Posted in Family, Fathers, Grandmother, Mothers, Relationships

Stained by Ginger Keller Gannaway   

I met my new favorite person in this world two weeks ago – Winslow McClain Gannaway! He weighed eight pounds, ten ounces and made funny faces while he slept. His mother Catherine said he looked just like his dad, Casey, my middle son. I saw Catherine in his chubby cheeks and soulful eyes as well as Casey in his long limbs and perfect nose.

We begin life with people wanting us to resemble our parents. “He has his dad’s big feet” or “his mom’s smile.” And as kids, we imitate our parents – combing our hair like Momma’s, pretending to shave like Dad. We often adopt their interests. Chefs have children who love to cook. The lawyer hopes his/her offspring will one day take over the family practice. A tennis player starts lessons for the kids as soon as they can hold a racket. For eleven years or so many children follow their parents’ lead. 

As a kid I went to church every Sunday and learned to love our family’s traditions – from Good Friday crawfish boils to getting up before dawn for long vacations. Then my teenage brain veered into other directions, and I pushed back. 

I went from loving to dance with my kid feet atop my dad’s size fourteen shoes to hating my size eight feet when I entered eighth grade. Would I, like him, need to drive to Lafayette to find oversized shoes? Would I even find women size twelves for when I became a senior? 

I rebelled, rejected, and criticized my parents. I resented their help and worked hard not to become them. I felt proud of our differences and later believed my own kids would be closer to me than I was to my parents. I gave my kids more choices as I also hovered over their lives.

However, after all my pushing back on my parents’ influences, I realize I am stained with personality traits and habits that are just like theirs. My dad ate breakfast in white v-neck t-shirts and slacks. His undershirts had stains from previous meals, rushed shaving jobs, or paint from work. I remember Momma exclaiming,“Reginald!” at the table when Dad’s sloppy manners created round grease stains that Momma’s aggressive cleaning could not erase. So I judged Dad for his messy eating.

Just yesterday I noticed a circular stain on the right thigh of my favorite jeans. I can’t remember if I spilled the contents of a pork taco or the filling from a blackberry cobbler on that leg. When did I become stained with the flaws of my parent? Like Dad, I’m a messy eater. I also have big feet and hate asking others for directions. I love every kind of fruit and I salt my watermelon. I enjoy gatherings with relatives and friends where good food, strong drinks, and well-told jokes connect us. My siblings and I got his short-fused temper as well as his love of movies. He taught us and his grandkids how to pull our rackets back and to get our first serves in when playing tennis. I embrace Dad’s love of travel and adventure, especially the times that are unplanned and serendipitous.

When I was young relatives said I looked like my dad (which did not make me happy); I’d rather look like my momma with her petite stature and tiny waist. I still do have plenty of Mom connections.  She loved her breakfast food well done. My husband often warns me: “You’re burning your toast!” and I say the obvious, “That’s the way I like it.” Over the years with practice I have learned to make good gumbo and crawfish etouffee, but I still dream of her pork roast with rice and gravy that I cannot copy. I also failed at mastering her portion-control ways; she never weighed over 110 pounds. She stayed a poulette (a small chicken) – dusting, picking-up, putting-away, ironing, cooking, and wiping clean every counter she passed. I did not inherit her need for a spotless kitchen and an organized living room.

I don’t think Momma nor Dad understood my love of reading and writing or my desire to live in a large city. They were small town born and bred, never leaving the south central Louisiana parish they raised their family in. Religion remained a major part of their lives, and they did their best to look the other way when their three grown daughters moved away from the Catholic Church.

I don’t attend weekly mass and I’ve not been in a confessional in more years than I want to confess to, but I often pray to the Virgin Mary and have rosaries in my desk, my car’s glovebox, and by my bedside. 

The saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” fits my food tastes, entertainment tendencies, love of New Orleans and New York City, and interest in major tennis tournaments. I’ve learned to value my parents’ respect for close family ties and shared vacations. However, I have lived longer in Austin, Texas than I lived in Cajun Country. I believe in recycling, breakfast tacos, greenbelt hikes, tattoos, and lots of live music.

