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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lois Edna Verner Brackett Ramsay~A Feminist Ahead of Her Time

Edna with Episcopal Bishop John Bruno at the CSW parade in West Hollywood

A tribute to our mother Lois Edna Verner Brackett-Ramsay-Garren.
Mrs. Garren was born on the east bank of the Tugalo river in Occonee county South Carolina on November 5, 1912. Her mother was Nancy Garner-Brackett of Stephen’s county Georgia, a local mid-wife. Her father was Edward Ramsay, who owned a sawmill in Oconee county South Caolina (across the Tugalo river).

She was almost named Woodrow because she was born on the day Woodrow Wilson was elected president.

She grew up in a small farming community of Deercourt in Stephens county, on the west bank of the Tugalo River in north east Georgia. Her mother sharecropped to raise six children in an abandoned train station. At the age of ten, Edna realized that no one would ever take care of her, particularly a man. Inspired by her oldest sister Laura Louise, she became determined to escape the grinding poverty of her surroundings.

Edna at 14

At 15, she applied for and received a full scholarship and left home to complete a high school education at Tallulah Falls High School.  TFHS was established by the Georgia Federation of Women's Clubs in the early 1920's.  After women got the right ot vote, The "suffrage" movement became "Women's Clubs" with the specific mission of creating and enhancing educational and career opportunities for girls and young women in the United States.  

Her mother's response was to declare her "No longer my daughter" because Edna would not commit to staying home and taking care of her mother.

A geneologist friend compiled the history of Edna's mother's family.  There were significant family secrets and (shame filled) history.  Basically, Edna's mother was a "bastard" (born out of marriage).  Her mother had six children by 5 different men, wasn't married to the last 4, including Edna's father, Edwin Ramsay.  
A History of the Brackett Family of Stephens County Georgia

At TFHS she made the first reed basket at the school craft shop, was a loom threader in the weave shop, and was the first girl to take woodworking shop. The boarding students such as Edna made quilts, sweaters, and other crafts to be sold to help pay for their expenses. Mrs. Garren retained many of these skills, and over her lifetime made many quilts, knitting, needlepoint displays and other crafts. She made her last quilt in her early 90s, a photo of her with it is below.

She was Salutatorian of her graduating class. At the time of her passing, she was the oldest living graduate of the school.  She was named one of four outstanding former students of Tallulah Falls by the homecoming committee of the class of 1988.

Edna graduated in 1931 and lived briefly in Norfolk Virginia (with Louise) before moving to Tampa Florida in 1932.  Her older sister, Grace Kemp lived in Tampa with her husband, Alger Kemp (who was a gifted "ink" artist).  Her quick wit and charm brought her into favorable attention of local civic and business community leaders in Tampa and she enjoyed a lively career as a legal secretary and office manager.

Edna on Franklin Street in Tampa, mid 1930's.
She is in the suit and hat to the left of the street light pole, she made the suit and hat.  During the Depression, she made most of her clothes.

In 1939 she met Edward Voltaire Garren on an arranged blind date and the two courted for approximately 15 months and married at the home of “Sweet Pea” and Dora Mahoney in the Forest Hills section of Tampa on a Wednesday night in August of 1940.  A delightful recording of my parents telling how they met, married and the outbreak of WWII is at this link:
"Ed & Edna Garren remember 1940 & WWII" 

At the beach on an early date with Edward Voltaire Garren

In 1948, out on the town in Tampa, Florida

She had 4 pregnancies.  The first mis-carried at 5 months, the second was my brother Francis Edward "Gene" Garren.  The third was a daughter, Martha Edna who was born with Spina Bifida and lived 45 days.  I was the fourth pregnancy, born in 1949.  In typical "Southern humor" I occasionally joked that they should have quit while they were ahead, we all laugh.

After my baptism (at St. Mary's Dade City)  I was a year old.

In 1950 the Garren family moved to Dade City Florida where they lived for 35 years. In Dade City Edna opened the Credit Bureau of Dade City which she owned for ten years and then sold to continue a career managing the State Attorney and Clerk of the Circuit Court’s offices until her retirement in 1977 on the day she turned 65.

