Posted in Family

Hammock by Ginger Keller Gannaway

My two younger sisters and I grew up down a winding gravel road on the outskirts of a small south Louisiana town in the 1960’s.  Spaced out two years apart, we shared our clothes, our secrets, and our hot and spicy tempers.  Without nearby neighbors we were each other’s everyday friends, especially in summers.  As the oldest, I’d often hold my sisters close and tight before sending them off and away on a long yo-yo string.  We were pros at hair-pulling, hitting, and biting, yet we also shared a tight connection and learned how to balance our differences.

Shared Birthday Party (1964) Notice how both Gayle & Kelly’s hands are on the Barbie case.

On a July afternoon in 1964 after some predictable kitten races and boring inside hide-and-seek games with my sisters, I wanted some alone time. So I decided to test our new green hammock that stretched stiffly between two live oak trees on the side of our home. I crawled up in the “lounger” with a paperback between my teeth, but my sixty-three pounds could not make the weaved nylon bend and dip. I was in no way cocooned the way magazine pictures of hammocks told me I should be. I stretched out and put the small round blue accent pillow I’d borrowed from our living room couch under my head. The hammock was as tight as Aunt Fanny who clutched her change purse like a Cajun guarding the last bowl of gumbo.  I opened Pippi Longstocking to my bookmarked chapter and told my body to relax. 

The sun’s rays peaked behind hundreds of small green oak leaves and gave my book’s pages a dappled look. I repositioned my pillow and held the book above my head long enough to read two pages. Feeling a stitch in my neck, I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the hammock. My ankles extended two inches over the edge, the blue pillow slid down to my lower back, and my weight still failed to create an indentation. My eight year-old self-awareness told me that I looked ridiculous.  Then I heard my little sisters’ voices.

“My turn! My turn!” yelled Kelly as she ran toward the hammock wearing a new lime green seersucker two-piece short set.  As the baby of the family and with dimples deep as a mother’s love, she grew up thinking all should bow to her charms. Gayle, wearing one of my hand-me-down t-shirts and elastic waisted shorts, followed carrying three library books of different sizes. As the middle girl she fought the unfairness of life with the determination of a seasoned Mardi Gras parade-goer grabbing beads.

“I just got here,” I said pretending that sitting on the unyielding fabric was comfortable. I cleared my throat and wiggled my hips as my round pillow fell to the ground. “I ‘m reading,” I said. With her hands above her head, Kelly pushed the hammock back and forth.  

“I got books,” said Gayle as she dropped two books next to my pillow on the ground and held the remaining book over her head. “I have Alice in Wonderland.”  

Kelly stopped pushing the hammock to beat the area under my butt with her fists. “Read it! Read it! Read it!” she said. The kid had excellent rhythm for a four-year-old.

I loved reading to my sisters, but I also loved bossing them around. “Pick up the pillow, Gayle. Quit messing with the hammock, Kelly!”

My youngest sister continued pushing the hammock and made me drop my paperback book while my middle sister struggled to join me in my position of power.  “Lookit what you did, couillon!” I said to the former and, “I didn’t say you could get up here,” to the latter. 

Gayle tossed her hardcover library book up towards me hitting my left cheek and knocking my brand new glasses askew.  Kelly’s strength matched her stubbornness, and the hammock moved enough to keep her sister from climbing in.  Then Gayle’s sideways hip bump landed Kelly on her skinny bottom and gave my middle sister confidence to believe she could join me in the hammock. She extended her arms and tried clawing her way onto the slick green lounger.  Her clear blue eyes framed by black pixie-cut bangs peeked up at me. From her seat in the dirt, Kelly kicked at Gayle’s legs.  

To avoid an all-out fight, I decided to give in and help my siblings join me. I pulled Gayle’s right arm hard enough to dislocate her shoulder, but her determination to be first in the hammock kept her from yelling “Owww!”  Kelly had scrambled to her feet and went back to moving the hammock back and forth. 

“Stupid face!” said Gayle as she settled in next to me and set the library book in her lap and looked down on Kelly.  Now with two sisters seated, the baby of our family had trouble rocking the hammock.  She stuck out her tongue and bit down to concentrate on annoying us.

“If you stop pushing, you can get up here,” I said and reached out a hand. Kelly smirked and lifted two dusty arms. I succeeded in pulling her about three inches off the ground. “Help me,” I told my hammock companion.

Poopee!” Gayle said to the sister below us before I grabbed her elastic waist band and Gayle pulled both of Kelly’s shoulders up and over.  Our combined weight made the hammock finally relax a bit in the middle. Three small butts settled next to each other.  We all gave our attention to the book now in my lap.  Kelly leaned her head on my shoulder and Gayle popped the thumb of her right hand into her mouth as I opened the classic story.  I straightened my blue cat-eyed glasses, and with a sister to my right and a sister to her left, I ironically began, “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister…”

Posted in Family

Cicadas by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Cicadas – 1963

trees in Eunice
Live oaks around my childhood home

I opened the shoe box gently to show Kelly my treasure.

“Just tree mess,” said Kelly as she moved the leaves, twigs, and moss around.

Couillon! They’re hiding from us.” And I gently picked up a green and brown insect. Its whirring whine made my three-year-old sister say, “Coooool,” as she petted its folded wings. 

“Careful,” I said and replaced the insect as my sister searched and found the box’s true treasure – a poopy-brown thing.  “Lookit this.”

