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Christmas, 2023

          I haven't sent Christmas cards in a while, though I love receiving yours, and your newsletters and pictures. I hold memories close and this is a time for being in touch.   


          Until recently I lived in Mill Valley, California in a cottage surrounded by redwoods and fog. I loved every minute of it. Daughter, Cathleen and the grand, Caedan Ray lived in Woodland Hills. We commuted to visit, Northern to Southern California, reverse and repeat. Things change. I'm older. My immediate family is tiny. We decided to merge. Less time on I-5 and more time together. Sacramento is home base now. We lived here decades ago when Cath was little. In our neighborhood, it seems every time a home sells, the new occupants are San Franisco commuters.


          An actor friend, mentioning a TV show or movie he's in, prefaces it with "SSP" (Shameless Self Promotion) which is the only way we'll know the what and the where, and I still don't know a better way to update what I'm doing except with a bit of SSP. It's been a while, so in case I haven't mentioned it, I finally finished the book I was writing. It's "The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life" published by University of Alabama Press. Sold everywhere. More details and other stuff at www.anitagarner.com.


          Libraries have always been the goal. I hope these stories about Southern musical pioneers, my parents among them, will always be available. Once in a while I need to drop in at a library to make sure it's really happened. Friends sent this picture from Boston Public Library, one of the most beautiful libraries I've ever seen. Daddy and Mother are walking in some high cotton in this music section with Marvin Gaye and Judy Garland. 





          Many scenes in the book were previewed in theatre performances in Los Angeles years ago, when we put The Joneses, their family and other music makers onstage. Talented directors, actors, singers, musicians and audiences added the magic, bringing the stories to life. 


          The Joneses' 1950s recording sessions have since been restored as "Fern Jones The Glory Road" released by music label, Numero Group. They re-mastered the album Mother recorded in Nashville for Dot Records and also preserved vintage tracks with both Daddy and Mother, for downloading, from an earlier album. Songs mother wrote are featured today in movies and TV shows all over the world and their music is sold everywhere.   


          Director, Greg North Zerkle (www.gregorynorthactor.com) and I are headed back to theatres. We're putting together a new play-with-music, this time, based on the book. Full circle. Stories-stage-book-stage. Rewrites are underway. Greg commutes between NYC and L.A and we work on the phone while he travels around, doing what he does, acting, singing, dancing, directing and what-all. When I hand over this version, he'll search for a stage, maybe New York, maybe Los Angeles, and we'll follow "The Glory Road" where it takes us.


        On to the holidays. At Thanksgiving, the girls and I cooked every traditional Southern dish, the way we do every year, exactly the way Gramma K did it. For Christmas we decided on fireplace, lasagna, movie and dessert. I hope you enjoy the season exactly the way you choose.



                                                                                      aka Nita Faye Jones



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The Magic of Four O'Clock

Four o'clock is golden.  I can hear four o'clock coming. It might as well be wearing a bell around its neck.


I feel four o'clock in my bones. It's the turning point in the day. Time to exhale. Get up. Think about what's next. Could be coffee. Could be something intoxicating. Only a rude person would suggest four o'clock is too early for that. It might be a walk around the block or aimless wandering into another room.


Four o'clock's intent changes with the seasons. In winter, the light is leaving and there's the pleasant prospect of an early evening by firelight. In summer, if I choose to follow the light, there's plenty of time left to see where it leads.


Professional schedules these days are often malleable. We may still be accountable to somebody, but how we do it varies.  It's our own business how we set our internal clocks.   Four o'clock insists I pay attention.  Time to tap into fresh resources and keep going or wrap it up for the day.


I'm guessing most of us have a magic hour, declared or not, a time when everything shifts.  Four o'clock is mine.







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Getting Nest-y

Candle Sconce from Maine artist, Steve Bradford


Temperatures in Northern California are finally slipping into flannel territory in the evening while I continue to ignore relentless sunshine during the day. I concentrate instead on arranging my surroundings to prepare for this favorite time of year.


Though I'm on the opposite side of the country, in the fall my soul communes with New England, with its four seasons and the independent spirit of the people I meet there. Friends who live in New England year-round like to remind me of the fifth season, the one that comes right after the snow melts and lasts for weeks – mud season. I ignore this, pick up my current copy of Yankee Magazine or watch episodes of "Weekends With Yankee" on PBS where autumn is embraced and everything feels comforting, well-loved, well-used and appreciated.