At the 75th Anniversary celebration of St. Mary's in Dade City,
with Kate Cowen & Beth Marie Sperry

During her time in Dade City, she was president of the Dade City Women’s Club, a Democratic Executive Committee Member and founder of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club for Women. She was very active in the life of St. Mary’s Episcopal church as well, serving on the Altar Guild, Choir, Daughter’s of the King, and the Episcopal Church Women.

She was always adamant that her name not be published as “Mrs. Edward V. Garren", stating that she was not Mrs. to anyone except herself.

With Frances & Cliff Freeman at the Western Auto Store in Dade City

In 1985 the Garren’s moved to Asheville North Carolina and soon became active in the life of All Soul’s Episcopal Church in Biltmore Village. 

In 1992 her husband Edward died at the age of 82 of congestive heart failure. In 1994 she moved to West Hollywood California where she became active in St. Thomas Episcopal church, volunteering in the HIV patient lunch program and performed in a production of “The Matchmaker” (the non-musical of “Hello Dolly”).

Photos of the West Hollywood years are below:

With good friend Hank Weinstein (2001)

 At the Grand Canyon

 Touring Monument Valley (1991)

 Going to the Monday Farmer's Market at Vista & Fountain

 Edna loved hats, and was loved by the woman who sold them at the Farmer's Market.

Edna in "Dillard House Heaven" at the Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia (2002)

 Edna with grandson Michael Lee Garren, his mother Wonhui (in red) and his aunt Lee Bass

 My God Daughter, Ruthenia Nicole Glenn-Ramirez, her husband Jorge and their two kids, Genevive and Gilbert (circa 2004)

 Edna at a Pumpkin stand in Santa Paula, CA (circa 1995)

Edna loved living in West Hollywood.  In additon to the weather, she enjoyed the rich diversity of the people she met and spent time with.  Years before, when I lived in Miami, she expressed her pleasure that I was learning Spanish.  "No one is really educated if they only speak one language.  A person should know at least two" was her beliefs on the issue of "Multi-lingualism."  She explained that she had never had an opportunity to learn and use a second language, and was glad that both of her sons, and grandson Michael, spoke multiple languages.

In addition, Mrs. Garren participated in many Christopher Street West (Gay & Lesbian pride) parades in support of the Democratic Party. Mrs. Garren received two “Outstanding Citizen” awards from the City of West Hollywood, and November 5, 1992 was declared “Edna Garren Day” in recognition of her 90th birthday.

 Luis & Edna at one of the many CSW (LGBTQ Pride) parades we were in

 With Julie Summers at CSW

 Councilmember John Jude Duran presenging her award for her 90th Birthday

 With U.S. Senator Bob Graham whom we supported for President

We were honored to attend the wedding of Angelique & Cleophus Rawls

In 2005 Edna went to live with my brother Gene Garren in western North Carolina.  She enjoyed her "Mountain Years" which were very close to the Northeast Georgia hills she had left in her youth.  

 Edna's room in Asheville NC. One of her many quilts.

 One of her early quilts, which I still have and cherish

Edna at her 95th Birthday Party in Asheville, NC (2007)

Edna Garren (Lois Edna Verner Ramsay-Garren) passed away on Tuesday August 24th, 2010, from (to use her words) “Old Age and Aggrevation”. She was 97 years old. She had been in declining health for about 12 months. She passed away peacefully around 8:40 AM (EDT) in Burnsville North Carolina, her oldest son Gene was with her when she passed.

This quote in many ways, embodied how our mother Edna lived her life.
"Faith is not believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God...and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.”  
Brother David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

The video of her 90th birthday party is here.  There are two parts, enjoy them both.  Edna's 90th birthday in West Hollywood, CA (2002).


"I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, 
rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions."
      Letter from (fellow Floridian) Zora Neale Hurston
 to Countee Cullen

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost… the world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. 
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open …” 

- Martha Graham, in a letter to Agnes De Mille; published in “The Life and Work of Martha Graham”

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The History of the Brackett Family Of Stephens County, Georgia

The History of the Brackett Family Of Stephens County, Georgia Rediscovered
By Robert C. Dodd Jr. 2013

A collection of family photos are below the report

The rediscovery of the family heritage of Edna Verner Brackett (1912-2010) has been made possible by advances in the availability of governmental and public documents that were difficult to access in former years. US Census records that were available only in the form of microfilm a decade ago are now available online with far more advanced search features. Interpretation of Edna’s heritage is based upon hard documentation as follows, and must begin with the early life of her mother, Nancy (Brackett) Garner (1878-1953).

