Saturday, October 27, 2007

What's Life without Music?

The Credo from Bach's Mass in B Minor

Music is an acquired taste. It’s in all parts of our lives but when we are young and open minded and the exposure to music is constant we can be open to any kind, be it bebop or Bach. At some point, the door to music is opened and we enter. In my case, it was the player piano at my grandparent’s home where I spent a lot of time up to the age of six and the case full of music rolls were 100% my grandparent’s taste, which is to say—"middle"classical. That is to say, music that would find acceptance in the parlor an early 20th century upper middle class home-Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven, Mendelssohn etc.

My relationship with music started at Grandpa’s house on Campbell Ave. When they moved to Tucson they thoughtfully brought along their Weber upright piano with the Aeolian Pianola option along with a bookcase full of piano rolls, all what you call classical. In the years since the move from the humidity of Staten Island to the dryness of the desert, the mechanism had become decidedly wheezy, something that others had tried to fix with gummed tape on the cracked bellows, a temporary remedy at best. The more notes being played at once, the more the system was taxed. A composition like Liszt’s Les Preludes would bring things almost to a standstill!

This example is identical to our Weber Pianola. I have a memory of pumping furiously away one afternoon in a futile effort to convince Arthur Brinkmeyer that I was suddenly empowered with the musical skills of a prodigy. The ruse didn’t work of course. Arthur was more interested in how much noise we could make than the music.

A music roll at its largest size would contain one movement of a larger piece and the smaller rolls would contain a composition perhaps 5 – 10 minutes in length. There were even smaller rolls by other makers, which were the standard 3 – 4 minute ditties. There were only a few of them, probably bought by my aunts and uncle when they were making their own
musical choices. There was one I played over and over, Berceuse by Chopin. In 1945, there was a movie out called “A Song to Remember” starring Cornell Wilde and Merle Oberon that was based on the life and love of Frederick Chopin. In it pianist José Iturbi performed a stirring rendition of the "Heroic Polonaise". We had another Chopin Polonaise, the "Militaire". This I found frustrating, not being able to pump the now iconic piece to life on our own piano.

A wondrous collection of bellows, chain drives and 88 spaghetti-like hoses (which don't show here) were what you needed to produce the great music of the world. Some households chose popular songs and ragtime ditties, but in the Mathewson home, appreciation of the classics was the order of the day. Since both Grandma and Grandpa were deaf, I couldn't say how much of it they appreciated.

Mother noticed my inclination toward the Muse, and as soon as she could swing it financially, she signed me up with Miss Genevieve Westerman for piano lessons. At about eight, I was appreciative of music too advanced for me to perform and totally unmoved by the music that was within my ability. I was soon inspired to skip my music lessons and pocket the six dollars I was to give Miss Westerman. Not always, though. I did learn, somewhat, the easy part of the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, which I enjoyed playing.

It was that piece that almost caused a calamity among the bass players of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra during a Sunday afternoon concert at the University auditorium. My fidgety propensities got the better of me and I departed my seat next to Mother and slipped backstage, where I discovered a grand piano. A little Beethoven didn’t seem out of place as long as it was pianissimo. At the intermission I heard the musicians returning from the stage complaining that they couldn’t keep on key with someone behind the curtain plunking away on the piano. Fearful for my life, I quickly became invisible, slipped back and settled into the seat by my mother’s side, saying I'd been to the bathroom.

The label of one of the family favorites-“No News”, by Frank Crummit and the exact model of Victrola it was played on.

We had a Victrola at home, a table model with doors in the front to act as a volume control. A modest collection of records, 78s of course, kept in a carrying case with metal corners and a handle, which ranged from novelty, "Two Black Crows", a vaudeville act and Frank Crummit performing “No News” and “The Three Trees” to a few more dignified classics on the order of Carouso arias and from Gounod to Moussorgsky’s Boris Godinov with the great bass Feodor Chaliapin as Boris in the death scene. My finances enabled me to add to the collection only occasionally, widening my musical choices to include Debussy, Satie and Puccini. Anything that was familiar had to be relegated to the “old chestnut” bin. It sometimes comes back to haunt me that many of the “old chestnuts” that are so familiar to me I can't even identify. For example, here’s a Wichita NPR radio station’s top "old chestnut" list:

