Posted in Friendship

Relativity

Relativity

by Ginger Keller Gannaway

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An old tree stump in my hood that reminds me of myself.

When visiting a fellow teacher’s high school classroom last week, I overheard a student tell her friend, “I hate those old teachers.”  The teen answered, “They shouldn’t let them keep teaching.” Then the first girl noticed my old self in the back of the room and apologetically added, “Just the ones with grey hairs, ya know.” (I’ve dyed my hair for eleven years.)

Teens. So entertaining. So hip and quick and yet so slow. They have razor sharp radar for any kind of prejudice except ageism.

Of course, we over-sixty folks are quick to judge as well: “My new doctor is twelve!”  “My grandson is addicted to his phone.” “See those tattoos all over our waitress?”

Ageism is relative.

My favorite part about teaching teenagers is their funny, honest spitfire comments:

“Miss, your skirt got a stain from your hippy days,” or “Did the Civil War happen before or after you went to college?”

Our youth-obsessed culture may have persuaded me to dye my hair and update my 1970’s wardrobe; however, do I not now judge my 90-year-old dad who lives with us?

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Dad’s birthday last June, 2019

His grunts, sighs, belches, moans, and creaks annoy me almost as much as the messes he leaves in the bathroom. How does someone grunge-up the sink, mirror, countertop and floor just by brushing his teeth?  But the worst part is the adult diaper crap. Seeing him shuffle to and from the bathroom in his pull-ups makes me dread my own scary future. It makes me want to hide out on a remote island alone where I leave my bungalow only to sit in my cozy backyard and listen to birds, watch squirrels, read a book and forget I’m wearing Pampers.

Dad-guilt consumes me when I complain. He’s trying hard not to annoy us. He apologizes when we spend six hours at the VA clinic. He’s learning to take the short bus to the senior center for bridge lessons, and each night he says, “Good night, sweet princess” before he goes off to bed.

Still the saying “We all turn into our parents” never sounded so ominous. I worry and I pray and I warn my husband, “If you die before my dad, I will kill you!”

I tell my head to stop judging Dad the way teens judge “those teachers with grey hair.”  My heart thumps “Be patient. Be kind” but my bratty brain answers, “Damnit! Dad’s fresh sheets got another poop smear down the middle.”IMG_0367

I need to change my heart’s chant to, “Be real. Be strong’” because one day my three sons might say, “Damn! Mom tried covering her bald spot with a Magic Marker again.”

Posted in Friendship

Vive la France


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Written by Nancy Malcolm

“Babe,”  I hollered from the bedroom while folding laundry.  “You really need new underwear. I can almost read the newspaper through these!”

I heard his footsteps and felt him lean against the door frame as he sighed,  “They’re O.K. But, I guess you could get me another pair whenever you’re out.  You know what I like. The usuals.”

And that, my friends, is how a simple conversation prompted an international experience.

Full coverage?  Mid-rise? Boxers, briefs or compression?  Silk? Cotton or polyester? These were the choices as I stood in the men’s department at Kohl’s among the stacks of underwear.  I knew my husband had said ‘the usuals,’ but I was thinking this was a perfect time to spice things up. When I returned home with an assortment of new silky, multicolored, longer length undies, I really thought he would embrace the change.  Instead, with a deer in the headlights look, he asked,   “Didn’t they have mine?” 

I dumped out the new packages and said, “Please? Try it, you might like it .”                471909-070818

I have to give him credit, seeing that he tried to envision himself as the model on the front of the package:  slim, flat stomach and handsome. He stood in front of the mirror holding his stomach in and flexing his biceps.  “O.K.,” he said, and agreed to give it a go. Truthfully, what else could I ask for?     “Hubba-hubba,” I crooned and then gave a little whistle just to seal the deal.

As the days went on, he would incorporate a new pair here and there, but I could tell he missed his tighty whities.  “These are a little too slick (aka silky) and too long. And, aren’t they too tight?”  

“They might feel tight to someone who has been wearing underwear with questionable elastic,” I countered.

Finally, one morning he sauntered into the kitchen, where I was pouring my coffee.  “Hey now,” he sang. “These are very snazzy!”

“Those?”  I asked.

