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 to 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.  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 Memoir, 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.

While typing that word, yes, a song did start up in my head. I’m an old singer/radio disc jockey so obviously everything reminds me of a song. I love Little River Band’s 1978 hit,”Reminiscing.”

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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 share high tea at 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 Memoir. 

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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When your song comes on…

By Anita Garner

This is the view of The Grand when the Peep TV theme song came on.  This would be about 2006.  I wish I’d had a phone with video back then because toddler hip action is sort of tiny J Lo and Shakira.  No holding back.

As soon as the music started, she jumped up to dance.  Anyone in the room was welcome to dance too – either join in or get out of the way.

She’s waving around a blue plastic bowling pin.  As we’ve learned recently from watching movers and shakers at the Super Bowl, props are also important.

I see this picture and am reminded how joyful the combination of toddler and music can be.  And how much fun it is  to just get up and dance because your song is on.

Click the picture to hear the Peep song.

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Hydrangeas Again

By Anita Garner

Hydrangeas are my favorite flowers but I’m not sure the feeling is mutual. It’s a mystery, when I drive past a falling-down building in the wine country with giant old hydrangeas still marching up to the roof line, while I’m lucky if mine grow to be knee-high. I’ve planted every color and every variety and tried suggestions I find online.  Still, they don’t really flourish for me.

I’m indulging in a few hydrangea fantasies today. These for instance are not my flowers, not my picket fence. A girl can dream.

These are from The Greenery Nursery and garden shop in Turlock, a bit south of me,  in the center of California.

These are from  High Hand Nursery & Cafe, Loomis, California.

I’ve never been able to grow the white ones. These are showing off at a Colin Cowie-designed wedding. Ta da!  These are mine. From a pocket-sized Mill Valley back yard. It’s a sweet little bouquet for the kitchen table, but this is almost the total  crop from one plant.  Only a few more blossoms appeared later. Sigh.

I have high hopes for this year.  I’m off in search of new planters and new baby hydrangeas.

Nashville 1959 – Ryman Auditorium – WSM – Smiles Before The Storm

By Anita Garner

Sister Fern Jones (Mother) with a fan

Mother’s dream had several parts.  Write songs.  Get somebody famous to record them.  Get a recording contract.  A pink Cadillac.  Wear a mink stole to the Deejay Convention in Nashville. Sing at Ryman Auditorium.

All of these had come true by the time this picture was taken at Nashville’s Deejay Convention in 1959. She appeared on Wally Fowler’s All Night Singing, originating from Ryman Auditorium, broadcast on WSM, standing alongside many Southern Gospel greats.  See her in the lineup in photos below. But the next part of the story was a storm of her own making.

When this picture came back from restoration, I was reminded of how much this looks like Fern’s happy ending, but indeed it was not.  It was just the beginning of fights with the head of her record label, legal wrangling, waiting for a single from the album to be heard on radio, and the greatest  deterrent to a long tour, being away from Daddy.  She was nearly paralyzed without him nearby.

I’m in the editing process of my book, now called The Glory Road: A Memoir which will be released early next year from University of Alabama Press. This is the part where old pictures are restored to go into the book while I spend the next two weeks on the final, final pass through the manuscript.  When I send this version back to the Press it moves into copyedit, design, legal permissions (lots of songs quoted) and all the rest.

So the picture above may be worth more than a thousand words to me.  I haven’t counted, but they’re all in the book.  Meanwhile, I’ll be right here on this blog with updates about my own dream, which also comes with a few songs attached.

 

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Someone smart has positive things to say about aging and memory.

By Anita Garner.

Dr. Daniel Levitin

A neuroscientist writes about age-related memory loss and it’s positive and encouraging and wow I hope it’s all true.  This brief excerpt from his book appeared recently in the New York Times.

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Everyone Knows Memory Fails as You Age. But Everyone Is Wrong.

By Daniel J. Levitin
January 10, 2020

Even 20-year-olds forget the simplest things.

I’m 62 years old as I write this. Like many of my friends, I forget names that I used to be able to conjure up effortlessly. When packing my suitcase for a trip, I walk to the hall closet and by the time I get there, I don’t remember what I came for.

