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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The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life – book cover is here!

By Anita Garner

University of Alabama Press moves forward with production of my book  scheduled for Spring, 2021.  This book still feels like a miracle,  considering how many decades the story waited for me to finish writing it.

Book publishing is a long process.  It’s complicated and sophisticated stuff and for me every stage is exciting.  I plan to keep enjoying it.  I can’t think of a different way to say “uncertain times” “unprecedented” or “challenging” so let’s just say everything about book tours, appearances and marketing in general continues to shift.  The new approach may be a marathon rather than a sprint.

My heart goes out to writers whose books were released earlier this year, who had extensive appearances confirmed, then, poof, all gone.  I have heaps of admiration for authors who bestirred themselves to find ways to connect with people who really want to read what they write.

Who knows how we’ll meet readers in 2021? However we decide to connect to discuss The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life, I’m looking forward to it.  Meanwhile, I’m going to keep enjoying this cover.*

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*Lori Lynch, Senior Designer, University of Alabama Press

 

 

Happy Father’s Day From One Of The Preacher’s Kids

By Anita Garner

Daddy was Reverend Raymond D. Jones, aka Brother Ray: preacher, evangelist, high lonesome tenor-singing rhythm guitar player, pioneering pastor for his sect and Mother’s forever boyfriend.

Born in 1914, if he were here today he’d take a look at social media, say  “Don’t that beat all!” and figure a way to work it into a sermon.

Photo above:  1955, First worship service inside the new church in Bogalusa, Louisiana

The church under construction

In Americus, Georgia early in his ministry, he was in charge of creating a congregation and building a church.  During the war no new lumber was available, so the congregation bought an old hotel and demolished it, re-purposing the lumber for a new building.

That’s Daddy on the left, wearing his preacher clothes,
working with the crew.

And one of my favorites.  Brother Ray in a Sunday morning suit.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy, from one of the preacher’s kids.

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California Culture Shock, 1957 – Cotton To Cashmere

By Anita Garner

Modeling at Webb’s Department Store, Glendale CA 1957

My family arrived in Southern California from the Deep South in 1957, part of a migration of Southern gospel singers and musicians. We didn’t own much more than the contents of the trailer we pulled on Route 66 from Louisiana to my grandmother’s house in Glendale.  I was a sophomore at Herbert Hoover High School, working after school and weekends at Webb’s, the major department store on Brand Boulevard.

On certain Saturdays, some of us walked through the store modeling different ensembles which we changed several times a day.  We carried cards that described our outfits and answered questions about what we were wearing and where to find it in the store.

This sweater in the picture was my first encounter with cashmere.  It was a lovely shade of chocolate brown and the skirt was authentic Pendleton in a cashmere and wool blend. In those days, a sweater like that required hand washing in Woolite and that skirt would go to a dry cleaner who charged by the pleat. Not exactly practical for high school, right?  But many girls at Hoover wore outfits like that every day and they arrived in the student parking lot driving their own cars, many of them fancier than the vehicles owned by our teachers.

My other job at Webb’s, which I loved, was running the elevator.  During my training I learned an elevator still has a lot of glide in it once you release the handle, especially when it’s carrying the maximum number of shoppers allowed, so bringing that machine to a stop exactly even with the floor every time became a point of pride.

I was paid $1.00 an hour and the guys in luggage (on the mezzanine) gave me coffee for free.  In spite of being surrounded by elegantly dressed girls at high school, every time I got a paycheck, instead of saving for cashmere, I bought a record album.

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The Nesting Game

By Anita Garner

Staying inside for long periods of time isn’t unusual for some of us. We’re nesters. If a cozy spot isn’t available, we’ll make one.

Be still my heart.

I’m a magpie, gathering a few things that make me feel at home and a few other things that turn a nest into a work space when needed. Everywhere I visit, everywhere I’ve lived, it’s always one small spot that gets my attention. No matter how large the room is, I’ll end up using just one part.

The British have a nice word for these kinds of places. They call a small, peaceful space a “snug.”