The Life and Times of Nancy (Brackett) Garner
Without the privilege of an interview with Nancy Garner, one may deduce that she was a secretive woman, hardened by disappointments in life and love, and burdened with the duty to raise her children without the benefit of a breadwinning husband. The public record gives ample substance to her story, which began in the household of her parents, Felix Benton Brackett and Margret W. Thacker in Stephens County, Georgia in 1900. Other historical records indicate that Felix Brackett and his brother William Mansfield Brackett were prominent members of the Baptist Church of Stephens County, Georgia. (Wm. Mansfield Brackett was a Confederate Veteran and Baptist minister).
From Nancy’s death certificate, recorded in Stephens County, we learn that she died at the age of74 on 18 Feb 1953. Thus armed with the implication that she was born in or about 1879, we turn to the 1900 U.S. Census of Stephens County, Georgia and discover the following information:
  • F.(elix) B. Brackett (50) and Margret (Thacker) (45) appear as head of household with the following additional family members:
  • Two adult sons appear in the household: John A. Brackett (21) and Doctor B. Brackett (26)
  • One daughter, Nancy (Brackett) Prather* (17) appears in the household with her two young children, Will M. Prather* and Louisa L. Prather*.
  • *The Census transcript is clear and easy to read, but the orthography could also be read as (PaUther or PaNther). The orthography of the third letter of the surname appears to be “U” because it is identical to the third letter of the child named “LoUise”. A rendering of the third letter as “N” seems highly unlikely although automated indices of the US Census have rendered the name PaNther. Standard histories of Stephens County do not
attest the occurrence of “Pauther” or “Panther” in the district, although those names do occur elsewhere in Georgia. Prather is a common surname in Stephens County, and seems the most likely rendering of the name. We will proceed with the working premise that Prather is correct, and amend that later if new evidence comes to light.
  • In the US Census, variation in the spelling of surnames is common, exacerbated by the fact that many census takers were compelled to guess a proper spelling, based upon the speech or dialect of district. The informant of the Brackett household may have said Prather, and the census taker only heard Pauther and transcribed what he heard.
  • According to the 1900 US Census, Nancy Prather was a recent widow, which implies that Will(iam) M(ansfield) Prather and his sister Louisa were the children of a recently deceased husband and father.
  • Further confirmation of the family lineage may be found in the namesake tradition of the Brackett family. Nancy’s son, William Mansfield Prather Brackett was named in honor of her paternal uncle, William Mansfield Brackett (1845-1925), the Confederate Veteran and Baptist minister. Such a complex and distinctive name could not occur by accident, and gives positive identification to the members of the Brackett family in the U.S. Census of Stephens County, Georgia in 1900.
  • The Census records that Nancy Prather was born in July 1878, which is a nearly perfect match for the implication of her death certificate, ca. 1879.
  • Living memory and oral tradition of Edna Verner Brackett attest that her mother Nancy Garner had two elder children named William Mansfield, and Louisa. Thus, there is no question that we have discovered the correct family and household, and a new key to the heritage of the Brackett Family.
    The rediscovery of the 1900 Census of Stephens County, Georgia lays to rest the question of the true surname of Nancy (Brackett) Garner at birth. The following evidence shows that Nancy never used the Garner surname before 1930, although it is possible that she may have used it as early as 1920, but as yet it has not been possible to locate Nancy in the 1920 U.S. Census. The discovery of such a record would be helpful but unlikely at the present time.
  • In 1900, Nancy uses the surname Prather (Pauther) with implication of recent widowhood.
  • In 1910, Nancy uses the surname BrOckett (doubtlessly a scribal error), having reverted to her maiden name.
  • In 1918, Nancy’s son William Mansfield “Brackett” gave information to the World War I draft board that his closest of kin was: Mrs. Nancy Brackett, Route 3, Toccoa, Stephens County.
  • In 1920, we have no US Census record.
  • In 1930, Nancy uses the surname Garner with no male head of household. Her children
    Edna, Frances and Velma are listed as “Garner”.
  • In 1940, Nancy B.(rackett) Garner shares the household with daughter, Velma G.(arner)
    Standridge. It also states that Nancy Garner had achieved no more than a 5th grade education.
Public records suggest that Nancy Garner bore her eldest children by a husband named Prather, and became a widow at the age of 17. In 1910, Nancy and her eldest children (Willliam, Louise, Mary Grace and Velma) reverted to her birth surname of Brackett until at least 1920. In 1930, the use of Garner as a surname implies a relationship with a man of that surname, but no credible document has appeared to support it at this time.