“It’s dead,” said Kelly.  I set it on the oak tree trunk whose shade we sat in.  The brown bug took slow-motion steps up the trunk. Kelly could only stare.

“Looks like a seratops.”

Kelly reached to touch it with her index finger, but my larger hand covered my little sister’s whole hand.  “Leave it. Just watch.”

Our heads moved close, close to the bug on the tree. We watched it mummy-move some more.  Then it stopped.

“It’s dying,” said Kelly as she put her arm around my neck.

“Watch,” I repeated.

It took one and a half minutes for the younger girl to lose interest. “It’s really dead now,” she whispered into my ear.

brown cicada“Shhhhhh,” and I squeezed Kelly’s shoulder and pointed.  Kelly moved her head closer in. Did the brown bug’s back crack? Why was it killing itself? Then slow, slow a wet thing backed out of the cracked bug. Kelly remembered cartoons where a baby bird pecks its way out of an egg. She leaned in and almost kissed the tree bark.

I held her shoulder and brought my face over my sister’s.  As the new bug emerged, it paused to allow its folded wings to unfurl. The green translucent beauty of the wings brought soft gasps from both of us.

“Now he’s gotta dry off,” I said, and we both froze to witness the new and improved insect glowing atop the broken carcass. It seemed to be sunbathing in the broken sunbeams.

Kelly held her breath and I nodded my head. After awhile the cicada made its whirring, clicking whine to flyaway. Both of our heads tilted up to watch the miracle depart. 

Then I carefully took the split-open brown thing and placed it in my shoe box.

“Cool,” said Kelly.  I nodded and put an arm around my sister’s shoulder.

Kelly, age 3
Kelly, age 3

Posted in Family, Travel

Waves by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Waves

mom & dad with emile & me at beach
Emile, Mom, Ginger, Dad at beach, 1959

 These days, except for the triple-digit temperatures, it doesn’t feel like July. COVID19 has stolen the summer tradition of family vacations for many people. I have been looking back at my childhood and our yearly trips to the Florida beach.

     In 1964 I held Kelly’s left hand in my right and Gayle’s right in my left. In our new two-piece bathing suits we faced the bright white Florida shore with our backs to the Gulf of Mexico. Gayle and I stood in thigh-high water while Kelly jumped up and down so that the water went from her waist to her thighs. Our game was simple. Keep your head straight ahead and do not turn around to see the approaching surf. Listen for the sounds of the breaking waves and be ready to jump when the salt water slapped your backside. Also, do not break the holding-hands chain! I tightened my grip on Kelly’s hand as the four-year-old continued to bounce up and down like a human Tigger. “Stay still,” I said. “You need to concentrate and listen.” Kelly started to jump higher and shake her skinny hips.

“She loves you! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” sang Kelly.

Gayle echoed, “Yeah,Yeah, Yeah!”

I pulled and squeezed Kelly’s hand as our middle sister said, “We gotta be ready, y’all!” Kelly continued singing, but in a hesitant whisper of a voice. I held my breath to focus on the sounds behind us eleven seconds before the rushing roar of the waves announced water higher than all three of us. The wave pounded over our heads and all we knew was water. We screamed in unison as the frothy water pushed us forward and roared its dominance. We all lost our balance and our feet left the sand. Gayle and I stayed connected, but Kelly got pulled away and sent rolling in the surf. She got a mouthful of salt water and the waves sent her face into the sand. I rushed to Kelly’s rescue, dragging my other sister with me. I reached for my youngest sister’s arm, but my fingers squeezed a long ponytail instead. I yanked the dark chunk of hair over my head and pulled her to her feet. Her bikini top was askew and covered only one nipple. Kelly was too shocked to cry and reached for my waist to steady herself. I released her hair and Gayle reached over to help keep Kelly standing. With both Kelly’s arms around my waist and a wiggling Gayle on the other side, I did my best to walk my sisters to the shore. Soon we all three sat on dry sand.

beach with Stoneciphers
Beach trip in 1959 with the Stoneciphers

 

“I ’bout drowneded,” sputtered Kelly as Gayle said, “You ok now.” I sat in the middle and placed an arm around each sister. Together we looked at the watery wildness we had escaped. After thirty seconds of concentration on the power of nature and the suddenness of disaster,  Kelly stood to straighten her bathing suit. “Let’s build a sand castle,” she said as she walked to the beach chair Mom was sitting in. (Momma had been too preoccupied with rubbing baby oil on her legs to witness her daughters’ water misadventure). Gayle followed Kelly, but I stayed there staring at the waves. Just a couple of minutes before I had feared for my little sister’s life! I closed my eyes and breathed in and out, in and out.  A helicopter moved overhead and pulled a banner that proclaimed the freshness of “Dougie’s Shrimp Baskets.”

beach 1972
Ginger, Kelly, Gayle and Momma at beach in 1972

I stared at the pounding water on the shore four feet in front of me.  The steady rush of water as it spread over the hot sand and the wave’s retreat into the gulf hypnotized me. How could the water have such power?  It was loose and liquid and allowed kids to float atop it. It called out to folks to join in its cool beauty, its wild excitement, its thrilling danger. I closed my eyes and listened to rhythmic sounds that soothed me until I decided to help my sisters with sand castle creations.

Papa and Evan at beach
PaPa and Evan at the Beach, 1999