“Yea, these sexy French ones,”  he said.

“French ones?  Did I buy those?” I asked.

“Yea, see the tag?  Sen~ah’ I like these.  They’re perfect.”

“Babe,”  I said. “You’ve got them on inside out.  It’s HANES.    Sen~ah’ is Hanes backward.”

And with a sheepish grin he said, “You know I’ve never been good with too many choices, and besides, I hate change.”

Suddenly, I realized I may have pushed him out of his comfort zone, away from the security of his tighty-whities, but it was worth it.  My little puffed pastry was trying something new, even if it was inside out.

Viva la Hanes!! Baby, Viva la Hanes!!

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 Death and Dying

The Face of God

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written by Nancy Malcolm

 

As I walked silently from the room, I could tell even the air was different.  Every molecule in that room had shifted from dark to light; tense to tranquil.  I am a volunteer for hospice and this is the story of the day I saw the face of God.

Christopher House, in Austin, Texas, is a fifteen room care facility for hospice patients whose symptoms temporarily cannot be managed at home.  Patients are stabilized and then allowed to return home if they are able, as per their wishes. It is a more comfortable alternative to going to the hospital.  Each room has a bed, a private bath, and conveniences for family members who accompany their loved one. As a volunteer, I never knew who would be there from week to week, and when a patient was gone they either went home or on to heaven.  It was the goal to allow our patients the dignity to die at home, just as they wanted, surrounded by friends and family, in the comfort of a familiar setting. But, the beauty and serenity of Christopher House is the next best thing to home.

On Tuesday as I started my two-hour shift, one of the nurses called me to room number nine.  “She’s been in so much pain and I think she’s finally getting comfortable. Would you sit with her for a while?  Her family wasn’t here today.” 

“Of course,”  I said and as I entered the room I saw my little patient lying in bed, positioned on her side, facing the window.

“Hello,” I said.  “I’m Nancy and I’m a volunteer.  Would you mind if I sat with you for a while?”

She didn’t answer, but I wondered if she could still hear me.  Room number nine was painted in pale blue and had serene pictures on the wall.  Her bed was next to a large window looking out to a covered patio with plants and flowers.  The lights were off, but outside it was sunny and bright.  

My patient was a tiny, older woman with caramel skin.  She was in her twin size hospital bed, and beside her on the table was a large photograph of her and her husband on their wedding day, many years ago.  She also had not one, but three Bibles in her room. One on the bedside table, one on the coffee table and one laying near the foot of her bed. All three were well worn with love and devotion.

I walked around the bed so we could see each other, but her eyes were fixed on the window and she didn’t acknowledge my presence.  I continued to talk quietly, “Would you like me to read to you from the Bible? Let me get a chair.”

I couldn’t move her, so I wedged a folding chair between her and the wall.  Taking the Bible from the bed, I sat down and tried to get calm.

“Do you have a favorite verse?”  I asked.

I sat still and tried to match my breath with hers, but it was shallow and ragged, possibly from the pain.   In and out I breathed, trying to slow down her pace, until I opened the Bible and said, “Let’s start with the Psalms.”

Her face was tight and her brows knitted, and I could see that her body was stiff.  She looked uncomfortable, but the nurses had used pillows in all the right places to help her be supported and relaxed.  I started to read and to my surprise, my voice was shaking.  

Again I breathed in and out, slowly, and I started over.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Softly, I read Psalm after Psalm, stopping occasionally to let the powerful words sink in.  It seemed that every verse I read was speaking to love, peace and trust and was just what I imagined she might want to hear.  

“Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us according as we hope in thee.”

 I continued until I felt the shift in her breathing.  I felt it change from the shallow uneasiness to the slow and deep inhale and exhale.  I was unaware of the time as I talked quietly to her in between the verses. Finally, I heard just the faintest whiffle of a snore and I closed her Bible and looked up.

 That is when I saw the face of God.

Her body was totally relaxed and her face was smooth and youthful not a wrinkle to be seen.  Even though her eyes were closed now, one lone tear was left to roll down her cheek and her lips were in a slight, pale smile.  There was a light that surrounded her, nestling her like hands cradling a baby.  You might think, “Oh, it must have been the light from the window.”  But, I know it was not.  