The Mystery of Edwin Alexander Ramsay

Oral tradition and living memory of Edna Verner Brackett attest that she was the daughter of one “Edward Ramsay” (Surviving records indicate that his true name was “Edwin”. The problem was to discover if such a named person ever existed in the vicinity of Stephens County, Georgia. The answer to this question lies in the Stephens County Census of 1893:
  • In the 1893 enumeration we find the household of Andrew Hamilton Ramsay and his wife, Sara Azalea Jarrett.
  • 15-year old Eddie Ramsay appears in the Census with an implication of birth in about 1878. His actual birth date was 25 February 1878, a few months before Nancy Brackett Garner’s birth in July 1878. Thus, they are a perfect match in age, location and generation.
  • Edna Verner Brackett was born in November 1912 when Edwin and Nancy were 34 years of age.
  • Edwin Ramsay was single at the time of the 1910 Census and also single at the time of his World War I draft registration in 1918, which implies he was probably still single at the time of Edna’s birth. This gives credence to the report that Nancy Garner hoped that Ed Ramsay would marry her, but it is clear that he did not make that commitment.
    Records of Stephens County indicate that Edwin’s father, Andrew Hamilton Ramsay, was a Confederate Veteran and that he was also a prominent merchant in Toccoa, Stephens, Georgia. His family had a fair amount of social standing in the local Presbyterian Church and the community at large. The heritage of the Ramsay family is easy to trace in the annals of Stephens, Georgia and Oconee County, South Carolina. This is another confirmation of oral history in Edna Brackett’s family, that her father (Ramsay) had ties to Oconee County, South Carolina. The case for identification of Edwin Ramsay as the putative father of Edna Verner Brackett seems to be relatively secure based upon chronology, location and long-standing oral tradition.

    Note on photos, only family members who are deceased are shown.

    Lois Edna verner Brackett Ramsay Garren at 14

    Lois Edna verner Brackett Ramsay Garren mid 50's

    "Miss Edna" at the Dillard House (Dillard, GA) in 2002 at age 90

    Lois Edna verner Brackett Ramsay Garren at her 95th birthday party in 2007

    Velma Georgia Yearwood's daughter Ann (Standridge)

    Alan "Jimbo" Murray & Ann (Standridge) wedding

    Velma Georgia, Alan "Jimbo" Murray's father, Nancy Brackett Garner, Frances Brackett at wedding of Alan Murray & Ann Murray

    Edward George Garren, Walter Murray, Carl Yearwood, Velma Brackett Yearwood 
    circa 1965

    Velma Georgia Yearwood circa 1972, Mt. Airy, GA

    Lorrie Dean Iverson, Annie Dean (Lorrie's mother), Velma Georgia Yearwood circa 1972

    Ralph Ingersol (2nd husband of) Grace Brackett Kemp
    Grace's first husband Alger Kemp remains well known in "Ink" culture having created designs that are still being done today.

    Carol Carter Carreker, youngest daughter of Frances Brackett Carter Whiten.
    circa 1981, Cape Coral, FL

    "23 & Me" genetics testing printout for maternal side of immediate family
    specific to Lois Edna Verner Brackett Garren

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Christmas Eve Blessing (2017)

I don't usually get "Religious" in these postings, but today was exceptional in such a way that I can't avoid talking about God/Jesus, etc.

Yesterday, I woke up with an irritation in my left eye.  It felt like a grain of sand or a loose eyelash, slightly painful, but distracting.  I doused my eye all day with eye drops, saline and artificial tears.