The only decorating style in evidence around here is that I seem to gravitate mostly to objects that look like they have a story to tell.  Some of my favorite things share certain qualities. Many are old and weathered.  If it has faded colors, if the paint is peeling, if some part of it is rusty, if it looks like it could give you splinters, chances are it's coming home with me.





Steve Bradford, a dear friend and Maine artist, is responsible for some of my favorite art. He answers a question about the wood in this recent birthday gift received from him.



"I meant to tell you about the wood the candle sconce was made of. We're close enough to the coast so there are fishermen and lobstermen living nearby (there's a house on the next block with the yard stacked high with lobster traps). When a dory (smaller rowboat kept on a larger fishing boat) wears out, some of them get brought back inland and abandoned in the woods or a field. There was one in Durham where I've always taken the dogs to run. It was mostly red, with some blue and white trim. As it disintegrated I used to bring pieces of it home on a regular basis. The boat is gone now but I still see random pieces of red, white or blue wood near where it was. So the sconce was made out of wood from an authentic Maine saltwater fishing dory."


There's more of this beautifully aging wood in this piece from Steve. "The Writer" is  in a private collection but you can see it at his website under "Chairs."  Website is linked to Steve's name above.




Now I'm on the lookout for a big vintage chair with a matching ottoman, black or dark brown or maybe faded red leather, comfortably worn but with more years left in it for reading and looking through windows, watching leaves drift.




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Secret Garden

Return of the Naked Ladies


By Anita Garner



Have you ever moved into a home previously inhabited by an avid gardener and watched as the seasons reveal what's already been planted and lovingly tended?  I've lived many places and a couple of times before I've had the pleasure of watching unexpected gifts reveal themselves in gardens planned by someone else.


August in certain Northern California counties  is prime time for spotting Naked Ladies.  Driving through Napa and Sonoma and Marin Counties, rows of them line the road. Clumps pop up in cracks in concrete where it would seem nothing could grow. Now my family's in Sacramento County where I hadn't seen any so far this season.


I just returned from traveling, let the pups out, looked way back toward the fence and thought my eyes were playing tricks.  Naked Ladies. Right here in our own back yard.


This home and these gardens were brought to life by a dear friend over several decades.  We oohed and aahed over her beloved rose garden, the trees of all sizes that shade this place, the strawberry and tomato plants that march along the side fence. When Pam moved here decades ago, she was greeted by enormous asparagus ferns that still stand tall and carry their age well.


I don't remember seeing these Naked Ladies here during her lifetime, but here they are, two big clumps of them, obscured earlier by that prolific rose garden.  One is tucked up against the back fence, nearly hidden by ferns, the other just revealed behind a row of roses now finished with their blooming cycle.


I'm not so much a gardener as a garden appreciator. I've loved these Ladies for years and the only thing I knew about them is that they take their name from their stems with no leaves. Here's more.


They're in the lily family, starting life as a bulb. During the winter a plant with leaves appears, looking like any other plant.  Then the leaves die away and you can easily forget about them. A few months later during hot weather, up pops a bare stalk then another and another. They drop seeds which insure surprise sightings in years to come.  Once a bulb's planted, you'll never know how many will show up next season.


This has now exhausted most of the gardening words I know. More updates from the garden as nature provides.



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Unforgettable Morgan with her new Diana Ross smile

Sandra, Morgan, Anita

KBIG Radio Los Angeles 1980s


In this picture we're on our way to El Compadre, a frequent stop just up  Sunset Strip from the station where margaritas and mariachis welcomed a bunch of entertainment industry types.


I like social media's "remember when" aspects and I like writing about unforgettable friends.  When I find pictures like this one I know I'm fortunate to have shared a chunk of life with these people.  Sandra Williams, on the left, worked the front desk at KBIG sometimes. She was also an extra in movies and last I heard, a makeup artist.  Morgan hosted a public affairs show for KBIG and I hosted afternoon drive.


Here's what Variety said about Morgan when she died.


