,  one of the caregivers gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy.  After the worker left, Grandma turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.

 My dad made sure she was always taken care of and able to live comfortably, and so the former Valentine Queen was content and loved.  I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder.  We would expect nothing less from Martha Margaretha.

As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

I think Grandma knew that too.

Grandma’s 100th Birthday
Posted in Aging, Grandmother

Technology: “Crooked as a Barrel of Snakes” by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Grandma Keller’s Slot Machine

Technology: “Crooked as a Barrel of Snakes!”

Grandma Keller had a nickel slot machine in the hall next to the front door of her home. Several times a day she’d use her walker to reach a stool set in front of the machine and feed it nickels from a metal cup she held.

The machine was green and spun pictures of cherries, oranges, plums, bells, and bars for the chance to win the $7.50 jackpot. You could win five nickels for two cherries or a cherry and a bar. The machine never hit the jackpot, and 18 nickels (for three bells) was the most it ever paid out. Like other one-armed bandits, it was programed to keep you playing without emptying its whole stash of coins.

Grandma Keller, aka Madame Queen

Grandma loved to gamble! From betting on the horses at the New Orleans Fairgrounds to playing poker or bouree with her lady friends, she loved games of chance when money was at stake. And like most of us, she hated to lose. After depleting her cup of nickels at the slot machine, she’d mutter, “Crooked as a barrel of snakes,” before she’d limp back to her favorite arm chair in the living room or her large wooden rocking chair on the front porch. Then she could let a cup of coffee or a Salty Dog (depending on the time of day) help her forget her losses.

For me, dealing with technology is like pulling that slot machine’s long metal arm and hoping my nickel was not used in vain. When I try to reformat a document or navigate a spreadsheet, my head watches those wheels of cherries, plums, and oranges spin. Will my revised  document look centered and pleasing to the eye?  Will my saved numbers on my spreadsheet make it to my employer correctly? Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine.

At times the document I spent seventy minutes working on disappears, or the info I emailed to work gets me a reply that explains how I entered information incorrectly.

I’m not a total idiot. Before I retired from full time teaching, I managed my online grade book, and most of my assignments were linked to class calendars. However, I could no way navigate the current issues of a virtual classroom! When I successfully shared my screen during a Zoom meeting with some student teachers I work with, a twenty-one year old had to remind me, “Ms. Gannaway, your mic is on mute again.”  

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

My oldest son helps me with blog posts, and he tries to remember that patience is a virtue. But I hear his deep sighs and see him comb his hair back with his palm before saying, “Mom, what did we do last time we edited an image?”

Back in the ‘90s someone told me, “Don’t be afraid. You won’t break the computer or permanently lose stuff.” Well, I don’t know about that! I often have no idea whether clicking on a link or pressing a return button will have the result I want. The slot machine gears keep spinning and it’s all a game of chance!

I hate the fear and uncertainty COVID has created in our lives. Yet technology and social media put me on uneven ground years ago. SnapChat made me nervous when those weird animated photos all went away in 24 hours. But it’s also unnerving that FaceBook stuff never goes away.

I don’t understand or trust the Cloud and I wish texting had not become my go-to form of communicating. Since I seldom see people in person, I miss hearing their voices.

I’m still more optimistic than pessimistic, so I’ll pull that cold metal arm that sometimes sticks a bit and trust the technological slot machine of life as I say, “Please, Lord” while I cross my fingers and watch the blur of fruit and accept the whirring, spinning uncertainty of now. I never know when several coins will clatter into the pay-off slot.  

Emile is making sure the slot machine is still spinning
Posted in Grandmother

Stuck by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Stuck

When I was 5, I pushed my fat face through the stair railings at Grandma’s house. I was sitting on the 7th or 8th step that led up to the spooky attic door where grown-ups had told us “Egor lived.” My first cousin Gina was in the hallway below me (maybe I had hoped to scare or surprise her with my silly stunt).  Unfortunately, I only succeeded in getting my head stuck between the wooden slats and crying like a clueless puppy who nudged a snapping turtle. 

ANDREW on stairs
My nephew Andrew who is too wise to stick his whole head through Grandma’s stair railings!

I do not remember who rescued me from my trap, but I do recall the embarrassment more than I remember the pain of pulling my big head free from the railings. Gina’s giggles mixed with my brother Emile’s taunt, “Ha!Look what Ginger did!” And my younger sister Gayle pulled her thumb from her mouth and asked me the obvious, “Why you do that?”

Years later Gina would tease me with, “Remember when you stuck your big head thru Grandma’s stair rails?” as we both laughed and clinked our Miller Pony bottles.  Gina was right.  I was a chubby-cheeked, Charlie Brown-headed kid who rushed into silly situations.

Fat Face
My “Village of the Damned” stare, and why does a 4-year-old need a watch?

I still have memories of a few unfortunate messes I found myself stuck in:

Age 8: Deciding to help a wounded opossum take care of her newborn babies as she hissed at me.

Age 15: Talking my 2 younger sisters (ages 13 &11) into hanging out at the motel swimming pool to flirt with some young army recruits stationed at Fort Polk. The guys tried talking us into meeting them later at their motel rooms. My wiser, younger sisters convinced me sneaking out to visit them later that night was a bad idea.

Age 19: Mixing cocktails in my roommate’s Volkswagen as we drove across the river on a Sunday afternoon to a bar where we danced with guys in their 30’s who later that week called us to see if we were available as “dates” for their friends.

Age 35: Driving 6 young boys to Barton Springs for a summer swim and being told, “We don’t allow day cares to swim with only one chaperone.”

My curiosity or my ill-guided bravery often led me to make a few bumpy, rocky decisions.  However, my stupid choices did not usually keep me stuck for too long. Back when I was stuck on Grandma’s stairs my mom or Aunt Toni likely rescued me. I even later served as a “cautionary tale” for future young cousins.

“Remember: Don’t be like Ginger and get your head stuck in those stair railings. Egor might come from the attic to get you!”

Posted in Grandmother

Big Jim by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Big Jim

Liberty 1927
Liberty Theater, 1927

My siblings and I in a way grew up in a movie theater.   Grandma Keller owned our hometown’s two movie theaters, and she let her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren get in free.  My brother and sisters and I saw every movie that came to town. That lasted until 1968 when the ratings system began (G, M, R, and X). My parents viewed the Liberty Theater and Queen Cinema as free “babysitters.” We sometimes were dropped off at the show with paper bags holding hamburgers from Ruby’s Cafe if Momma and Dad’s night out began early. I remember strolling past a line of movie customers and waving at Miss Pearl (the ticket seller) as we made our way inside. A new ticket taker would get, “Our grandma is Mrs. Keller,” if he tried to stop our jaunty picture show entrance. Continue reading “Big Jim by Ginger Keller Gannaway”

Posted in Cajuns, Friendship, Grandmother

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Tree by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Treemimosa tree

A momma’s love shines through her children, and Mama Joe’s eleven children wonderfully displayed their love for her.  Lizo Vidrine married when she was 15 and she and Joe Latour raised their 11 kids in Ville Platte, Louisiana.  As a kid, I remember going to Mama and PapaJoe’s every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons.  When Dad drove the family from Eunice to Ville Platte my siblings and I played a very lame car game called “Counting Horses” ( that’s a “whole ‘nother Oprah” as one of my good friends would say). We traveled a distance of 17 miles, but to 4 restless kids, it seemed like 77 at least! 

Back then we mostly kissed Mama & Papa hello and then headed to the backyard to mama's familychase Papa’s chickens and eat his scuppernong grapes until he came out yelling at us to leave his chickens alone.  Then we fidgeted inside for 8 or so minutes until Dad gave us each a dime to walk to Mr. Theophile’s tiny store on the corner where we each bought 10 penny candies that were placed in small paper bags.  To get to the store we had to pass Mama’s next door neighbor’s house that would later remind me of Boo Radley’s place.  My sisters and I usually ran when we passed neighbor Gazelle’s because she and her “not-quite-right” daughters lived there with at least 100 cats, and Gazelle yelled at us if she was sitting on the front porch with a gun beneath her chair.  (another Oprah-type tale).

However, many years later, Papa Joe has died and Mama Joe is bedridden and somewhat senile.  Now her seven children who live closest to her have each claimed a day of the week to come take care of her (or pay for a sitter if they cannot come that week).   Usually my momma drives my two sisters and me to visit Mama Joe.  Now the house is quiet and after Gayle, Kelly and I kiss Mama Joe hello in her bed full of pillows, we move to the small living room to read or watch a little t.v.  Momma stays in Mama’s bedroom and time ticks slowly be with the soft sounds of Momma talking to Mama. Later, the sitter arrives and talks with Momma in Cajun French.  Sometimes my sisters and I go outside and pick these hard pears or sour plums from Mama’s trees. Papa Joe had been a gifted gardener, and years earlier he had grown vegetables and fruits galore in his extensive garden.  Gayle remembers when he pulled a carrot from the ground once and handed her the best carrot she has ever tasted!

