Father’s Day – The Gardener on The Glory Road

Daddy – 1937.
Newlywed.  Newly ordained preacher, Reverend Raymond D. Jones.
Brother Ray.”

The oldest of ten, he’d already helped raise his brothers and sisters, picking cotton, tending gardens, plowing fields and cooking for his family when he should have been in school, riding his motorcycle, drinking too much, honky-tonking on the weekend and dancing with the teenage singer who became his wife.  She was the rose. He remained the gardener.  After my brother and I came along, she was the performer. He was the teacher.

He taught us how to plant potatoes, how to cook them, how to make biscuits and gravy, and the behavior required of Southern preachers’ kids in all kinds of situations.  Example:  Because he came up poor and was always conscious of someone else’s lack of funds, when we had supper with members of the congregation and were offered second helpings, he asked us to say,

“Much obliged, but I have had sufficient.”

We were eager for stories of his wild days but he only told us bits and ended every telling with,

“Course I’d-a never done that if I was a Daddy then.  That’s not how a Daddy ought to do.”

All his people sang parts and played instruments and studied shape note singing at a country church out in the woods.  He believed in music to spread The Word, but he didn’t care much about having a featured role. His part was usually singing harmony and playing rhythm guitar.

When The Joneses’ music, recorded in the 1950’s, was re-mastered and released a few years back,  the only song on the album featuring Daddy’s voice on lead was soon heard all over the place.  He’d have been surprised.  I can see his grin and hear his drawl.

“Well, I never!”

In honor of Father’s Day, click the picture and hear Daddy’s distinctive hill country lead on “This World Is Not My Home.”

The Glory Road – It’s the hokey pokey all over again

So many rewrites.
Put stuff in.  Take stuff out.  Shake it all about.

This project was bass-ackwards from the start but in a lovely, unexpected way.  If you’ve heard some of this chronology before, don’t stop me now or I’ll lose my place.

My brother and I had a pact since childhood that we’d tell our stories in a book someday.   Probably after both parents had passed.  After both Brother Ray and Sister Fern were gone, it was time. Leslie Ray turned into an attorney.  I turned into a writer/broadcaster, so guess which one had the writing to do.  And guess which one asked all the time, “Got anything I can read?”

I started to write a book, but short stories came out first.  Don Barrett, broadcast colleague and dear friend,  read what I wrote and referred me to literary agent, Carol Schild Levy. Don worked with her husband in the movie industry and made the introductions.

Carol read my story, Musical Houses, from the collection that was meant to become The Glory Road.  She said she’d like to see it onstage.  Why not turn it into a play?  So we did.  Carol and her husband Marvin Levy and directors, David Atkinson and Greg Zerkle North and actors and singers and musicians from all over contributed to multiple staged readings in Los Angeles.   The talent!  Busy performers who  act and sing and create  goosebumps find time to participate in so many ways between their own shows, keeping odd rehearsal times, to help new works find a place onstage.

Then comes feedback from professionals, from audience members and from the creative and management teams.  The comment repeated most often was “more music.”  There was another problem. The cast was too large. In one version, we removed the young kids.  Cast minus two.  In another version, we removed the older kids. Cast minus two more.  Then more performances, concentrating on the couple, Ray and Fern.  That seemed a big enough story to tell, but everyone missed the kids.

The last reading at the Hayworth Theater in Los Angeles was the next-to-last time I saw my brother alive.  Within weeks he was gone. I stopped writing anything for a long time.

I needed to finish the book that began with stories that turned into a play.  So I did.  Finishing the book sent me back to the play, where I’m working now. Revising.  We’ve put the kids back in, which means taking out something else.  And we still need to add more songs.

Gramma K (you’ll meet her in both the play and the book) used to say if she had her druthers, she’d make three new dresses instead of altering one.  I hear you, Gramma.

Now the cast size is larger than the last version of the play, but the kids are back and talented young actors who can sing parts will find work onstage because of it.   When we finish this version, there’ll be another reading and we’ll see where The Glory Road takes us next.

Click the photo below to hear “Precious Lord.”

 

 

 

Worth a thousand words?

It’s not just the picture that tells the story.  Though I love photos of castles and British country homes and follow many of them on Instagram, this time it’s the words that get me.

For all my colleagues who’ve toiled in the marketing/ad agency/broadcast production world, always looking for fresh ways to describe available merchandise, when I read the description of this gorgeous place on Instagram and came to the part in green  below, I applauded the copywriter.

Who thinks to describe plants growing up the side of a building like this?

Eastwell Manor is a Great British country house originally built for Sir Thomas Moyle in 1550, located in Ashford, Kent.   Much of Eastwell Manor, the building that now serves as a hotel, was built in the neo-Elizabethan style during the 18th century.

Eastwell was occupied by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria, for a long period of time. He lived here with his family until 1893.

This property is Grade II listed and a gorgeous display of period neo-Elizabethan architecture, and has been shackled and enthralled by a wave of moss, ivy and other vine shrubbery.  We adore this overgrown aesthetic which was allowed to progress over the last century, do you?

 

 

 

Wouldn’t it be nice?

This website shared with my fellow broadcaster Dave- here he is on our home page, is called The Aging of Aquarius, so yeah, from time to time we write about differences between generations.

Some wise words about the generation gap popped up in a Frank Bruni (New York Times) column a couple of months back.  I’ve been thinking about this  ever since.

“Older generations need younger ones to reconnect them with their idealism.  But younger generations need older ones to turn that idealism into more than pretty words. They need the moral authority reserved for people who’ve done so much loving, so much losing and so much figuring out how to press on. They need the life lessons, which have grown from a pamphlet to an encyclopedia. What a waste not to read every last syllable of it.”
February, 2019

Beautifully said, Frank.  Thank you.

 

How Daddy Got Us Our Mother

                      Teenage Bride – Wedding day

A very short Mother’s Day story.

In El Dorado, Arkansas in 1939, Raymond Jones cooked at a local cafe where Fern Salisbury stopped after school for a Co-Cola. He’d learned to cook in Roosevelt’s CC camp, then took to riding the rails, cooking in town after town, working his way back home to Arkansas.

Fern Salisbury lied about her age (with her Mother’s knowledge) and sang in honky-tonks on the weekend while going to high school during the day. She loved steak and he cooked it well, frying it a special way for her in a huge cast iron skillet, browning the outside the way she liked it.  She ate steak at the cafe counter several times a week.  He flirted while she enjoyed meals like she didn’t have at home.

He started hanging around the honky-tonk.  Turned out he was the best dancer in town.  He danced with all the girls while she sang. Then he danced with her. Then he danced with her mother too, Gramma said just so she would let him keep seeing her daughter.

They married and both my brother and I were born while she was still in her teens.  They gave up dancing because of his new religion but they made music together all their lives and Reverend Raymond Jones (Brother Ray) cooked steaks for his Doll Baby (Sister Fern) in a cast iron skillet that went with us everywhere we traveled.

Depending on who was telling the story, when they talked about falling in love it was either the steaks or the dancing.

 

Sing out anyway!

I’d already written this, ready to post this morning,  then last night American Idol judges messed up my happy mood. So I added graffiti to the picture above.

Sometimes I watch American Idol or The Voice with my girls.  They’re fans.  I wander in and out. A crucial piece of each contestant’s story is how the singers get from where they started to here.

“I’ve lived my whole life on a tractor, never sang for more than ten or fifteen people at a time but here I am in Hollywood.

I embroidered that a little, but it’s close.

Talent is everywhere, but once it was nearly impossible to be discovered unless you lived in an entertainment center. One good thing about music competition shows – if you make it to one of their audition locations, you might get yourself noticed.

I like the solo auditions but I cringe when the finalists have to out-sing each other. I’m a wimp about young talent competing against other young talent so I walk away. Last night the girls came hollering down the hall to announce American Idol just eliminated sweet-faced, earnest, curly-headed Jeremiah.  I liked him best.  Obviously I am not strong enough for a whole season of this.

Getting from there to here still makes a good story, which is probably why reality shows keep telling it, and luck still plays a role, but if we’ve got something to say or sing and a way to post on You Tube, we can shout it to the world.

This video below already had millions of views by the time I heard about it.  Dad’s a musician who quit performing to support his family another way.  He did make it to The Voice, but didn’t win, but then Ellen invited Dad and Claire to her show.  I don’t know what’s going to happen next but in the meantime, sing out, Claire.

 

 

 

Polyester kids in a cotton world. Dressing to impress on The Glory Road

This is one of our good Sundays.  Preacher’s son in a respectable suit.  Preacher’s daughter in a cotton print.  New baby…they’ll get to her soon.

Here comes summer in the Deep South, early 1950’s.  Daddy in white dress shirt and tie, double-breasted seersucker suit.  Panama hat.  Polished shoes. Leslie Ray wanting nothing more than one of those suits for himself.  He was still in his old gabardine. He liked dressing up and wasn’t interested in everyday clothes.

