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 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 Family, Holidays

Big Santa by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Big Santa 1987Big Santa

In 1961 my dad created a 16-foot-tall Santa Claus.  At the time, he owned Keller Advertising and painted huge roadside billboards and local storefront windows. When I was 5, he designed, drew, and painted four wooden pieces that when connected made a smiling Santa that he would raise and attach to our 18-foot chimney. Our 1950’s ranch style home was at the end of a winding gravel road off of Highway 190 on the outskirts of town. Dad set a spot light on Big Santa so cars could see him waving as they drove by. Also, Dad made the back view of  a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl waving at Santa. My red tricycle was set next to the  pigtailed girl to create a Rockwell Christmas moment.

IMG_4300
Santa circa 1996

Over the years, my feelings about Big Santa have changed.

In the 1960’s Big Santa added magical excitement to my kid dreams of Mr. Claus’s superpowers. Santa’s smiling presence also gave my family a touch of local fame as folks drove past our place each Christmas, and we even made the Eunice News once.

Fast forward to the 1980’s after my grandma died, and my parents bought her 100 year-old home and we moved to town. Now Big Santa needed an 18-foot pole to support him as he waved to sidewalk visitors and Second Street motorists.  Those days Santa was a novelty for me each December when I swooped into town for my mandatory college semester break.

In the beginning of the 21st century Big Santa loomed large in a different way.  After my three sons were past their “I believe in Santa” phase, they helped their Papa put up the Santa the day after Thanksgiving and take him down right after the Christmas day chaos.

Putting up Big Santa became a complicated family tradition.  In 2007 my

dad was 80, so he mostly directed his grandsons (my boys and their 2 cousins) in the raising of the Santa.  First, they hauled the four sections from the back of the garage and cleaned up Mr. Claus before laying him facedown on the front lawn.  Then several wooded 2X4’s were arranged and screwed to the Santa sections to pull him all together. Next, 4 or 5 guys lifted and walked Santa towards his standing pole and secured him with screws and wire.  Papa sat in a folding chair and barked orders to his grandsons. By 2012 he had his walker beside him, and the boys did their best to keep Papa from grunting and struggling to stand to correct their construction mistakes. Of course, mistakes were as inevitable as Papa’s complaining and cussing. Once my middle son Casey wisely suggested they buy new tools since my dad’s hammer head had a tendency to fall off its wooden handle, and the screws were more rust than metal. “This would be a lot easier if we weren’t using tools from the Stone Age!”

Papa scoffed at such nonsense: “Give me that damn hammer! I’ll do it.”

So the grandsons worked with worn-out tools and rotting wood as they maneuvered around a short-tempered, crooked-backed, bossy-coach of a grandpa. Big Santa became a dreaded sort of family tradition. “If we get up early enough tomorrow, we can get Santa up before Papa wakes up,” said Evan, my youngest, on the fortunate Black Friday of 2014.

Despite the frustration and anger that accompanied Big Santa’s arrival, family and friends still loved to pose in front of him each holiday. He made a dramatic backdrop, and passers-by often stopped to snap their own Big Santa moment.IMG_4299 (1)

At age 90 Dad moved to live with us in Texas, leaving Big Santa’s fate in cousin Chiquita’s hands since she had bought Grandma’s home. Last year she had him out on Second Street greeting the passers-by.  I’m not sure if he will be out during the pandemic, but I believe his appearance would be welcomed.

Dad passed away this June, and I can’t think of Christmas without remembering his creation and the way Santa waved hopefully to the folks of Eunice, Louisiana.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

big santa
Big Santa, 2014