I woke up this morning and it was worse, "wattery" and red, and painful.  So I decided to go to a local emergency room.  It was early and Davide still needed to take Dino (our dog) outside, etc. and I could drive, so I took my little car up to Good Samaritan (our local Episcopal hospital) to have it looked at.

Me and my Mitsubishi I-MiEV, all electric car
taken by a friend last Wednesday

I was a bit "concerned" as the left eye had a cataract lens implant put in two and a half years ago.  Although I'd never heard of one of them dislodging, I wanted to make sure.

While I was getting registered in, I noticed a strange but lovely blue telephone with two handsets on the nurses desk.  I asked and he explained that it's a translation phone.  They call a translator (person)  with it, the registering nurse on one handset, the patient on the other, so they can both hear the translator.  He explained it is often used with Korean patients, though also with Spanish and other language speakers.

The Physicians Assistant at the ER was great.  She did all the right stuff and determined that I have an abrasion on my cornea, below the pupil.  Nothing serious, she gave me a prescription for some anti-biotic eye drops and told me to see my regular eye doctor ASAP.

While I had been waiting, I had to notify my parish church that I would not be able to do the prayers at the 4 PM service today.  It is the Children's Christmas pageant, and it would have been fun.  But I decided not to go..

Also, I posted on Facebook to some family and friends of my situation, and got many prayerful and thoughtful responses.  All of them were appreciated.

While killing time waiting for doctors and tests, I read many of the holiday posts, and this one struck a chord with me.

Twas the night before Christmas and it seemed such a shame,not a soul mentioned our dear Savior by name.They talked about Santa and the reindeer and elvesas their dust covered Bibles just lay on the shelf.The children were watching their late night TVfull of cursing and garbage that they never should see.With ma in her nightgown and I in PJ's we thought the story was funny and what could it hurt anyway.When out on the lawn the dogs started howling,I figured it must be a burglar prowling.I grabbed up my gun and ammo and mortarand away in a flash I was opening the door.Off in the distance the moon shown so bright,but out in the east the clouds were a fright.When what to my questioning ears should I hearbut the sound of a trumpet so loud and so clear.The clouds started thrashing and they started to rolland it looked just like smoke or an unfolding scroll.Then came a voice so majestic and strongthat I started to tremble cause I knew I'd been wrong.Come Joseph, come Matthew, come Luke and John.Rise Mary, now Martha, Peter and Tom.Then the earth started shaking with a great roaring soundand I saw these souls rising up from the ground.Then my heart began pounding and I couldn't believe the sight I was seeing, oh it just couldn't be so.I shook my head twice and I looked back againand I still saw them flying up to the sky to meet him.Then in a twinkling the dead ceased to riseso I thought it was over but to my surprisea neighbor came screaming from his house down the street.His wife had just vanished as she lay there asleep.Now the street was in havoc and our neighborhood too,everyone had lost someone and didn't know what to do.The sirens were screaming as mothers all criedand I looked up and saw a plane fall from the sky.Then I looked at my wife and she looked back at meand we both remembered our newborn baby.As we ran through the house we both half screamed,Lord, don't let this happen, oh please let it be a dream.When we came to the nursery we searched over the floorwe searched through the crib and we searched high and low,but our darling baby was not in sight.Now we knew that the rapture had happened this night.As we walked through the house we knew what we'd see,no longer were our children sitting watching TV.The reporter was telling us strange things that had happened all over the world.And in such great confusion I sat there and ponderedhow could God make mistakes; it was all I could wonder.I went to church Sundays and I gave of my tithes.I never stole things and I never told lies.Oh, it was then that it happened and it made me realizeit isn't through goodness and it isn't through tithes,it isn't through works or things that we feltthat could cause a poor soul to be doomed to hell.Yes, salvation is one thing that is not really complicated.Just like the 16th verse of John stated,"that the Father so loved us that he gave us his sonand whosoever believeth, to him the victory is won."So if you're here today as a prisoner of sin,remember Jesus is knocking so please, please let him in. Yes, the rapture is coming and it may not be long.What a shame to be left here when our loved ones are gone.The author is unknown

The person who posted this is an acquaintance and related to another acquaintence, both good people who live "back home" in the swamps we were reared in.  (In the South, we "raise" livestock, and "rear" children).  Mostly I was filled with the pain behind the need to post this, how alone the person who posted this must feel in the world.  Since she professes to be a Christian, and I believe she tries very hard to "do right" in her life, I responded with this:

We are ambassadors for Christ.  All day, every day.  Are we showing his unconditional love?  Especially to people who are not like us? And our enemies?  That is the Christmas WE must witness to, every day. Even when it’s not easy.