And yet my long-term memories are fully intact. I remember the names of my third-grade classmates, the first record album I bought, my wedding day.

This is widely understood to be a classic problem of aging. But as a neuroscientist, I know that the problem is not necessarily age-related.

Short-term memory contains the contents of your thoughts right now, including what you intend to do in the next few seconds. It’s doing some mental arithmetic, thinking about what you’ll say next in a conversation or walking to the hall closet with the intention of getting a pair of gloves.

Short-term memory is easily disturbed or disrupted. It depends on your actively paying attention to the items that are in the “next thing to do” file in your mind. You do this by thinking about them, perhaps repeating them over and over again (“I’m going to the closet to get gloves”). But any distraction — a new thought, someone asking you a question, the telephone ringing — can disrupt short-term memory. Our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30.

But age is not the major factor so commonly assumed. I’ve been teaching undergraduates for my entire career and I can attest that even 20-year-olds make short-term memory errors — loads of them. They walk into the wrong classroom; they show up to exams without the requisite No. 2 pencil; they forget something I just said two minutes before. These are similar to the kinds of things 70-year-olds do.

The relevant difference is not age but rather how we describe these events, the stories we tell ourselves about them. Twenty-year-olds don’t think, “Oh dear, this must be early-onset Alzheimer’s.” They think, “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now” or “I really need to get more than four hours of sleep.” The 70-year-old observes these same events and worries about her brain health. This is not to say that Alzheimer’s- and dementia-related memory impairments are fiction — they are very real — but every lapse of short-term memory doesn’t necessarily indicate a biological disorder.

In the absence of brain disease, even the oldest older adults show little or no cognitive or memory decline beyond age 85 and 90, as shown in a 2018 study. Memory impairment is not inevitable.

Some aspects of memory actually get better as we age. For instance, our ability to extract patterns, regularities and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience. (This is why computers need to be shown tens of thousands of pictures of traffic lights or cats in order to be able to recognize them). If you’re going to get an X-ray, you want a 70-year-old radiologist reading it, not a 30-year-old one.

So how do we account for our subjective experience that older adults seem to fumble with words and names? First, there is a generalized cognitive slowing with age — but given a little more time, older adults perform just fine.

Second, older adults have to search through more memories than do younger adults to find the fact or piece of information they’re looking for. Your brain becomes crowded with memories and information. It’s not that you can’t remember — you can — it’s just that there is so much more information to sort through. A 2014 study found that this “crowdedness” effect also shows up in computer simulations of human memory systems.

Recently, I found myself in an office elevator in which all the buttons had been pushed — even though there were only three of us in the elevator. As the elevator dutifully stopped on every floor, one of the people standing next to me said, “Looks like some kid pressed all the buttons.” We all laughed. I thought for a moment and offered, “I was that kid about 50 years ago,” and we all laughed again. And then I thought: My memories of being 10 years old are clearer than my memories of 10 days ago. Shouldn’t that seem odd?

But in the warm, familiar privacy of my own mind, it didn’t seem odd at all: I am that same person. I don’t feel 50 years older. I can see the world through the eyes of that mischievous 10-year-old. I can remember when the taste of a Butterfinger candy bar was the most delectable thing in the world. I can remember the first time I encountered the grassy smell of a spring meadow. Such things were novel and exciting back then, and my sensory receptors were tuned to make new events seem both important and vivid.

I can still eat a Butterfinger and smell spring meadows, but the sensory experience has dulled through repetition, familiarity and aging. And so I try to keep things novel and exciting. My favorite chocolatier introduces new artisanal chocolates a few times a year and I make a point to try them — and to savor them. I go to new parks and forests where I’m more likely to encounter the smells of new grasses and trees, new animal musks.

When I find them, these things I remember for months and years, because they are new. And experiencing new things is the best way to keep the mind young, pliable and growing — into our 80s, 90s and beyond.

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Daniel J. Levitin is a neuroscientist and the author of “Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives,” from which this essay is adapted. He is a cognitive psychologist, bestselling author. He is Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI in San Francisco, and Professor Emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University. He is the author of This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, and A Field Guide to Lies. He divides his time between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.