"August 3, 1999 12:00am PT


Morgan Williams, a longtime Los Angeles news and public affairs reporter, died July 24 at her home in Los Angeles after a short battle with lung cancer. She was 68.  After graduation from William and Mary U, she worked in the media in various locales around the country. During the 1960s, she worked as a news reporter for KABC, Channel 7, and KHJ, Channel 9, (now KCAL) in Los Angeles.


During the 1970s, she segued into radio, where she had a long stint with radio station KFI-AM, covering news and public affairs. During the 1980s and '90s, she served as the public affairs director for KBIG radio, where she became known for her interviews on "The Big Picture." During the late 1950s, she was married to Tony Williams, the late lead singer of the Platters.  She is survived by a son."


I'm guessing Variety got part of that information from Don Barrett, whose laradio.com "Where Are They Now" archives are still the go-to for information about anyone who was ever on the air in Los Angeles.


Variety doesn't mention how Morgan named her big old sedan "Diana" in honor of Miss Ross, and how she loved that car so much only one mechanic was allowed to work on it.  Variety doesn't tell you about her devotion to her sports teams and her crush on Kareem Abdul Jabbar, whom she interviewed several times because she loved him and because she could.


Another thing that doesn't fit into an obit, but it played a big role if you hung out with Morgan – she hated freeways and refused to drive them. Getting around in Southern California without using freeways requires a whole different set of navigation skills and guarantees the driver will arrive late for many functions. If you loved the driver a lot, you sat outside on a Sunday morning at Farmers Market until Diana rolled into the parking lot at 3rd and Fairfax.


That smile, that big beautiful smile of hers, she loved to tell how she got it.   After her Mama died, Morgan inherited a sum that she planned to spend on something she'd always wanted, a smile to resemble Diana Ross.  Most of us thought Morgan's smile was already dazzling but she wanted veneers that were bigger, the biggest that would fit, so she got herself some.


Today Karin Moss and I have been friends for several years because of Morgan. Karin contacted Don Barrett at laradio.com looking to find Morgan and he sent her to me because he knew Morgan and I were friends.  Karin had worked in the record business in Hollywood with Morgan way back before I knew her. Karin and I both live in Northern California so we met for breakfast to share Morgan stories and we've been getting together ever since.


As we traded details about our experiences with Morgan, we learned this was a lady who'd reinvented herself several times.  I see reinvention stories woven through many careers in entertainment and each time I write about someone I hear from someone else who knew them in a different way.


Back then, just before that Variety obit, my last lunch with Morgan was on the calendar. I arrived in Santa Monica expecting a nice catch-up but she was a no-show.  I called her work phone number and they told me she was very ill.  She'd chosen not to disclose it to any of us.




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Outside Again


By Anita Garner


Finally some of us are seeing each other in person again.  It's been so long.  It wasn't just two years of not gathering, it was also a lot of booking then un-booking during our mutual commitment to staying safe.


I was invited to attend an in-person luncheon last week to discuss my book. If you're new to this protracted book release story all you need to know is that "The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life" was released last year into the pandemic.  All book tour plans changed, not just for me but for all authors.  Some were cancelled, others switched to zoom appearances.


High praise for this gadget I'm in love with. It's been zoom-ing with me for a while and now it goes traveling too. I spotted it during a CBS-TV interview with Hilary Clinton and Louise Penny a while back when they recounted their (remote) co-authoring of a new book.  I load songs onto tablet or phone to demonstrate music. Last week's hostess has Alexa so all she needed was a list of the songs I would play. Alexa had all but one and my trusty iPad carried that one.




This tablet/phone holder swivels,
raises and lowers and has a weighted bottom
(you should pardon the expression.)


We planned to gather in Marin County on a beautiful Spring day.  After not going out much for a while I was a bit behind in the wardrobe department. This trip was a good reason to make the annual transfer. My closet was still stocked with flannel shirts while Spring had crept in again. I put flannel into storage and brought out floral prints.


We were invited to Marilyn's home to share potluck lunch on her beautiful deck in the trees.  Potluck lunch. Friends.  Trees.  Those things can make me smile for days.


Elaine shuttled some of us up the hill in her snappy electric Tesla.  Tricia surprised us with an old fashioned raisin pie baked in honor of Sister Fern's pies featured in The Glory Road.  I'd like to stress here that in-person pie is much more fun than virtual pie.  It was delicious.





Another happy combination: Platters of good food and thoughtful conversations. The group was ready with questions and those who hadn't  yet read the book knew its themes and shared personal observations.  We talked about the South and music and food and religion and family.


