Posted in Family

Up on the Roof by Ginger Keller Gannaway

View of our backyard in 1970s

Daddy could think like a kid. He sought out new experiences and made games out of mundane experiences. He’d invent silly activities a child could get excited about and a momma would fuss about.

“Reginald! Stop working the kids up! Tete dure!” was a go-to complaint from Momma.

One of Daddy’s kid ideas was putting us on his high, broad shoulders so we could climb onto our home’s roof and run around and be eye-level with the birds.

Maybe the activity originated from Emile’s football getting thrown up there by accident or Gayle throwing Kelly’s favorite stuffed animal up there on purpose. But it became a thing to do on slow afternoons.

No matter how the idea originated, Daddy understood the thrill of doing something unusual and with a dash of danger. I remember my hesitancy on the sloping asphalt-like roof tiles as we chased each other from the area above our den, down the long hall of bedrooms, toward the big living room, dining room, and above Momma’s kitchen. The experience could be scary, but I felt invincible and wild to be so near those long live oak branches as if I were a bold bluejay. We never stayed on the roof long. After a few whoops and hesitant games of tag, we’d hear the shrill call from the kitchen below us.

“Reginald! Mon Dieu! Get those kids off the roof! Tete dure!”

Momma had spoken. Her feisty anger was the voice of reason to Dad’s love of adventure.

Also, he gave us cool vacations every summer: from countless Florida beach trips to a drive up to visit cousin Ozman in Michigan with a stop in Chicago to see cousin Lucille. We all learned to appreciate the joy of  travel.

One year Dad got us a pony from his close friend Coach Cormier. We learned to ride Red bareback in our yard and in the rice fields that surrounded our property. Dad made us jump into the deep end of the swimming pool before we knew how to swim. He’d tread water in the ten-foot deep water and grab us when we bobbed to the surface. He invented the Bangberry Ride where we took “rides” on a long tree branch, and he fixed us a tire swing on a giant rope that hung from a branch twenty feet above our heads. After the tire fell off, he tied the rope into a massive knot so kids could swing out of the tree’s tall fork like Tarzan. He once scared a living room full of slumber party girls by coming out of the wood box next to our fireplace on his knees with Momma’s stocking over his face. He loved to surprise us!

Dad and Momma in Gubbio, Italy

When we became adults, he organized and paid for trips to Italy (one in Tuscany, another in Umbria). Dad never moved out of Eunice (until age 89) and ended up living in the home he grew up in: however, he and Mom traveled the globe when he worked for Southwestern Life: Hawaii, Japan, France, Germany, Greece, Bermuda. 

He loved to go, go, go as much as he loved creating unexpected adventures. Driving home from a Carlsbad Cavern vacation, he stopped the car in west Texas on an empty stretch of highway and said, “Let’s climb that mountain!” Coming from the flat, flat south Louisiana area, the rocky hill of about 200 feet did seem mountainous. Emile, Gayle, Kelly and I followed Dad’s lead and scrambled up the rough terrain full of cacti, sticky shrubs, and sliding rocks. Only Emile made it to the top, and even he got nervous after someone pointed out a large snake between some rocks. Momma stayed at the car with Kelly who was too young to climb very far. With the snake alert Momma let out a terrified, “Oh! Merde!” grabbed Kelly and got inside the car despite the hot summer temperature. On our way down the hill Gayle jumped atop a huge flat rock and pronounced herself “King of the hill!” 

Daddy took an immediate liking to that rock and said, “Let’s take this rock home! A souvenir!” We kids helped him dig around the base until he and Emile could free it and drag it back towards the car.

Forgetting the snake, Momma jumped out of the car to declare, “Reginald, what in the world are you doing?” 

Emile and Dad were struggling to get a 140-pound rock into our trunk. Gayle and I had moved a suitcase and Mom’s vanity case to the backseat to give the rock room. 

Tete dure! We do not need that!” Mom said as we all ignored her.

That small boulder then lived in our backyard where we found lots of uses for it: a makeshift table for tea parties, a home base for hide-and-seek games, a cool resting spot for cats and dogs during summer, a place to sit and dig mud off the sides of your shoes, and a low pedestal for young imaginary royalty.

Dad’s spontaneous and fearless ideas often clashed with Momma’s anxious and reasonable thoughts. He could be short-tempered and loud and bossy, yet he never lost that spark of kid-like fun. He played tennis until his mid 80’s and he went to the casino past the age of 90. Always up for a game of cards, a new restaurant, or a road trip!

