I had to stop scrolling for a minute.

By Anita Garner

I spend hours at a keyboard every day and I now have so many versions of my new novel in progress, I lost track of a character I really like.  What happened to Sofia, that little girl I wrote?  I stumbled through multiple files with confusing names, looking for her.  I should never revise when I’m tired.  Or distracted. Or out of coffee. Cutting and pasting and moving paragraphs onscreen offer freedom but they’re risky for a person like me.  My keyboard needs a warning device. Ding, ding ding.  Are you sure you want to change that again?  Ding ding ding.  Maybe wait til you’re fully awake to create another file.

I started as a writer with hard copies, pen in hand, scribbling in margins. I’m glad to have other choices today, but I had to stop scrolling through this project for a while to sort it out.  Drastic measures were needed. I moved all the files to a flash drive and handed it over to someone else to print. I dropped it off one day, picked it up the next, and in between took a little breather.

All the versions are waiting for me on my work table now and those hard copies recognize me. They tell me we’ve done this before, we’ll work our way out of this.

Now that I’m back to editing this the old way, my characters’ thoughts and dreams and misdeeds will be spread all around the room, on the green carpet and on the tall table and on the redwood plank desk under the window.  One strong breeze can scatter pages and change lives.

This morning I found my missing Sofia.  She was right there when I turned over one more printed page, which led me to find the file where she’d been living on the computer. It turns out she isn’t in the story very long but now that I’ve located her, I’m so happy to see her, I’ll give her more to do.A scrolling digression:  Did you see the video of the one year old girl in France trying to make magazines behave like an iPad?  Scrolling was obviously what she learned first so it was second nature.  I wonder if there’ll be hard copies in her future.

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Because of buttermilk.

By Anita Garner

This whole thing started because there’s buttermilk in the fridge.  I can only go so long without a batch of buttermilk biscuits or tart/not sweet cornbread. I need to go make some biscuits today, sturdy ones, the kind I grew up with. I’ll never cast aspersions on the fluffier, grate-a-stick-of-cold-butter kind, but when a biscuit’s also a memory, there will be Crisco inside. The skillet will be preheated with a dollop of bacon grease and the tops will have a slight dent so they can be brushed with more bacon grease.

A few years back I bought a set of biscuit cutters at Sur Le Table in Corte Madera, a store where even a person like me who only cooks occasionally can spend a day just looking through stuff.  These babies cut everything from little tea size nibbles to much bigger ones.  This makes me the only member of my family I know of who’s ever bought biscuit cutters.

The people who raised me cut biscuits with their favorite glasses or jar rims or a special-sized can with both bottom and top cut off, so the dough wouldn’t stick inside.  A tea-sized biscuit from Daddy’s mother in Arkansas would be cut with a Kraft Pimento Cheese jar she kept for that purpose.  Mother’s mother migrated to Southern California but stayed with her favorite iced tea glass for shaping.

Our people made all kinds of biscuits.  Some of the aunts were celebrated for their risin’ biscuits.  Church potlucks featured Angel Biscuits, made with a touch of yeast.  At home, our biscuits had work to do. They were a warm breakfast in the morning, then brown paper bags carried them to school stuffed with chunks of ham or dry salt or fried Spam. Put the bag on the cloakroom shelf above the coat pegs and it gets slicker during the morning. Nothing says dinner (our midday meal) will be delicious like serious grease stains on your lunch bag. A dry biscuit was never found in our house.

When I make this batch, I won’t use the cutter for all of them.  I’ll save out a piece of dough and hand-form it, leaving it bumpy on top.  It’ll be the biggest one, the Cat Head biscuit (named for just what you think, because it’s big as a cat’s head.) Mother sprinkled her Cat Head biscuit with cinnamon sugar.  Daddy cut his open at dinner time to sop up something with it. I’ll go for blackberry preserves on mine this afternoon.

Tall glass of iced coffee, dash of cream.  This morning’s memory is brought to you by buttermilk in the fridge.  It doesn’t take much more than that these days.

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New category: Things I haven’t cooked in ages.

By Anita Garner

Depression Cake
(Recipe below)

We made this as far back as I can remember.  Churchwomen shared the recipe. It showed up at every potluck.  They called it Depression Cake.  I wasn’t around during The Great Depression. i was born into post-war rationing and my family counted pennies but we always seemed to have the ingredients for this when we needed a treat.

The recipe requires no eggs or milk or butter or oil and the cake turns out soft and moist and delicious.  Mayonnaise is the magic ingredient. You won’t taste the mayo, but you may decide this is richer than most chocolate cakes.

Grandma made it in California.  Mother made it in the Deep South.  My brother and I cooked as soon as we could reach the stove and we made it too.  Leslie Ray and I made it Sunday night after church and ate it straight from the pan.  You get to call it snack cake when it stays in the pan, which means you can take a forkful every time you pass by and no one’s going to complain about the edges.

I didn’t frost this one.  We had a smidge of confectioners sugar left
in the baking drawer, so I sifted it on top.

You already know what frosted chocolate cake looks like, but here’s a picture anyway because cake with frosting is pretty.

This recipe isn’t super-sweet, therefore according to  snack cake rationale it isn’t only for dessert. I know someone who had it for breakfast this morning.

Bonus picture from a show-off who topped theirs
with cream cheese spread.

DEPRESSION CAKE RECIPE

One big mixing bowl.  One spoon.  One pan.  I used 8 x 8.
Heat oven to 350.  Grease pan.  If you use a different size pan, watch your baking time.  Bake about 25-40 minutes depending on oven and depth/size of pan.

About a cup of boiling water. Include a splash of brewed coffee in this measure.
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
(Add a few chocolate chips if you like. I didn’t use any.)
2/3 cup mayo
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda,
3/4 cup granulated sugar. (May need a bit more)
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
I added some chopped walnuts. (I put them in everything.)

Bring water to a boil.  You may only need 3/4 cup, so make brewed coffee part of your first 3/4.  Save the rest of your water in case you need it.

Put cocoa powder (and chocolate chips if you’re using them) in a large mixing bowl. Pour 3/4 cup hot water over your chocolate and leave it to melt for a minute, then mix together.

Stir in mayonnaise, salt, baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth.  Stir in vanilla, then the flour.  Mix it very well until lumps are gone.

This is where I taste and decide whether to add a bit more sugar.  I often need another sprinkle. If the mixture is too stiff to pour, drizzle water until it’s the consistency you know a thick cake batter should be.

Pour the batter into greased pan.  Bake until center springs back when lightly pressed.  Our oven is old and finicky so I set a timer for 20 minutes, use the toothpick test, then turn the pan to finish baking.

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Handsome maverick on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Most of the evangelists and pastors and performers in our circle of friends in the Deep South were snappy dressers in suits and splashy ties and starched dress shirts.  Daddy was one of them.  From the late 40’s to early 50’s, there were lots of double-breasted suits in our family albums.

Reverend Raymond Jones snapped by a street photographer
Wichita, Kansas, 1940’s

When he wasn’t wearing one of his signature hats, Daddy refreshed his shiny pompadour with Brylcreem.  Here he is with other evangelists.

Brother Daly and Daddy in Texas

Brother Franks and Daddy in Oklahoma

Enter Reverend Denver Ogden.  Here’s one of his publicity postcards, mailed out before  his appearances at churches and revivals and other gospel events.  He preached and sang and played multiple instruments like all of them did, but away from the pulpit he changed into flowing shirts with full sleeves and taught art classes.

As he traveled the Southern states with art supplies and a wardrobe unlike any we’d seen, his personal following grew. Women turned up in droves when he arrived. Even his name belonged on a movie poster. Everyone had a crush on Denver Ogden.

Our own Mother decided to brush up on her sketching and charcoal drawing and painting skills with him.  Yes, there was a Mrs. Ogden and she was a sweet soul.  We spent time with both of them, getting together every time we were within hailing distance of the same state, but there was only one star in that family.

During one especially hot and humid summer in the Deep South, when a bunch of evangelists and performers gathered to attend a big Singing, my brother and I gained a measure of respect for his unusual ways.  Out on the grounds during a sweltering afternoon, while the other men sweated in long sleeved shirts and ties, Denver Ogden appeared in short sleeves, carrying his jacket, which he  put on only when he stepped onstage. We’d never seen such a thing in all our years as little gospel gypsies. a preacher without a starched white shirt.  Fortunately, Mother was nearby (probably just a coincidence) to take this picture.

Somebody in our group was bound to challenge the rules someday.  We kids were proud it was someone we knew.  Denver, you short-sleeved rascal.  You rule-breaker.  You Errol Flynn, James Dean, Marlon Brando of evangelists.  We preacher’s kids, we future rule-breakers, salute you.

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Working 9 to 5. Then 8 to 2. Vintage Los Angeles.

By Anita Garner

Early 1960’s. Mardi Gras Room, Park Wilshire Hotel near MacArthur Park, Los Angeles.  The former Nita Faye Jones, now Anita, with Barry Townley of The Barry Townley Trio. 

There was almost no time lapse between graduating Herbert Hoover High in Glendale and singing all night in clubs.  I was underage, wore tons of make-up and turned my natural red hair blonde, spending hours in a salon every month to keep it that way.

Step down from Wilshire Blvd into this hotspot. Seats on the right faced the stage. It was packed even on weeknights. 

A nightclub singer’s wardrobe was flashy. Feathers. (There are feathers on the bottom of that white dress and the bottom isn’t far from the top.)  Sequins.  Fancy fabrics.  Much of my paycheck went to a little shop in Beverly Hills where I made layaway payments.

The pay for a singer back then?  Not enough to afford the clothes.  Many of us worked two jobs.  I was a skinny teenage girl burning the candle at both ends. My day job was to try to look good at a front desk in the  plush lobby of a high rise in downtown Los Angeles.  I was a lickety-split typist but I didn’t tell them that because I doubt I could have stayed alert enough to complete a task, so I just sat there.

The company was LAI, Lockheed Aircraft International, where military officers from other nations came to negotiate the purchase of aircraft with a team of LAI attorneys.  My job was to smile and greet them and push buttons to summon their hosts and translators.  Through translators, we chatted. They loved music and wherever I sang, there they were.

So – all day in an office, then change clothes and sing until 1 or 2 AM, then drive home, try to sleep, wake up to lots of coffee and do it all over again. it took a while before I made enough from singing to stop the day jobs, but eventually every bar and restaurant featured musicians and a singer and times were good for live music all over Southern California.

I don’t remember back then ever having a single conscious thought about my work in clubs having anything to do with rebelling against my upbringing.  It was just something I knew how to do.  I grew up performing with my family.

I’m still surrounded by boxes of photos for my book project.  Pictures do bring up stories. I’m telling this one to say, well I’ll be damned,  there’s much in  common here with my mother.  Fern Jones took her guitar into a radio station when she was 12 and they were glad to give her a show.  By the age of 14, she lied about her age to sing in honky-tonks, then went to work with a big band. Then she met Daddy.

Because of Daddy’s religious beliefs, I was raised with no makeup, no going where liquor was served and pretty much everything else a young woman wanted to do was a sin. These days I look at pictures of teenage Fern and it’s apple, meet tree.

 

 

 

Comfort Writing for Reminisce Magazine

By Anita Garner

The Jones Kids, Arkansas, 1953
from the current issue of Reminisce Magazine

I’m sentimental.  Writing for Reminisce Magazine suits me perfectly.  My family’s in the new issue twice. Each issue includes a theme in addition to their regular departments.  The theme this time is the New Deal and the story of Daddy’s time at CC Camp is included.   Also in this issue is a story about my brother, Leslie Ray’s, unusual teenage rebellion.

That’s Daddy on the left, the future Reverend Raymond Jones in the 1930’s, showing off his muscles at Roosevelt’s C C Camp.

The magazine is owned by the company that also owns Readers Digest.   Reminisce, filled with photos and memories and a nice layout and proper vintage attitude, feels like home, a bit Readers Digest-y, which is comforting.

The last time the magazine published one of my stories, people asked how to get a copy.  Subscribing.  Or from a library.  I see both print and digital versions on Amazon.

These stories I send to the magazine aren’t included in my book, The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life, which comes out next year.  When it was time to trim the manuscript for the book, not everything I wrote fit the length and I share some of this in other ways.  Reminiscing, for instance.

 

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First Day Of California Senior Quarantine

By Anita Garner

Choreographer Twyla Tharpe high kicks at seventy-eight
and shares a truth about aging.

On the first day of California self-isolation for residents over sixty-five, I just heard from a friend in her 70’s who’s coincidentally just now dressing up her top half (all that’s required these days) in an outfit appropriate for a  video interview that was set up long before this crisis.

The reason for the video isn’t because of our quarantine. It’s because the organization is located in another state and this is how they meet new potential hires.  They contacted her because of her experience, but they don’t know her age, and they have a history of hiring young.

Her question to me, “Do you think I can pass for sixties?”

Which I mention only to note the coincidence of her video chat on the first day of California’s new self-isolation rule starting at age 65.  Do we think anyone will be piling on the makeup or touching up the hair color just to get outside?  From the behavior I’ve noticed at the market, that’s not outside the realm of possibility.

The latest AARP Bulletin features an interview about aging with choreographer, Twyla Tharpe.   Today seems as good a time as any to talk about getting older and then what follows next, which is actually being old.  If you’ve read anything else about her, one takeaway is that Twyla must be one of the most disciplined creative persons in the world.  Seriously, rigorously disciplined.

Here’s one question and one answer from the interview that contains a universal truth for all of us “of an age” whether or not we could “pass for sixties.”  Credit due Twyla and AARP interviewer, Hugh Delehanty.

Hugh:  What advice would you give to someone not as disciplined as you?

Twyla:  One, expect it to be a positive experience and do whatever you can to support that expectation.  Aging isn’t easy, and anyone who says it is isn’t experiencing it.  Obviously, there are challenges.  The body is insulting the mind, which remembers things that were once possible.

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Welcome home.

By Anita Garner

This is my favorite welcome home from anyplace I’ve lived.  It’s Mexican Sage gone wild at the edge of my driveway in Mill Valley, CA.   The sage loved that spot and I loved the sage.

I wonder if I’m the only person who keeps photos of favorite bits and pieces of houses on my phone. Not in a sad way.  I’m just strongly attracted to gates, mailboxes, driveways, front doors, entryways.

Mailboxes.  Old tin ones on a wood post like this one.  Or old wood formed into a little house on a post. I like to visit neighborhoods in any town and soak up all the ways houses say hello.

I’m working on a new  novel and as the chapters unfold, the house details become more important.  While I’ve been telling the story, an old house has become almost the main character, requiring me to learn things about home repair in order to add realistic conversations about what needs fixing.

I have a friend, a music producer by trade, and a builder of everything his home needs.  Last week I drew him a sketch of a repair needed in my fictional home.  Took a picture, texted it to him in Nashville, asking for some HGTV talk, what a construction person might say about the repair.  Back came some sentences that fit perfectly.

I’m now so attached to my fictional house, I want to live in it. By the time the manuscript becomes a book, the front door will be yellow and the driveway will be trimmed in Mexican Sage to match my favorite welcome home above.

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Bucket List Book Tour

By Anita Garner

I’m in the book tour thinking stage, which happens before book tour planning, which happens before publication, which happens next year.  Of course I’ll go to the Deep South first – my stories move from the South to Southern California. Then an East Coast swing and other places to combine book talks with friend and family visits.

Then I must take The Glory Road to England.  I’ve never been.  I try not to be jealous of colleagues who work there, with their Abbey Road recording sessions, but I am.

What if there’s a combination bucket list trip/book tour? If that could happen, I’d stay a few weeks, rent a place near London transportation. Something cozy. A comfy bed and a small kitchen, a coffee maker for me and a window to watch tea drinkers go by.

One really should have high tea at The Ritz.  Or Claridges.  Or the Dorchester.  Business-related, of course, with much talk of books and such.  Then on to seek inspiration at places I’ve had crushes on for ages, places that have more to do with shows I watch and books I read.

Notting Hill, because it’s  photogenic and of course Hugh Grant’s in the movie. If I go into that famous bookstore of his I’ll say it’s work-related.

Holland Park, Jean Hardcastle’s home from As Time Goes By

Cornwall. Port Isaac.  Doc Martin would never forgive me if I didn’t stop in the village.

Lake District.  The scenery.

Then there’s Highclere castle.  Downton and all.

And two very Austen-centric stops, Chawton House, the manor where Jane’s brother, Edward, lived, and Jane Austen House, where she sat by her own  window to write.

 

 

Friends have moved to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and surely I should stop and say hello. Back in London, I’ll need to check on performing friends In the theatre district.

If time permits, perhaps watch Nigella Lawson tape one of her cooking shows or maybe Mary Berry will show me how to make a proper trifle.

My Mother’s people, the  Salisburys, were from England.  Daddy’s people were from Wales.  And getting back to book business, I’m in touch with UK fans of the music my parents recorded, rockabilly mixed with gospel mixed with country and blues and I hope to meet some of those fans.

Everyone says of course you must scoot over to Paris because it’s so close.  Work, work, work.

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Autocorrect doesn’t like the way Southern people talk.

By Anita Garner


Reverend Raymond Jones, pastoring.
New church going up – Bogalusa, Louisiana, 1955

I just pushed send on my final manuscript edits to the publisher. This is the exciting part where I get to see the other pages, Dedication, Contents, Acknowledgements and such take their place next to the story in The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life.

Now it becomes the work of designers, copy editors, proofreaders and a whole publishing team. During every stage I argue with my Word program, which doesn’t accept the way my people talk.  Every time I type “pastoring” I get the squiggly red lines under it, or the highlight over the word insisting I correct it.  But pastoring is an accurate verb in my life. Pastoring is what our family often did for a living.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I dictate to “Hey Siri” when I’m out and send emails to myself, but when I get to my computer and receive them, Mister British Siri (my favorite) has decided what my family says in a Southern accent is wrong.  I would think he’d recognize we don’t all talk alike.

It’s not just the one word, it’s phrases, sentences, paragraphs.  I expressed concern to my editor, wondering whether copy editors and proofreaders will understand. I got this back from him.

… I also want to be sure we don’t institute any sweeping edits that undo your preferences. If there are any particular usages, or passages with a lot of dialect that you are concerned about, I can discuss them in advance with our production editor (a native Southerner), to rough out a plan for how to treat important “isms.”

Bless his heart.  They’re protecting the isms. Now I have to make final photo choices, write the captions that marry them to the story and send them off.  Stuff’s getting serious out there on the dining table.

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