Mariachis make everything better.

By Anita Garner

Last Sunday our three-member quarantine family enjoyed a socially distanced brunch on the patio of a Mexican restaurant.  With mariachis!!  It’s just around the corner but it’s a new world when your family hasn’t been to a restaurant in ages. There’s a charming fence around the patio so the musicians can strum and stroll and be seen and heard. I had my song request and tip money ready.

In the 1950s, traveling with our family on The Glory Road through the Deep South, the revival circuit took us to Texas many times and during one long stay in El Paso, Daddy began learning Spanish.  He loved Spanish guitars, was drawn to all songs played bolero style and he made a special effort to learn some of Mother’s favorites.

My brother, Leslie Ray, and I grew up listening to Daddy’s Southern drawl stretching out lyrics in places where perhaps they hadn’t originally stretched.  His Spanish version of Maria Elena was Mother’s favorite.

Leslie and I adopted a love for Latin beats and for visiting restaurants with strolling mariachis.  Leslie’s Latin favorites lived in the jazz world, Cal Tjader and Poncho Sanchez among them, while Daddy gravitated to Jose Feliciano, Trio Los Ponchos, Los Indios Tabajaras and Eydie Gorme’s Spanish language album.

On Sunday, between renditions of Happy Birthday in Spanish and English, we were treated to some beautiful ballads.   One of them was my request for Sabor a Mi.  I added a version of it below, along with Maria Elena.  It’s sung in Spanish but it’s missing Daddy’s Southern drawl. And a bonus, Eydie singing Nosotros with Trio Los Ponchos.

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Gospel Gypsies Adapt

By Anita Garner

Early publicity tour
The Joneses traveling The Glory Road
Oklahoma 1950

That’s my family on the road, stopping at every radio station to sing a couple of songs and let people know we’d be coming soon to an All Day Singing or a tent revival near them.  Our parents, Brother Ray and Sister Fern Jones, made it through the 1950’s with limited-to-no resources, touring with a car full of musical instruments and harmony-singing kids. We were the advance team  driving from town to town with Leslie Ray and me mailing homework back to schools where we registered before leaving again.

When I signed a book contract last year  I already had a publicity tour planned. I was eager to get going.  The ways authors tell people about their books today keep expanding, but even with the boost from social media, the path to book sales still includes suitcases and planes and stops in many towns.

The publisher has two catalogs a year, Fall and Spring.  I hoped my book would make the Fall, 2020 edition.  I thought, oh yeah I can do that, get all my tour stops confirmed and hit the road by then.  Two things became clear.  1) I knew little about the process and 2) Authors would not be hitting the road in the second half of 2020.

Getting a book into the world via a University Press is a much longer process than I knew. Having now been through acquisition, vetting, peer review, board review, editing, design and working on marketing plans while moving into production, Spring, 2021 makes sense. Today I feel a pang for every writer who worked long and hard on a manuscript and counted the days til their Spring 2020 or Summer 2020 or Fall 2020 release.

I’ve now received more release details. The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life arrives in April, 2021 from University of Alabama Press, 232 pages, 22 photos and lots of stories.

April, 2021 is soon enough.
We have stuff to do.

Everything we’d planned for publicity is being retooled. There’ll now be a different kind of launch, one I’m excited about.  There will be guests. There will be music. How could there not be music?

I don’t accomplish this by myself.  My part of the marketing plan for The Glory Road involves many people.  Thank God for talented friends.  We’re right this minute creating the ways we’ll share this show. If Daddy and Mother could see all this communications magic, they’d immediately adapt to using everything at their disposal. I saw them do that many times.

At the end of my book, there’s a list entitled, Gospel Gypsies Know.  In light of the events of this year so far, the caption above, Gospel Gypsies Adapt feels more appropriate.

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List Season

By Anita Garner

My daughter’s illustrated birthday wish list.
Found on my office door

We’re a small family in this house.  Me.  Daughter, Cathleen. The Grand, Caedan Ray. Two out of  three have birthdays during the last quarter of the year.  Cath’s is this month.  Caedan Ray will have her Sweet Sixteen in November.  Then, of course, it’s Holiday Central.

Two of us do the planning and shopping for the celebrant.  Weeks in advance we’re nagging for  THE LIST.  Also, we need to know preferences about the day itself.  No party gathering this time but the  birthday girl chooses her dinner and what kind of cake she wants.