Cotton was what kids in our town wore to school.  Nicely faded shirts on farm boys, girls in prints, some made from flour sacks, others from the yard goods store in Courthouse Square.  Everybody looked alike.  We started out fine in our new school and then Mother got restless.

She was a creative insomniac.  At night she wrote songs.  She painted.  She baked risin’ bread and clover leaf rolls.  She sewed. After she invented her famous plastic and nylon net corsages and sewed up all the clingy jersey dresses her closet could hold, she turned her attention to us.  We’d been down this road before, roped into her projects, protesting all the way.  Daddy was exempt because a Southern Preacher dressed a certain way and that was that.

Mother announced she’d bought some McCall’s patterns for boys’ shirts and girls’ dresses.  She put them together with slippery, man-made fabric in big flowered prints and sent us off to school, me wearing an unusual dress with loads of trim and my brother in a short-sleeved flowered shirt with fancy shaped pockets. We hated those clothes. We didn’t want to be polyester kids in an all-cotton world.

My brother was quick with a solution. His new shirt didn’t remain intact even one full day.  He came home with both pockets dangling and some flimsy (to my ear) story about how it happened.  I was jealous I hadn’t thought of a way to injure my new dress. Playing tag at school soon did it. One sash pulled right out of the back and before going home, I helped the other one rip. I put on a sad face when I revealed the damage.  Mother said,

“You won’t be getting any more pretty dresses like that one, missy.”

And to my brother,

“What were you thinking, playing rough like that in your good shirt?”

Our reprieve came when we learned we were getting us a baby. Gramma K came back down South from California to stay a while.  She was an expert seamstress, with her own peculiar tastes in children’s clothes. The baby arrived and immediately Sister Fern and Gramma K started their competitive back and forth about what the baby would wear. Though  both designed original garments, their output was nothing you’d want to see on an infant. Here’s a scene from The Glory Road:      

       Mother was confined to bed. Church people immediately adopted our baby as their own. The Women’s Missionary Council made baby blankets and quilts with thousands of tiny stitches.  They chose pink and jonquil colored flannel and sewed it into soft gowns and they prepared the baby for her attendance at future church services by trimming the smallest dresses I had ever seen with embroidery and crocheted edgings.    

        These women who looked after their own husbands and families and kept clean houses and cooked three meals a day and worked in the garden too, also produced exquisite handwork and with their investment of time, they rendered the start of a new life profound. 

       Their work was so delicate, it was like Cinderella’s ball gown in the movie. Disney creatures brought Cinderella’s dress to life, all of it removed from reality, with fantasy embellishments drifting into place.  That’s how beautiful our baby’s new wardrobe was.        

      Churchwomen came over and stayed to talk with Gramma K , who appeared at the kitchen table wearing full makeup and flashy jewelry and her California clothes.  Sister Coker was the voice for all the other churchwomen, and she enjoyed a special relationship with Mother.  Nothing Mother did or said seemed to bother her, and vice versa. Sister Coker assured Gramma the Jones baby would want for nothing. 

       In our church, babies were dedicated, but not sprinkled. The water was saved for later. By age 12, which was considered the Age of Reason, there would be full-immersion baptizing in a nearby creek.

      There was talk of the women making a special dress for the dedication. Gramma got her dander up. 

       “I believe I’m capable of making what my grandbaby will wear.”

       Sister Coker, experienced with the opinions of strong women, put on her most reasonable tone.

       “Oh Miz Kalbaugh, we thought with all you have to do…”

       “Yes, I am busy…”

       Gramma was in charge now. 

        “…so I guess we could put our heads together and come up with something…”

       “Oh having your help will be such a blessing!”  Sister Coker beamed as if she had all the time in the world and nothing would give her greater pleasure than to come over to our house and soothe the two high-strung women in residence.

       Daddy would say the prayers of dedication over his infant, and Mother, when she got well enough, would stand in front of the congregation holding our new baby, the way it had been done forever.  Sister Booty said,

       “Maybe we should wait on the dedication until Sister Fern feels better and let her decide about the dress.  Lord knows she’s so artistic, she might already have something in mind.”

      Mother sent word out from the bedroom that she would be happy for the church’s assistance with the dedication dress. She did have a preference. She wanted the dress made of dotted swiss, the softest they could find, on a pastel colored background.  If the yard goods store had only the stiffer kind of dotted swiss, would the women please soak it in Ivory Snow first to soften it?  And could they make a little slip of lawn to wear underneath, and trim it with grosgrain ribbon to match the dotted swiss?  No sooner were her wishes expressed than the women were on their way to turning them into reality.