1 Beethoven: Symphony #5
2 Pachelbel: Canon in D
3 Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
4 Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire
5 Brahms: Piano Concerto #1
6 Mendelssohn: Symphony #4
7 Beethoven: Fur Elise
8 Mozart: Violin Concerto #3
9 Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers
10 Schubert: Trout Quintet

At the top of my favorites list would be Bach, the father, of course. I’ve said elsewhere that his "St. Mathew Passion" ranks highest, but I enjoy so many of his works they would be on a revolving stage. The Trio Sonatas for Organ, Cantatas by the bale, works for unaccompanied Cello, Violin and Keyboard, Suites for Orchestra, Well Tempered Clavichord, etc, etc. After Bach? Who knows—Stravinsky? Khachaturian? Bartok? Prokofiev? Copeland? Brahms? Adams? Zappa?

The last remaining recordings of the Victrola era.

Old Time Radio, Not Much, but The Only Radio We Had

There were two radio stations in Tucson up to around 1946 when we got a couple more. When they were broadcasting locally produced fare, the music tended to stay in the popular realm, popular included Bing Crosby, Sammy Kaye etc. with some Mexican programming in the early morning (La Hora Mexicana) some country western, with the accent on Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills and Gene Autry, but no classical programs. But they had several network programs which carried the Metropolitan Opera broadcast, the Firestone hour and the Telephone hour, these latter having light classical music with guest soloists. Other programs we regularly tuned in were these 15 minute shows following the news that featured live dance bands like the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller and Harry James alternating with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. On Sunday mornings we listened to the Mormon Tabernacle broadcast while we ate our breakfast.

The Howard Communications Receiver. This beauty probably wasn't essential to Jim's and Jean's household which was on the move back East. When we got it, Jim had tried to domesticate it by giving it an "antique white" paint job with questionable success.

One of the treasures that Jim left with us when he was transferred from his base near Stockton, CA during the middle years of the war was a massive radio with several bands of short wave and the requirement for an outside antenna. This latter being a job I felt totally qualified to install, having already operated a crystal set. I got a couple of pieces of 1 X 2 which I nailed to the attic vents, attached the insulators and the antenna wire and ran the lead down to the dining room window near the radio. It even had a hookup for a second speaker, which we mounted over the door in the kitchen. It was a huge improvement in reception over our old AC-DC superhet. We could get Phoenix stations during the day and west coast stations as soon as the sun went down. I spent hours slowly tuning in distant AM and short wave broadcasts. We purchased an RCA turntable attachment and had the man at the radio shop install a plug in the back of the radio so we could listen to our record collection. What a difference a few vacuum tubes made!

My record collection in its early days

During my junior high days, I was still clinging to big band music that my brother Jim had favored, such was hero worship in my world. When I tried to impress my classmates at a Friday afternoon hop, nobody cared for my Glenn Miller records, preferring more contemporary artists like Johnny Mercer, Vic Damone, Frankie Laine etc. Once I broke away from the "oo-ah, oo-ah" of Miller's trombone section, I caught up to the rest of the crowd and picked up on Les Paul and Mary Ford, The Mills Brothers, Vaughn Monroe, Louis Prima, Perry Como. Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, the Harmonicats and many others. Singles were the usual offering although some artists would produce albums of 10" discs.

Records were quite costly back then, but the record stores had listening booths, which were available to prospective customers. Sometimes, a clerk was required to institute the listening session. Phonograph records were sold in an appliance store downtown on Congress Ave. called Grabe Electric. When I was older, I had a good rapport with a musically knowledgeable clerk who steered me to different composers and performers and when in 1948, the Columbia Record company introduced the long playing record, or LP. It introduced smooth playing vinyl to the ears of the public. The new records were so quiet as to be almost mystical and they would contain up to 25 minutes of uninterrupted music on each side. What a godsend! Fortunately, my collection of 78s had not grown significantly and consisted mainly of Glenn Miller recordings, a Beethoven string quartet, Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony, arias from Puccini's "La Boheme" and "Madama Butterfly", three 10" recordings of Walter Gieseking playing Debussy and Eric Satie.

