19th Century School — a Gold Medal Contest

G.M.C. "Cade" Massey

G.M.C. “Cade” Massey

Texas Schoolteacher G.M.C. Massey — my grandfather — writes about motivating students in the late 1800’s. 

…from the beginning of the use of the first Grade Certificate and School at Oak Grove, 6 miles East from QUITMAN, Texas

I had contracted to teach this School with a First Grade Certificate, When I had only the promise of that; If I passed the required Examination; Which I did in due time, and from there we go on with the stories that has made up my life.

Well I opened up this School with the brightest Future that I had ever had, as to my future in the TEACHING WORLD; I had succeeded in making the required Grade for A first Grade, and I had a fine school, and a brilliant set of pupils; And everything was started off just right.

I had on the beginning of the School offered a Gold Medal for the one that made the best general average in all the examinations that was offered during the term. And that was open to all the pupils that was attending the School, in all of the grades, From the first I could see that there were just a few of them that would be in the contest, And as time went on, Of course I was keeping up with the Grades, And I could see that the number was only four that would stay in there, and have to be reckoned with at the END.

But soon the two boys that had kept very good pace had dropped out of notice, and then it was up to two girls; and they were awful good friends, and you might say they were very close CHUMS; And at the ends of the school I just turned over the Credits to the County Judge, who was the ex-officio superintendent; and Judge Beavers that I have spoken of before as a Character that I had always held up as a model Lawyer, and honest man that I used as a model.

And they had to make their decision upon the grades, and I had been very careful in grading; And as for their grades in Citizenship; Or conduct in and out of school; There was no difference at all; But it hurt me to have the grades so close that it was only a fractional part of a %.

They were the finest young ladies that I had ever had in my school.

Posted in Buller, education, G.M.C. Massey, Learning, Memoirs | Leave a comment

A Sunny Afternoon — and Evening

Final of 3 posts about our recent adventure in England

If we’d been treated like royalty back at Peckforton Castle, we were treated even better in East Finchley: like old friends. We relaxed with our hosts, Hank & Kelle, in their lovely home in East Finchley, and took off our tourist cap for our last day and a half in London.

I first met Hank way back in 1973 when I visited a friend from high school, Tracy, at Northwestern University. That week, I met a number of Tracy’s friends, and over the next couple of years, several of these folks would come visit Austin during spring break. Later, I crashed on Hank’s couch as I resettled back into the 20th Century after my brief sojourn at the Texas Renaissance Faire. We lost touch for years, but had re-connected in recent years (again through Tracy) when Hank & Kelle would visit her family in central Texas. In fact, I had stayed with Hank when I visited London for work in 2012.

We also needed to slow down, because Sara had started feeling a little sick the day after the wedding. A day of travel and a half-day at the Tower had further exhausted her, and she began to worry about getting worse. Well, Kelle’s inner “Dr. Mom” kicked in or something, as she quizzed Sara about symptoms and offered remedies and made tea. A restful evening with incredible home-made pizza helped restore her as well.

IMG_4056Still, rather than rush out to chase the sights the next day, we decided instead to enjoy the sunny afternoon and wander their very walkable neighborhood. We headed over to a local public woods sanctuary for a leisurely stroll. Wandering through the quiet woods, we saw about a dozen other folks, walking, running, and strolling dogs on the pathways criss-crossing the woods.

Hank & Kelle had also recommended wandering past an almost hidden break in the fence into an old cemetery. At first, we encountered mostly long neglected and rarely visited, vine-covered tombstones in the back part of the cemetery. But as we walked further in along the footpaths and then widening named lanes, we came into the contemporary section, with its properly manicured grass and greenery, as well as recent and recently visited graves.

East Finchley gravestone

East Finchley gravestone

Now, personally, neither Sara and I feel much connection to graveyards — we both believe the body is but a receptacle for the spirit, and once that leaves an earthly body, the spirit or soul or person flies away free from all our worldly constraints.

Still, cemeteries serve as reminders to appreciate our loved ones while we can, and to remember them always. We wandered through quietly, reading some of the tombstones and memorials and reverently admiring some of the incredible sculpture work.