Cath did her list proud this year. It’s cheery and colorful and detailed. Do we attribute this to pandemic boredom? Or maybe she really, really wants only that specific kind of garlic press. And peanuts?  She had to put them on a list?  We know about her love for peanuts.

No, we don’t plan to get potholders for her birthday, but we get the hint that favorite old threadbare potholders need to be replaced once in a while. She does most of the cooking here and deserves consideration.

No sense teasing about the bunny slippers.  She really means it.  She loves those big slippers with animals on them, plush and heavy and I don’t even know how she walks in them.  The two pups, Charlie Brown and Benny, share her fondness for them.  Every day before Cath comes home from work, at least one slipper is dragged to the entryway to wait by the front door. She goes through slippers pretty quickly with the help of doggies dragging them.

Of course she won’t be getting all these things because shoppers also like to choose.  There are three bossy women here and it’s not logical to think you could make up your mind all by yourself about your own birthday celebration and have all your wishes come true.

The two shoppers will also buy things that aren’t requested.  Surprise!  Bet you didn’t even know how much you’d love this thing we decided to get for you.  Maybe Santa will bring the rest.  Or not.  The Or Not Factor is always a consideration when bossy women get together.

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The Coolest Music

By Anita Garner

This show is filled with good music – all kinds of music. Click the picture to hear my mother’s contribution.

Sister Fern’s on the soundtrack of the second season of this hit Netflix show.  I watched the episode she’s in and it’s equal parts action and music, more music per show than I’ve seen, maybe ever.

Thanks to Numero Group, the fabulous restoration label that introduces Fern’s songs to a world she couldn’t have imagined.  Bravo to show creators and producers, writers and directors and music supervisors for their choices of vintage music.

Mother’s heard in the first episode of season two, singing a song she wrote and recorded in Nashville in the 1950s.  Here’s a sample of other songs in that same episode.

“Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale
“My Way” by Frank Sinatra
“Comin’ Home Baby” by Mel Tormé
“You Must Be An Angel” by Richard Myhill
“Beyond The Sea” by Bobby Darin
“I Wonder What the Future Holds for Me” by Glenn Snow
“You Only Want Me When You’re Lonely” by Jim Boyd

Right there in that list we’ve got some doo wop, some twang, some groovy finger-snappers and Sister Fern, who is sometimes unclassifiable.

Show description: Created for Netflix by Steve Blackman and developed by Jeremy Slater, it revolves around a dysfunctional family of adopted sibling superheroes who reunite to solve the mystery of their father’s death and the threat of an impending apocalypse.

A creative show with inspired music choices. Rock on, all y’all!

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1959. New girl in town. Preacher’s kid fresh off The Glory Road.

By Anita Garner

Anita Faye Jones, new girl.

Our family had just arrived from the Deep South and I would be attending high school in glamorous Southern California.  Daddy was one of those preachers who believed Jesus didn’t want to see makeup on a woman’s face.

This redhead has a thick Southern drawl but no discernible eyebrows
and lashes. They’re there.  They’re blonde.  You just can’t see them. 

But I know this girl.  If you tell her wearing makeup is a sin there’s every chance she’ll hide a makeup kit with a girlfriend, disappear into the bathroom at school after the official picture (the one her parents will see) is taken, and add some color.

The trick is to get to school early. Pencil in those eyebrows.  Lay on mascara and lipstick, then scrub it all off before heading home.  You could survive high school that way and then move away from home one minute after graduating.

Get yourself a roommate and rent an apartment.  Bleach a rebel-blonde streak, pile on makeup and head to a photo booth.

1960 version of selfies

You have to have the duck-face poses. It’s part of the growing up process.

Within a few months, I went blonde, lied about my age, started singing in nightclubs and Daddy stopped speaking to me. Eventually we made up (sort of) over rice and beans and cornbread at his kitchen table.

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A contractor bakes bread for his community.

By Anita Garner

I love AARP.  I joined way back when they sent me that first “Hello you’re getting older” letter and I haven’t looked back.  AARP  Magazine’s current issue features stories about people getting on with it, doing what needs to be done.  It’s inspiring to learn about Jeff and his community and how they’re adjusting to what’s going on right now.

Jeff Owens’ backyard bakery

Jeff Owens bakes loaves of bread for his neighbors in a wood-fired oven in his backyard. In ordinary times, Jeff, 53, works as a masonry contractor in Riverview, Michigan.