I have the Kellers’ obsession with movies and card playing and the LaTours’ love of music and laughter. The stains of my parents’ parents were pressed into their hearts and minds from those before them, so I claim the traits I’ve inherited, and now that Momma and Daddy have died, I do not want those stains to disappear. Like the thrift store robe that once belonged to my sister Kelly, I treasure old things, especially when they have imprints from my past.

I will hopefully leave my marks on my own three sons and their offspring. And one chilly day Winslow McClain Gannaway may ask me to make him some gumbo, and we will watch Cat Ballou together before I tuck him in at night and read him “Clovis Crawfish and His Friends.” 

Posted in Family, Mothers

Crooked Love by Ginger Keller Gannaway

I wrote and performed this essay in 2014 at  a Listen to Your Mother program. My son Casey is getting married next week (after two previous COVID cancellations) to a wonderful, beautiful woman named Catherine. I thought of how love travels down curvy, bumpy roads, yet those obstacles may make the love deeper, stronger. 

I was born crooked. I was a C-section baby, and the oxygen apparatus did not work in the delivery room, so the doctor had to give me mouth-to- mouth resuscitation to save my life. I suppose the time without oxygen caused my Cerebral Palsy brain damage.  My whole left side was affected: smaller, weaker, crooked left arm and leg.  

When Evan, my youngest son, at age five asked me, “Momma, are you handicapped?”  the query caught me off-guard, but I calmly answered, “Well, yes, I suppose I am.”  He accepted this fact and then thoughtfully added,“ But you’re just a lil bit handicapped, right?” So, I feel fortunate that I’m “just a lil’ bit” affected by C. P. even though I am always aware of my crooked self. 

Then how ironic is life, when ten years ago Casey, my middle son, had a horrendous accident (at age 20), and now his left arm won’t fully straighten and he has lost some mobility in his left side?  He, like me, has become a bit crooked. Is not all love, especially mother-child love, somewhat crooked?                            

1995 when I believed I had control of my 3 sons.

Mothers travel a truly crooked road. We begin the journey with quintessential closeness: breast-feeding and a connection that keeps us from sleeping through the night. We even convince ourselves our children are safe. Then God laughs and shoves the reality of the precariousness of parenthood in our faces. You think you are SAFE. Ha! Here’s an ear infection with a 102 fever.  How about an asthma attack?  Or a drug-related hellish accident?  Anytime that tight mother/child bond is fractured, we start to curse the heavens. “Why me?”  Our journey of love takes a sudden hairpin turn or it hits a pot hole, or a sudden speed trap, or a dense fog. The possibilities are endless.  And since mothers have indomitable spirits and bearlike bravery and superhero strength, we maneuver these highway dangers and we fight to keep our most precious loved ones protected. So surviving these inevitable pitfalls of motherly love tightens that mother/child closeness, no matter how old our child may be.                                            

Casey from birth has been my rough and tumble child. He was born so fast I couldn’t get the epidural I so wanted, and his face was bruised and smashed-looking.  At age two, he got stitches in his forehead, at four -staples at the back of his head, at seven- more stitches, at thirteen, a broken arm, and at fifteen-staples again. Later came the drinking, pot-smoking, speeding tickets, and DWI. The girlfriend drama and the pill problem followed.  On November 31, 2010 the whole teenage mess culminated around midnight when Casey fell 40 feet from an interstate overpass.  At six a.m. the next morning a passing jogger found him, unconscious, on a grassy patch of ground.

To this day Casey does not remember everything that led up to his fall, except that he had taken an abundance of Xanax. He shattered his pelvis, broke his left arm in several places, fractured two vertebrae, and sustained severe internal injuries (including a collapsed lung and a damaged section of his colon that had to be cut out). Miraculously he had no head injuries. I spent countless hours in the hospital: helping arrange Casey’s eight-plus pillows around his many broken parts, watching several seasons of Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a distraction from the pain and the boredom, making special smoothies his stomach would tolerate, learning about wound care, pampering him like when he was my bouncing baby boy.  After six weeks in the hospital and twelve different surgeries, Casey came home in a body brace and a partially-open stomach wound.                                                                                                                           

Today Casey is fine and living on his own, but he is still my rough and tumble boy. That dark, twisted nightmare of his accident has somehow toughened our mother-son connection. I remember walking into his hospital room at 6 a.m. once and Casey, sleeping with nuts and bolts sticking out of his arm, opened his eyes, smiled, and said it was “wonderful” when I arrived before he woke up.  Those long hours in the hospital, a mixture of shared silences and sudden heart-to-heart revelations, have made us better understand each other.