My first LP player-a quantum leap in quality sound, quiet
and the vinyl records played 25 minutes per side.

The credit department at Grabe’s enabled me to finance the $29.95, ($205.14 in 2006 dollars!) price of the new Columbia LP attachment (probably layaway, now that I think of it) and my first purchase was Beethoven’s 5th symphony and it cost $4.98, ($34.11 in 2006 dollars!). My income was strictly allowance and odd job so by necessity, my collection grew at a glacial rate but each note on the disc was assimilated with sponge-like thoroughness! Imagine, an entire hour-long composition with no more than one trip to change the record. Beethoven's 6th and 7th symphonies followed, then Khachaturian's Gayne ballet suites, Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony and string quartets of Debussy and Ravel. When I wasn't listening to the records at home, I whistled the music as I pedaled around town, such was my immersion in this world.

My musical appreciation gained momentum and I gradually moved up through the romantic, through the impressionistic into the bombastic. My mentor at Grabe’s, obviously a connoisseur of modern music shepherded me through Stravinsky’s three ballet suites, Firebird, Petrouchka and the Rite of Spring, and on into Bartok. I remember talking with my friend at Grabe’s about Stravinsky and that I must hear this new recording of "Petrouchka"! “There’s a little trumpet solo on this recording that’s such a treat!” So there was. The London recording with Ernst Ansermet conducting L’Orchestre d’La Suisse Romande in its red jacket was my next purchase. The improved range of hi-fi recordings found a new audience for harpsichord performances of baroque composers such as J. S. Bach, Archangelo Corelli, Francois Couperin, Henry Purcell and Domenico Scarlatti. I purchased several albums during the early days of collecting. The premier artist was Wanda Landowska.

My first LP player-a quantum leap in quality sound, quiet
and the vinyl records played 25 minutes per side.

In 1949 and 1950 I lived with my brother Jack and his wife Gerry while attending my junior and senior years of high school and musical theater was peaking on Broadway. In their orbit, I found myself attracted to some of the big productions of the time like “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!” They invested in season tickets at the Phoenix community theater artist series and we traveled the 90 miles to attend varied artists such as The First Piano Quartet, Victor Borge, Andres Segovia and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The student body at Miami High was entertained one day with a concert by the excellent Arizona State University concert band. During their performance of the final movement of the 5th Symphony of Dimitri Shostakovich, the steady beat of the tympani built and built in a crescendo at the end, I was feeling shivers up and down my arms. I had to have that symphony that restored the composer's reputation after being officially denounced for an earlier composition, "Lady MacBeth". The steady, march tempo of this movement pleased Stalin with its message of triumph of Soviet communism. Played slowly, it has a barbaric momentum, speeded up, it has almost a joyful message. All I know is, it made a deep impression on my young ears.

My intellectual friends, who felt they should be on top of all things avant garde had nothing on me when it came to music appreciation. One friend, Frank Keating, felt challenged by the level of my taste in music, insisting that he was as sophisticated as I in this area. At one point he conned me into trading his album of Bela Bartok playing the complete piano preludes called "Mikrokosmos" for one I had that featured orchestral arrangements of the same by Tibor Serly pieces and "Two Portraits for Orchestra". I felt real remorse at trading albums with him. He couldn’t abide my “advancing” to Bartok without lingering in the garden of the classic and romantic periods first. I still pine for some of the recordings I no longer have. The care of records has never been high on my list, but for a record to go missing is a major problem. I still have all of those first purchases, even though I seldom play them.

Mahler, Debussy, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Bartok. Just a sprinkling of composers who, by turns dominated my interest.

By this time, a summer of creativity hit me. I needed something special to play music on—an expression in three dimensions with a 12” speaker to get the benefit of a custom made audio amplifier I had made. It had a “push-pull” circuit that promised outstanding performance. Unfortunately, it also had an annoying 60 cycle hum that seemed to elude every effort to quell it. I designed a low table with a somewhat egg-shaped contour that fit atop a base with two turntables-one for LPs and one for 78 rpm records. Hiding the speaker, mounted in the table surface was an abstract cutout splat-shaped cover, reminding one of a giant sea bird that had chosen my creation to relieve itself as it passed over. I thought it was great.