We Episcopalians don't spend a lot of time speculating on the afterlife, or if in fact there will be a "Rapture" or who goes and who doesn't.  We recognize that our primary focus is here and now, a version of what I responded with above.  We believe our "mission" on earth is to focus on loving all of Gods creation, including all of his children.  I love this short video by our previous presiding bishop regarding this issue:

Now to how my eye issue gave me a very profound blessing this morning.

I live in one of the most "diverse" cities in the United States.  Moreover, I live and work in "South" Los Angeles.  When I moved into my current neighborhood, six years ago, I was the only "white" person in blocks.  I have done what any "good" Southerner should do, tried to be a good neighbor to my neighbors, show respect and hospitality.  Knowing some Spanish helps.  Having a deep and long time relationship with Black Americans also helps.

But mostly, holding onto my "inquiring and discerning heart" that my Episcopal baptism vows remind me to live every day, remind me that we are ALL Children of God.  A loving and gentle God, who asks us to live as his incarnate son, Jesus of Nazareth lived, Every day.

So after I got my prescription from the Gay Fillipino American nurse, I drove over to a Rite Aid pharmacy, smack in the middle of the Wilshire/Union neighborhood.  I parked my little I-MiEV in a parking space no one else could fit in and went inside.

The shopping plaza was buzzing with activity.  Families were preparing for the holiday.  Central Americans seriously celebrate Christmas.  In addition to the usual family feasting and gathering, they sometimes set off fireworks to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  It's great fun.  

Inside the store, most of the signs were only in Spanish.  I noted some of the folks from my past would be affronted and make comments about "being in a foreign country," even though most of them have never actually set foot out of the United States.  

While I was waiting in line, I struck up a conversation (in SPANISH) with a young man from Guatemala.  Like many Central Americans who come, he was short, brown and genuinely sweet.  His name was David.  He explained to me that his first son had just been born (also at Good Samaritan) and he was getting a prescription filled for his wife.  When we exchanged introductions, he smiled at my name, he had named his son Eduardo (Edward).  I showed him photos of our Mother Edna at her 95th birthday party.  I told him how Edna had ALWAYS told both of us that if we had the chance to learn a second language, to do it, because no person has a complete education with only one language.  I also told him about my wonderful native Tampa Florida, the oldest Tri-lingual city in the country, English, Spanish and Italian, since the early 1900's.  He complmented me on my Spanish.  

His face lit up as he commented "Muy Fuerte" (Very Strong).   I told him her story, basically that of a refugee from the rural north Georgia hills, who fled the poverty of sharecropping to get an education and make a better life for herself.  By doing so, she made a much better life for her children as well. 

I moved to Los Angeles in 1983 from my native Florida.  I came with a Dodge and $445, to chase a dream of a better life, a place where being "Queer" was not such a big (and judgemental) deal.  

This is the "American Dream" at it's finest, and I guess the reason why I feel so (to the point of tears sometimes) for ALL immigrants (including my husband Davide) but even more so for my undocumented neighbors.  Their struggles are the struggles of my own blood, leaving all behind to make a better life for themselves and their families.  

Their blood is my blood, and we ALL share the blood of Jesus.  Being "Saved" is not the point, we are ALL saved by what God did and does, every day.

When his turn came up at the window, he asked me to translate for him, which I was glad to do.  Neither he or his wife have insurance, and he paid cash for the prescription.  In California, we pay for ALL babies to come into this world in a safe hospital, and don't ask for papers, we just do what's right, by God.

As I walked back to my car, a young woman in the car parked next to mine (not the one in the photo) was talking in a mix of Spanish and English about plans for her family's get together later tonight.  

