It’s a sign!
Home, now, from a wonderful weekend in Seattle. More about that soon…but in the meantime: #CanIGetAWitness?
Home, now, from a wonderful weekend in Seattle. More about that soon…but in the meantime: #CanIGetAWitness?
Before Twitter, Instagram and Facebook existed, faith-healing evangelists used to announce their comings and goings in the local newspapers. And now, thanks to the digital archivists who preserved those records, I’m able to retrace my father’s footsteps along the Sawdust Trail.
Newspapers were king at the time–king-makers, too, as my father’s college classmate, Billy Graham, would later attest. Via the Los Angeles Times:
Evangelist Billy Graham recalls in his new book the pivotal point in his young ministry when, during a 1949 Los Angeles crusade, a two-word directive from publisher William Randolph Hearst to “puff Graham” made him an instant celebrity nationwide.
The sudden front-page coverage showered on Graham by Hearst newspapers in mid-October (after three weeks of little notice) was quickly matched by other newspapers and newsmagazines–literally a media circus descending on his rallies under a big tent.
My father never achieved Graham’s status, of course, but his promo pieces were printed alongside the greats. It’s like scrolling through a social media feed, but more meaningful, somehow.
In researching my memoir, I oftentimes slipped into the role of my alter ego, Nancy Drew. I’ve retrieved clues from dusty archives; revisited the vacant fields where my father pitched his revival tents; and reclaimed abandoned artifacts, strewn by the wayside as we followed the Sawdust Trail.
I unearthed this family treasure in the Oregonian archives. Years ago, my father purchased this advertising space, in anticipation of a large turnout for an indoor revival meeting. The venue’s long gone, and the intended audience has scattered. But this newspaper clipping is a voice from my past, harkening me back to my childhood. I remember the murmuring crowds, the rise and fall of my father’s voice in the pulpit, perfumed women and sweat-soaked laborers, gospel choruses and clanging tambourines… same as if it were just yesterday.
Most certainly, dusty pages like this would’ve been trashed, were it not for keen-eyed, good-hearted historians–librarians, genealogists, archivists, and volunteers–saints of a sort, who devote their time and energies to the preservation of our individual and collective stories. I’m grateful to them always, but I think they deserve special recognition on Thankful Thursday. Can I get a witness?
Caution: Graphic descriptions and images.
I participated in a counter-protest for a Ku Klux Klan rally at Pearson Park last weekend, just a few miles from The Happiest Place on Earth. I’d come to help eradicate racism at its roots, armed only with a camera and a hand-lettered protest sign.
Some reports said the KKK had scheduled their permitted march for 10:00 a.m. The Anaheim police, however, said the rally was scheduled for 1:30.
The counter-protest was equally confusing. Someone suggested we’d be gathering on the corner of Harbor and Sycamore at 9 a.m., but that area was already occupied by Jehovah’s Witnesses. A nearby display table was blanketed with Watchtowers, free for the taking.
A stone’s throw away, a cluster of men slouched across metal benches, wooden crosses standing sentry as a street preacher read admonitions to them from his Bible. Under the pavilion, his wife spooned shredded meat into bowls; but when counter-protesters wandered into their encampment, she smiled but told them firmly that the food was “just for the men.”
At long last, I spotted our group. Multi-ethnic and cross-generational, we stood in a loose-knit circle around a picnic table, scrawling slogans on tag board as we shared condensed versions of our life stories. Olivia, the unofficial, one-woman welcome committee, wore a rainbow flag like a shawl. “I’ve done all the things,” she told us, “incarceration, rehab, you name it.” Now, however, she spends her off-hours tending to the needs of the homeless in the north Orange County area, and shielding the most vulnerable from harassment. “I show up for them,” she said, “because I want to make our community a safe haven for everyone.”
Martin scanned the park’s perimeter as he talked about the punk rock concerts he orchestrated, in order to feed and buy clothes for disadvantaged children in his neighborhood. “This is our home,” he said. “We’ve gotta look out for each other, you know?”
