By Anita GarnerDaddy was a master gardener with an aversion to forcing blooms. When pressured by mother, he’d cut flowers for her and bring them inside, one bloom at a time, for a small vase, but he refused to buy hothouse flowers because of what he considered their unnatural growing conditions.
Reverend Raymond Jones, a Southern preacher, advised his congregations to “bloom where you’re planted” and of course he meant it in terms of doing good works, no matter where life takes you. But his theory was one he also took literally. He was at odds with an industry’s need to force plants.
The root (sorry) of his aversion to cutting flowers may have stemmed (sorry) from the fact that his people were farmers by occupation. Some of them were sharecroppers who also tended vegetable gardens and sold produce for a living. Daddy came up gardening with Paw Paw Jones in order to survive.
When we moved from the Deep South to Southern California, a new world grew outside. Birds of Paradise. Avocados. Camellias. For the first time, Daddy had a pleasure garden and delighted in tending plants that nobody had to have, but he still didn’t cut any of them to bring inside.
At first he was apologetic about the rows of irises he planted around his vegetable patch, but soon pansies lined the driveway out front. He’d try anything. He coaxed to giant size some plants that shouldn’t have been able to thrive in Glendale, and later Palm Springs.
Daddy had been gone for years by the time I began putting Paperwhites in pots during the winter. I never saved the bulbs for re-planting outside but this year I’m trying. There’s a spot right under the lemon tree that gets nice morning sun. I think they’ll like it there, but since they’ve already been forced, I have no idea if they’ll want to show themselves again. If Daddy was around to appreciate watching them sprout and perfume the air here in my office, he might reconsider.
I’m a morning person, awake before dawn. One thing I’ve learned, if you’re one of us, best keep it to yourself. Night people tend to get touchy about mornings.
My radio and television colleagues who have to get up and warm a microphone and clap on a headset while it’s still dark outside are divided. There are the morning people – a cup of coffee and after some mild grumbling, they’re fine. Then there are the night owls, and for them going to bed between 7-8 PM to get up around 2-3 AM is torture.
When I did morning radio, I dropped off my little girl, still in her pajamas, at the babysitter’s home, where she went right back to sleep while I went to a radio station to power up. I hated having to trundle her around like that, but at least I could get my engines revving.
My blogging buddy, Dave Williams, is the morning man at KLIF, Dallas. You can listen to him weekday mornings. He’s spent a lifetime going to work in the dark, in cities all over the U.S. but you wouldn’t know it from the warmth in the voice you hear coming through your speaker.
It’s nice having friends in different time zones. We morning people can get a conversation going anytime with someone, somewhere. Much as I enjoy my solitary pre-dawn coffee, there’s something cozy and unexpected about looking across the way in the dark and seeing a light pop on. In San Francisco where I lived on Green Street, there was one tall building on Russian Hill among the Victorians and across from me on an upper floor, one window lighted up just as I switched on my lamp. I never needed to meet the keeper of the light. We were already morning buddies.
In Mill Valley, where redwood trees kept our entire Blithedale Canyon neighborhood dark for hours, one lone bicyclist rode past every morning on his way up the mountain with his light blinking in the dark.
We morning people always collect night people who think we’re odd. One night a friend slept on our sofa and when my husband woke, she asked him (about me) does she always sing like that in the morning? Yes, she does. Could you make her stop? In my defense, it was humming.
Spellcheck and my book manuscript don’t speak the same language. Spellcheck can handle “y’all” and “ain’t” but I write a conversation from the Deep South in the 1950’s and Spellcheck lays down squiggly red lines.
Evangelists outside a tent revival meeting look up at the crop duster they hired to drop leaflets and one of them says,
“Well now he’s just showin’ out.” Spellcheck wants him to say “showing off” but of course he wouldn’t.
Another place Spellcheck and I tussle is when I type lyrics to songs Mother recorded, and I spell them out the way she sang them. I never saw anybody in an audience who didn’t understand what she meant, but Spellcheck would like them fixed.
All through the editing process, we make a million stops together with Spellcheck asking are you sure and me saying, I really meant it. I type the name of this song I’m about to link for you. Spelllcheck asks would you like to correct it? I say no thank you. I ain’t messin’ with Sister Fern. I didn’t mess with her when she walked amongst us, and I ain’t about to start now.
