By Ginger Gannaway -
Going to the camp on Good Friday epitomized “Lassiez les bon temps rouler!” for Viv. A pre-Easter Fontenot family reunion meant cousins running all around the camp, Stations of the Cross led by Monsignor Jermard, fresh fried catfish and hushpuppies, a softball game in the afternoon, a live Cajun band, plus the main attraction: 200 pounds of hot boiled crawfish that had the relatives fighting for good standing room when fresh batches of red-hot mudbugs were poured over newspaper-covered tables. Nothing made a Cajun’s heart sing like a huge crawfish boil with family and friends! Grandma even closed the picture show to celebrate with her large family on Good Fridays. (The only other day the Liberty Theater was shut down was Christmas Eve).
Viv wondered why Catholics considered eating seafood on Fridays a penance. Are not shrimp, crab, and crawfish three of the best delicacies on earth? In 1963, Viv did not consider the rationale or rules of being a Catholic. Everyone she loved went to mass every Sunday (and various holy days of obligation), accepted the necessity of confession, prayed to the Virgin Mary, gave up something they liked during Lent, and went without beef, pork, or chicken on Fridays. And thank you, Jesus, they had crawfish boils on Good Friday!
About 6:30 p.m. Viv was in the car with Momma, G. and Kelly driving back home. Kelly was fast asleep on the backseat next to Viv, and G. sat in the front seat, as usual. Dad was driving back later with Claude since the males helped clean up all the outdoor cooking mess. Viv stared out the back window and G. bounced a bit on the front seat. “She’ll be coming around the mountain/ when she comes,” G. sang, and Momma half-heartedly joined in. Viv mouthed the words as if the lyrics were a secret.
The day’s activities had been 62% favorable because that afternoon’s baseball game had made insecurity settle in Viv’s nine-year-old heart like stale cornbread. When the team captains (Alfred and Billy) were choosing kids, Viv heard Tony tell Alfred, “Don’t pick the crippled one.” She was used to being the last one picked at school because those kids did not realize she could still run fast despite the cerebral palsy that cursed her left side. But her cousins had known Viv all her life. Her limp and almost useless left arm did not illicit stares or teasing. She felt as ease with them. Plus, the camp was her favorite place to be, especially on Good Friday. Regina, her closest cousin, had pulled Viv by her good right arm over to the loose knot of kids waiting to be selected for the two teams. In past years Viv had babysat her sister Kelly during the baseball game to avoid the intimidation of playing a team sport where two coordinated hands were needed. Today Regina’s confidence rubbed off on Viv, and her full belly of crawfish told her she should move around a bit. Kelly had found her way to the carport’s sand box where Bea, the hired help, smoked a hand rolled cigarette and half-watched the five-and-under crowd. That day’s good times where adults and kids shared laughter and lots of good food in a laid-back atmosphere that told them everything was alright made Viv believe she could hold her own in the annual Good Friday baseball game. Alfred picked Regina early on since she and her eight siblings were known for their athletic skills. Tony’s comment made Viv hide her stupid left arm behind her back. She soon stepped to the side of the last two unpicked kids: booger-eating Clementine and big-eared Zoday who had just then decided to join the game. “Zoday,” said Alfred, and Billy said “Clementine.” Viv walked head down to Alfred’s side and hid behind the tallest cousin. Alfred’s team was first at bat and the eldest cousin began arranging the batters from youngest to oldest. Cousin Cathy took Viv’s good hand and led her out toward 3rd base. Terrible Tony was the third baseman, and Cathy walked past him and pointed to a distant pine tree, “You go play left field over there,” she said and gave Viv a half smile dripping with pity. Viv curved her ponytail’s loose curls behind her ear with her good right hand as she kicked pinecones on her way to where the ball never went. She could barely make out Regina getting ready to bat at home plate. Overhead a woodpecker did what it does, and the lonesome sound of a fiddle mixed with the bird’s taps in a zydeco…zydeco…zydeco way.
