Craig Garrett taught karate, but that was just a front. What he really taught was happiness — a concept that inspired every bit as much passion for him as did his quest to instill fitness, discipline and self-confidence in the children of his farm town.
Garrett, an Arvin resident who died last week at age 65, moments after concluding the last of his thousands of karate classes, often wrote about happiness in letters and essays published in The Californian over a decade or more.
In a 2016 article, he wrote about a friend who lived in Amritsar, India, whose entire worldly fortune consisted of three water buffalo, a tractor, a cow and a scooter. Many Americans would call that poverty, but Garrett's friend considered his circumstances irrelevant: Happiness was something else.
Wrote Garrett, of the lesson he gleaned: "Most of us here are 'rich.' We simply haven't figured it out as we spend our days occupied with negativism. We think about what we lack and not what we have."
On another occasion he wrote: "Our affluent lifestyles and the trappings thereof have put us where we are currently softly singing the 'I'm OK, you're OK' lullaby to ourselves."
Garrett worked for Sun Pacific farming for 30 years and taught martial arts for more than 40 through the Bear Mountain Recreation Department. He traveled often to South Asia, including India at least nine times, and invariably brought back some new morsel of wisdom or life principle, often relating to happiness. He shared those nuggets with the people he loved.
"When our daughter was a senior in high school (and) she was being interviewed for a college scholarship, she was asked an unusual question," he wrote in a January 2018 essay. "'Where do you see yourself in five years?' She answered very succinctly in saying, 'happy.' As a dad I am glad to say that she got the scholarship, along with six others. The bonus was that her answer came true."
Garrett was politically conservative, but he respected others' rights to hold opinions that might run counter to his.
When a reader wrote a letter criticizing The Californian for publishing an op-ed by a man who described having stepped away from a promiscuous gay lifestyle, Garrett responded:
"My eye was drawn to the upper left hand corner of the newspaper," he wrote. "... The writer criticized the newspaper for printing opinions on the page that had 'Opinion' written so large ... I could see it without my glasses.
" ... I personally am glad we live where we can express our personal opinions in the local newspaper. Many have died for us to have the right."
Garrett collapsed just as students were leaving a karate class he had just finished teaching in the cafeteria of Arvin's Bear Mountain Elementary School on Sept. 5. The Kern County Coroner’s Office ruled Garrett died of natural causes, and Lora Garrett, his wife of almost 42 years, said she was told her husband died from a heart attack.
Craig Garrett also leaves behind daughter Chelsea Eklund, 37, son C.J. Garrett, 31, and three grandchildren.
Katrina Flores, whose son Francisco had been learning under Garrett for four years, spoke for many when she took to Facebook to characterize his impact on the community.
“He is a man of wisdom and insight for his students,” Flores wrote. “As a mother, I know I could always lean on Sensi Craig to help when my son needed to be lifted up and I couldn’t achieve it. His presence at class and outside of class will be greatly missed.”
Memorial services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Parkside Church, 2515 Church Ave., just off Mount Vernon Avenue.
For years, Garrett used to leave a sack of oranges for me at the front desk of The Californian every December, and he would drop me a note every so often. I looked through my old emails and found the most recent one. It concluded: "I want to encourage you to continue being firstname.lastname@example.org," he wrote. "Your friend, Craig."
No matter what email address I may be using at the time, Craig, I can promise you I will.
Your friend, Robert.