Eventually, we wound our way out to the front gate, and emerged back onto the streets of East Finchley, pleasantly tuckered out from our meanderings.

We headed back to the house and enjoyed a pleasant late afternoon visiting on their back patio in their small but well-appointed garden. Kelle was headed out of town on a previously scheduled visit overnight (we would see her again the next day before we left), so Hank and their son, Cole, were our hosts for our final evening in London.

Again, we took advantage of the walkable neighborhood to stroll a few blocks over to the Clissold Arms, where we enjoyed excellent food and drink sitting out on their open patio — a real treat for Texans who had fled the summer heat!

And there is nothing like visiting with an old friend, swapping true stories and tall tales with little regard for which is which.

Hank reminded me of one spring break visit back in the 70’s when we all headed out to Soap Creek Saloon on Tequila Night. At 40 cents a shot (or was it 50?), two bucks could get you pretty well tanked on tequila. I don’t really remember the music much, but I do remember some pretty wild dancing involving a table or two knocked over or at least askew. I also recall a brief roadside stop we made to let someone throw up and the cop who stopped to see what we were doing. As we started to explain, Dave demonstrated why we had stopped by puking on the police car’s fender. “Get him out of here,” the disgusted officer said, urging us homeward.

Davies brothers' childhood house as seen from side door to the Clissold Arms

Davies brothers’ childhood house as seen from side door to the Clissold Arms

Our pleasant “sunny afternoon” presaged the pub visit here, as the Clissold Arms hosted the first (and last) show from the Kinks. That’s none too surprising, given that Ray and Dave Davies grew up directly across the street, where their family regularly hosted musical get-togethers in their living room.

The pioneering rockers’ musical journey serves now as the basis for a new musical, “A Sunny Afternoon.” If we’d had enough time during our visit, that might’ve been a fun excursion.

As it was, I got to visit the dedicated Kinks tribute the Clissold Arms hosts in their back room — where you can look out the door and see the old Davies house. Plaques quote both “Lola” (seen in the photo) and Dave Davies’ song “Fortis Green,” which specifically mentions the Clissold Arms.

Me & Hank in Clissold Arms' Kinks Tribute room

Me & Hank in Clissold Arms’ Kinks Tribute room

Photos and album covers and fan art cover all the walls, really heightening the sense of place that the pub itself, and especially this back room, wraps you in until you could almost feel the Davies brothers themselves standing by and soaking it in.

Though we had to leave the next day to start our homeward journey, spending our final evening with friends, made me realize and revel in the bonds of friendship and kinship.

When we remember the deep roots of a longtime relationship, we restore the bonds that helped grow that friendship into the towering tree it can become, sheltering and shading us, our family and our friends.

I can’t close this travel commentary without mentioning the British train system, from the national network to the Tube. Even lugging around our luggage — including one large rolling suitcase — we found navigating the trains to be remarkably simple.

Sure, we screwed it up a time or two and very nearly missed a change of trains that would’ve sent us off in the wrong direction through London, but in the end, we made it everywhere we needed to go.

Our last day before a morning flight stateside, we pulled our biggest train goof. Since we had come down to London via the slower local train (as opposed to the bullet train that was available), we wanted to go back that same way. Hank had recommended the bullet train, but we worried about having to change trains in unfamiliar Manchester Piccadilly Station and insisted we’d be fine simply returning via the route we came. Having made only one train transfer in Crewe on the way down, we wanted our only transfer to happen where we already knew the station a bit.

Except that the connecting train we were counting on — direct from Crewe to Manchester International Airport — did not run on Sunday, despite the printed schedule posted in the station.

Fortunately,we figured that out in time to get directions to catch a different train that we could use to transfer to another town and catch the one we needed. We had to rush over to get on that train and then we had to wait nearly an hour for the train to the airport.

Note to self: when you ask an internationally renowned transportation expert for directions on how to get somewhere — take them!

In the end, though, it didn’t matter to us. Even that hour we spent sitting on a bench at the station platform in Wilmslo felt so wonderfully English and relaxing that we savored even that delay and re-direction, hoping we had tracked down the right train to get us to the Manchester airport — and yes, we did!