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thy own understanding.”

I knew her pain was gone.  I knew her body was resting and I knew her face was God’s face.  The power of those ancient words had changed her.

Quietly, I climbed out of my wedged space by the window, but I left the chair and her Bible open on it.  Room number nine was different somehow. The air had changed, and there was a light and a feeling of peace so beautiful that I didn’t want to leave, but it was my time to go.

The next week when I returned to volunteer, my little patient was gone.  “She went home,” the nurses said, and I knew that was true.  She was home.

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 Friendship

Money Money Money

Money Money Money (1)

 

Written by Nancy Malcolm

 

Boo and I have been married for fifteen years and while we rarely disagree, the main times we do are when he tries to tell me something I already know.

Because this isn’t our first marriage, we decided from the beginning to have separate checking accounts.  I feel very strongly about my money management skills and my ability to handle my affairs. But, so does he.

He is so old school that he still wants to receive his paycheck in the mail so he can deposit it himself. 

 “Direct deposit feels risky,” he says.  “So many things could go wrong, and besides, I like to see and feel my money.” 

 The man doesn’t even use an ATM machine.  He withdraws his cash from the drive-through bank cashier or he goes inside the bank to speak with a real person.

Once, I tried to show him how to deposit a check using his phone and I thought he was having a heart attack.  When I explained how easy it was and that he could just check his account at any time, he begged me to stop. “That’s crazy!  Someone could just hack in and take all of our money.”

“Yes, but that’s why you have passwords and safety features.  I’m telling you this will save you time and the stress of driving to the bank,” I said.

Boo just shook his head, “I don’t know you anymore.  You’re just willy-nilly with this online banking shenanigans.  I like real people, not machines and phones,” he said and added, “You charlatan!”

Needless to say, our household bills are divided between the two of us.  Boo pays his bills the same day they arrive in the mail, and although I have never been withdrawn or had a late fee, he worries that I will forget or miss a payment.  

“Don’t forget to pay the mortgage,” says the worrywart.

“I won’t.”

“I see the mortgage payment is here,” says Mr. Passive aggressive.

“Yup.”

“You know there’s only a five day grace period for the mortgage,” he scolds.

“I know.”

Seriously, the mortgage just arrived in the mail and he says all of this during the first twenty-four hours.

  I have NEVER forgotten to pay the mortgage or any bill, but he cannot trust my process.

I have to admit, sometimes I let it sit out just to make him ask questions and sweat a little.  If he gives me cash for something or just slips me a twenty, he will worry and watch until that twenty-dollar bill is safely in my wallet.  “All of my bills face the same direction,” he proudly proclaims. “That way I can tell at a glance how much money I have.”

“I’m happy for you, Wells Fargo.”  I egg him on, while secretly mine are too.

He saves all of his change and is keeping it in one of those old, large water cooler bottles.   Once I put some extra coins into the jug, thinking he would be happy and he completely freaked out because I had included pennies.  He only likes silver.    

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The man has money hidden in all kinds of places.  I’m quite sure that the garage alone has a couple hundred and his desk is probably packed with wads of cash hidden in the bottom of drawers or folded in stashed envelopes. I haven’t checked between the mattresses yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out.   His cash hoarding is endearing and yet perplexing.  But one thing is absolutely true; he is generous and loves giving gifts, especially to his grandkids.  His heart is pure gold. (or should I say silver.)

It must be hard to be Boo and have so many rules about money.  He stresses a lot because he wants to be in total control and secretly, I guess I do too.  But, my Boo is a fabulous money manager and even if his practices are antiquated; even if he causes me angst, and questions my techniques; he is thrifty, loyal, helpful, kind and brave just like a Boy Scout.  He’s my JPMorgan and Citi Bank all rolled into one.

Posted in Friendship

My Dad, My Cat

written by Ginger Keller Gannaway

These days my dRAad reminds me of my cat. As he ages, he resembles more and more my cat J.T.  Both are very old. She is 16 or 17 (no one recalls exactly when we got her from a friend at work). My dad is 92. They move in slow, deliberate ways anJTd show little interest in the world at large. 