As I progressed from early through contemporary music, it seems that I peaked with Schoenberg. He was a composer of twelve-tone music, though not all of his music could be so described. I purchased a copy of his third string quartet on an eclectic label called “Dial”. Much as I wished to absorb this music, I seemed to reach an impasse. Afterward, I concentrated on infilling my collection. But there was another world of music I had not really tuned in on.

At the University of Arizona,my philosophy professor, Dr. Matthew M.R. Schneck. had a reputation for great intellegence. I asked him who he thought was the greatest composer, figuring to see where my collecting should head next. “The greatest artist of all time, and I include DaVinci and Michaelangelo, was J. S. Bach and his greatest work was the Mass in B minor, the most sublime part being the Gloria.”

Well, I had it in a nutshell, now, I thought, and immediately contrived a way to purchase the composition. It ran three discs and about two hours in length. I had to special order it at Grabe’s and was performed by the Robert Shaw Chorale on the RCA label. After getting four subsequent versions of it over fifty years, I can’t stand to listen to that recording anymore. Its pace was too slow. Sadly, my favorite recording was by the Berlin Symphony under the leadership of Fritz Lehmann, but which has some bothersome skips. Another Bach choral epic, the St. Mathew Passion became my all time favorite and remains so today. Bach became my steady company for life.

The new student union became my favorite place to spend time, either in the “Co-op” cafeteria or in the music listening rooms, where you could check out LPs and play them in private. Their collection wasn’t large but contained works by many composers I hadn’t familiarity with, such as Benjamin Britten, Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius.

The following summer I got a job at the same aircraft plant that Mom had worked in during WWII. I decided to share the ride with one of my co-workers -a black guy who introduced me to the world of jazz. It is a little vague in my mind who the artist was that he played for me, but my guess is that it was someone cool like Miles Davis. It took a while for the seed to germinate, but eventually, jazz was on my mind continuously. I was introduced to Turk Murphy and the Yerba Buena Jazz band by an artist friend who had done a group portrait of them for an album cover. There was a jazz club in Berkeley near the UC campus that I’d spend hours listening to combos play.

During my overseas tour in Germany, I found the post exchange, (PX) to be a fruitful source of music and the prices were a bargain. I picked up contemporary jazz such as Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Phil Woods, Coleman Hawkins and Chet Baker-mostly white jazz. Traditional jazz wasn’t so appealing then but later became more a part of my music.

Before there was a Brubeck quartet, there was this trio

While jazz was my new interest, I never abandoned classical music. Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” was all the rage during the mid-fifties. I had a recording of it and in Bamberg, went to a performance of it conducted by the composer. Bach continued to be the anchor of my collecting and while on leave in Paris, picked up a recording of his Trio Sonatas for organ by Marie-Claire Alain-a very extravagant indulgence.

One part of my collecting that doesn’t give me pride of ownership was a period when trying to reach a common ground with my significant other, I subscribed to the Columbia Record Club, accumulating a glut of movie music and lush orchestral crap like Mitch Miller and Jackie Gleason, which neither of us particularly liked. Gradually, I found that Welda’s and my tastes in music already shared some common ground and if I didn’t constantly play composers such as Bartok and Hindemith, we could coexist, musically.

American composers got my attention for a spell, Ernest Bloch, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, William Schuman, Howard Hanson, Charles Ives, Walter Piston and David Diamond. These composers made me realize that not all music has to possess European genes to be significant. Prior to my discovery of this rich source of music, I thought that George Gershwin and Ferde Grofe and Edward MacDowell were all America had to offer. Samuel Barber changed all that. In more recent years, I included Philip Glass, John Cage, John Adams and Leonard Bernstein.

Radio in a large metropolitan area used to afford a wide choice of most kinds of music, but since the large broadcasting conglomerates came in and bought most of the stations, music of all genres has become very predictable and homogenized, with programming centrally planned based on advertising revenue. For many years, KJAZ in Alameda with its staff of knowledgeable D Js provided the best jazz fare on the West coast, if not the whole country. Sadly, it went belly up in the nineties. A public station at the College of San Mateo, KCSM, inherited a good part of the KJAZ library, but not the D Js.