As we introduced ourselves around the tables we were invited to state one thing for which we're grateful. Jan offered a toast for the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson  which was happening as we gathered.


Any writer would be honored to be among this group of good souls and open hearts and while I remain happy to zoom everywhere, connecting in person is a gift I'm moving up near the top of my gratitude list.




If your group would like to book a Glory Road discussion, there's a contact form in the menu at the top of this page.  "The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life" is available wherever books are sold.  My publisher, University of Alabama Press, offers a discount for groups or ask your local library to order copies in advance for your book club in  hardcover, eBook and audiobook.


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Have you heard? Our kids don't want our stuff.

By Anita Garner


I've read several columns lately reminding seniors to pare down, don't leave it all for our heirs to do.  Lots of reminders about this from AARP. I did pare down some after each parent passed but you wouldn't think so to look at the number of boxes I still have.

Mother kept everything, not as a hoarder but as a person who knew what she had and why.  She labeled and neatly cataloged containers.  Did I mention there was SO MUCH stuff? I've already been through several rounds of decision making about what to keep, what to sell and what to donate.


Thank goodness her songs are preserved so our family can continue sharing the music she wrote and recorded.  Her scrapbooks have also been a valuable resource for me as a writer.  The fact that Fern Jones was an organized keeper of things turned out to be important for future generations. We have professional help with her music ("Fern Jones: The Glory Road") and song publishing and now there's a book ("The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life" from University of Alabama Press, available wherever you buy books) which shares stories and photos from her archives, all because she was a faithful and detailed keeper of things.


The photo up top is of two small things I choose to keep nearby, representing both the happy and sad.  The pink bowl is from her 1950s collection.  I kept only this one piece. The little brass apple is a bell - a very loud one.  In her home in Palm Springs, when ALS confined her to a bedroom down a long hall, for a while she was still able to ring for us.  She often rang to get one of us to put pictures of Daddy on a chest within her view.  She liked to rotate her favorite pictures of him.


My daughter, Cathleen Fern, has the piano her grandmother played. Fern was crazy for pink and Cath had the piano painted.  This is an old spinet, the kind that isn't appreciating in value but provides plenty of memories at home.  We also keep her guitar in view. It's not the best guitar Mother and Daddy owned but it's the one she played late at night while writing her songs or to comfort herself when she couldn't sleep. When my brother and I were very young and her playing woke us in the night, she'd let us stay up if we'd sing her favorite ballads.





My latest decision is to take no position about what's left, letting my daughter choose the next disposition of Jones memorabilia after I'm gone.  There's still a box filled with Daddy's Bibles.  His briefcase, which was his preacher's traveling chapel, is here with sermon notes still inside.  We have old photos and souvenirs from years of touring the Deep South and some of Mother's correspondence in her fancy handwriting that I've read but then couldn't throw away. Her songs-in-progress are noted in old composition books. Who could get rid of those?


I rationalize this pause in downsizing based on the fact that I have only one child and she's an organizer and thus potentially better equipped, a generation removed from the Reverend Ray and Sister Fern Jones show.



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My book is in one of my favorite magazines this month.

My gospel-singing family appears in the March, 2022 issue of Reminisce Extra magazine.  I'm thrilled.  My parents, Sister Fern and Brother Ray Jones, would be thrilled too.  This excerpt from my book, "The Glory Road: a Gospel Gypsy Life" continues a years-long relationship with the company that publishes this magazine.




Our family read every issue of Readers Digest until the pages were soft as tissue then we passed them along to others.  Readers Digest is owned today by Trusted Media Brands, a company that also owns several other magazines.  Years ago I received a gift subscription to one of their publications, "Taste Of Home" magazine, fell in love with it, saw an ad for "Reminisce" and subscribed. Every other month, it's "Reminisce Extra."  Which brings us to today, when my advance copy arrived with a story from my new book inside.




Thanks to Trusted Media Brands' Mary-Liz Shaw, my publisher, University of Alabama Press and UAP Marketing Director, Clint Kimberling for putting this together.







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Old Friend

Much more than a Rolodex

By Anita Garner


Unpacking a box of office things, I discovered this and now I can't stop flipping through, stopping, remembering.  You don't toss out a time capsule. When I'm gone my family can decide what to do with it.  Better yet, it might be fun if they look at some of these cards and wonder what the heck I was doing with that person.