Both make annoying sounds. The cat meows incessantly. She starts crying at three a.m. and goes until five. Her vocalizations can be pleading and helpless or demanding and stressed. She starts with short, emphatic, “Meow. Meow. Meow.” If I don’t heed her call for food, she tries sick-sounding, “Meeereow, Meeereow!” and will mix the short cries with the drawn-out ones at uneven intervals. After seven or eight cries,  four minutes of silence might convince me that she’s given up. I smile and settle deeper into my pillow when, “Meertchkmrowww,” assaults me.

Dad’s sounds are more predictable. He moans any time he is conscious. It’s a low steady moan, almost a hum but void of any musicality. It has a pinch of pain in it and a rhythmic quality that is in sync with his breathing. Once my dad’s roommate’s wife told me, “Your dad sorta sounds like he’s purring.” (a weird coincidence of phrasing, for sure). But Dad’s moans have no satisfying feel, and he’s unaware he’s making any sound at all. After he assured me he was not hurting anywhere, I pleaded with him: “Please stop moaning, Dad.”

“What?” he asked.

“Moaning. You’re always moaning.”

He paused, stared at me, and said, “Am I off key?”

My cat, on the other hand, knows she’s meowing. She wants food. “She’s a cat,” explains my husband. “She just wants a taste.” Maybe so, but we can’t leave food out all the time because our dog will devour any morsel she walks away from, and in three minutes she meows for more. I refuse to cow-tow to her unreasonable, middle-of-the-night cravings! I sometimes get up, act like I’m going to the kitchen to shake out some Tender Vittles, and then fake her out and rush back to my room and shut the door on her. 

JT asleep

Perhaps my dad and cat moan and meow to let the world know they are still here. 

Thankfully, both Dad and the cat love to sleep. True to her feline nature, our J.T. sleeps at least seventeen hours a day. She curls up on the sofa arm, the window ledge that gets afternoon sun, or the blanket-covered bench at the foot of our bed for the best sleep.  Likewise, Dad is asleep way more than he’s awake. Every time I visit, I find him napping – mouth wide open and snoring instead of moaning. My, “Hey, Dad!” makes him sputter awake, force his eyes open, and give me a smile, so happy to have a visitor. He drinks some of the smoothie I bring him and soon dozes on and off for the rest of my visit. Even when we watched the champion LSU Tigers take care of ALL their opponents, he’d nod off until our “Geaux, Tigers!” yells roused him. He is as much an LSU fan as he’s a fan of  saying, “Any time is nap time.”

Both J.T. and Dad are picky eaters. Our pet now only wants soft food and gets sick if she eats too quickly. Dad is at the soup, yogurt, and ice cream time of his life with pudding and milkshakes as snacks. Both look skinny and act tired.

The two do share a calm air of acceptance. Their wants are few: a comfortable place to rest, small bits of food and drink, and regular signs of love/attention. Maybe Daddy’s moaning really is his version of purring. He prefers to close his eyes, hold a loved one’s hand, and listen to the conversations from his visitors that make him nod and smile. Satisfied and comfortable, he moans (purrs) and reminds me that he (and cats) understands the joy of serene relaxation.

NOTE:  A year after my mom died, my dad moved in with my husband and me in Texas. Two years later after a couple of falls, he switched to assisted living. Now he’s bed-ridden and in a skilled nursing facility. I visit him several times a week, and I love him way more than my cat.

happy papa

Posted in Friendship

Smokin’ Hot

Smokin' Hot

Once when my girls were over for dinner, one of them asked, “Where’s the big salad bowl?”  I replied, “Look up on the top shelf in the cabinet.”

“Oh”, they laughed. “Where you used to hide your cigarettes?”

How did you know that?”  I knew it was too late to deny.

“Mom”, they said, “Everybody knew that!”

I’m not proud of it, in fact, I hate to rat myself out, #IwishIneverhad, but I used to smoke cigarettes. Of course, not in public.  Never in public, but I was definitely a full-blown closet smoker.  I would go hours out of my way just to have 10 minutes with a Kent 100 Golden Lite.  I had guidelines, mind you. I wasn’t just a ‘willy-nilly’ smoker, I had rules for my closet smoking,  that were strictly enforced.