Classical music, once being broadcast over two stations in the Bay Area has been reduced to one, which is owned by the Bonneville Corporation out of Utah which sets the monotonous tone of its daytime broadcasting. Everything that is played is so familiar to its audience that it has been reduced to background music. Its better fare is played at night when you want to watch TV.

This brings me to streaming audio sites on the internet. After scanning dozens of stations from major population centers over the globe, I found one that plays entertaining long hair music from my old alma mater, the U of A, KUAT in Tucson, of all places. As I write this, KUAT has played a variety of works that are usually below the radar by composers I've never heard of. There are many stations online I could go to, but this one is the most consistently interesting. I do miss the total immersion I experienced whenever a new record was played over and over until I had absorbed every note and nuance and committed it to memory. This youthful concentration, like practicing hoops in the back yard, is what helped found the body of music I call mine. While much more music is accessible to listen to, buy or download than at the beginning of my exposure, I find I don’t listen as critically as I did then. That’s part of life. All first time experiences tend to stay with you.

Rock and Roll

In the middle sixties, when our family was living in Berkeley, there was much happening, musically. The San Francisco sound was dominating the airwaves with such as Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimmi Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, Grateful Dead. The East Bay had its Sly and the Family Stone and the peninsula produced Santana.

This was not to say the British Invasion wasn’t a big part of the music scene and there were folk singers like Maria Muldaur, Joan Baez, Bud and Travis and Linda Ronstadt, who became an integral part of the scene drawing arena sized crowds, (well, maybe not Bud and Travis, but I had a personal acquaintance with them, Travis while in Tucson High and Bud when I was at Art Center School).

My friends at work really turned me on to the Beatles and it seemed like they were turning out a new album every few months. Drew and Todd were crazy about them, too. We were submerged in Beatlemania at our flat in Berkeley. I collected all their latest albums and we played them over and over. For some reason, I never was a collector of the Stones or many other groups. I didn’t feel the need because the music was everywhere, though I did get a few Joan Baez albums and a Jefferson Airplane album.

As the kids got older, I became more interested in what they were playing. Of course, they collected music themselves, but it was basically limited to the bands that were popular at the time. When we moved to Mountain View, on the peninsula, they got instruments and formed their own bands. Todd joined a band called “The Feds” which was a step up from garage band level and opened for some touring acts that played in local clubs.

My exposure to rock and roll was inevitable when Michele took up the drums. A natural at anything she took up, she started dating another drummer, Brian McLeod, a very talented drummer-percussionist who was member of Group 87. He introduced her to the leader, San Francisco composer, trumpeter and electronic music composer, Mark Isham. Mark had a recording contract with Windham Hill and had already produced a couple of albums and a tour was being planned to promote them. These were in the realm of ambient music, sort of free-form and allowed the musicians ample opportunity for improvisation-and they needed a percussionist. Michele tried out and got the gig. This was big, as it was a European tour, followed by a North American tour. One of the high points of the European tour was an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival where their performance was televised on French television.

Michele and Mark Isham’s group on a pre-world tour concert in Palo Alto’s old Varsity theater.

Mark Isham was a Windham Hill artist when Michele played percussion in the group on tour

We became great fans of Mark’s music, but Michele’s career with his new age group ended with the tour. But with Michele on her own, living in San Francisco, she and two friends started a girl group called “Three Color Sweet”. External and personal problems besieged the girls, threatening the band. Although the girls were quite close and supportive, the band began to show signs of breaking up just when recording their first album and then the husband of the lead vocalist put away his checkbook. Rock musician and guitarist extraordinaire, Ronnie Montrose was producing the album, but without funding was forced to call it quits, having accomplished only a demo tape. Ronnie was so impressed with Michele's playing that she became the drummer in his band.

Michele keeping the beat while Davey Pattison wails and Ronnie Montrose strutting his Strat at a concert in Santa Clara, CA.

I can’t say that his music really had a hold on me, although when I attended his gigs at various venues and watched Michele banging away on the drums, it was very eardrum abusive but exciting experience. Michele worked on album art for several CDs during the nineties and performed on the "Roll over Live" album.

