Handsome maverick on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

Most of the evangelists and pastors and performers in our circle of friends in the Deep South were snappy dressers in suits and splashy ties and starched dress shirts.  Daddy was one of them.  From the late 40’s to early 50’s, there were lots of double-breasted suits in our family albums.

Reverend Raymond Jones snapped by a street photographer
Wichita, Kansas, 1940’s

When he wasn’t wearing one of his signature hats, Daddy refreshed his shiny pompadour with Brylcreem.  Here he is with other evangelists.

Brother Daly and Daddy in Texas

Brother Franks and Daddy in Oklahoma

Enter Reverend Denver Ogden.  Here’s one of his publicity postcards, mailed out before  his appearances at churches and revivals and other gospel events.  He preached and sang and played multiple instruments like all of them did, but away from the pulpit he changed into flowing shirts with full sleeves and taught art classes.

As he traveled the Southern states with art supplies and a wardrobe unlike any we’d seen, his personal following grew. Women turned up in droves when he arrived. Even his name belonged on a movie poster. Everyone had a crush on Denver Ogden.

Our own Mother decided to brush up on her sketching and charcoal drawing and painting skills with him.  Yes, there was a Mrs. Ogden and she was a sweet soul.  We spent time with both of them, getting together every time we were within hailing distance of the same state, but there was only one star in that family.

During one especially hot and humid summer in the Deep South, when a bunch of evangelists and performers gathered to attend a big Singing, my brother and I gained a measure of respect for his unusual ways.  Out on the grounds during a sweltering afternoon, while the other men sweated in long sleeved shirts and ties, Denver Ogden appeared in short sleeves, carrying his jacket, which he  put on only when he stepped onstage. We’d never seen such a thing in all our years as little gospel gypsies. a preacher without a starched white shirt.  Fortunately, Mother was nearby (probably just a coincidence) to take this picture.

Somebody in our group was bound to challenge the rules someday.  We kids were proud it was someone we knew.  Denver, you short-sleeved rascal.  You rule-breaker.  You Errol Flynn, James Dean, Marlon Brando of evangelists.  We preacher’s kids, we future rule-breakers, salute you.

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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 and 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. (There are feathers on the bottom of that white dress and the bottom isn’t far from the top.)  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 Gospel Gypsy Life, 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.

 

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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 have high tea at The Ritz.  Or 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 Gospel Gypsy Life.

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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