Rule #1

I never smoked during the school day.  I didn’t want my students to smell it on me and think I condoned smoking.  Self-righteous and hypocritical? Of course.

 

Rule #2

I never smoked around my parents.  Once, I was in Amarillo visiting my dad and it was cold, windy and slated to snow.  I had been cooped up in their small Assisted Living apartment all day, when at bedtime, I abruptly said, “Oops, I left something in the car, I’ll be back.”  Of course, I had been planning my ciggy break for hours, so I had one cigarette, (no room for error) a lighter, car keys and a breath mint stuffed into my bra.

Next, I debated on whether to put on a coat and draw more attention to my outing, or just sprint to the car.  I decided to sprint. Once outside, I realized it was sleeting. I got into my car, turned it on and cracked the window.  I don’t know why, but I decided to lay down in the front seat so no one would see me. (what? A snitch in the Assisted Living?)  I lay there in the freezing cold, shivering, waiting for the car to warm up and puffing away.

Pretty soon I hear a car drive up and park next to me.  I hear two men get out and begin discussing the fact that a car (mine) was running and no one was in it and then they peeked in the window.  Can I tell you that cigarettes make you do some crazy stuff? One of the men asked through the cracked window, “You OK?” I sheepishly said, “Oh yes, just taking a break.”  ugh…..

So, I put out the cig, stood outside to get the smoke smell off and popped my breath mint before heading in.  When I got back to my parents’ apartment, I just casually kept walking to the bathroom to wash my hands, when my step-mother said, “We were worried about you, we can see your car from the front window.”  Ugh…..my walk of shame was now complete and to make matters worse, I did not enjoy one puff of my stolen moment.

You would think a grown woman could just tell the truth, but I could not.  Cigarettes made me lie, cheat, steal and hide. I began to smoke thinking it was cool and here I was slithering around in the snow and lying to my folks.

Oh, the tangled webs we weave…

 

Rule #3

Never drive and smoke.  It wasn’t so much a rule as a safety feature.  For some reason, I could never drive, puff and flick the ash at the same time.  I learned that the hard way when I flicked an ash and it flew back into the back seat.  This happened to me while crossing the big bridge going to Corpus Christi. Everything turned out fine except for that little burn mark on the floorboard.

Rule #4

Last but not least was “Thou shalt deny.”  I never admitted that I smoked, never carried cigarettes in my purse and always acted sanctimonious when catching a student with tobacco. My picture is next to hypocrite in the dictionary.

 

The good news is that closet smoking does cut down on your habit.  It was too hard to sneak around to ever smoke more than 5 in one day.  The best news is that I truly am now a non-smoker. The birth of my grandson was the catalyst.  I never wanted to be a little old granny hiding out behind buildings or standing in alleyways, puffing a ciggy.  My cold turkey quit was perilous at best but so worth the pain.

I want to be an active granny even in the nursing home.  Not pulling my oxygen tank trying to sneak a smoke without blowing up the building.  I’m not a hater, you’all. I truly understand the pull toward that green-eyed monster called tobacco.  And if you really want to know the secret to break that habit, I’ll be happy to share.

Posted in Friendship

Labor Day by Nancy Malcolm

 

According to Merriam and Webster, one definition of labor is: an expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory. Once a year our nation pays homage and celebrates the holiday called Labor Day, however, I have found that in my life, Labor day, rolls around more often.

College exams, grad school projects and commencement celebrations all follow a predictable set of trials that reek of labor and culminate in satisfaction. Never the less, in life, there are unpredictable days of labor that propel you to either sink or swim, fight or be knocked to your knees in fear.

Unpredictable labor days take you by surprise. You wake up one day, excited about a plan, looking forward to a completion and then it happens…your ordinary day turns into labor day.

On July 7, 1977, I was pregnant and excited about an early September due date and another addition to our family. My time had passed in a rather unremarkable way. I looked good, felt good and actually enjoyed being pregnant. As a teacher, I had made it through the school year and even managed to take a graduate course during the month of June. Day after day, that June, I carpooled with two other teachers and we laughed, studied and improved our minds. My already large belly seemed to grow more each day.
Our 11 year old daughter was such a trooper, being watched by babysitters and Aunts (it takes a village). I would come home, exhausted from Grad school and she would let me take a nap. Then we would eat popsicles and watch The Match Game together…our little ritual.