This sturdy keeper of contacts was decades in the making and it never disappointed no matter how it was treated.  Information is stored on here every which way.  It started with blank cards typed on an IBM Selectric.





I see cards typed on both sides and wonder why.  Was a fresh pack of empty cards too much trouble?   I see the point when I gave up typing and stapled on business cards. Many entries here are handwritten and my penmanship has always been awful so some of them remain a mystery, a security system without a password. Write horribly and no one can decipher.


On this distinctly analog device I spy baby steps toward a digital world, cards that say dot com. Online passwords written in ink.  I must have thought a password was forever and that using a Rolodex card to keep track of the internet was an efficient decision.  Ah, innocence.


Here are my agents in two cities, Look Talent and Tisherman.   I remember when Look Talent agent, Joan, was on Geary in San Francisco.  Up I went in the historic, clanking elevator to audition, then across the street for lunch at Neiman Marcus.  Look Talent still thrives but don't try to find them on Geary.  They've moved.







Lots of show biz managers and agents and publicists are here, representing entertainers we featured on radio shows in L.A. back when radio shows were full service. RIP Bill Waite who worked with the Osmonds.  RIP Merle Kilgore, legendary country songwriter/performer turned manager.






I spy a business card for a psychic in Chatsworth recommended by Studio City Esthetician, Claire (she's in here too) who regularly turned my blonde eyebrows brown so they could be visible in the outside world.  RIP psychic Tom Sexton who, before hello, told me what I was writing and why the original title was wrong and exactly what the new title should be.  I don't remove cards just because someone has died. They're my memories and I'll cling if I want to.

Now my password file is on the computer. I keep meaning to update the hard copy in the Important Papers file, but they change so fast, maybe I'll just update it on a flash drive.


Is this a eulogy, then, for my Rolodex?  No. I'm not getting rid of it. We started out together long ago and I respect our history.  Flipping through is a fine thing to do on a remember when kind of day.




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Defending Fruitcake

Slice of heaven from Collin Street Bakery

By Anita Garner


Every year about this time I have to come over here and defend fruitcakes.  If I didn't, some of y'all would be using them to build tiny houses. They're heavy, yes, but sturdiness is part of the charm.  A chunk of fruitcake should offer some resistance when you pick it up.  A stomach should know it's had some fruitcake.  What's the point if it looks and tastes like other cakes?


I like the ones in a circle with chunks of candied fruit protruding. I like the loaf shaped cakes heavy as bricks.  I like them all.  I tried to make fruitcake at home a couple of times.  Mine didn't have the heft and the mysterious bits of things like the ones you can order.  I don't even know what all those chunks are.  Don't care. 


Old or new, a fruitcake looks and tastes the same after weeks.  Words make this sound like a bad thing, but my mouth waters and I'm about to begin my once a year fruitcake sampling.


My family goes way back with fruitcakes.  We've ordered from Collin Street Bakery in Texas, Sunnyland Farms in Georgia, Harry & David in Oregon and Vermont Country Store. Sunnyland Farms is heavy on the pecans.  Mother loved pecans in any form so she always ordered a selection of them when she picked up a Sunnyland catalog.


Wherever you get yours, fruitcakes are colorful and weighty and loyal.  They'll stick by you for a long time.



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Suggestion from a Facebook friend

By Anita Garner



Nostalgia is a favorite part of Facebook for me. I'm a lifelong broadcaster and we're fraternal. When we leave microphones and cameras behind, we don't necessarily leave each other. I belong to several Facebook broadcast groups, at least one for every station where I've worked.  Then there are school groups and groups with  special musical interests and groups that celebrate places we once lived.  Bonds form, sometimes with people we've never met.  We stay in touch enough to feel like a neighborhood. Most of the time I scan updates but always stop long enough to remark on milestones.


There's more to each of us than our closest relatives and friends know about.   My nearest and dearest couldn't know of conversations on Facebook with people they've never heard me mention, chats with Facebook friends I'm by now genuinely fond of.  Nothing wrong with a bit of mystery but it can also be a downside to all this fraternizing.  If our families don't know the people in our chats, they can't let them know when we're gone.  More than once I've started to wish a Facebook acquaintance a Happy Birthday and find a comment from someone else a while back, indicating the friend has died.


