This is trouble waiting to happen.

By Anita Garner

Sister Fern’s California dream
Not her actual car, but one like it

Here are two things that happened for the first time when we moved to California in the 1950s.  Daddy pursued recreational gardening.  Mother got a Cadillac to celebrate her recording contract.   She never wanted to drive but she wanted that car so she got a driver’s license.

Brother Ray pictured a delicate dichondra lawn –

     – planted right up to the edges of the driveway.
Those two-lane designs were called “ribbon” driveways. 

A bit of background.  Daddy, the oldest of ten, was recruited to work the cotton fields with his sharecropping family all through his childhood.  After he became a parent himself, when we stayed in one place for a while he planted vegetables to help feed us.  When we got to California he indulged in the joy of growing things just for the beauty of them.

We didn’t see much dichondra In the South. We saw lawns with hard-working grass like St. Augustine, so sturdy a farmer bragged, “You can park a tractor out there, move the tractor and that grass pops right back up.”  But Daddy wanted the fragile stuff and that’s what he planted around their Glendale, California home.  Dichondra isn’t really like growing grass.  It’s more like raising a baby.  Grown adults down on their knees trimming it with tiny clippers. He was willing to put in the work.

Picture that giant pink Cadillac operated by an uncertain driver, approaching lanes even thinner than the driveway pictured here.  My brother, Leslie Ray, and I had moved into our own apartments but when we stopped by to visit we speculated about how the struggle between dichondra and Cadillac might go.  We felt sorry for the green stuff.  We figured If you were  an innocent lawn growing right up to the edge of the driveway and you spotted that giant pink fishtailed hunk of metal coming at you, you’d probably be terrified.

It’s a wonder the dichondra didn’t die from Cadillac fright. It was obviously in some distress. Examples of previously missed driveway attempts by the Cadillac were starting to show when Mother parked.  There were streaks of brown dirt where green once grew. Tires had wandered a bit. Mother didn’t mention it.  Daddy didn’t mention it.  We stopped by to visit, saw the damage and we didn’t mention it either.

Daddy took to watching the driveway when he expected her home.  As soon as the pink chariot approached, he was out the door, gave her a big smile and held up his hand to stop her as she was about to turn in.

“Just a minute, Doll-Baby.  Let me get that for you.”

She pretended it was normal to exit her car at the far end of the driveway out by the street.  He pretended it had nothing to do with his lawn.  He drove the car all the way to the rear when garages used to be  behind the house.  Backing out again?  She never did.  If there was no one around to back out for her, she’d wait.

Later, as she drove less, he finally persuaded her to sell the Cadillac and when she did she stopped driving completely. That seemed to work for both of them and the dichondra and we never heard Daddy complain about taking his Doll-Baby anywhere she wanted to go.

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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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