Music has been an influence on me and on every member of the family. While the kids have taken their own musical paths, I have been affected by their interests and have absorbed much of them into my musical stew. As they have gone on their way, I have largely returned to my core musical interests, classical and jazz. I still like rock and could listen to the Beatles over and over. Hip-hop and rap annoy me, I'm afraid. This is due to the-thud, thud, thud-exposure one endures on a daily basis while out and about. For me it is anti-music. I can't make out the lyrics and presumably those are the most important part of the writing. It all reminds me of the mocking oratory of the black power movement when Angela Davis and Bobby Seale held forth during the sixties. Every word seems to have a dropping tone which loses effect after about three words. When stream-of-consiousness poetry was popularized by Alan Ginsberg, I could appreciate it. Rapping seems to be the unintended offspring gone terribly wrong. So much for my curmudgeonly tirade.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

School, real school-not kindergarten!

Third grade from the looks of them. Safford elementary, Tucson.

In those days, the school system had no program for children that for whatever reason couldn’t keep up so a classroom was provided at Miles Elementary School on East Broadway and in January 1939 when I turned six, my mother and I went together to school, I to learn, she to teach. She arranged it for me to attend classes at the same school so she could ride herd on me, no easy task.
Always the precocious child, I was able to maintain good grades without much effort. I always suspected collusion between my first grade teacher, Miss Saunders and my mother in trying to get me to use my right hand when writing. They may have been on to something, but I successfully resisted. Mother had her own fish to fry with a collection of variously handicapped kids, most of whom had cerebral palsy. She was pioneering in this field, at least locally and the class was not really a showplace in the eyes of the PTA at this relatively affluent school.

Our day began with Mom rushing around, getting the oatmeal underway in a pot stuck in the top of the kettle, while she got dressed. In the kitchen, there were two chairs, one an old wooden high-chair minus the tray and an odd side chair which we pulled up to a pull-out counter. (Older kitchens always had these pull-out features.) We had an aluminum newspaper stand on the counter where we could prop the paper so we could both read the funnies. Everyone in the family was devoted to the funnies and followed the adventures of Alley Oop, Mary Worth, Popeye, and Gasoline Alley. We needed to get out of the house no later than 8:00 AM to catch the University bus downtown and transfer to the Broadway out to Miles School. It was always a rush once we were out the door. It was a block to the bus stop, but at best, Mom could only manage a brisk canter. She caught her toe on lifted section of sidewalk one morning and fell like a sack of flour. Fortunately she was holding on to her purse to her front and didn’t get a hand out, so she wasn’t hurt badly. I turned back to see what I could do but she said “I can get up! Go hold the bus!” She did and I did and we got to school on time. Most days weren’t so dramatic.

My first report card, Miles Elementary School, Tucson. Mom’s handwriting was easy to read.

The next year the classroom was moved to Safford Elementary in an older, largely Chicano part of town. I followed. This was an old school, consisting of the elementary and junior high buildings. Everything was old. The desks were on runners with cast iron frames, the double hung windows had roller shades with cords to run up or down. When it was hot, it was hot in the rooms and when it was cold, it was drafty. Safford was a bit of a shock after Miles, a school whose paint was barely dry, but it was to be Mom’s home for the next ten years.

At first, when school was out, I’d hang out in my mother’s classroom doing busy work while she did her paper work, but as I got older, the lure of my classmates’ nearby homes gave me optional places to hang out. If I waited for her to get finished, we’d take the bus home or perhaps detour over to the Euclid Ave. Cafeteria, the Mecca for all brown food and our regular supper rendezvous for several years. The six blocks we walked home helped settle the stomach. Mom never seemed to mind walking even though it was with a pronounced limp. There was always a stoicism and courage which in retrospect we came to appreciate, but I doubt we realized the battles she fought and prevailed in when it came to her professional side. Probably Gerry did, as a teacher with more to offer than her superiors would allow her to do. Mother’s strength was grounded in the belief she was doing for these cast aside students what had never been available before. The Tucson Public School System kept her program alive until 1950 when the Cerebral Palsy Foundation of Southern Arizona was created and all the students transferred to their new facility.

