Earthquake Anniversary – Remembering The Little Things

By Anita Garner

Italo ”Itsie” Orlandi in his workshop, Mill Valley, CA

It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 1994 at 4:31 AM. when the Northridge earthquake changed our lives. I was awake and had just taken a few steps down the hall to work on a writing deadline when I was knocked to the floor. I’ve never been able to adequately describe the sound. The closest would be a train roaring through the house.

My condo on Valleyheart Drive in Studio City slid off its foundation, taking wires and plumbing and appliances with it, spewing furniture and the contents of cupboards and shelves over every surface.

Neighbors ran door to door shutting off gas lines, yelling inside to find out if we were trapped.  My front door was jammed. Men forced it open and when they saw I was okay they asked if I had anything they could use to break some glass to rescue my next door neighbor.  Bridget was screaming that she couldn’t get out. One helper directed his flashlight into my dark living room and located my chunky redwood bench. They used it to batter through Bridget’s sliding glass door. The last time I saw her, they were lifting her away from the broken glass and walking her out to the street.  I heard she moved back to France.

People gathered on the sidewalk and wrapped blankets around the ones who weren’t fully dressed.  I slept in a tee shirt and leggings and found sneakers just inside my front door.  Many were not so lucky.  Not everyone had shoes and the ground was already deep in debris.  Glass was everywhere.  The Valley filled up with sirens and random explosions. A building on one side of mine had very little damage while the building on the other side, a high rise, was seriously off kilter.  Neighbors rushed to carry injured residents down flights of stairs, securing them to straight back chairs for the journey to the sidewalk to await ambulances.

It’s 27 years later and the details are still shocking. Everyone lost something.  Some lost everything.  Reports said if it hadn’t been a holiday, if it hadn’t been before dawn, more people would have been out and about and more would have died.

Before the quake I was a collector of antique glassware, vintage goblets with slender stems and designs etched long ago in deep colors, elaborate depression glass table settings, Baccarat candlesticks, old lamps with delicate bases.  When I fell to the floor that morning I crawled to the living room, reaching for the built-in bar to hold onto.  As I approached, my brilliant glassware on shelves above the bar turned into projectiles, forcing tiny shards into my skin. For weeks I picked out colorful bits.  There’s a green one, now a purple one.  Much of what I owned and lived with and  loved broke, slivered, exploded, splintered, cracked, ripped, or shook to pieces.  A huge antique armoire fell across the bed I had just vacated.  I didn’t know that until a FEMA walk-through later.

After the house was red-tagged, when we were no longer allowed in because the ground kept shifting, I bought a few things, a set of dishes, a coffee maker, I don’t remember what all because replacing things was simply a reaction to loss and not a wish to own and preserve possessions. I have no desire to collect fragile things anymore and I’m wary of antiques.  You fall in love with them and they can break your heart

Now I’m drawn to rustic furnishings and pride of place goes to the short, stubby, redwood bench.  It was already old when I bought it in the 80s at Dowd’s Barn in Mill Valley. When I moved south  to do a radio show in Los Angeles, the bench came too.  After the quake, when I returned to Mill Valley, I lived a few minutes away from dear friend, Itsie.  A quick walk from my cottage in Blithedale Canyon took me over the Corte Madera Creek bridge to his hilltop home in the neighboring canyon.  Itsie’s house was built in the redwoods in the early 1900’s with multiple levels, including a fully equipped workshop on the bottom floor. He noticed my little bench was wobbly and took it home with him. The supports you see below the bench in the picture above were added from Itsie’s stash of redwood.

The conscious mind makes note of this anniversary every year then moves along but the subconscious still startles me awake during thunderstorms or when a truck rumbles by on a normally quiet street.  If one day the sound of a train roars through the living room and the floor moves so violently I can’t stand, if something like that happens again in my lifetime and I have to start over, I’ll begin with this bench.

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New growth. Old redwood.

By Anita Garner

Christmas Amaryllis, 2012

Years ago, after the holiday decorations were put away, I planted this Christmas gift and here’s what I posted that day.

“This Amaryllis took up a spot on my harvest table over by the kitchen window where it appears to be content.  This seems significant somehow.”

Today I planted my new Amaryllis.

Christmas Amaryllis 2020

New bulb.  Same old dearly beloved redwood table. In the first picture, the table was in the kitchen.  The red pot this year is on the same table, which is now my office desk.  Everything old and familiar seems friendlier and comforting these days.