When we accept life’s crooked, rough side as much as we treasure life’s straight, smooth moments, we more fully understand the mystery and wonder of love….even when it’s crooked.  

I do not resent or hate my or my son’s crookedness, nor do I need to fix it. From the allure of a crooked grin to the loveliness of a crooked curl, I embrace life’s crooked love.

Posted in Cajuns, Mothers

Poulette by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Geraldine Latour (aka Poulette)

Momma’s nickname was Poulette (Cajun for lil’ chicken) because she was always pecking around, picking up, cleaning, cooking, just forever in motion.  I remember Momma with a dishrag always in her hand, ready to clean any surface she passed. One of my favorite Poulette memories involves a hibou (Cajun for owl).  

I was in high school and awoke in the middle of the night to strange sounds from the front of the house. I crept down our long hall towards rustling clinks and clatters in the kitchen. Was someone fixing a midnight snack? I froze mid-step when I saw a three-foot brown and white owl perched in our kitchen sink. It settled its wings and met my open-mouthed stare with a slow blink and a freeze-tag pose. 

Like a first grader, I ran back down the hall to my parents’ bedroom.

I entered the dark room and said,“Hey! There’s an owl in the kitchen!” in a loud whisper as if embarrassed to utter such an unlikely statement.

  Dad raised his head to ask,“Wha?  Huh?”

“For real! An owl’s in our kitchen,” I said.

Daddy shook his head, lay back down, and rolled over.  

  But Momma was already putting her robe on and coming my way. 

“A hibou? Let’s go,” she said. 

We held hands as we walked down our long hall past bedrooms where my siblings slept and stopped at the orange Formica wall-mounted kitchen table four yards from the kitchen sink to have a staring contest with the owl. We now clutched each other’s forearm and accepted the reality of what we saw. The owl sat content in the spotless, stainless steel sink below a clean window with blue flowered curtains. Momma and I took measured breaths as if we were about to duck underwater for a long swim. Then she let go of my arm and tiptoed to the laundry room to the left of our kitchenette table. I headed back through the den to open our heavy back door. We had wordlessly planned to shoo the owl outside.  

Poulette emerged from the laundry room holding a broom like a long spear as she slowly advanced toward the kitchen sink. Her strategy was to scare the owl towards the opened door and sweep him outside. A sensible plan until my blind cat Cupid dashed inside just as Poulette raised her broom spear toward the hibou. I screamed because I believed the owl would attack Cupid. Momma changed direction and hurried to the door. Her rule of “No pets in the house!” had been broken!

Chat! Chat!” she yelled and tried to sweep my cat outside. Cupid dashed underneath the den’s couch thrilled and amazed to be indoors.

The owl watched our shenanigans without moving a feather. Momma stood next to me as I held the door open and she tapped the floor with the end of her broom handle like it was a sentinel’s staff, as angry at the cat for getting inside as she was annoyed to have an owl in her kitchen.

Momma with her kids, (Kelly, Gayle, Ginger & Emile)1960

We sighed in unison just as the owl decided to spread its incredible wings and fly toward us. Momma’s broom went under-the-arm and we hightailed it toward the living room.

Mon dieu!” said Momma while I let out an extended scream and forgot about my hiding cat. The owl calmly settled on a foot stool next to the sofa and became a statue again. 

We clutched forearms again.With our backs now against the front door, we suddenly had the same idea: Open both front and back doors to create a draft! 

So I opened the back door while Poulette turned the broom into a lance and headed back to the den and her hibou adversary. I noticed the broom’s bristles shake when I followed her and hid behind the fully opened back door and peeped out to watch the confrontation.  