Posted in anecdotes, Buller, friends, neighborhood, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

To the Tower!

Second of 3 entries about our recent English adventure

The day after the wedding in the castle, we headed down to London.

I owed Sara this part of our trip since I had the opportunity to spend a few days in London back in 2012 (just before the Olympics) for a work contract. That time, I stayed up on Tower Hill and my morning “commute” to the worksite was a walk across the Tower Bridge. Meanwhile, Sara, still stateside, was suffering severe pangs of travel envy.

You see, she’s been a lifelong fan of British history, most specifically the reign of the Tudors, and knows many tales from the Tower — but she didn’t get to come with me to London that time. So, I had been warned not to return without her, and I knew that meant the one spot we definitely had to visit while across the pond for the wedding was the fabled Tower of London.

Sara at the Tower of London

Sara at the Tower of London

After our train ride down to London, we arrived at our hotel near the Tower rather exhausted late in the afternoon, so we napped a bit before heading out.

Sara could hardly stop grinning in stunned amazement at simply being there as we strolled around the outside of the Tower grounds, passing the infamous Traitor’s Gate, and across the Tower Bridge along with all the other wandering tourists and regular Londoners simply heading to the other side of the Thames.

Tower Bridge — with happy Sara

Tower Bridge — with happy Sara

On our way back, we stopped in at the Hung, Drawn and Quartered pub (which I had visited back in 2012) for pints & dinner. While I decided to get my dose of fish & chips (fancied up as “Battered Flounder” on the menu but taken down by our waitress as “Fish & Chips”) here, Sara scored the real “catch of the day” by ordering one of their signature meat pies, an exquisitely delicious pork-and-apple-chutney delight.

Note to self: when a restaurant touts a specialty (“Pies & Ales”) — order it.

The next day, we headed out to fulfill Sara’s longtime dream of visiting all those places within the Tower walls she knew by heart.

Buying our tickets produced an interesting moment when the fellow behind the window gestured back to the posted price list and asked, “Any concessions?” Baffled by his question about food & drink (I thought), I said no, but he patiently asked again. Then, the woman behind us pointed out the reduced price for seniors over 60. What we knew as a “discount” was the “concession” he’d been trying to point out, which saved us about 15 pounds. He had simply been too tactful to mention our obvious age as the reason for his inquiry but we gladly saved the money once we understood.

Yeoman Warder at Traitor's Gate

Yeoman Warder at Traitor’s Gate

The tour guides are all Yeoman Warders — also known as Beefeaters (though not the quiet type). Well, our fellow relished his role and begin joking and bantering with the crowd quickly, threatening to leave if we didn’t start responding better to his jokes. When he spotted my Alaska Railroad cap, he called out something about that though I couldn’t quite make it out enough to respond.

In addition to describing key points as we wandered into the Tower complex itself with its various historical buildings, he also explained that all the staff, himself included, actually live in the Tower. Since this has been the case for centuries, staff sometimes live in some of the same quarters that once housed renowned historical figures — he had occupied the former quarters of Sir Isaac Newton for several years.

Another interesting item he mentioned: the staff are literally locked in the Tower each night at 12. Oh, there is a single gate where passage in & out can be had after midnight — with the watchword (password), still handed down daily by the Queen.

Traitor’s Gate was one of the main focal points early in the tour, and Sara got to use her historical knowledge to answer one of our guide’s historical questions to the crowd. Still, seeing such places herself had her almost spinning, just looking around at the various individual towers and walls. As we strolled the grounds, our guide pointed out several of the main buildings, such as the Waterloo Block (now housing the Crown Jewels), the White Tower and the Queen’s Quarters (where she rarely stays but remains off-limits and guarded).

By the time we went inside the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vinicula and our guide pointed out where the final remains of Anne Boleyn lie buried in an unmarked grave under the altar, Sara was a goner for sure. As the crowd drifted off after the tour, we lingered several minutes. “Anne Boleyn was framed,” Sara said in passing. “I always wanted to say that here!”

Outside, we stopped briefly at the poignant memorial by the “Scaffold Site,” where the names of several of the more prominent individuals executed nearby on the Tower green, either by hanging or beheading, are etched around the edge.