The table was made by a carpenter in Bolinas, CA who collected old, fallen redwood and aged it. If you knew a friend of a friend of his in Marin County, sometimes he could be persuaded to turn the redwood into something  you requested.  First you indicated what you’d like.  He would decide if it was something he wanted to make.  Then you waited while he traveled, chasing waves up and down the coast, until he returned to wherever he parked his van.  After a while, a price quote came through the grapevine. Then you waited again until he felt the wood was right and until he was in a woodworking mood.

Months later, a friend of a friend delivered a rustic and slightly smoothed, beautiful hunk of history.  New winter bulbs thrive in proximity to this old growth.

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Looking forward to it is my favorite part.

By Anita Garner

I like Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day and Thursday night better than Friday (a holdover from when we used to work a five-day week.) I like the days spent making packing lists for a trip (remember when we used to travel?) and watching for the delivery truck to arrive, even when it’s something I’ve ordered for myself.

I cling to anticipation. It’s the only thing I get to decide and even that is iffy these days.  The days/weeks/months leading to any event are my favorite part and when Christmas has come and gone, it’s not the presents I’ll miss.   I’ll miss waiting for it to arrive.

Some people are superstitious about expressing a desire for something, fearing they might jinx it, but even when we try not to, of course we have expectations and with them come the possibility for disappointment.  It’s a chance I’ll take. Having no expectations would feel like  giving up, not something I’m willing to do.  If optimism is only for children who still believe, then put me down for that.

Before bedtime every night (shall I add “during these unprecedented times?”) I try to find the next thing to look forward to.  It might be as big as completing a project or as small as taking the first step to start a new one, or looking forward to tomorrow morning’s coffee.

Here I sit surrounded by gift-wrapped packages and lights and provisions for wonderful meals and my thought is, now I only have a few more days to spend in anticipation.  I’ll snap out of it as soon as I come up with the next thing to look forward to.

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Defending Fruitcake

By Anita Garner

Every year about this time I have to come over here and defend fruitcakes.  If I didn’t, some of y’all would be using them to build tiny houses.  They’re heavy, yes but sturdiness is part of the charm. A chunk of fruitcake should offer some resistance when you pick it up.  A stomach should know it’s had some fruitcake. What’s the point if it looks and tastes like other cakes? I like the loaf shapes, heavy as bricks.

I like the ones in a circle with chunks of candied fruit protruding. I like them all.  I tried to make fruitcake at home a couple of times. Mine didn’t have the heft and the mysterious bits of things like the ones you can order. I don’t even know what all those chunks are.  Don’t care.  Old or new, a fruitcake looks and tastes the same after weeks. Somehow words make this sound like a bad thing, but my mouth waters and I’m about to begin my once a year fruitcake sampling festival.

My family has ordered from Collin Street Bakery in Texas, Sunnyland Farms in Georgia, Harry & David in Oregon and Vermont Country Store.  Sunnyland Farms added gluten free, light or dark cake, heavy on the pecans if you choose. All these fruitcakes are colorful and weighty and loyal.  They’ll stick by you for a long, long time.

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Magic Wand

By Anita Garner

Dave Williams and I started this blog when we were both new grandparents.  Mine called me “Hammy” and his called him “Bompah.”  Occasionally I go back to read posts about our grandbabies.  Caedan Ray, the little girl in the picture above, has turned into a sixteen year old. Her latest birthday wish was granted and her hair is short and bright red.

If you visit here often you know I have one daughter and one grandchild.   When the Grand came along in 2004 I commuted between Mill Valley, CA, where I lived, to Woodland Hills, CA, where they lived and we made the most of every visit.

This story below was from this green velvet dress/cool black boots and princess hair period,  when all kinds of magic was in the air and anything could happen.

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My Grand is disappointed with my wishes. She urges me to rethink them. She approaches with her magic wand. She isn’t tired of making that whooshing, wish-granting sound.  She keeps asking and I keep making wishes.  During these repeat performances, it’s hard to keep thinking of new things to want, a nice statement perhaps on how the presence of this child fills up so many places in a heart.

She complains that I haven’t been wishing for really important things, so I choose a wish I know will impress.  “Cake.”  That one brings a big smile. She waves the wand and whooshes. “Yes!  Cake!”  Then I name every toy I’ve heard her speak about.  “You want that?   Me too!”