From her bedroom and with the help of the women in our congregation, Mother began designing clothes for the baby like nothing she’d made before.  They were beautiful and appropriate.  Our baby had a few years ahead of looking good until Sister Fern regained her full strength.

Favorite restaurant decor – Diner Edition.

White tablecloths and tinkling glasses and polished silver are good when you’re in the mood, but I also need to know where to find the funk.

This is my favorite restaurant decor.  Oilcloth on the table.
Bogey’s Cafe, San Rafael, CA

Or big fat padded leather swivel stools at the counter.  Or funky booths.  And iced tea while you wait.

Shoreline Coffee Shop, Mill Valley, CA
Intersection of 101 at Highway 1 (Muir Woods & Stinson Beach)

I was at Shoreline on Saturday for lunch.  (BLT and fries. Thanks for asking.) It’s been there for decades.  When the new owners took over a few years ago, they changed the menu to organic, locally-sourced everything but kept the funk.  Bogey’s is on Fourth Street – San Rafael’s main street for shopping, strolling and snacking.

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Favorite Easter card two years in a row.

Favorite Easter card two years in a row

This week, the Grand and I will shop for Easter surprises for her Mother.  It was easy in younger days.  Cotton balls and macaroni were the supplies of choice.  I drove from Mill Valley to Woodland Hills to spend Easter season every year and the first thing she showed me was the secret card made at preschool, hidden away for the big day.

After graduating from the basics of gluing a thing onto another thing, the cards matured into combinations of construction paper, felt, and cotton and were signed with many xxxx’s and oooo’s.  A trip to See’s Candies and we were handled.

When the cards came from a store, she was drawn to corny jokes and puns. Mom was a good sport about it.  The sentiment was circumstantial, based on which displays the Grand could reach.  She picked up whatever attracted her and asked me to read the words inside.

She spotted, on a rack above her head, a card with two chocolate rabbits, each missing a crucial body part. She asked to see it.

“What does it say?”

I read it to her.  She immediately decided it was the one for Mom.

Me (reaching up for hearts and flowers): “But look at this one.”

She: “No thank you. The rabbits are funny.”

Of course the word “butt” used in any context has an entire room full of pre-readers on the floor, laughing.

When she was tall enough to reach any rack, her tastes grew more sophisticated, and now the only constant remaining is chocolate.

One thing is certain – when I’m involved with Easter shopping, there will be See’s Candy.  The See’s shopper gets the See’s free samples handed over the counter with a smile by the women and men in white.  Long live tradition.

Sister Fern discovers plastic on the The Glory Road

A tad fuzzy but I wanted to get closer on that corsage

The church lady on the right looks exactly the way many ladies looked in our Louisiana congregation in the 1950’s.  On the left, Sister Fern is the gospel singing pastor’s wife wearing a slinky black dress and the big corsage.

From time to time we came off the road from our gospel tours when Daddy pastored a church for a while.  On the road she wore jersey, which clung in the right places and moved even when she stood still.  When she married the preacher, she gave up wearing makeup and raised her low-cut necklines a bit, but she still sought enhancement wherever she could find it.

She found it down at the yard goods store where she discovered polyester and nylon and plastic/vinyl in thin sheets and stiff netting and every other difficult-to-wear, artificial material available.

She made those corsages, huge prickly things they were, in every color.  She cut out the petals using pinking shears, then wired the parts together with florist’s tape and bunches of nylon net.  She formed all the parts into shapes resembling prom corsages – big ones  – some even bigger than the one pictured.  She was tall and her impressive front was built for displaying her creations and she wore some version of this every Sunday. Responding to compliments which may not have been solely directed at her corsage, she was happy to pass along details.

“You can suds them right in the sink, shake them and they’ll dry right off.”

Which doesn’t sound like a great endorsement for items meant to resemble flowers, but people kept saying nice things.  This pleased her so much she made new ones, brighter and bigger, and gifted them to many church ladies. When I stood at the microphone on Sunday to sing with the family, I looked out at a garden of plastic and nylon net occupying the fronts of ladies in their cotton print Sunday best dresses.

Then her attention turned to making school clothes for my brother and me.  Memories of a nylon dress and Leslie Ray’s matching shirt are still fresh and painful.  More about them another time.

Meanwhile, here’s Sister Fern doing what she did best. Click the picture for a song.