We also went up and walked atop a portion of the inner wall to take a look from those former fortifications, imagining archers defending against invaders of any kind.

nne Bolelyn — 2016

Anne Bolelyn — 2016

Another aspect of our visit that we enjoyed were the various re-enactors who would interact with members of the crowd, telling tales or re-enacting scenes.

I suppose we could easily have spent more time there. We passed on seeing the Crown Jewels or going inside the White Tower.

Instead, we contented ourselves with enjoying what we did at our own pace, and “escaping” the Tower even as the hordes of people grew larger through the afternoon.

Posted in Buller, history, travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Once upon a fairy-tale wedding

First of 3 posts about our recent trip to England

“We can’t go.”

Our friends James & Kara had invited us to their wedding — in an English castle, no less, near James’ hometown of Chester. But our finances basically forbid us even considering it.

When I texted James we couldn’t make it, he said he understood but felt “gutted.” That’s when I knew we would go.

We simply could not afford to go — but we couldn’t afford to bypass this opportunity either. When else would we ever get a chance to sleep in an English castle?

So of course, we went — and added a side excursion to London to round out our trip.

Words cannot adequately portray their beautiful, fairy-tale wedding. I’d known James about 5 years and knew him to be a hopeless romantic at heart, and this wedding lived up to every bit of its promise. Nothing could stop this celebration of love coming together. When Kara & James met the vicar lined up to officiate the ceremony, they disliked him enough that they fired him and asked their friend, Aaron, to take over the ceremony instead.

Emma, Aaron & Sara

Emma, Aaron & Sara

Suffice it to say the ceremony was short and simple and appropriately romantic for the setting — complete with a poem about two dinosaurs falling in love! Aaron carried out his duties smoothly and professionally amidst happy sniffling and tears in many eyes in the hall.

After the ceremony, we adjourned to the lawn for a birding exhibition.

James & Kara with Mango

James & Kara with Mango

The falconer showed us three beautiful birds one at a time, starting with a barn owl, then a hawk and finally a larger owl. With each bird, he would describe certain features which aided these birds of prey in securing their food. As he talked, he would circle behind people in the crowd while the bird waited on a perch on the lawn. Then, he would call the bird which then swooped over us close enough to brush our heads with their wings as they flew past.

After the exhibition, the falconer gave his glove to Kara so she could hold one of the birds — which looked nearly half as big as she was! I was busy watching the exhibition and took no photos of the birds. Thank goodness Sara snapped this shot of the bride with one of the birds.

Back inside a little while later, the reception was warm & welcoming with marvelous food (not sure why British food gets a bum rap) and camaraderie. The Best Man’s toast was a splendid exercise in revealing embarrassing moments in James’ past — which he had specifically asked not be mentioned. I will not repeat any of these hilarious bits here for my friends’ sake — both Kara and James alike. Let’s just say: you shoulda been there.

James & Kara Livesley — First Dance

James & Kara Livesley — First Dance

As promised in the original invitation, dinner was followed by “awkward but enthusiastic dancing,” though Kara & James’ First Dance was really quite lovely and touching.

I was pretty much primed & ready, so while I may not have been the first one out on the dance floor,  I jumped in pretty quickly afterwards, managing to execute both “awkward” and “enthusiastic” aspects of the dancing quite handily.

Shall we say a good time was had by all? Yes, indeed.

And the less said about my drunken faceplant late in the night going to bed the better.

Next: To the Tower!


Posted in Buller, friends, happiness, Leisure, travel, vacation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Bashful Encounter, late 19th Century East Texas

G.M.C. "Cade" Massey

G.M.C. “Cade” Massey

Guest blogger G.M.C. Massey (my grandfather) confesses in his memoirs to an instance of awkward shyness as a youth.

I was so bashful that it was pitiful. I remember that when I had gone ever so far to a party, I would stay on the outside till I could peep around and see who al was there. Then I would slip in so that I could not be seen till I became accustomed to the surroundings. Then when I was snapped by some little girl I would have to go and snap some other girl that nearly killed me.

I remember on one occasion I snapped a girl I admired very much and while we were holding up for the other couple to chase the other, I asked the girl that I liked so well to accept a chat with me as soon as we were both free.