Every time we go to Target she cruises the $1.00 bins and convinces me there’s something she needs.  We go to Target a lot when we’re together, sometimes just to pick up some of their great popcorn.  She checks the selection of magic wands.  I say, “Let’s get the things on our list first, then we’ll talk about wands.”  Up and down the aisles she keeps up  her sales pitch about why she really needs a new wand, chatting about the many things it can do to improve our future.  I say, “You already have a wand.”  Her response is yes, she has two but her favorite magic wand, the best one,  is broken.

A dollar plus tax and on the way out of Target she’s waving a new wand,  asking me and everyone she encounters to make a wish.  Just close your eyes, she says, and she whooshes.  The new wand goes everywhere.  It goes with her to Charlotte’s house, where the two of them spend time transforming each other.

A bit weary of the wishing, I warn her, this time I have a long list.  That’s okay, she assures me, she can make all of them come true.  I say,

“I wish to be smarter

And healthy

And kinder

And beautiful

And richer”

Then I close my eyes and tell her to go ahead.

She doesn’t whoosh.  She’s concerned.

“But don’t you want to be a princess?”

“I guess so.”

Her face is sad so I concede.

“Okay then.  Go ahead. Wave your wand.  I’ll be a princess.”

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I remain “Hammy” still, but as Caedan Ray got older and was concerned with being teased by her peers, when she introduced me, she corrected herself.

“This is Ham… this is my grandmother.

It’s actually “Princess Hambone” if you please. My status was elevated long ago when I received a tiara and a sash from my girls to prove it, but after all these years, at home I’m still “Ham.”

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Spring’s arriving a little early.

By Anita Garner

It’s pure joy to see the listing for my memoir, “The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life” along with the editorial reviews on Amazon.   That means it’s really happening.  Spring will arrive if Amazon says so.  You can order right now for April delivery.

Everything accomplished this year feels like a miracle and I’m celebrating each step. The Kindle version and audio books  are coming soon and when that happens, I’ll probably have another piece of pie.  By the time we hold this book in our hands I’m going to be one round little writer.

Here ‘s the publisher’s (University of Alabama Press) description, followed by reviews.

“Stories and songs from a childhood spent in a vanished world of revivals and road shows

Anita Faye Garner grew up in the South—just about every corner of it. She and her musical family lived in Texarkana, Bossier City, Hot Springs, Jackson, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, Pascagoula, Bogalusa, Biloxi, Gulfport, New Orleans, and points between, picking up sticks every time her father, a Pentecostal preacher known as “Brother Ray,” took over a new congregation.

In between jump-starting churches, Brother Ray took his wife and kids out on the gospel revival circuit as the Jones Family Singers. Ray could sing and play, and “Sister Fern” (Mama) was a celebrated singer and songwriter, possessed of both talent and beauty. Rounding out the band were the young Garner (known as Nita Faye then) and her big brother Leslie Ray. At all-day singings and tent revivals across the South, the Joneses made a joyful noise for the faithful and loaded into the car for the next stage of their tour.

But growing up gospel wasn’t always joyous. The kids practically raised and fended for themselves, bonding over a shared dislike of their rootless life and strict religious upbringing. Sister Fern dreamed of crossing over from gospel to popular music and recording a hit record. An unlikely combination of preacher’s wife and glamorous performer, she had the talent and presence to make a splash, and her remarkable voice brought Saturday night rock and roll to Sunday morning music. Always singing, performing, and recording at the margins of commercial success, Sister Fern shared a backing band with Elvis Presley and wrote songs recorded by Johnny Cash and many other artists.

In her touching memoir The Glory Road, Anita Faye Garner re-creates her remarkable upbringing. The story begins with Ray’s attempts to settle down and the family’s inevitable return to the gospel circuit and concludes with Sister Fern’s brushes with stardom and the family’s journey west to California where they finally landed—with some unexpected detours along the way. The Glory Road carries readers back to the 1950s South and the intersections of faith and family at the very roots of American popular music.”