Viv walked down a city street toward a fence-enclosed playground. She wore black jeans and a cool red jacket. As she walked, she snapped the fingers of her left hand. Her feet kept the beat of a song in the background. Her short black hair was slicked back to stay in place. Two boys with similar hair joined her on the street and picked up the rhythm of her snaps and steps. In unison Viv and the Sharks kicked, twirled, and jumped to the band’s expectant music. Viv’s left leg extended high at hip level and she spun like a ballet performer while she and her crew approached a basketball court. Some kids shot baskets, but the guy with the ball froze when Viv’s crew came close. The Shark on Viv’s right grabbed the ball and passed it to Viv who made a perfect pirouette and made a basket! The Sharks continued their snapping, side-kicks, and twirls towards an alley. “Look out!” said the guy to her left.
Viv saw the baseball fly over Tony’s and Cathy’s heads and head straight towards her. She held out her ungloved right hand but closed her eyes. The ball plopped a few inches from Viv’s poopy brown corrective shoes. “Get it! Throw it!” yelled voices. Viv picked it up and aimed the ball at jumping Cathy, but it landed two yards in front of Viv as the batter headed to third base. Viv felt every players’ eyes on her and her incompetency. She covered her crooked left forearm with her normal right hand and went back to her position. She took a knee to pretend to tie her shoe.
Two hours later driving home, Viv re-lived her dismal first and last time to join the Good Friday baseball game. She had struck out both times at bat, and another ball never came close to her outfield area. “I will never ever in a hundred million years ever play baseball again,” she told herself.
“Your turn,” said G. “Pick a song.” Viv thought that at least singing didn’t require two good hands, and she choose her favorite song: “You Are My Sunshine.” Baseball was not the best sport anyway she told herself, and she let the song’s positivity make her voice get louder with each verse. “You make me happy when skies are grey!” she proclaimed as G. and Momma joined her for what Viv believed was a rousing rendition.
The crawfish boil had disappointed Momma Gerry in different ways than in did Viv. Kelly did not keep still for a second, and Gerry had time to eat maybe five crawfish after peeling several for her youngest daughter and having to help the other mothers with organizing the dessert and drinks area. Her husband got to stand around with other crawfish boilers and laugh and talk sports. She could hear him entertaining his crowd of men with long jokes that included both Cajun and British accents. When Gerry finally got a reprieve from two teenagers who scooped up Kelly to play in the sand box. “Look at her dimples on both sides,” Cathy told her cousin, and Gerry hightailed it to the fried catfish spot where Bea was already cleaning out the cast iron Dutch oven. “You missed the last of it,” said Aunt Fanny as she passed Gerry with a paper plate full of catfish.
When they were driving home, the off-key singing added to Gerry’s hunger headache. She made a right turn onto the road that led to Taureau, Louisiana. Once home Gerry still faced a kitchen full of dirty breakfast dishes, baths for three overtired girls, and a load of laundry to fold. Her own mother’s words “It never ends” echoed in her head.
“Viv, cher’” Momma said, “You can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” She held no anger in her words. Nothing but a matter-of-fact observation from a mother burdened with too much to do for other people and no time for herself. She did not notice her oldest daughter’s quivering bottom lip when Viv slumped back on the seat and stared out at the pine trees that lined the ditches of the highway.
After Ginger Keller Gannaway’s parents made her switch her major at LSU from Creative Writing to English Education in 1976, she switched her focus from writing to teaching. Fast-forward 40 years, and after raising three sons and teaching public school for 36 years, Gannaway has the time to write again. She performed her essay "Crooked Love" at a Listen to Your Mother program in Austin, Texas in 2014. Although she dabbles in blog writing (sittinuglysistahs.com), her true love is writing fiction. She wrote a coming-of-age YA novel in 2016 (E.V.’s YAWP) that used tweets and texts and letters to reveal her characters. She completed 24-HOUR MATINEE (a semi-autobiographical novel) in 2018. During 2020 she finished a mystery (THE MIRROR OF THAT TRICK AT NIGHT) that used the misadventures of taking care of her 90-year-old dad to examine the tragic/comic plight of elderly Americans in modern society. She is actively seeking representation for her manuscripts. Gannaway grew up in south Louisiana, and even though she now lives in Texas, she will forever have a Cajun soul and a need for beaucoup bon temps.