But, on the morning of July 7th, I had woken up a with a backache. Feeling achy was no excuse to lounge about, I thought, so I proceeded to clean house. After all, today was the day the crib would be delivered. My precious daughter checked in with me often but went about her job of playing outside and summer fun book reading.

The bed was delivered and I felt finally ready for this new baby. As the day progressed, though, I knew this was not a simple backache and finally in the afternoon, I summoned my daughter to call her Daddy and tell him to come home.

What happened next is a blur. A slow motion, fast-paced, jumping off a cliff Labor Day. We must have dropped our daughter off w/ neighbors or her Aunt. I can only imagine now, how frightening it must have been for her because I was so afraid myself. Afraid of the severe pain, afraid of what would happen next and knowing in my soul, it was too early for this little one to appear.

The last thing I remember, on this unexpected Labor Day, was lying on a gurney and the nurse and Dr. telling me they would have to break my water. They did so, and water flooded the bed and the floor. The look on their faces was not matching their words of “let’s go have this baby” The cheerful words did not hide the concern of their eyes.

They quickly put the mask over my face and the next thing I knew, it was two days later. Our small town hospital had a maternity ward and then a wing for everyone else. They put me in a room with another woman away from the maternity wing and crying babies. I remember waking up on and off and hearing the woman in my room sobbing. I laid perfectly still in that dark room and wondered what had happened to her. Looking back, now, I wonder if the sobs were mine.

When I finally came to, the Doctor on call approached my husband and I. His military manner was straightforward and blunt. In essence, our little baby girl never breathed a breath of life in this world, her malformation prevented it and he encouraged us to seek genetic counseling. Period, end of story. Still trying to understand what the Doctor had just said, my husband then announced that “they” had already done the autopsy and buried the baby…there was nothing for me to do except feel better and get stronger. My bleeding heart sunk into a pit, a pit so deep, I wasn’t sure there was a way out. I felt silent. I became silent.

I told my husband how sorry I was. I knew he had weathered much pain in his life, but he assured me it would all be ok. We’ll move on with our lives.

I think we drove home in silence. When we pulled up to the house, I saw my parents’ were there. I went to bed and stayed there for what seemed like a long time. I could hear hushed conversations, doorbell and telephone ringing and silently, I lay in bed trying to get the courage to go into the nursery.

I finally walked gingerly around the house into the baby’s room. The new bed, the rocking chair, changing table, it was all gone. In its stead were a desk, chair, and table, all items in an office not my baby’s’ room. I was silently reeling. Well-meaning friends had thought it best to get rid of it all so I wouldn’t be reminded.

My reminder wasn’t furniture. It was my swollen breasts, my empty womb, my sore inner thighs. My broken heart.

Suddenly among the deep sadness, I felt shame. Shame that I had produced this imperfectly formed child, shame that I wasn’t grateful that friends and family had taken apart the nursery. Shame that I didn’t agree with well-meaning phrases..”It’s for the best”, “You can have another baby”, “its time to get on with your life.” Shame that I couldn’t bounce back so everyone else could feel ok.

My unpredicted labor day lasted longer than 24 hours, as often they do. If I could know then what I know now, I would do so many things differently. I just didn’t know, and no one else near to me knew either.

I would hold myself and rock and cry. I would mourn the loss of this precious baby girl. I would hold her clothes, her tiny shoes and drink in their sweetness. I would take time to grieve, be unashamed of my sorrow, my tears. I would not worry about disappointing others on how long it takes me “to get over it”.

I never got over it, I just went on. She is always with me. My little Autumn, my champion for all the wee souls who got a fast track to heaven. I want her to know that I loved her, and wanted her. Even though I was young and unsure of my right to grieve, I mourn her loss yet celebrate her sweet heavenly soul.

Today, I honor two tender souls, hers and mine. Our tenderness gave us strength and gratitude. I will always remember, probably always be sad and always celebrate Autumn. For in doing so I realize, that my Labor Day was her Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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