Momma and me, 1959

My 5’ 2”, 100 pound mom, who shrieked and hid when she saw a tiny lizard, was now a warrior.  Her broom became Excalibur and she swung it above her head before thrusting it straight at her opponent. The owl had been looking longingly out the huge picture window in the den, but it now did that slow creepy head turn as Poulette advanced. 

With her broom sword ten inches in front of the owl, Poulette yelled, “Shoo! Shoo!” Then she lowered her weapon to sweep the air around its feet. The owl blinked twice, opened his wings, and smoothly flew out the back door as I cheered from my hiding place. Poulette whooped and alternated wielding her broom like a sword and sweeping the doorway.

“We did it!” I bragged as we hugged and danced by the door.  

“What a big hibou!” Momma declared.  

“But not too big for a poulette with a broom,” I said. 

She hugged me again and said, “ Cha, I need to sit down.” So we rested in the kitchen, took deep breaths, and laughed.

We never did find out how the owl made its way into our house. Maybe it was stunned or slightly hurt and a strong wind blew the back door open, so it coasted in. Maybe some prankster put it in our house. It stayed in our backyard in one of our live oak trees for an hour before taking flight and leaving us.

The Hibou event became part of our family folklore, an unsolved mystery.  However, one part of that story holds no mystery whatsoever: Momma Poulette had heroic bravery when it came to protecting her “chicks.”  Years later she may have no longer rushed about the house cleaning and organizing her family’s lives and ended up in a wheelchair before she passed away in 2015. But whenever she looked at me with her crystal-blue eyes and gave me her pure-love smile, I still saw the Poulette spark and remembered how she handled that hibou that weird pre-dawn morning.

Momma Poulette, 2012

Posted in Mothers, Piano

My Mother’s Piano

My mother~ Margaret Armenta Claughton

The story of my piano is bittersweet but beautiful, and begins with my mother.  As long as I can remember, we have had my mother’s piano.  You could say it was part of her dowry when she married my dad, and it is one of the few things I have that was hers.

The piano was a beautiful shiny black, but somewhere in the ‘60’s, my dad repainted it in that ever popular antique avocado green.  Why, we will never know, but it became that  ‘green beast’ color until today.  My brother and his wife housed it lovingly for years, until sometime later I pleaded with them to let me have it, which they did. Although my father always referred to it as ‘your mother’s piano,’ it has been mine ever since.

If this piano could talk, we would all be entertained for years.  The music bench is filled with music from my mother’s era, and the lesson books from my sixth grade.  “Songs of Alpha Chi Omega”, when my mother was at O.U.,  “Tip Top Tunes for Young Pianists,” and “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are all mixed in with my lesson books to travel through time in music.

There is a corner chunk of wood missing off the bench from an ‘unchaperoned’ high school party by my youngest daughter. 

 There is a long, deep scratch on the top from a hectic move during my divorce’ years.

 Our grandkids have banged on it pretending to play their favorite songs. 

And there are strange loud moaning and groaning sounds nightly that used to scare my husband.  He thinks the piano is haunted by spirits, but I think the piano has been sad about its green color.  

Almost everyday for the last twenty years, I have passed by the piano and wished it was back to the original color.  I never thought it would be possible, but somewhere along the line my thoughts changed to, “I’m going to paint the piano.”

I would say it to myself and to anyone who would listen, but I either got a surprised look or half-sincere encouragement with a side of ‘naysayer.’  I had no one who was interested in my endeavor.  No one believed in me, except my old, true-blue friend….Pinterest.  Even the paint guys at Home Depot gave me a ‘look’ when I asked about the best type of paint to use.

I began with the bench as I dipped my brush and kept moving.  Almost immediately I knew I had made the right decision.  There was no turning back, and I wondered why I had waited so long.  Fear was the main reason, I think.  Fear of messing it up.  Fear it might look worse, if that was possible.  But, there is something about being sixty-seven years old and knowing that time is fleeting.  Perfection is not necessary, but happiness is.  Restoring my piano to a gorgeous black color makes me very happy.

My mother’s birthday is today, September 28.  I wanted to do this for her as well as myself.  This weekend has been about change and restoration; patience and perseverance. I feel fearless and creative and I know she would approve of that.

Love you, Mom.