When we were both free we sat over next to the wall on a trunk to talk and I was very busy trying to think what to say for I did not want to make any mistake. The girl of course wanted me to lead off in the conversation and I waited so long that I guess she got tired of waiting and she asked what I said. I said, “Nothing yet.” And then she asked me If I was not going to? And that was all that was needed for me. I just got up and got my hat and overcoat and went to my horse and got on him and went straight home, thinking what a fool I was and I vowed to myself that I would not be such a fool any more.

I guess that was my last time to run out of anything to say.

Posted in Buller, Family, G.M.C. Massey, Memoirs | Leave a comment

On This Day — August 7

Okay, I generally hate posting day-specific lists like this. I’ve long viewed “special” days, such as holidays as distractions, including specific dates. But when I ran across these events from August 7th in past years, I felt compelled to share them —and the threads that tie them together for me.

1965: Turtles debut single, “It Ain’t Me, Babe”

The Turtles blended amazing vocals with solid rock & roll, straight from the start with this powerful Bob Dylan cover. When the Turtles came to an end in 1970, vocalists Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan moved on to other pursuits — including as members of the Mothers of Invention (under the names The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie due to legal restrictions on their own names as performers)  and a duo act, Flo & Eddie, adapted from characters developed in the  Mothers.

You can also hear their voices backing up such diverse performers as John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Ramones, Blondie, Duran Duran, The Psychedelic Furs, T.Rex, and Alice Cooper.

1965: Herman’s Hermits hits #1 with “Henry the VIII”

Herman’s Hermits were a big favorite of mine as a pre-teen in the mid-sixties. It wasn’t just the whimsical songs like this, but the lead guitarist, Derek Leckenby, wore glasses — on stage, no less! They were kinda space-age Buddy Holly frames — and suddenly this geeky “4-eyes” felt cool wearing my glasses.

So, when Herman’s Hermits headlined one of the earliest live rock & roll shows I went to back in 1967, I had to see them. My brother and his bandmates were keen on going as well, mainly to see the two opening acts: the Blues Magoos, with their psychedelic version of “Tobacco Road,” and — the Who.

Oh, yeah —the Who turned this 12-year-old’s head around that day. Thanks for opening the door, Herman!

1970; Armadillo World Headquarters opens

So many tales from the good old Armadillo World Headquarters — and I didn’t even arrive till 2 years later and rarely went there the first several years. Everybody who went there or worked there or performed there oughta write their own personal memories (and yes, I understand many will feature gaps as well as anecdotes) because between the bands & the staff & the crowds & the building itself and the beer garden as well, there’s volumes of Austin history, writ small as well as large.

Maybe someday, we’ll get that Time Machine working again and I sure know when I want to return to!

1971: Billy the Mountain performed/recorded

Frank Zappa first showed up on my personal radar that same day that I saw Herman’s Hermits & the Who. My brother’s buddies & bandmates were a-buzz about this crazy new album called “Freak-Out” by the Mothers of Invention, humming and singing the bits they could remember.

My brother bought it that week and once I heard it, I was hooked, buying the next several albums as they came out.

Shortly after Zappa’s live performance of “Billy the Mountain” appeared as a recorded album, my buddy Mike heard it late one night on the “underground” radio station.

“Yeah, we just got this new album in from Frank Zappa,” the DJ smoothly intoned, “And the whole first side is one song, ‘Billy the Mountain.’ It’s brand new — I haven’t even heard it, so let’s give it a listen…”

After the final cascading three-part harmony chorus of:
“A mountain is something
You don’t know to fuck with,
You don’t want to fuck with —
Don’t fuck around.”
— died down on the radio, a deafening silence took over briefly.

Then, that suave DJ voice oozed in again, saying, “Yeah, that was Frank Zappa’s new one, ‘Billy the Mountain.’ (beat) I don’t think you’ll be hearing that one again on this radio station (Double beat) You may not be hearing me much more on this radio station either…”

Hope your August 7th proves as special as every day should be!

Posted in anecdotes, Buller, music, musicians, performances | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Continued Dancing Lessons from God

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”
from the Books of Bokonen (Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut)

Summer — vacation time!

