Posted in Aging

Old Stuff by Ginger Keller Gannaway

        In 2016 while cleaning out my grandma’s attic, I held up a dilapidated box that held tap shoes from 1960 when I was four years old.

“Should I keep these?” I asked a friend who was helping us go through the treasure and the trash in a home built in the 1890s.

“Of course!” said Mark.

“Can’t believe Momma saved them! Can’t think why I’d want these.”

“We like old things,” Mark explained.

An epiphany hit me like a couple of rusted TV trays and a stolen ash tray from Caesars Palace (circa 1966). I do like old stuff!  Mama Joe’s pie safe where Momma stored mismatched glassware and playing cards; Dad’s beat-up paint stool that my cousin found on Grandma’s back porch; stacks of brittle love letters between Reggie and Gerry (my parents) when they were courting in the 1940’s; a partial set of Shakespeare plays, faded, bent and water-logged, that an intuitive student gave me right before he graduated. “I found these in our attic and thought of you,” he had told me.

Mama Joe’s pie safe

Also, my tastes in movies are in the “old” category: Casablanca, High Noon, and Rear Window. Likewise, two of my favorite books are Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights. I adore my turntable and stereo receiver from 1972. The U.S. city I most love to visit- New Orleans – is a place where the past clings to everything like the moss in the live oaks.

Old stuff comforts me. It connects me to some of my best memories. When I use Momma’s bent-up aluminum bun warmer she got as a wedding present in 1954, I remember homemade biscuits in the kitchen with family gathered for a holiday. I smell coffee from a well-used pot on the stove and hear kids and adults vying for space and talking over one another.  I recall the taste of hot boudin from Johnson’s Grocery. 

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with old pictures. I especially love the black and white photos, the ones from before I was born and the ones of me as a child. Life seemed simpler and easier. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but that rose-colored tint does slip over my memories before puberty hit and sent me to the land of pimples and self-doubt. 

Reginald A. Keller, 1929
Geraldine and Stretch, 1952

According to the CDC guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic, I’m “high risk” and I could go to the local grocery store’s early hours for old folks.  I suppose Gary (age 75) and I (64 today) are old people. 

Too bad our society does not extend a love of old things to old people. No one I know looks forward to old age. We fear the weak mind and frail body as much as the loneliness and incontinence. I wish I felt the same comfort and peace when I hold someone’s wrinkled and arthritic hand that I get when I run my fingers over the dents of a bun warmer or the rough paint flecks of a wooden stool. 

Dad’s paint stool from Keller Advertising days

I’m not one of the enlightened. I wish these uncertain days with lots of time for reading and praying and thinking might guide me to an appreciation for old stuff that includes old folks. As much as I like my fat-faced images when I was two, I should be kinder to the 64-year-old I see in the mirror now. She’s doing the best she can with what she’s got, and  that needs to be enough.

Posted in Family

Daddy Was A Saver

SCAN0051

written by Nancy Malcolm

Happy Birthday in Heaven to my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr.

My Daddy was a “saver”.  A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager.  It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and an alternate.

 When Daddy passed away we found boxes full of souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards.  We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums.  There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of his mementos.   

 My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying.  Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!”  “No, YOU take it!”  Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of.  His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out. Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” hoping he understood.

Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ from ten years ago.  When I brought it home, I thought I would go through it right away. But, ten years had passed and I had just found the strength to open the box.

 Inside were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essays, school pictures and more.  I found an old, faded manila envelope, sealed with a piece of tape and enclosed were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him.  Behind those cards were letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.

I unfolded one pristine piece of notebook paper and I was transported, as I read my brother’s childish handwriting. 

Dear Santa,  I hope that I have been good enough to deserve these things I want.  I would like a bulldog tank, an electric football game and a boy scout nap sack.  My sister would like a jewelry box, a ballarena doll, a girl cowboy suit and play doe, please.   From: Jimmy and Nancy. December 16, 1958

This letter was written the Christmas after our mother died.   My brother was nine and I was five years old.  Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, just this one and one other.

My Dad wasn’t always good at professing his love.  He wasn’t the sentimental, mushy type. But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia.  The cards and notes his children had sent and letters to Santa obviously touched his heart, although we never knew it.

His heart was inside this box that took me ten years to open. And, suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See?  I have always loved you.” And finally, my heart whispered back, “I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”

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