I’d come to Anaheim that day to confront racism–to link arms with people like Martin and Olivia–good souls who’ve watched it slither through their neighborhoods, who see Donald Trump’s threats as very real, and who worry that their voices are being muted. Those were the words that I carried in my heart to Pearson Park, but they seemed too highbrow for our first meeting. So I told them instead that while I live at a distance, I want to join ranks with them against racism.
“There you go,” Olivia said, “Community means everybody.”
But as it turned out, “community” is a fractured concept when it comes to this kind of battle. I witnessed an outpouring of generosity from unexpected quarters, but I also experienced deafening silence on the part of those whose microphones have the broadest reach. Violence, too, brought about by self-proclaimed peacekeepers. And as for the police officers–whose primary job is to remain vigilant in its protection of citizens, all of them equally–they didn’t show up at all, until it was almost too late.
As soon as the news broke about the planned KKK rally, I’d contacted every candidate for political office in California District 46 (Anaheim/Santa Ana), including Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is currently running for U.S. Senate. In my emails, website contacts, and tweets, I linked the OC Weekly story that first brought the KKK rally to my attention and asked each candidate if they planned to speak or otherwise respond to community concerns.
Who knows? Maybe every tweet, email and website message–theirs and mine–got lost in the ether. All I know for sure is that my queries went unanswered.
“I’m not surprised,” said the guy wearing dreads and an InLeague Press t-shirt. “There aren’t any cops here, either.”
Heads nodded. We’d noticed.
He floated a theory: Perhaps the conflicting timelines for the KKK rally were intentional. (See OC Weekly update, here). Maybe the police wanted to dissuade people from also participating in a commemorative march for Ernesto Canepa, an unarmed citizen who was gunned down by a Santa Ana policeman in early 2015. The accused officer was quietly absolved of any charges this past January, and no surprise, the community was angry. “I mean, just think about it,” he said, before he wandered off to join another group.
However sketchy the timeline, my best guess is that 75-100 counter-protesters had assembled in the park before lunchtime. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had long since scattered, but the street preacher was heading into overtime. If civic leaders and political candidates were in attendance, they were watching from the margins, blanketed by invisibility cloaks.
It was around 12:30 when the event organizers set up a portable mic. We stood in loose-knit clusters of presumed solidarity. A disembodied voice blasted a call-and-response very similar to this through the loudspeaker:
Any KKK members in our midst?
“No!” The counter-protesters answered.
Any white supremacists?
Well good, because if you’re hiding among us, you’re a chickenshit.
I glanced at my friend Cathy in horror. “That was really, really bad,” I whispered, but when she tried to respond in kind, her voice was muffled by cheering.
At some point, someone held a cardboard sign aloft and pivoted. I zoomed my lens in his direction. There it was: naked hatred, sketched with a Magic Marker:
Benny Diaz (President of LULAC-OC) hurried to the microphone. Worry etched into his face, he invoked MLK’s memory and pleaded the case for nonviolent activism. But by that point, the brewing conflict was stirred and frothed to the point where anger was boiling over.
The larger crowd drifted into smaller, more peaceful alliances: hungry, thirsty, and sweat-soaked; brimming with the optimism that’s born of shared causes, accompanied by an undertow of dread.
Cathy and I staked out an empty picnic table and talked quietly among ourselves. Self-appointed vanguards kept watch. If you judged by appearances only, you’d be hard-pressed to tell malignant forces from good.
The street preacher, finished by now with his stemwinder, wandered through the park with a mostly empty box of fundraising chocolates.
“The almond bars are gone, but I still have dark chocolate, crispy milk chocolate…”
I handed him $5.00 for two, and waved away the change.
Just then, a glossy black SUV rounded the corner at Harbor Blvd. As it crawled up Cypress, wary vigilance transformed itself into a kinetic frenzy, and dozens of counter-protesters flooded into the street, pounding on the windshield and obstructing its path. “Come into the park,” they taunted.
In a blur of black shirts, accessorized with KKK-related patches, members of the Klan erupted from the SUV. When they tugged “White Lives Matter” placards and Confederate flags from the back, the counter-protesters pounced. If they had weapons, I didn’t see them, but someone used a flagpole as a spear.
The counter-protesters, on the other hand, wore no uniforms; nor did they share similar philosophies about peaceful protests. Some watched from a “safe” distance, tagboard signs overhead. Still others jumped right into the fray, pummeling the Klan, faces shielded by masks and bandanas.
While unsung heroes tried desperately to keep both the KKK and counter-protesters at bay, bystanders captured the moment with their cell phones.
My hands were trembling, but I was there to bear witness. I kept walking toward the action, kept pressing the shutter button.
Anaheim police officers, however, didn’t make their presence known until a Confederate flag was ditched at the curb, the SUV had sped away, and a stabbing victim was writhing in a spreading pool of blood.
While eyewitness accounts are typically unreliable (and wildly divergent), cameras don’t lie. “I have photographs,” I said to Sergeant Wyatt when the Anaheim police finally arrived on scene. He handed me his card and moved down the street, where wounded counter-protesters were being treated by paramedics and KKK members were being detained for questioning.
Cypress Street was emptied, save for a handful of gawkers and a smattering of counter-protesters. As Cathy and I made our way back to the grassy park, I spied a baseball cap with blood inside the rim. I tucked it behind my protest sign, safe from prying eyes, and signaled to the cops who straddled the yellow line.
“I found something that might be important,” I said when an officer sauntered over. He barely glanced at the cap, stifled a yawn. I couldn’t see behind his aviator glasses, but I felt certain that he was staring past me when I talked. When pressed, he jotted down my contact information and asked me a few questions. He didn’t write anything down. He told me he had a good memory, though, and pointed to the personal camera on his chest. When he looked away, I snapped his picture.
By that point, the elusive SUV was being searched on a side street, my camera battery was almost out of juice, and the untouched chocolate bars were melting into the bottom of my bag. I was heartsick, and more than ready to leave.
Community activism has its place, but this had gone horribly awry. I wanted to watch the sunset with my husband, and to see “our” hummingbird tucked safely in her nest, iridescent feathers gleaming in the evening’s last light. I needed to find peace within my own garden.
Even so, I managed a wan smile for the grizzled old man in the leather vest and bandana headband–the counter-protester who shuffled past me in a daze, muttering to no one in particular, “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”
We didn’t stay in any one place for long, nor did we ever sit for family portraits. And while revival organizers sometimes took candid snapshots of my father’s fiery sermons and the like, most of those got pitched overboard to make room for an ever-expanding family. So by the time my siblings and I reached adulthood, only a handful of personal photographs remained.
Some wayward pictures were eventually returned by my father’s associates. Some found their way ‘home’ when I reached out to estranged family members. My sister Sheryll, who shares my interest in personal genealogy, tracked down quite a few photographs on her own. Secrets oftentimes stay buried, but we encouraged more than a few hoarders to share their private stash. And as it turned out, I retrieved a good number of images by climbing into my “Nancy Drew” roadster and following my father’s tire ruts down the Sawdust Trail.
When Roger passed away this month, I felt a hollowness in the places where his voice once reverberated. So precious–then and in hindsight–the times we shared in communion, recounting the highlights of our individual and shared stories. Such treasures, the memories and pictures we’ve managed to archive, for ourselves and future generations. This doesn’t seem to me the appropriate place to write my brother’s obituary, but I’ve assembled a small number of images that bear witness to his life.
To my brothers and sisters, a love offering. That’s already printed on the dedication page of my memoir–in my mind’s eye, at least. Same with the pictures of Roger that you see here.
For who will testify, who will accurately describe our lives if we do not do it ourselves?
–Faye Moskowitz, And the Bridge is Love
My friend Emjae created this mock book cover for me a few years back, as a loving gesture and gentle prod. “Keep writing,” she told me. “You have a story to tell, a song to sing.” I tucked one copy into an antique church bulletin display box, and slipped another into the clear front pocket of my writing notebook. I’ve spilled many
tears drafts onto the page, emptied and replenished several notebooks since. Lucky me, I’m represented now by two, top-notch agents at D4EO Literary Agency, and CAN I GET A WITNESS? is under consideration by several editors. I’m so looking forward to that magical day, when the contents of my writing notebook become a published book, graced with a reinterpreted cover image!
Day 6 of Susannah Conway’s #AugustBreak2015 photography challenge. In case you haven’t yet guessed, the word of the day is notebook. In this overlaid image, my father’s revival tent serves as backdrop. I’m standing in the foreground, facing my future.
I learned phonics from my mother, on a cross-country trip from California to Baltimore. I devoured the messages on billboards, and then graduated to books like this one.
I have vivid memories of those magical moments, can easily recall the shivers that ran up my spine when block letters first translated themselves into sounds and syllables, and then sentences that leaped off the pages.
I developed an insatiable appetite for books, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Perspectives shift. New discoveries challenge old beliefs, and textbooks are rewritten. But at the tender age of three-going-on-four, I believed everything I read.
When I enrolled kindergarten that fall, my world expanded by the number of books I was able to check out from the library at any one time. Two, same as the animals on Noah’s Ark. But when the bookmobile rumbled down our street one day, the entire universe was delivered to my doorstep.
The librarian pulled books from shelves I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. We flipped through the pages together and talked about their contents. Teacher to student, friend to friend. Thanks to her gentle guidance, I learned to ask the deeper questions and challenge the pat answers.
And that, my friends, is what eventually led me to write my own story, Can I Get a Witness?
A lesser star in the evangelical orbit, my father didn’t usually have a crew on hand to help set up his tent revival meetings, so we did everything for ourselves. It involved a lot of grunt work, with no guarantees that the crowds would come.
My father painted new signs for each location, hand-lettered without a template. While we cleared debris and smoothed the dirt, he sandpapered the scuffed edges of our portable platform. Pitching the tent was an engineering feat, in and of itself. It also required a lot of strength. My older brothers helped my father position and anchor the tent posts, and then stretch the canvas over top. Sometimes the canvas tore, whether from age or an over-energetic tug. One of the girls, myself included, would stitch the frayed edges together, using a curved needle and stiff thread. On our luckiest days, local church folks would volunteer their time and effort. Working in tandem, they’d help hang speakers from tent posts, string the interior and exterior lights, and sound-check the microphones. (Electricity was typically siphoned from a nearby church or charitable business). We then planted the folding chairs in tidy rows, scattered sawdust on the earthen floor, and plunked a hymnal on every seat.
Drivers slowed, gawked, and rolled on past. Sometimes they’d honk. Other times, they’d jeer. Passers-by would stop to watch our dusty, sweaty routine, would whisper among themselves as we worked. I remember my father’s fervent prayers over dinner, remember him asking God to deliver those spectators to our evening service.
I’m met at the garden gate by the sweet fragrances of honeysuckle and jasmine. An exuberant beagle rushes across the lawn to meet me. “Have a seat,” Valerie Van Galder says, and as we sip coffee together in her outdoor oasis, you can almost hear her mind whirring. Her eyes twinkle, her voice is as bright as her kitchen is lively.
The conversation flows easily from one topic to another. I tell her a little bit about my memoir, CAN I GET A WITNESS? To our shared delight, I discover that her latest film project is based on our mutual friend Tonya Hurley’s hugely popular book, GHOST GIRL. We agree that it’s a good thing that YA projects are trending toward realistic plots with genuine, if sometimes troubled characters. As a matter of fact, I say, my friend Louise Gornall’s upcoming release, ROSE TAINTED SKIES, is about an agoraphobic who confronts her fears for the sake of a friendship. Val reaches for her phone, scrolls through her tweets. “ I think I just chatted with her this morning!” she says.
This is the way serendipity happens, time and time again. Our circumstances may be different, but good stories bring us together. And cake, we agree, because who doesn’t like cake?
It’s at this point that Val, a film producer who left a wildly successful career in Hollywood, reveals to me the backstory of her current involvement with Depressed Cake Shop. When her mother was first diagnosed with cancer, the news was devastating, as was the secret that eventually came to light. Turns out, her parents had shielded their children from the most troubling symptoms of an undisclosed bi-polar disorder. As Val’s mother got sicker, her father’s mental illness spiraled out of control. And when Val’s mother passed away, he went into a free-fall.
Frustrated by the gaping holes in America’s mental health care system, Val eventually left her job at Sony Pictures to attend her father’s needs. Out of that turmoil, there grew a deeper passion: to create a community of support for those who find themselves in similar situations.
Chances are high that you, or someone you know, have also been affected by mental illness or depression. It’s a dark, lingering cloud that hangs heavy on the shoulders. People speak of it in hushed tones, and though the pain is oftentimes greater than any one person can handle alone, few are brave enough to go public with their experiences. Until, that is, Depressed Cake Shop first came into being. And when, soon after, Val’s circumstances led her to get involved.
The concept originated with Emma Thomas, whose London-based Cakehead Loves serves as beneficiary to many important causes. It quickly became a global enterprise, with community-based roots. Here in the United States, neighborhood bakers design ghoulishly gray goodies. Anxiety Oreos, Misfortune Cookies, Miserable Macarons…Look in the display case: see anything you’d like?
Given creative license, local artists oftentimes donate visual art pieces to the cause.
Although the pop-ups are unique to the character of their communities, organizers must follow two basic rules: 1) Baked goods must be shrouded in grey frosting, a lighthearted way to represent the gloomy fog of depression. Hope is symbolized by bursts of flavor and pops of color, inside the sugary treats. 2) All proceeds must be donated to a mental health charity, such as National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
And as for the lucky customers, they get to have their cake and eat it, too. Here, an opportunity to share stories and offer encouragement. The sugar high is optional, but support is a constant, and there’s a place for everyone at the table.
It’s not a huge enterprise, but Depressed Cake Shop’s growth is happening in a healthy, organic way. That’s due, in no small part to the fact that Val’s optimism is contagious. She is the proverbial pastry box, chock-full of energy and goodness. When she posed by the product shelves in her cluttered office, I saw love, made visible. Hope, made manifest. “I want to keep it sweet,” Val tells me, and with a heart as big as hers, I can’t imagine it otherwise.
Interested in learning more about Depressed Cake Shop? Visit their website, join their Facebook Page, follow them on Twitter or send an email to: INFO@DEPRESSEDCAKESHOP.COM with the subject line “Mailing list.” Include your full name and email address so they can inform you about all the fun things they’ve planned.
And now for the GIVEAWAY! The prizes include one Depressed Cake Shop T-shirt, men’s large, and a Depressed Cake Shop necklace. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog.* If you share the link on Twitter, come back to tell me for another chance to win. Follow @depressedcake and @melodyeshore, and we’ll enter you again. Rafflecopter will choose the winning entry on Tuesday, May 26th at 12:00 a.m. Pacific. (NOTE: I’m having trouble posting the Rafflecopter widget, so please follow the GIVEAWAY link, in order to report your contest entries. Brownie points for the extra effort!) *Sorry—this contest is open only to residents of the United States, due to postage costs and regulations. I do hope you’ll leave a comment, though, in support of Depressed Cake Shop!
UPDATE 5/26/15: Congratulations to the following prize giveaway winners, chosen this morning by Rafflecopter:
Tere Carnes — Depressed Cake Shop necklace
Lindsay Erickson — Depressed Cake Shop T-shirt
I hope you enjoy your winnings, and that you’ll find a way to get involved.
In researching my memoir, I oftentimes revved up my roadster and slipped into the role of my alter ego, Nancy Drew. I’ve gathered clues from the National Archives; I’ve explored the sites of former tent revivals and churches, long since demolished; and I’ve unearthed numerous artifacts, along the Sawdust Trail.
And so it is, that on this Throwback Thursday (#TBT), I’m recalling that other blogging meme, Thankful Thursday. I unearthed this classified ad in the Portland, Oregonian archives. Like so many other treasures I’ve collected, it could’ve been lost to time and decay, were it not for for the myriad librarians, genealogists and archivists who’ve devoted their time and energies to the preservation of our individual and shared histories.