I’ve been absent from the back porch this last week while we toddled around England — but that’s another story. Before I share stories from that most recent wandering, here’s a quick glance back at a few previous “dancing lessons from God” I’ve enjoyed.

Jamaica — 1978


When I’d been working at the Brown Schools for 6 months, I was entitled to my first PAID vacation from a real job — a full week off. At first, I figured on going out to see friends in the San Francisco Bay area. But then I found out flights to Jamaica were cheaper, so I changed my plans to an island vacation.

When I told Granny where I was going and she asked, “Jamaica ‘nuff money to go?”
groan…Thanks, Granny…

That week gave me plenty of stories to tell, from accidentally trying to smuggle Jamaican currency into Jamaica to folks constantly trying to buy my shoes (cheap sneakers that looked like Adidas) to coming home to find the power cut off at our house due to unpaid utility bills.

But that’s another story.

Alaska — 1999

Polychrome Pass, Denali Nat'l. Park

Polychrome Pass, Denali Nat’l. Park

Alaska was obviously an impossible dream by the time Sara and I got married, so we had to do it. With Sara eligible for sabbatical time and me between projects, we decided to drive to Alaska and back — a total of 12,000 miles over 5 weeks’ time.

We made the most of it, too. Dancing north along the spine of the country, the Continental Divide, we hit Dinosaur Nat’l. Monument, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier Nat’l. Park, crossed the border and hit Banff Nat’l Park on our drive up. We took the Alaskan Marine Highway to its terminus in Skagway and then drove through the Yukon Territory to reach the Top of the World Highway.

And that was just to get there —  we spent a week there, including flagging down the Alaskan Railroad from the Bed & Maybe Breakfast in Nenana. Then we returned by a more Westerly route to see Great Crater Lake, Zion, the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelley before resting briefly at the Oasis of West Texas on our 2-week journey home.

But, once again — that’s another story.

Italy — 2006

Will T. Massey in Italy 2006Going to Italy in 2006 was truly a peculiar travel suggestion. My cousin, singer-songwriter Will T. Massey, had been contacted by an Italian fan, Edward, offering to produce a 2-week tour if Will would return to Italy for the first time in 15 years. Touring there in the ’90’s, Will had built up quite a fan base, and his absence for all that time simply whetted their appetite.

So I tagged along, having helped set the tour up. Since we spent most of our time traveling to the tour dates from Bergamo to Milan to Frosinone, we had little time for any spare sightseeing, but I came home with a deep, abiding love for espresso.

Probably the funniest moment for me came when someone recognized me several days after one of the gigs as we were heading in to see Bruce Springsteen play Milan with the Seeker Sessions band, “Hey! I saw you Scandiano!”

But, as you know — that’s another story.

England — 2012

My morning commute route in 2012: stroll cross the Tower Bridge

My morning commute route in 2012: stroll cross the Tower Bridge

My 2012 trip to England was another accidental adventure. I was working on a training project for Ernst-Young and we needed to conduct a field trial in their London headquarters. So, with little notice, I headed over to London, along with athletes from around the world preparing for the following week’s Olympics.

The first few days, I stayed on Tower Hill near the Tower of London (along with a cohort of French athletes whom I’d see at breakfast daily), “commuting” to work by strolling across the Tower Bridge to the Ernst-Young HQ.

Just as the festivities were starting up, I switched my base of operation to stay with my old friend, Hank, up in Muswell Hill, just around the corner from where the Davies brothers, Ray and Dave, grew up and formed the Kinks.

Of course  that’s another story, too.

In fact, each of those dance lessons involved multiple stories, some of which, at least, ought to be told. So you can expect to hear more about each shortly this summer season.

In the meantime, though, I’ll be sharing some stories from the week we just spent in England, from the fairy-tale wedding in the castle to bantering with our Beefeater tour guide at the Tower of London to dinner & pints at the Clissold Arms, neighborhood pub of the Davies family, with a back room tribute to Muswell Hill’s famous brothers.

Quite delightful indeed — shall we dance?

Posted in anecdotes, Buller, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment