Posted in Friendship

Soul Sister (a.k.a. Cousin Gina) by Ginger Keller Gannaway

“Soul” Sister (a.k.a. Cousin Gina)

gina 3
Gina and I in Panama City, 1960


     We were walking along a Pensacola beach around 8 a.m., after coffee and before the rest of the folks got up. We aimed to walk to the distant pier and talked nonstop the whole way.  Like evenly-matched tennis players, we served and volleyed kid woes back and forth. “He sneaks out the house so often, we have to hide our car keys now.”  “Her grades have dropped ‘cause she skips all the time.” “His room reeks of pot.”  “I hear ya’!” 

     Somehow letting go of our tales of angst gives us a kind of inner release.  We offer the worry and fear up to the sun, the waves, the breeze, and we become free to laugh out loud. Gina and I totally “get” each other, and for two hours we feel better.  On the walk back to our beach-front rental, we even rush into the surf for a quick swim and more laughter as we jump and dive into the waves. Like a couple of kids!

     Gina is my first cousin and my “soul” sister.  Even though she lived an hour away from my hometown, we saw each other often growing-up.  We shared every Keller family reunion or big holiday party at Grandma’s house for sure.  Also, we had full weeks at a time during the summer when we visited each other’s homes or went to our Indian Village camp with Grandma and Stella.

     During the 1980’s we got married and raised our kids in different states.  We didn’t spend long visits together, yet later we grabbed summer getaways when we both became public school teachers. In 1998 and 2010 we even took trips to NYC to visit my sister Gayle and sightsee and reconnect.  Gina and I snap back together easily, no matter how long we have been apart.  We share our Cajun culture, our Keller connection, and our childhood memories, and our family tragedies. Gina is  a close cousin, a trusted friend, a wise woman, a spiritual guide, and my soul sister.  She has a wit like a whip, yet it’s made of purple yarn or silly string. Her sarcasm is swift, yet stingless.  And we share a deep, honest love of movies that began in 1968 when we were both enchanted by Funny Girl.  Walking from Grandma’s to the Saturday matinees at the Liberty and then returning to sneak cigarettes while Grandma napped were big teenage moments for me.  We also worked in the theater’s concession stand and played tennis, went swimming, and obsessed over cute boys to fill the lazy summer days with good times.

     Throughout the sad, sad times and the glory days, humor has helped hold us together.  Two years ago we shared a weekend in Galveston at her sister Dana’s beach house, and while attempting to take a selfie, Gina and I laughed so hard tears ran down our cheeks as we fought to keep the other bodily liquid from running down our legs!

     Now she and I even have similar living situations. My 89-year-old dad lives with me, and Gina lives with her 87-year-old mom (my dad’s sister). So Gina and I chat and commiserate and explain and laugh over phone calls.  We still “get” each other, and as we face family challenges, we share sorrows and successes and above all we laugh.  Gina is a devoted daughter, a mighty mother, and a strong Grandma GiGi.  Time with Gina is always honest and often hysterical. It can be gut-wrenching and still stay golden.  We connect easily, strongly, and soulfully.

Gina, Gayle, me, Andrew, Yvette in Pensecola (2009)
Posted in Friendship

Water’s Edge (at the Keller Kamp)

Water’s Edge

by Ginger Keller Gannaway   (Me, Momma, Jessica & Ryan Keller in Calcasieu River,1981)

the camp

The Cajun Kellers from Eunice, Louisiana have  always loved going to the water’s edge for vacation.  Grandma Regina had her camp near the Calcasieu River in Indian Village, and she welcomed her six children and 25 grandchildren to enjoy visits there.  Several times a year (and most of the summer), she, her boarder/ best friend, Stella Parrott, her hired help, Jane, who slept on the camp’s back porch, and whichever grandkids were available spent a few days at her Keller Kamp.   The camp was an un-air-conditioned place with a huge screened-in front porch, a side sandbox, a huge middle room with 4 double beds, one baby bed, and a loud attic fan; a side-porch bedroom ; a long kitchen with a long wooden dining table and an extra-deep sink for bathing toddlers and babies in. Also,  off the kitchen was a rustic, dark bathroom with a rickety shower whose wooden splash board banged down every time I tried lifting my kid feet over it to get into the dimly-lit shower stall. 

The camp, like its water, had a hard, tinny feel.  With almost everyone sleeping in one room, an 8-inch black-and-white t.v.  that sometimes got one channel mounted near the attic fan, and no a/c, this wasn’t a luxury vacation.  However, as a 7-year-old, I was in vacation heaven at the Keller Kamp.

On rainy afternoons we kids colored or played cards on the front porch’s picnic tables. Early mornings and late afternoons we’d dig deep into soft brown sand or take turns on the two swings that swung over the sand box that was once a covered garage.  Our hands and fingernails would turn black from digging tunnels and building castles in that sand.  Also, we were next to the river’s bay where mostly men and boys fished from the shore or took small row boats out into the river’s special spots where perch, catfish, and sac-au-lait were biting.

However, the camp’s main attraction was the Sand Bar, a magical  “beach” on the Calcasieu that we reached by walking about half a mile through a wooded area (only when accompanied by an adult). The Sand Bar was a quiet piece of sand on the banks of that beautiful brown river.  We marched there down a well-worn dirt path hauling our towels and drinks and snacks and a couple of folding chairs for the grown-ups.  That walk built-up our anticipation for swimming in our special hidden spot.  Once we arrived and set our towels out in shady nooks, no child dared even get her toes wet until the adult in charge (usually my 6’ 4” Daddy) tested the water’s depth.  Daddy would wade into the moving water until he reached a spot he thought was just deep enough for us kids.  On rare, magical occasions the river was so low Dad could walk completely across “to the other sand bar” with the water only reaching his lower thigh.  Then our exploring and chasing and running and splashing had grand new possibilities.  But most days we stayed on one side of the river and obeyed Dad’s, “Don’t go past this here stick or you get a spanking!”

Alright with me.  The water was cool, the sand was soft and malleable and my siblings and cousins and I had endless types of games to play: chase, freeze-tag, Marco Polo, hide-and-seek, or original dramas we created based on our favorite tv shows at the time, Lost in Space and Gilligan’s Island.  Other times I stayed to myself and created sandcastles or lay on my towel to read Archie comics.  In addition to enjoying the pure joy of swimming at our “private” beach, there was the thrill of the river’s current.  I would kneel in the water to get in deeper and feel the strong tug of the water pushing me and almost tipping me over when I was chin-deep.  People had drowned in that river!  And that  touch of danger and uncertainty added to my thrill in the river.  The cool water, the  sorta muddy sand oozing between my toes, the river’s power,  the shouts and laughter from the other kids, the sun shyly shining through abundant tree branches, the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on Evangeline Maid bread all blended beautifully to make every Sand Bar visit a memory of vacation perfection.

Years and years later, when Grandma had sold the camp and we kids bemoaned its departure from our lives, I asked Daddy about how much he had loved his time at the Sand Bar.  He smiled slightly and drily said, “All I ever did was count heads the whole time we were there.”  So the water’s edge meant different things to different Kellers, yet we all hold lots of memories about our  wonderful Keller Kamp.

(Ginger, Emile, Kelly, and Gayle Keller at Keller Kamp sand box,1964)

camp sandbox