In this song, she gets wound up and I can see Spellcheck about ready to give up. “Furthermore” is fuh’-tha-more and she’s got her own version of boogeyman. You’ll catch it.
Brother Ray’s mornings started with newspapers and moved
on to the radio station.
Daddy and Leslie Ray and I all woke before daylight in the parsonage, ready to face the day. My brother and I got up early on purpose because it was rare quiet time we could spend alone with Daddy before heading to school. Since leaving his father’s house, Daddy had kept to their farmer’s hours when every child was a farmhand and every farmhand was out in the field before sunup.
Leslie Ray took his place at the table, bringing his breakfast with him, and the three of us shared a comfortable intimacy. From behind my cereal box, I watched Daddy read the morning paper. To be present while he read The Arkansas Gazette was to watch a food lover devour a favorite meal. He smiled. He frowned. He exclaimed,
“Well I never!”
He savored every page and remembered all of it. This was evident in the many references to newspaper stories that turned up in his sermons on the radio and in church.
If someone who didn’t already love reading sat across from Reverend Raymond Jones while he sipped his tea and read his morning newspaper, that person would have to re-think the power of stories told in newsprint.
If we were quiet for a long time, he’d read out loud a headline or the first two or three lines of a story. Then he stopped. When we became intrigued and asked him to keep reading, we could see him make a determination right then and there about content. He scanned ahead before proceeding, editing out references he didn’t want us to see. He underestimated our curiosity. When we left the parsonage we would find out the result of any story he censored at home.
Editing as he read created an intriguing rhythm. His deliberation caused a delay of a couple of seconds, so in my mind I played a game, racing ahead, guessing how the sentence and the paragraph and the story might end.
My brother and I went to the stove for several cups of the coffee Daddy made first thing when he got up. We’d been drinking coffee since we were very small, mixing in copious amounts of sugar and thick, fresh cream, like Southern children do, to turn it pale. Daddy brewed the strong Luzianne coffee with chicory Mother liked. It would be re-heated hours later when she woke. Her coffee was so dense by the time she got out of bed, Daddy joked he could slice it up and serve it with gravy and call it supper.
Without looking up, he admonished us every morning,
“Leave enough coffee in the pot for yore Mama.”
With his head still inside his newspaper and without a glance at the food I had on the plate before me, he chided me about my breakfast selections.
“If that’s all you plan to eat, Nita Faye, you’ll never get big like your brother.”
Then he questioned his son about the care and feeding of the outside animals, some of which were destined to become our meals one day soon. Did you feed them, son? No matter what the truth might be, Leslie answered, yessir.
To any other questions Daddy asked while reading his newspaper, we answered in the affirmative and sipped our coffee. In that companionable time, Daddy was easily pleased, satisfied with the way his days began.
As we cleared our plates and made ready for school, we left him with scissors in hand, turning the pages back to where he’d inked notes in the margin of a story, cutting out the ones he wanted to share with his wife. Mother didn’t relish mornings, but she loved news as much as Daddy and they had an agreement that he would bring to her attention points of interest by placing clippings next to her coffee cup. Later in the day the two of them held animated discussions about current events.
A few minutes more and he was at the sink, washing the ink off his hands before grabbing his hat and heading out on his early morning pastor calls and then to the radio station for a morning sermonette. I wonder how many stories-worth of newsprint he must have washed off over the years.
The younger me thought I could do a bunch of things at once. This is not a great time to find out I’m no longer a good multi-tasker, if I ever was. I’m working or thinking about working or talking about working on several projects at once. My reward used to be seeing the check marks on a to do list. Today I am the owner of a single-task mind and a check mark isn’t so exciting.
I’ve started a new book, need to revise (again) a book I’ve already finished, and working on a play which has been seen onstage, but the director and I both know it needs fixing.
I’ve been using the following reward system: Write a scene. Brew a fresh pot of coffee. Work on the outline for the new book. Eat a candy bar. Open original manuscript file on the previous book and stare at it. Cheese and crackers. Or pie. No matter how numerous and how caloric the rewards, the work’s still there. Carrot, meet stick.
Eventually my coffee and sweets and cheese system will either produce something good and relatable and shiny or else I’ll be the roundest little writer in all the land.
*Sheep and carrot above from artist Gina Taylor, Cambridge, UK. Here’s where to find more of her work. Thanks, Gina, for letting your chubby sheep visit here. If I don’t change my reward system soon, she may become my self-portrait.