Mama Joe’s yard also had this mimosa tree I really loved.  Its beautiful softness, the feathery green leaves, with the flowers that looked like pink dandelions remind me now of my grandmother’s soft, strong beauty. Mimosa trees produce fragile, sweet blossoms in the late spring that attract butterflies and birds and that also contrast with the tree’s tough nature.   According to some gardening websites, mimosas do well in droughts and heat, which explains their abundance along southern highways.  Also, they produce these elongated seedpods that drop and spread their “offspring” far and wide.  The Japanese call mimosas the “sleeping tree” because their leaves gently fold for the night.  Like the mimosa tree, Mama Joe had a strong, calm beauty that mixed the Cajun Vidrine in her with the Native American blood my momma always claimed she had. (“Your mama’s great-great grandmother was an Indian princess, for real!”)  Also, her eleven seedpods heeded the Catholic directive  to “go forth and multiply” well. Mama and Papa Joe had 48 grandchildren and over 60 great-grandchildren and I don’t know how many great-grandchildren since the Latours are still healthily multiplying. 

Overall, Mama Joe was a sweet, smiling & laughing Cajun who married at age 15 and raised a family of 11, who only spoke Cajun French until her son P.J. married Polly (an amazing woman from California),  and so she learned to speak English to welcome a new member of her family, who cooked rice and gravy like a top chef, who loved life and good times almost as much as she loved all of her many children and their children, and their children’s children, and so on.  All Mama Joe gave forth was love and joy which she taught my own mother, Geraldine, to do for her 4 children, who then did her best to teach me to do for my 3 boys.  Like the mimosa tree, may all mothers continue to spread strong, soft feathery blossoms of love for their own seedpods.

mama joe1
PaPa and Mama Joe

Thank you to Uncle Jack (Mama’s baby) and Aunt Faye for helping me with some Mama Joe details!

Posted in Cajuns, Friendship, Grandmother

Working at the Picture Show by Ginger Keller Gannaway

liberty center

At age 13, I began my job in the family’s movie business at the Liberty Theater in Eunice, Louisiana.  I worked the concession stand at my grandma’s picture show.  Grandpa Keller had opened it in 1924 and had in later years owned 5 movie theaters in a town of about 10,000.

In 1969 when I started my picture show career, my grandpa had died and my Uncle Jake and Aunt Rose managed both the Liberty and the Queen Cinema. Even though I was his niece (and a star concession worker), Uncle Jake terrified me. Frowning and growling were his favored forms of communication with his employees.  One Sunday afternoon my dad picked me up from an afternoon swim at the local city pool “to go work at the show” because the matinee that day had drawn a bigger crowd than expected.  Dad rushed me to the Liberty to help out.   I  jumped from the pool, quickly dressed and showed up with a still-dripping ponytail to start boxing popcorn and waiting on the long line of costumers.  When Uncle Jake showed up to check on his employees, I felt pride inside for being such a loyal worker. He emitted a soft snarl to get my attention and grumbled, “Ya look like a drowned rat.”

Luckily for me (and my fellow workers), Uncle Jake did not routinely check up on us at the show. So most of the time, concession stand work was a groovy gig.  Opening up routines included wheeling the wooden carols that held the candy bars out of a storage closet and checking the Baby Ruths and Butterfingers for random rat bites.  Then we pulled out large plastic bags filled with the previous night’s leftover popcorn. This stale stuff would then be mixed in with the day’s fresh popcorn. (Is this a normal practice in movie theaters, or was my uncle cheap as well as grouchy?) Next, we’d get money from the box office lady to start our shift with. Later we’d go back to Mrs. Pearl (our favorite) or Mrs. Fontenot (a bit fussy) for extra nickels, quarters, or dollar bills as the need arose.

We’d time popcorn popping with the film’s starting times since the smell lured in popcorn-1433326_960_720more customers.  Most days the work came in spurts – the 15 minutes before the movie began. And since the Liberty had only one screen, that meant only two busy times a night (week-end had more because of the double feature specials). Once a movie began, only the random harried mom with a squirrelly lil one or a bored teenager with a sweet tooth bothered us concession workers.  On slow week nights I always had a book to read, and I’d sometimes kill time with the teenaged  ticket-taker/ usher boy .

The job paid a slim $1.25 an hour, but it did include the perk of getting in free to movies.  However, as a Keller I already saw all movies for free, so I added a perk of my own.  I’d sometimes take candy bars to share with friends at school the day after one of my shifts.  I’d even “take orders” from some of my closest friends or a cute guy I was crushin’ on.   (“Hey, get me a couple of Milky Ways, will ya?”)

One of my favorite things about working at the show was that super-fine ice we used for the soft drinks.  Since workers unofficially got free drinks during our shifts, I’d pack my 8 oz. paper cup to the rim with that heavenly ice and then fill it with the best Dr. Pepper on the planet.  I think the syrup content on our soda machine was set too high, so our drinks were sweet, sweet.  And when a blockbuster like MASH or Patton was showing and we sweated to keep the popcorn popping and the masses served before the opening credits, a super-icy, super-sweet beverage never tasted better!

The jobs only 3 hazards were: 1.  Getting burned while making popcorn or cleaning the antique machine   2. Getting the stink eye or criticism from my uncle (“Quit over-filling the popcorn boxes; don’t make the sides pooch-out.” or “Put more ice in those drink cups!”)   3. Running out of popcorn during a rush.

For the four and a half years I worked at the “Liberty Thayter” (as Mrs. Fontenot would say), my good times far outweighed my bad times.  I was surrounded by folks who liked watching movies, talking about movies, and sharing movies. Often the usher, my fellow concession gal, and even the ticket-taker lady (especially sweet and witty Mrs. Pearl) discussed a movie’s good points, bad points,  or its message. Like the circus worker who shoveled elephant poop responded when asked why he didn’t leave such a shitty job. “What?? And give up show business?!”liberty at night

 

Posted in Cajuns, Food, Friendship, Grandmother

Pock-Pock (a Cajun Easter tradition) by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Now in April, 2020 the coronavirus pandemic is keeping us from celebrating in the same ways with all of our loved ones this Easter. Here’s an essay I wrote awhile back about one of my favorite family traditions. Y’all be safe and sane!

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Evan & Mama Gerry

     Chubby fingers clutch a pale pink and green boiled egg.  Concerned eyes flick back and forth from the egg to the bowed head of the chubby-fingered 4-year-old girl’s 8-year-old brother, a boy with destruction in his eyes.  The boy firmly holds a bright blue egg, and as he quickly raises his egg a few inches above his sister’s egg, the girl muffles a scared squeak as the brother aims and delivers a decisive blow to his target. POCK! “Ah-ha!” the destructor declares as he witnesses the broken crown of his sister’s special Easter egg (the one that took her a full 6 minutes to dye because she patiently dyed the pink half before carefully turning her egg over and holding it in the green dye for several long minutes).  The girl juts out a “boudin lip,” yet she dutifully hands her victor brother the cracked egg.  “My egg’s the champion!” brags the boy as he tosses the pink and green egg into an overflowing basket of slightly cracked Easter eggs. He struts around the grassy backyard holding the blue egg over his head.  Other kids in church clothes throw sideways glances his way, but his sister simply reaches for a Goldbrick egg in her Easter basket to ease the loss of her two-toned egg.  MaMa Joe tells her cocky grandson, “Way to go, cha! You beat your cousins!” but PaPa Joe sulks in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and the purple guinea egg which he refused to give up to his grandson a few minutes earlier.

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Momma Gerry & Emile

For now 8-year-old Claude Emile revels in his Pock-Pock Championship for an Easter in Ville Platte, Louisiana.

Such is the way in Cajun land on Easter morning.  Friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandmas and competitive grandpas compete with their multi-colored boiled eggs to win the title of Pock-Pock Champion on a bright spring day.

  Our family’s Pock-Pock Rules:

  1. Two folks each choose an unbroken Easter egg.

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    Ryan and Andrew face off!

     

  2. One person holds his/her egg with the fat side up and faces the opponent.
  3. The opponent holds his/her egg with the small end towards the other egg.
  4. The egg-holder on top taps the other’s egg until one of the eggs cracks.  (Most folks prefer a soft, slow tapping motion that makes a “pock-pock” sound and that keeps the game going longer. * Emile’s quick, hard hammer-like hit irks me).
  5. After a few pocks, both folks will hear a deeper sort of cracking sound that signals the breaking of one egg. They pause at this point and examine their eggs’ ends; however, sometimes the crack is not visible and a few more pocks are needed to reveal the definitive cracks that label one of the egg-holders a loser.
  6. The holder of the uncracked egg is that round’s winner and he/she gets to keep the broken egg. (Unless you’ve pocked-pocked with Papa Joe and his favorite egg)

     

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Caseman &Big Papa

My momma learned from her dad (Papa Joe) that guinea  and duck eggs were harder than regular chicken eggs, but this was not always the case.  Cajuns can be very competitive (even when the prize is a grubby boiled egg), and some have resorted to cheating.  One Easter Emile made a plaster of Paris egg and painted it yellow.  He managed to trick the younger cousins and the older relatives with poor eyesight, but when cousin Kenneth discovered the trick, the final pock-pock sounds came from Kenneth whacking Emile’s “tete dure.”