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This is a story so central to the origins of country music: the marriage of Saturday night and Sunday morning, and the literal marriage of two musicians, sometimes at odds with each other creatively and personally. The song written by Fern Jones ‘I Was There When It Happened’ was performed around the world by my dad and the Tennessee Three, became the title of the memoir of Marshall Grant (the bass player in the Tennessee Three), and was revived yet again when I performed it every night on a recent tour I did with Ry Cooder. Anita Garner was ‘there when it happened,’ and her book tells us what we ought to know.”
—Rosanne Cash
The Glory Road takes us to an important cultural crossroad of America––where gospel met rockabilly, and Saturday night collided with Sunday morning in the late 1950s in the Deep South. It’s also a very personal family story of a deeply religious preacher, Raymond Jones, whose wife, Fern, had a big voice and even bigger musical ambitions. Anita Garner’s recounting of her parents’ lives––their tensions and travails on the ‘gypsy road’ of tent revivals and recording studios––echoes one of her mother’s most famous songs: ‘I Was There When It Happened.’”
—Dayton Duncan, writer/producer of Ken Burns’ Country Music

The Glory Road touches several bases: southern culture, family life, the evangelical ethos, commercial music, migration, and spousal relations. It will appeal to both a general and specialized audience.”
—Michael T. Bertrand, author of Race, Rock, and Elvis

“I’ll admit I didn’t know the music of Sister Fern and The Joneses until now. So, The Glory Road has introduced me to some exciting and important music. But, even more than that, the story itself will stick with me. I don’t expect to forget these characters.”
—Burgin Mathews, coauthor of Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man

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Pie For Breakfast & Other Snacking Tips From Stephen King & Me

By Anita Garner

Here’s a way to ignore calories while enjoying the snacks we love. Change the rules.  If you eat it at a different time of day it’s calorie-free.  Pie for breakfast or whenever a pie mood strikes.

It’s also calorie-free if you change what you call it and how you cut it. Don’t call it dessert.  Don’t cut pie into wedges.  When you cut a round pie into squares it has no calories.  Or switch to slab pie which was never meant to be cut into triangle shapes in the first place. In addition to having no calories because they’re square, a nice healthy chunk of slab pie can bring on happy memories of potlucks and bake sales.

This Thanksgiving season, I will follow one of my own traditions.  Bake an extra  pie, cut it into squares and visit it at many non-dessert times.

Stephen King covered a similar topic, his own  snacking-without-calories suggestions in an article for Entertainment Weekly magazine years ago. I’m going to go ahead and validate his ideas in advance because Stephen King is smart and occasionally silly.

Stephen King’s Healthy Entertainment Diet

“…A number of people have asked your Uncle Stevie for dieting advice. Me, a guy who never met a fat calorie (preferably deep-fried) he didn’t like. At first I thought giving such advice didn’t fit my job description as a commentator on the pop cult scene, but after further consideration, I decided it does. Because staying current with pop culture is mostly a thing you do sitting down, right? And if you’re watching TV, listening to music, or going to the movies, you want to eat, right? So the question then becomes, Uncle Stevie, how do I maintain my keen pop culture edge without turning into a sumo wrestler who knows every single word to the Brady Bunch theme song?

Luckily for you, I have some tips — stuff that would put Weight Watchers out of business. I’m taking a chance here; the Diet Police will certainly try to smear and discredit me in the press, but for you guys (he said modestly) I’m willing to take the risk.

… fortunately for the devoted snacker, cakes and pies are what nutritional experts call baked goods, and when stuff is baked, the calories shrink from the heat and draw in to the center.  When enjoying Bundt cake, cut around the center ring and throw it away. The rest of the cake is calorie-free (except for the frosting, but you can’t have everything).   When you serve yourself a nice fat wedge of chocolate pie, just remember to cut off the pointy end, because that’s where the calories are.”

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Christmas Music – too soon or never too much?

By Anita Garner

The debate about Christmas music starting too early has already begun on social media.  I spent years on the radio and all of us on the air worked from a playlist which we didn’t often get to select. Program directors and consultants and sometimes the station manager’s family decided what we played.  That last one isn’t a joke.

Just before in-earnest holiday madness began, Christmas songs were slowly merged into the playlist, but no matter when they started, someone on the air staff hated it.

Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director.

PD: So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one each hour?

EVERYONE ELSE: No!

PD: And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME: Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE: Shut up, Anita.

ME: Could I have more Christmas music just on MY show?

ON-AIR PERSON: I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON: You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now. I’ll be gone for a month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated. I haven’t met many people who like Christmas music as much as I do.  My personal Christmas music marathon begins when I say so and ends when I decide it ends and there are the occasional times during the year when I dip in for a song or two when I need a little Christmas.  There have been more than a few of those dips during this particular year.