Easter Fun

As parents, we do our best to give our kids as many good times as we can manage. Dad gave us vacations every summer: beaches, national parks, Six Flags, and Disney World. But my fondest memories are of playing in our own backyard. We were barefoot most of the time and always had a dog and some cats around. If a cousin came to visit, it felt cool to impress her with a unique form of fun. “Wanna get up on the roof?” 

Then after Dad’s nap, if he was in a good mood, I’d tell him, “Gina wants to get on the roof, Daddy.”

And he’d stretch his long arms and look toward the kitchen where Mom was cleaning or cooking. He’d give us a conspiratorial wink and head toward the back yard. First, Dad would bend low to the ground and help me climb onto his shoulders with my legs dangling around his neck. Then he’d take my right hand and I’d put my right foot on his shoulder. Next he’d hold my weak left hand tightly and give me time to put my left foot on his shoulder. I clung to his extra-large hands with bated breath as he walked my shaking torso right next to the lowest spot of our roof. My more agile brother and sisters had already shimmied up the metal T.V. antenna pole right next to our wooden garage. Gayle lay flat on the roof and grabbed both of my arms as Dad put one huge palm under my butt and got all of me up on the roof. Gayle then smiled at our cousin’s big blue eyes as Gina considered the risks involved in our game.

“Come on, Gina! If I can do it, you know you can!” I said.

Soon five squealing kids were running like monkeys just let loose from a cage. My siblings were fearless and kept their hands in the air as they padded along the hot roof tiles, but I preferred the Mowgli walk. Gina took her time getting her “roof legs” screaming as she figured out if the game with no rules was worth the risk. As our bare feet got used to the rough surface, we all moved faster and squealed louder. The five pairs of small feet made padding noises with uneven rhythms because we all made short runs and sudden stops. Our heads told us we were as powerful and brave as eagles, but suddenly we’d hear a strident shout from the kitchen area below us.

“RE-GI-NALD!! Get those kids off the roof! MAINTENANT!”

Merci beaucoup, Daddy! For being an exciting instigator and a wonderful partner-in-crime!

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

Posted in Friendship

Ode to an Odyssey

Ode to an Odyssey

by Ginger Gannaway

IMG_2244

How has it been 17 years since you
first arrived in our Texas town
from the north Louisiana dealership?

Oh, you marvelous mode of family travel!
From West Texas’s Big Bend terrain
To Louisiana’s Cajun Country
To Florida’s Pensacola Beaches
Up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Over to California’s Yosemite majesty
And many meanderings in-between,

You, dear 7-seater van,
With cool sunglass cubby and cupholders galoreIMG_2352
Plus a disappearing third row seat
With lots of room to haul around our
Countless treasures:
Stacks and stacks of Christmas gifts
Always puffed-out suitcases
Thousands of dollars of groceries
College room futons
Tricycles, scooters, bicyclesAnd a 7-foot iron coat rack!

You began your time with us,
Dear Odyssey,
As a much-loved Momvan
To transport our life’s most precious cargo-van full
Our 3 sons
And their equally precious friends.

You ended your time with us,
Dear Odyssey,
As a much-needed Dadmobile

For holding old movie posters
Assorted lawn equipment, various recyclables,
Canvas bags bursting with books and folders and papers
Random t-shirts and jackets, stained coffee cups,
And usually a mountain bike.

nija turtleBack in 1999 you proudly paraded
Our family of 5 from Texas to Louisiana
With our 3 boys happily tucked into  cabin seats or the way back place
Surrounded by pillows, Pokemon cards, comics, drawing pads,
Gameboys, and plastic Ninja Turtles.

You, dear trusted one, also transported fun-loving females
To Eunice, La.’s Crawfish Etoufee Cook-off
As these ladies frequented drive-thru daiquiri shacks and back woods honky tonks.
You listened as we swore, “What happens in Eunice, stays in Eunice!”Crawfish etouffee David Gallent

So revered, Honda Odyssey, with over 242,000 miles!
Thank you for holding
Our laughs, our tears, our victories, our losses, our brave times, our fearful ones,
our boasts, our secrets and all our memories.
Your style, your reliability, your smooth ways, your versatility, and your stamina
Have given us a journey to remember!drivethroughdaquiris