Craftsman Bakes Bread in Backyard for Neighbors in Need

Mason Jeff Owens turns his outdoor oven into a community bakery

When all this started, people couldn’t find bread in the stores. My neighbors knew I baked, so they started calling me. I’m a mason, and I had built a wood-fired oven in my backyard for pizza parties. I started baking loaves of bread and giving them away to friends, neighbors, health care workers and people in need. With my wife, two kids and stepmom helping, we’re up to baking more than 100 loaves a day, every weekday. People sign up online and then line up in their cars for pickup.

Many of the people who pick up for themselves also have “bread buddies” — people stuck at home who they deliver to. We also have helpers — I call them my breadheads — who deliver 27 loaves a day to the local fire department, which takes them to senior-housing communities, and another 27 loaves to hospitals.

Everything is sanitary. We all wear gloves, and we wipe down our stainless steel counters constantly. The bread bakes at 350 to 470 degrees and goes right into paper bags. And people say it’s the best bread they’ve ever had. Someone wrote on our Facebook page, “It’s love in a paper bag.”


jeff owens checks on bread in his backyard oven

Nick Hagen

Jeff Owens checks on bread in his backyard oven.

The whole thing has become a project for our community. We use 100 pounds of white flour a day, and a lot of that is funded through donations. I ran out of seasoned wood, so my breadheads bring it to me. A local Masonic Home donated a 1940s-era 20-quart mixer after they heard that I was using a 6-quart home model. I needed help refurbishing it, so one of my breadheads drove two towns away to pick up a used commercial bread hook for mixing, and another welded it for me, all within 24 hours. The mixer is a real World War II–era machine. We call her Messy Betsy. She’s really helped the effort. When I needed a gasket to seal the door to the oven, a neighbor offered one from an oven they were discarding.

Bread recipients have been so eager to help out that we got a Salvation Army collection kettle for cash donations. We don’t need much for the bread, and this way the money can go where it’s needed.

The process never really stops. I fire up the stove at night, and by morning it’s the perfect temperature for the first batch.

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Back to the 90s with Mr. Nice Guy

By Anita Garner

With Dick Van Patten at a Hollywood charity event

In 1998 I mentioned to my friend, Barney Martin that I was working with Dick Van Patten on a project.  Barney had worked with him in a movie and a couple of TV shows and said, “You’re gonna love him.”

The event would be a big dinner hosted by a charity to honor a major donor.  I was hired by the organization to write a speech for the celebrity presenter.  The donor was a man known for his difficult personality, but Dick had made a commitment to the cause so he agreed to deliver the speech.

Of course such a speech should be filled with warmth and I’d have to rely on Dick for that.  Other celebrities had already been contacted and declined to participate. It didn’t feel strictly coincidental that many  show biz people invited to speak were all of a sudden otherwise engaged.  Dick would carry the program.

We met several times at the usual Studio City chat spots, Du-par’s, Nat’s Early Bite, Jerry’s Famous, Art’s and Sportsmen’s Lodge. A steady stream of performers stopped by our table to schmooze and share stories about Dick’s own fascinating family. Everyone in town seemed to know and love the Van Pattens. Dick promised me, “We’ll have you over for dinner soon.  Pat feeds everybody.”

So a lot of laughter at our meetings but not much I could use to enhance the reputation of the recipient.  Dick told me not to worry about it, just write down anything and he’d take it from there.   But I did worry.  He was doing a favor for a cause he believed in.  I was being paid and I was meant to do the heavy lifting and come up with good things to say. I made some notes on index cards about the donor’s purported good works.

The big night came and Dick and I arrived together, walked the red carpet, took our seats at a table up front, ate dinner, then he was introduced.  I handed him our notes.

He bounced up onstage, greeted everyone and acknowledged a wave of applause.  He glanced at the note cards only once, winked at me and skillfully moved into telling entertaining stories.  He shared charming anecdotes that vaguely included the recipient without resorting to outright falsehoods.  You could enjoy the evening’s entertainment without realizing there was very little said about the honoree.

Most people present would leave the ballroom that night without ever knowing which end of a donkey the big donor represented, because of the delightful performance by Mr. Nice Guy. Classy.

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Plaid & Garden

By Anita Garner

Years ago I moved into  a cottage in Mill Valley with a lush backyard garden planted by the person who lived there before me.  I was grateful every season for the gardener who created the magical retreat.  Every time I looked out a window something new was blooming and that first year I had no idea what would appear next.

