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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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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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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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