It's Christmas in Los Angeles.  "El Pueblo de Nuestra SeƱora, Reina de Los Angeles" (The PEOPLE of OUR LADY, Queen of the Angels).  Even the name of our city reminds us that we are all Children of God, watched over by Jesus' very loving mother, The Virgin Mary, who is also Queen of Angels.  

Even if you don't believe the details of this, consider how enriched my life has been by living in a place filled with so many gentle and loving people.  A place so many of us refugees call "home."

And more importantly, consider how rich a life centered in love can be, rather than one lived in fear.

"Faith is not believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God...and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.”  
Brother David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

For my cousin Roger, my folks back home in Florida, Judy, Earl, Gordon and Don, who seem to struggle so with comprehending a world bigger than the citrus groves and cattle pastures, teaming swamps filled with life, who understand the balance of nature, but with translating that balance into the humanity that we all share, my Christmas blessing is best embodied by this old prayer.  It celebrates my life, celebrates the gift of having been born "Queer" which forced me to look beyond my own back yard, and in embracing, helped me to embrace ALL of Gods children, and not worry about the details of their salvation.

An Unknown Confederate Soldier
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was make weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for,
but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed.

Merry Christmas
Prosperous New Year
And Gods peace that passes all understanding
Keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God
This day and always

My baby Christmas Tree (above) 
Spotted somewhere over Los Angeles (below)
Now we know how Santa delivers his presents !!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Stephen’s in Coconut Grove~Miami Florida

This is more or less how St. Stephen’s started serving Thanksgiving Dinner, the origins of the tradition.

I am a “cradle Episcopalian” and have belonged to many parishes in my life.  I am originally from Tampa and Dade City Florida.  In the mid 1970’s, I belonged to the Episcopal House of Prayer (now St. James House of Prayer) in Tampa.  At that time, the parish was sustained by many retired people, mostly widows, as well as a smattering of college students, including myself.  

I realized that most of the parish spent Thanksgiving alone, and if someone didn’t have a family invitation, it was a lonely holiday.  So I suggested to the rector, Alton Chapman, that the church should have dinner in the parish hall after the Thanksgiving Day service.  Al and his wife Betsy had family in the area, so of course, they pushed back, but being the stubborn “Florida Cracker” that I am, I refused to take “no” for an answer.  The first year we had about 12 people, and by the time I moved to Miami, a few years later, the event had grown to include most of the parish, around 35 people.  

I moved to Miami in September of 1978 and joined St. Stephens.  The first year, I was too new to the parish to make any suggestions, but after a year I realized we had a number of retirees and single people at St. Stephens as well.  So in 1980, I proposed a dinner at the church.  The rector at the time, Alan Hingston, was not encouraging, but  I found allies in Jim and Florence Gray (parents of Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves), and we proceeded, having a very small gathering in the church library.  My parents came down from Dade City, Jim and Florence came, as well as Art & Laura Bate, Anita Schuck and her son Robert.  The Bates had been hosting my parents on their visits to Miami since my first Christmas in 1978, and they enjoyed each others company.

St. Stephen's church 10/2017

The following year, the Parish Council decided to open the event up to “the community.”  We really didn’t know who would show up.  It was suggested I contact Elizabeth Virrick, founder of Coconut Grove Cares, a long time member of the parish, to help publicize the event.  We made flyers, posting them around the village center area.  A number of folks got involved, many of whom I can’t remember their names now.  We had a group of around 10 parishioners who decided to participate, and help prepare food.  

I had a friend who had worked in and owned restaurants, Kay Jackson.  She had been associated with the CocoPlum cafe in the grove, as well as The Plum on Lincoln Road (long closed).  She suggested that I roast the turkeys in paper bags, and gave me information about how to do so.  That information is in this link: Edward George Garren~Favorite Recipes.

Going forward on faith, and the promise that the church would pay for whatever food I had to purchase, we cooked 4 or 5 turkeys in the parish hall kitchen, some large side dishes, and other “fixins.”  I was up at 4 AM to put the birds in the oven, and cooked all morning, with just enough time to dash into the church for Eucharist, then return to cooking.

Bernice Johnson did a great job of making the tables lovely.  We arranged the tables in a large “U” and set the place settings casually.  She had brought some large bottles of wine and placed them around the tables. 