It doesn’t take much to bring on the spirit.   I go over to You Tube and hear  guitarist, Chris Whiteman, play anything from his holiday collection, James Taylor singing Joni Mitchell’s “River”  and “In The Bleak Midwinter,”  (this version from “The Crown” on Netflix) Vince Guaraldi playing anything, and on and on.  A few favorite holiday songs and  lights that twinkle and the holiday season is right here, right now.

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Two Sweet Sixteens

By Anita Garner

In our three-person Northern California quarantine family the 2020 birthday cycle completes this month. Caedan Ray, our November girl, celebrates Sweet Sixteen in a few days.

It’s a milestone I don’t take for granted.  My daughter, Cathleen,  waited a long time for this girl.  I think we were both convinced there wouldn’t be grandchildren in this family so when Caedan arrived in 2004 she felt like a miracle.

Sixteen brings in the real world to wrap up parts of childhood, or at least that’s how it works in a non-pandemic year.  Sixteen is old enough for a work permit.  Caedan hopes her volunteering at the local library might turn into a part-time job when things re-open.  Driving is another big step. A learner’s permit comes next.

Cathleen notes big occasions on the calendar.

Her mother’s  Sweet Sixteen was in a restaurant in a hotel.  We booked a small private room inside “John Q’s” at the top of the Holiday Inn across from Old Sacramento.  Guests dressed fancy and gathered for dinner at one big, noisy table.

The cake was a gift from the hotel pastry chef.  It was a perfect replica of a drum set.  Cath’s Dad was teaching her to play in those days. The party was posh but it wasn’t a chapter from the lifestyles of big-spending parents.  The hotel was a client of my advertising agency and they did us proud,  compliments of the owner, John Q Hammons.

Of course we embarrassed our daughter. It’s what parents do. We hired a birthday-gram, requesting a singer to deliver roses and sing “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen.”  The singer turned out to be so close in age to the birthday girl that as soon as he started singing the Neil Sedaka hit both of them went all shy and squirmy.  He blushed the color of the roses all the way through his song.

None of this sounds like anything that would interest Caedan Ray. I’m picturing her in a more casual outfit, which is her style, though if you sent her a birthday-gram sung by any of the young men from BTS she might agree to some lip gloss and her favorite dangly skeleton earrings.

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A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

By Anita Garner

Cinderella was the first movie I ever saw. It was at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.  My brother and I came out from the Deep South in 1950 to visit our Gramma and attend school while our parents completed a long revival tour.  Daddy was a preacher whose religion taught that movies were sinful and though there were plenty of picture shows where we lived, we drove right past them.   Gramma didn’t hold with his concept of sin so as soon as our parents dropped us off we got our first look inside a movie theatre.

Cinderella wasn’t the movie I’d have chosen that day.  It was Gene Autry I wanted to see up there on the big screen.  I already had my own dream relationship with him through his “Melody Ranch” radio show.  Our family listened every week, then Daddy and Mother strummed his songs on their guitars and we all sang them together. Music from the secular world was embraced in our house but the film versions were banned.

I planned to marry the Singing Cowboy, not so much because of all the ropin’ and the ridin’ and a chance to meet Champion the Wonder Horse, but because of his music. In the car on the way to California Daddy and I sang “Back In The Saddle Again” and he dropped in a little whistling break,  a sign that he really liked a particular song.

Then I saw Cinderella and all that Disney movie music started other thoughts going around in my head, promises we make to ourselves, things like…

“If you can dream it you can do it.”

“Never give up.”

“Just keep trying.”

Years went by and more Disney movies with songs about possibilities  came along.  My 8 year old self was an instant believer but my growing-up self reminded me not everyone has a fairy godmother.

Grownups become goal-oriented.  Most of us do more planning and less dreaming.  But sometimes I hear a certain Disney song and I return for a couple of minutes to a time when a girl in Arkansas believed she could marry the Singing Cowboy and go to the Alex Theatre on Saturday to watch movies that promised everything will be all right.

Click on the picture below if you want to sing along with Cinderella and the tweety birds. According to the counter on this You Tube clip, millions of people already have

 

 

 

 

 

Composers: Mack David, Al Hoffman, Jerry Livingston.
Sung by Ilene Woods, who also voiced Cinderella in the movie

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