My one and only Grand lived in Woodland Hills.  Mill Valley to Woodland Hills on California’s I-5 was a regular road trip every few months.  Between visits, they sent me photos of The Grand and and I sent them photos of whatever grew in the garden.   On my phone are hundreds of pictures of The Grand and many, many photos of flowers.  Am I the only person who saves pictures of tiny bouquets for years?

In these photos, the coffee tables change, the vases change, the blossoms  change, but the one constant is the plaid couch.  I loved that couch.  It was already vintage when I bought it and even more nicely worn in after I had it a while. Finally, the couch sighed its last. That’s when I realized that in all these pictures, lovely as the flowers are, the couch still draws me in. I miss it.

A plaid fan knows it’s not just for fall and winter, and once in love with plaid, you don’t break up.  You might date a few other patterns, but you’ll always go back. Someday another plaid couch will come knocking at my door and I’ll invite it in and take pictures to show you.

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Lucky Pennies

By Anita Garner

Southern superstition in my family says when we find a penny on the ground, if it’s  heads up, we put it in our shoe and wear it the rest of the day.  I always do and when I remove the pennies I save them in a little vase.  Mother put a lucky penny in every new purse or wallet and never took it out. I do the same.

A gift from New England artist, Steve Bradford, is a keep-it-forever thing.  Here’s what he sent for my recent birthday.

I love jars.  I love wood.  As soon as this arrived, The Grand and I unpacked it and fell in love.

What to put inside?  Maybe a few bits of sparkle. I’m thinking an old rhinestone clip from the 40s now hiding in my jewelry box would fit up there in that small jar on top and a few tiny pine cones in the jar below.  The biggest jar could hold all the pennies I’ve been saving and all the pennies I’ll find in the future.  Lucky pennies.

Here’s another look at what an artist can do with empty jars and wood.

Steve specializes in assemblage art, but like many artists, he’s a practitioner of multiple disciplines.  Found objects and tiny morsels become feasts for the imagination. Click the picture below to visit his website and see more of his work.

Steve with Willow at Bayview Beach, Saco, Maine  

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California sports car, part of our Southern migration on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Leslie Ray’s first sports car, 1960s
Glendale, California

This is my brother outside Gramma K’s house on Raymond Avenue in Glendale, with the Verdugo hills rising in the background.  Gramma was the first of our Southern clan to move to California.  Leslie stopped by to show her his latest car.

During his rebellious period in the late 50s, Leslie left our house in Louisiana to live with our mother’s mother.  It wasn’t just teenage rebellion that brought him west.  The car she promised to buy him had something to do with it.  There was a great deal of bargaining between Gramma and our parents,  who were always in motion, traveling the Deep South in their evangelist/pastor/gospel performing circles. Their nearly-grown son objected to every part of our life and threatened to run away from home.

This is not the car she bought.  That first one was an old Pontiac that got him through Hoover High School, through plenty of traffic tickets and a months-long ban from Bob’s Drive-In.  When the rest of our family joined him in California, Leslie taught me terrifying freeway merging lessons in that Pontiac.

The yellow car was many vehicles later,  one of several sports cars he bought on his own and drove too fast.  Then there was a plane, then motorcycles he raced.  Nothing slowed him down.

This next picture was years later when we all gathered at Gramma’s for one of our Sunday suppers.

Leslie Ray is reacting the way he always did
when Gramma scolded.

She’s re-telling the story about how many times she took his car keys away during high school and hung them on a nail in the kitchen.  She confiscated the keys after each infraction and threatened to leave them there, but he always knew he could charm her into giving them back.  When the nail wasn’t displaying my brother’s car keys, it was holding her  beloved Vidalia onions.

All of us who traveled Route 66 back and forth from the South to California brought her Vidalias when we could get them.  Gramma added a thick slice of sweet onion to her morning biscuits,  her Southern tradition continuing in Southern California. To hang onions from that nail, she dropped an onion into the toe of an old stocking, tied a knot, dropped in another one and kept knotting until she had a pearly Vidalia necklace.

I’m working on a collection of stories and essays and while the dramatic milestones, the setbacks and the triumphs get much of the attention, every now and then one of these small moments nudges, wanting to be heard. Today I’m thinking of my tall and charming, silly and stubborn brother.

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