The doors opened, and a large section of humanity entered.  The guests included most of the homeless of the Grove.  One of them spotted the wine bottles and as he was making a “bee line” for one of them, with a look of utter joy on his face, Bernice, snatched it (and the others) off the tables and took them back into the inner sanctum of the kitchen.  That was the first thing we learned, alcohol & homeless folks are not a good mix.  

After offering prayers of thanks, by clergy, parishioners and guests, we all sat down to enjoy dinner.  Thats when the magic happened.  I had been very emphatic that the event NOT be a charity dinner, where we served the homeless, but rather a community event where we all shared the meal together.   So our guests and church members, visitors, friends, and folks we didn’t know were all scattered around the tables.  Folks actually made conversations with folks they didn’t know.  One of the young men took out his guitar and started playing.  He was good, and we all enjoyed his impromptu concert for much of the meal.  We basically just let the event take on it’s own life, which created a genuinely enjoyable event.  We lingered long after the food was consumed, the fellowship was that enjoyable.

Once the word got out in the parish that we had a good time, lots of folks who didn’t particularly enjoy cooking started attending.  The event grew larger, but always remained very warm and friendly, with significant participation and attendance by the parish.  The last year I organized the event, we had around 10 turkeys.

The only glitch was the first large year. I took the receipts to the treasurer for the food and turkeys I had purchased.  He was one of the businessmen of the parish, who probably had not felt favorably about the event.  I had been instructed by the Gray’s to get my re-embursement from him.  He looked at me sarcastically, and told me to take the bill to them.  I called up Florence (who was the bishops secretary at the time) and within a couple of days, I got a check.  That incident was the only real pushback I got.

The last year I was in Miami, my God-Daughter, Ruthenia Nicole Glenn (age 7 at the time) came to live with me.  We were fixtures at St. Stephens, and the church members embraced her as warmly as they had embraced me.  This photo was taken at the wedding of Mike Reeves and Mary Gray-Reeves.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  

As the coincidence of God would have it, she had extended family who were quite prominent in Miami, including Jesse Tanner, widow of Rev. Tanner.  He was pastor of a local church, and they also had a funeral home in Coconut Grove.  Jesse's older sister, Naomi (and husband Baljean) Smith taught at Miami Northwestern High School for decades.  Younger sister Verna Edington was the first African American teacher at Miami Beach High School, teaching Biology for decades.  The Lewis, Tanner, Smith and Edington family were incredibly warm and loving to me.  It turned out that Nikki's paternal grandfather was brother to the mother of the three Lewis women, Naomi, Jesse and Verna.  Their mother was a Glenn, which is a large family (11 siblings) from northern Florida.  A photo of them, about 10 years old, is below.

The Thanksgiving dinner is an example of how the power of community, is so important.  We Christians call this, "The Body of Christ."  

"Nikki" Glenn and me, 1982

In 1983, I moved to Los Angeles.  Duff Masterson took on the job of coordinating the dinner, and did a great job for years.  So the event has lived on without me, which is the ultimate complement anyone can receive for having started something.   Several years later, I popped in one year and Guy Bailey stopped the serving long enough to announce that I was present, and had been the one to get the whole thing started.  That also meant a lot to me.

As it turns out, the other thing I did that had a lasting mark on St. Stephen's was to introduce Francois, the long time sexton, to the parish.  The church was in desperate need of a good sexton, and I was working as a job developer and placement specialist at an agency in the NE section of Miami.  It was a priviledge to bring such a warm spirit as Francois to St. Stephen's and know that he has been such a beloved member of the staff all these years.  He has recently retired, and hearing all of you speak so highly of him has reminded me of the importance of vocation and how the smallest of actions can have a lasting effect on many people.  

I’m glad that I left a mark on St. Stephen’s and Coconut Grove.  St. Stephen's is a wonderful community.  Photos of the current Thanksgiving Dinners are here.

Yours in Christ,  Edward George Garren

Back Row:  Jesse Tanner, Baljean & Naomi Smith, Wanda Tanner Kimbrough
Front Row:  Jeremy Gay (grandson of) & Verna Edington

"Faith is not believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God...and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.”  

Brother David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist