California Spring Break, 1950s Style

By Anita Garner

My brother, Leslie Ray, and I were the new kids in school all our lives.  We’d enroll, stay a short while,  then hit the road to tour the gospel circuit with our parents, sending homework back in the mail.  At every new school, I’d stand in front of the class while the teacher introduced Nita Faye Jones, just moved here from…fill in the blank.

In California, 1957  I was new again but this time shouldn’t be as hard since Leslie Ray had been there a year already, living with Gramma K because he and Mother couldn’t occupy the same house without eruptions. Similar dispositions, Daddy said.

Mother signed a record contract and we headed out west. This time it wasn’t just a new school.  This time the language was also unfamiliar.  Nobody else drawled.  The clothes were different.  Even tougher to understand was California culture, where teens seemed to have so much control.  No yessum and yessir.  These kids were in possession  of more than just spending money. They were confident.  By the time I arrived, Leslie, who was already tall and good looking to start with, had shed his Southern accent, was a big man on campus and evidently expert at assimilation.

Observe the ritual of Senior Spring Break, 1957.  The talk in the halls among seniors was, “Are you going to Bal?”  That would be  Balboa Island (also Newport)  where groups of seniors piled into rented houses for a full week of drinking and tanning all day, partying all night, and capped it off at the end of the week by bleaching their hair blonde to prove, on returning to class, that they’d really been to Bal.

Leslie Ray and I were  both redheads with fair skin.  Not meant for tanning.  Not safe on California beaches.  In the Deep South, tanning wasn’t done on purpose. It happened because of work.  We saw tans in churches and in the crowds at revivals and Singings, hard-working tans with shirt-sleeve marks.

Tanning for a redhead happens only through a lengthy process, if at all, and often involves a couple of trips to the ER on the way.  Both of us had over-sunned more than once and paid the price. It must have taken Leslie a long time to build up that color a little bit at a time, but he did it. The very thing we’d avoided in the South was his Southern California Senior Spring Break badge of honor. Of course he bleached his hair.  He had to prove he was at Bal.

I was invited over to Balboa just for the day if I could find someone with a driver’s license and a car to get me there.  I lied to my parents about where I was going.  Leslie’s friends treated me like a mascot as long as I didn’t cramp their style or tell stories later.  For my day at Bal, I didn’t even pack what we then called suntan lotion.  I packed a hat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leslie Ray and Nita Faye Jones.  Senior Spring Break, 1957

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never tanned until self-tanning lotion became manageable years later, and then I applied it mostly for events.  But I bleached as soon as I got out of high school, blonder and blonder for several years.  I think the bleaching part made me half-assimilated and you can shorten that last word if you want to.

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On the Glory Road – Harmony In The Car

My brother and I were not happy little harmonizers on The Glory Road.   Daddy was following his calling to preach, Mother followed her calling to sing, but we two believed our true calling was to amble down a country road somewhere that led to a house of our own, a school we’d go to every day, and friends who’d know us from one year to the next. Just because you can sing harmony it doesn’t mean you always want to.

We were on the tent revival circuit, booked for months in advance and from time to time the family needed to refresh our presentation. Daddy said we’d best practice before we get to Amarillo. He enticed us into learning our parts by singing songs we liked on the radio. We started off with The Sons Of The Pioneers’ Tumbling Tumbleweeds and when we had our parts down on that one, he switched to What A Friend We Have In Jesus in the same key.

Long stretches of Route 66 through the Deep South offered nothing to look at except tumbleweeds, giant puffs of them rolling free on the highway or stuck to a fence.  Daddy played a game with them.

A huge tumbleweed clump was minding its own business somewhere in Texas and as we got closer it loomed about half-a-car size. The motion of our big old sedan invited it to dance.  It floated up and plopped on the windshield, covering the view.  Leslie Ray said, Daddy you better stop but Daddy said, watch this.

Instead of stopping and freeing the thing, his game was to keep driving and speed up, then brake quickly trying to get it to release itself.  Man against nature.  It wasn’t safe, but not much about car travel was back then.

Here are The Sons Of The Pioneers helping two young Gospel Gypsies learn harmony.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzxz0M7Wws0

Father’s Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daddy.  Reverend Raymond D. Jones.  Brother Ray.

Daddy was the sheriff of Mayberry with a deep Southern drawl and a Bible in his hand. Tall and good looking and enormously likable, he was in possession of both the strength and the patience of a natural leader.

Musical.  Charismatic.  Genuinely kind.  Taught us to plant things, how to dig up baby potatoes, how to sing harmony in the car.  The latter is important when what your family does is sing gospel harmony.

Daddy’s teaching methods were transparent but effective.  To learn our parts, he started us off with the cowboy songs we loved and transitioned from Tumbling Tumbleweeds to What a Friend We Have In Jesus.

Headed to the radio station in Columbus Georgia, 1945.  Sister Fern might not enjoy this photo of her with eyes closed and curls springing loose, but I like it. Sorry, Mother. We’ll make it up to you next Mother’s Day.