 

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Kelly Ann & Ginger

 

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Casey & Jana

I have always enjoyed this Cajun tradition, and even though Emile’s grandkids don’t particularly like or even want to keep boiled Easter eggs (They prefer the plastic eggs filled with jellybeans or chocolates), the kids still enjoy the pock-pock competition.  This Easter I look forward to  spitfire Amos (age 5) going up against his calm cousin Evan (age 24) and may the best egg win!

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Easter in Eunice, 1985

Posted in Grandmother, Holidays

Letting Go by Ginger Keller Gannaway

 

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Geraldine Latour Keller

As Dad shuffled out of his 122-year-old home, he went back to his bedroom to take down the large wooden-framed portrait of his daughter, Kelly Ann. Kelly died on September 25, 2004, and he sobbed while he unsteadily carried the picture towards the front door. I met him there and took the picture, wrapped it in a Christmas angel blanket and stacked it atop the miscellaneous mess crammed into Dad’s Pontiac Vibe. After he painfully plopped himself in the passenger seat he remembered Momma. “I forgot Gerry,” he said as he started to struggle to get up out of the car. I stopped him with, “I got it. I got it. The big photo on the hall table, right?” He nodded sadly as I hurried back into the lonely house to retrieve the black and white photo we had blown-up to display at Momma’s memorial in 2014. These were Dad’s farewell actions before I pulled shut the heavy front door of Grandma’s house. (Even though my parents had lived there since 1972, 420 S. 2nd St. would always be “Grandma’s house.”)
In Annie Hall Woody Allen says, “A relationship is like a shark. It has to keep moving or it dies.” Does the simile work for life in general? We keep moving on or we die, either literally or figuratively. And a big part of moving on is learning to let go: of places, of things, of people. The week before Christmas my sister Gayle, our close friend Mark, and I started cleaning up and clearing our Grandma’s house. We organized items in piles: Trash; Goodwill; KEEP; Leave for the house. (My cousin Chiquita had bought the house and she let us leave all the stuff we did not want to take! Merci beaucoup, Chickie!) Gayle kept quoting the book about decluttering: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up , “Does it give you joy? No? So throw it.” Mark would sometimes argue over the value of an item. “This old kitchen clock is wonderful! It would remind your dad of his home. Take it.”
Since we had limited space in Dad’s car, I had to make tough decisions. I wanted Momma’s china and Mama Joe’s pie safe. Period. But then a portable hair dryer from the 1960’s and a stack of old 45’s would remind me of the freedom and freshness of being 12 years old. I caught myself putting a tube of lipstick from my momma’s winter coat in my own pocket and setting aside the dented aluminum bun warmer Momma used a lot. I opened stiff books and touched the handwritten dedication from a dead relative to a dead friend.img_3494
Later my brother Emile arrived and he made piles of old things for his three children and five grandchildren. Then someone thought of gift-wrapping unique or sentimental items to put under the Christmas tree: a tarnished tennis trophy, a pair of iron wolf book ends, a biography of Carl Sandburg. The gift tags read “from Grandma’s house” or “from Eunice” or “from Mr. Snowball.”
From December 17 to the last day of 2016, we were slowly saying good-bye to Grandma’s house, to Momma and Kelly’s memories, and to our own childhoods. We let go of stacks and even rooms of furniture, clothes, knick-knacks, and even some treasures. However, each of us took the items we needed to hold on tightly to ( two audio cassettes of an interview with Grandma, a Latour coffee cup Uncle P.J. gave Momma, Kelly’s copy of Walden.)
I let go of almost 60 years of objects from that home even as I squirreled away an LP here or a cast iron skillet there. I know that the things I took are just things, but they hold powerful memories of parties and suppers and stories and games and bad times and good times. Dad and I did not finally drive off in the Vibe until I ran back in for my final treasure from Grandma’s house: the extra-large Bulova kitchen clock from the 1940’s. Time to let go and move on down the road.img_3492