A suggestion:  When Facebook knows a person has died, they should say so.  An icon on the page of the person who's passed away would suffice.  Adding it near the profile picture or the friend's name would give us a chance to decide whether we  want to say something personal about the departed.


I appreciate knowing when a Facebook friend has passed away. Some families announce it on a Facebook page, but many others don't know how to gain access.  Perhaps for a year the page could remain open with the icon indicating the person has died, giving everyone a chance to comment there.


How about a small wreath? It doesn't have to be black, though that seems to be acceptable in most cultures.  Or maybe green would be nice? Just a little something saying this Facebook member is now eternally emeritus.  Here are a couple of ideas –  not my designs.  I found them online.













And dear Facebook, please don't worry about your aging demographics. We're living longer, we're spending longer, and many of us consider a little Facebook time a bright spot in the day. I hope you'll accept this icon suggestion as a nod to certain courtesies and rituals many of us embrace. We celebrate our lives on Facebook and we appreciate the opportunity to pay our respects to the departed.


And dear Facebook, please don't worry about your aging demographics. We're living longer, we're spending longer, and many of us consider a little Facebook time a bright spot in the day.  I hope you'll accept this icon suggestion as a nod to certain courtesies and rituals many of us embrace.  We celebrate our lives on Facebook and we appreciate the opportunity to pay our respects to the departed.


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Great BIG Birthday

By Anita Garner


As of June, 2021, I've lived longer than anyone else in three  generations of my family, longer than both sets of grandparents, longer than Mother and Daddy, longer than my sisters and brothers. None of them got to be 80, the number I'm now celebrating.  Getting to be 80  years old doesn't feel like a random event. It feels momentous.


I'm not the only one among my kinfolk with hopes and dreams and plans and I'm mindful of many opportunities the people who came before didn't have. I was present at the end of the lives of some of them and heard first-hand what they wished they could have stayed around to accomplish.






One of the last things Mother said to me was, "You're lucky you were born when you were.  You have choices I never had."  Both those things are true. I remain in awe of all she accomplished during her time, in places and ways no one could have predicted. I hope somehow she knows how it all turned out.


At the end of Daddy's life, he exhibited no restlessness about his closing chapters. He spoke only of gratitude.  "I have had me some beautiful morning walks." I wish he could have had many more.


During my 80th year I have the privilege of holding in my hand a book just published.  My family lived it but I was the one who lived long enough to write about it.



I'm a person of faith so none of this feels accidental or coincidental.  Wherever the stories come from, in whatever form they want to take, written or spoken, I'll keep putting them together, though perhaps not as driven as Mother, and a bit more grateful like Daddy.




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Facebook remembers these 1960s beach boys.

Al and Gerry

Beach buddies, Southern California

By Anita Garner



Facebook memories pop up, reminding us of previous posts and for me that's often just the start. One of Facebook's reminders triggers another and another and I'm off down different paths for the rest of the day.


I've written before about first love, Al.  He's on the left with his best friend, Gerry on the right.  Gerry dated my roommate, Linda and introduced Al and me.  Our first date was a double date to Lake Arrowhead for the day, listening to AM radio playing Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.


Not long after came another Facebook reminder – this one showing it was posted by Al in 2015.



Gerry and Linda married in Glendale, California in a beautiful wedding.  I'm the bridesmaid with the sunburn, fourth from left.  Al is Gerry's best man, standing right there beside the groom.  The dresses were pale green taffeta.  Shoes dyed to match. Bouffant hair, the better to anchor those headdresses.


Oh yes, we danced!  Coming from a non-dancing pastor's family, I had no dance floor experience. Linda's dad, who treated me like one of his own, taught me a few moves in their living room before the festivities.


The best part of this story: Gerry and Linda are still going strong, traveling much of the time then returning to their nest in the redwoods in Northern California.


The next memory takes another direction.  Al left us soon after posting the wedding picture from his home in Concord, Massachusetts. When I look at these pictures, my first thought is there was a good man. UCLA engineering major who went on to follow his career passions, married a nice lady, had children and grandchildren.


For me, it was first love among other firsts.  First man I ever dated who quoted Shakespeare often, who took me to my first performance of The Messiah, who brought me home to meet his parents, whose table was set with more cutlery than I'd previously seen around one plate.

Thank you, Facebook, for the memories of lifelong buddies. the best  roommate ever, a romantic wedding and a good man gone too soon to his rest.




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I need a potluck right now.

The tall lady on the left is the pastor's wife, our mother, Sister Fern Jones

By Anita Garner



When we're ready to gather again,  a potluck is worth gathering for.  Potluck meals are the best reason for church basements, community centers and multi-purpose rooms everywhere to exist. Any space that'll hold rows and rows of folding tables covered with makeshift tablecloths is instantly inviting.  And over there, along that wall,  more rows of tables laden with the best food in the world brought by home cooks.



New York Times photo


Growing up in the Deep South in the 1940s and 50s, bouncing back and forth on tour with our gospel singing family then settling down briefly while Daddy pastored a church, potlucks were the highlights of every stop for my brother and me. 


Daddy was a great natural cook. Mother, who didn't bother with preparing day to day food, was a superb baker during her middle of the night creative sessions but both our parents were as excited as Leslie Ray and I were to meet local cooks.


Churchpeople brought their specialties.  Washtubs were filled with sweet tea or lemonade.  Tables like the one in the photo above featured all kinds of desserts.  Kids swarmed while cooks soaked up  praise for their best recipes.


In New England, where every picturesque town seems to have one or more equally picturesque churches, I heard about bean nights.  Though they started in the basements and social halls connected to churches, they weren't intended only for church-goers.  They were also important fund raisers.  Anyone could buy a ticket and eat their fill (two sittings per night) of beans and franks, salads and breads and, of course, desserts.


The New York Times ran a story featuring
community potluck nights.  This is their photo.





That picture looks like many church basements I've visited since leaving my parents' traveling ministry. The churches Daddy was in charge of were either small or in the process of being built.  Growing a congregation was his specialty so we didn't always have social spaces inside.  Our potlucks became "Dinner On The Grounds," providing opportunities for kids to run around from table to table asking for samples. Ambrosia for me.  Fried chicken and deviled eggs for Leslie Ray.


Potlucks were already perfect the way they were decades ago and they don't need much changing, though many churches I've attended now have big sparkly kitchens.  I'm still a fan of crepe paper streamers if you've got them and if you can get able bodied volunteers to drape them.  An old piano in the corner where anybody can play, and there's always someone who can.


The best part then and now is joining the people around the buffet lines carrying our plates to our tables and stopping to ask, "Who made this?"  then seeking out the cook to get the recipe. There's a good chance you'll see multiples of that casserole at the next gathering and every casserole dish will be carried home empty by a satisfied cook.


I can't wait for the next time we'll be standing around talking about how good these beans are.








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This is trouble waiting to happen.

Sister Fern's California dream.

By Anita Garner



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's California dream.  Delicate dichondra planted up the edge of the driveway and in the center.   These 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 obvious it was 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 along the edges of the driveway.  Tires had obviously 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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Three strong women assert their right to wail on The Glory Road

Mahalia Jackson, Born 1911, New Orleans, Louisiana
Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Born 1915, Cotton Plant, Arkansas

Fern Jones, Born 1923, El Dorado, Arkansas


By Anita Garner


These three women have much in common.  The one pictured with a fan, bottom right, is my mother. Each of them, not far apart in age and born into poor families, sang church music in ways it hadn't been heard before and took a lot of criticism for it.  They moved obstacles to make things happen by force of talent and conviction, strong will, and once in a while a skillfully applied dab of charm.


I've recently watched profiles of two of them. "Robin Roberts Presents Mahalia" and  from PBS, "American Masters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Godmother Of Rock and Roll."  Observing them at work brought familiar memories. Though I never met two of those ground-breaking women, our family heard much from mother about Mahalia and Sister Rosetta and we witnessed the one we were raised with displaying her own spine of steel, standing firm about every detail of her dream.


All three of them knew exactly what they wanted.  Where did they get the gumption? The surety?  The belief that the way they heard a song was the way a song was meant to sound, before anyone else sang like them?  Each of them faced a combination of challenging circumstances:  Poverty.  Segregation.  A recording industry that released only specific styles.  Radio stations that didn't play their kind of music.  Fern moved straight out of honky-tonks in the Deep South into marriage with a poor country preacher and still she held onto her style until congregations eventually embraced the way she sang songs about Jesus.


Fern didn't sound like a white woman singing church music.  She sounded like a Black artist and her gospel was infused with something about to become rockabilly or rock and roll, whatever the world would name it next.


Mother moved circumstances around to get every situation as close to what she envisioned as possible, all of this with no money and no connections.  My brother and I watched her chatting with musicians, asking them to change something they were playing.  No detail escaped her.  Before letting loose with a song, she conferred with announcers and radio hosts and MCs about the exact introduction she preferred.


This display of willpower from a person with no power still surprises, but maybe it shouldn't.  Looking back at gatherings where our family was preparing to sing, I remember many times a musician would play something new, a changed tempo or a nice little run he'd thought up and Fern, employing both looks and charm, would place a hand on an arm, lean in a bit and compliment the player, then pause and say something like this,


"I like it.  But let's just try it this way first and see where it lays."

"See where it lays" was Fern's version of "Bless your heart, but we'll be doing it my way."  She was committed to singing a song the way she said it "came to her." Through the years she absorbed licks from other talented performers, of course she did, but they were always going to come out sounding like Fern.


Mahalia, Rosetta and Fern  sang some of the same songs, "Precious Lord," "Strange Things Happening" and "Didn't It Rain." Mother said after her Nashville recording sessions in the 50s, her record company president wanted the first single from the album to be one of the spirituals recorded earlier by Mahalia and Rosetta.  Mother reminded him they had an agreement that her first release would be an original, one of the songs she wrote.  As a result of their battle, nothing was released.  The album was shelved in the late 50s and she fought the rest of her life to regain her masters. She won.  We have them. Numero Group now handles all her music.


Here are these three women singing their versions of "Didn't It Rain." Rosetta takes out after it on guitar.  Mahalia just flat lays it out for us, her way. Sister Fern's having a great time with Hank Garland on guitar and Floyd Cramer on piano.


"Didn't It Rain" – Rosetta  


"Didn't It Rain" – Mahalia  


"Didn't It Rain" – Fern

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

By Anita Garner




New book.  New tour.  We'll get there.


We just clicked "live" on this new website built to introduce my book, "The Glory Road: A Gospel Gypsy Life." It's less than three weeks til release date. Thanks to Steve Bradford and Authors Guild for their help.


I'm published and vaccinated and ready to travel if the good Lord's willing and the crick don't rise.  I've been planning a trip from California to the east coast this fall to combine book appearances and visits with friends in New England. I'll rent a car in Boston and ramble around for a few days.


I had in mind taking the train one way and then flying home. I pictured me in a little roomette on Amtrak with lots of magazines and coffee and snacks and waving out the window at places I used to live and working when I feel like it. It could be a leisurely and productive and celebratory kind of journey all in one.


Then I learned from Amtrak that wifi isn't consistent on the train.  They make that clear.  I like my work and with all the connections I need to pursue, wifi is necessary.


My relatives were all train people.  Gramma K migrated from the Deep South to Southern California making several trips by train before enlisting all her Southern relatives to drive cars and trucks in caravans to move her belongings. She never hired a moving van.  We were the van.  Every fall, she trained back from Glendale, CA to Arkansas to be with her kinfolks during leaf season. Arkansas trees are spectacular  and worth the trip.  She  came off the train at Union Station in L.A. every time with a list of names and addresses and phone numbers from people she met onboard.


Mother never flew either, even when it would have been expeditious to do so.  We moved to California when she signed a recording contract, then the record company sent her back to Nashville to record with the backup singers and musicians they'd selected.  They said get here as soon as you can. She said, sure, I'll be right there – on the train.  Later she went out on a tour but got homesick for Daddy, quit part of the way through and cried all the way home – on the train.


Here I sit with my hopes for making this book launch/friend visiting trip, but no set plan for travel yet. No sense buying a super-saver airline ticket months in advance if the savings will disappear due to travel insurance and change fees.


I'll get there in person one way or the other. Meanwhile there are virtual appearances to plan, which is how most books have been launched recently. Mother was an early adopter of innovation  except for airline travel.  She'd have been the first to understand my wifi dilemma.




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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 in 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.




 Nitafaye and Leslie Ray Jones 1957 high school Spring break






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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