There’ll be a place to set down a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea, whichever screens I’m using, pad and pen, magazines, books, pillows, snacks, move a lamp closer, turn a comfy chair to face a favorite view.  Window or not, there should be something peaceful to look at.

Drawn to rustic

Whether it’s an estate or a cottage or an old house for sale, visiting in person or online, I play the pick-a-room game.  Which of these rooms will become a nest?  I appreciate, admire, absorb and when  I leave, one room always stays longest in memory. Online I check out country manors where we see lots of family libraries and before the tour moves on, I’ve chosen a place over by the window.

Okay this is Highclere Castle.  Not your typical “snug.”
It’s Downton Abbey. I’ll take that chair way back there on the left.

I’m interested in people who fix up falling down buildings and reclaim barns and turn piles of wood into habitable homes.  Right now I’m on Instagram helping a family choose paint colors for their summer cabin on a lake somewhere.  I don’t know their names or where this lake is, (maybe I have been inside too long) but they ‘re talking about screening a small porch and that’s interesting. Lots of nesting opportunities on a screened in porch.

If I could create the perfect Instagram account or one perfect magazine for compulsive nesters like me, it would be called,

“Cottages & Cabins & Barns & Castles With Corners
& Nooks & Some Nice Flowers & Trees Nearby &
Once In A While Some Recipes.”

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Missing You. Deli Dreams.

By Anita Garner

Everyone’s posting on social media about what they miss during quarantine, what they’re looking forward to when we’re allowed to mingle.  Some people say poetic things about giving and getting hugs and being out in nature. For me, it’s deli.

My friend, Karin Moss, and I are both deli lovers.  We share conversations about meals at our favorite delis from  years in the entertainment industry in L.A.  I don’t think it’s coincidence that I lived around the corner from Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City and a quick walk away from Art’s.

Now we’re both in Northern California eagerly awaiting the opening of a new deli in Sonoma County.  Full name:  Grossman’s Noshery & Bar.  We had lunch all planned but before we could catch even a whiff of a bagel, quarantine postponed our chat ‘n chew date.

Grossman’s is ready.  You can see them in there cooking up tantalizing stuff for pickup, but we’re not allowed inside yet. They occupy a corner of the historic Hotel La  Rose building in Santa Rosa across the street from Railroad Square where Peanuts statues stand, paying tribute to local genius Charles Schulz and watching over all that goodness.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown watch the building across the street
because that’s where the deli is.

Woodstock and Lucy probably dream of soup

When we’re free to roam, here’s how I see this going:   Bagels to start, then properly fortified, a swing through the Russian River redwoods to catch up at Howard Station Cafe in Occidental.  Overnight on the coast and back through the woods in time for a tall corned beef on rye at Grossman’s. Maybe a little something to take home. A perfect Sonoma County weekend.

Howard’s, Occidental, CA

Bonus view of side street next to Howard’s.

Until this can happen, we chat about whatever subject is at hand and one of us signs off with some version of “Can’t wait for our nosh at Grossman’s.”

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These Two

By Anita Garner Gramma K (Zula) and Mother (Fern)
Glendale, California 1960’s

These are the women I come from. The one on the left liked a cocktail or two and danced the night away.  The one on the right left her job as a honky tonk singer to run off with her love, a situation that never was forgiven.

These two couldn’t get along but also couldn’t do without each other. When my family traveled the Deep South, we took many three-day trips on Route 66 from wherever we were performing to Southern California because Mother’s mother migrated there.

Tears at our kitchen table from Mother until Daddy said let’s go.  Within a few hours of our arrival, these two started needling. Each knew the other’s vulnerable spots.  Then the cloud blew over and they were laughing, remembering, acting like schoolgirls with a shared history.  And that’s the way it went all our lives.

Talented.  Bossy.  Emotionally unpredictable. Both of them were all that and each thought the other was more so.

When I was growing up, I’d have told you if it was nurturing you sought, you might want to try another house on another street.  Through the years I’ve seen all kinds of moms, many of them equally as colorful as the women in my family. I’m not sure anymore what  a traditional mother looks like, but if you want examples of what strong women can accomplish, look no further than these two.

 

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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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