Safford was my school through the first half of the 4th grade. By that time, independence was my middle name, manifested by the daily adventure of walking home. The route took me downtown, through the noisy penny arcade, out the back door and over to the train station. If there was a train in the station, I would stand as close as possible to the engine which made unpredictable noises and blew steam out of various pipes and outlets. The engineer would keep a wary eye on me, occasionally proffer a conspiratorial nod or a wave which would prove that we were brothers. Sometimes these delays in transit would take an hour or more if I had to wait for a train to arrive. The rails were the country’s arteries in the early 40s.

Standing as close to the tracks as I dared as the likes of these massive engines thundered by, blazing fireboxes, billowing black smoke and steam, was addictive to me.

War production, freight, produce---the trains rumbled through Tucson’s rail yards heading east and heading west,
darkening the sky with plumes of black oil smoke. their fireboxes flashing. Freight trains, some as long as a mile 100 cars pulled and pushed by as many as three engines, chuffed and billowed black smoke Passenger trains were filled with travelers and soldiers, while on the far side of the yard, , moved in relentless regularity. The attraction was irresistible for me. It was here that I first thrilled at the sight of the first “Daylight” streamliner with its distinctive orange and red colors. Now the tracks have been removed and Amtrak shows up twice a day with little or no announcement because frequently the trains run late. Though never getting my fill of these living, steaming, powerful engines, I’d reluctantly head for the 6th Avenue subway and walk the long six remaining blocks home.

An ad for the Southern Pacific from 1942

One of my friends from Safford was Norman McCracken whose father was some high ranking Southern Pacific manager. Norman’s grandfather was the first of the McCrackens to work for the Southern Pacific. He was responsible for the idea to paint the engines silver on the front to make them more visible. They had been transferred to Tucson from Eugene, Oregon and they lived in a company house near the roundhouse. It was great! I had access to the railroad yards from his back gate where I could see the steam engines being overhauled in the shops. Norman was my ticket to going all over otherwise forbidden territory. Of course, I over played my cards one Saturday and Mother got a call from Mr. DeHart, the freightyard superintendent, advising her that I was getting in the way of the locomotives. Mom was resigned to such advisories.

The once proud Tucson SP station-my second stop on my daily route home. Soaking up the smells and heat of the great steaming engines was intoxicating.

Roskruge Elementary was my next school and the one I would have been attending under normal circumstances. I was now a latch key child and exploited my freedom without caution. That I didn’t burn down the house with my mischief is probably the dumbest kind of luck. Maybe not, because a certain concern for self-preservation had begun to emerge. When things got out of control, I tended to abandon the project. But it was now that a new responsibility entered my life: homework. My performance in school entered a gradual decline correlating to the amount of time I spent on my homework-a character flaw that stayed with me into high school. There were social skills to hone, or in my case, discover. Being the son of a respected teacher was thrown up to me as a reason I should excel not only scholastically but outside of the classroom as well. I responded to these expectations with typical indifference. It wasn’t that I didn’t seek approval, I just didn’t see the point of killing myself to gain it. School seemed to becoming a challenge and it caused Mom to consider a course correction.

Graduating 9th graders from Roskruge Jr. High. Miss Townsend, principal. I lost touch with most of them when I transferred out of Tucson High as a sophomore

Slovenly Peter and other Cautionary Reading.

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have a lot of children’s books or toys, but there were plenty of forbidden attractions like Grandpa’s knife and sword collection. Although he kept the dangerous items under lock and key, other curios were on display throughout the house—and this house had a basement!

I discovered a collection of books, put away for safe keeping, that used to be read by other members of the family when they were young. There was a complete set of “The
Bookhouse Books” a collection of graded short stories edited to encourage the young person to read for enjoyment. The pages were enhanced with drawings depicting the stories and their characters unrealistically floating in space, such was the vignette style of the time. This suspension of reality mesmerized me and in my imagination, the characters inhabited worlds of my own making. This was particularly true with the book, “Slovenly Peter”, a collection of cautionary tales of misbehaving

Here is the book's namesake himself, Slovenly Peter. When a little girl, Romping Polly played with the boys, she took a fall and broke her leg--off! Naturally, blood spewed out of the limb. Tom Bogus, otherwise known as "The Sweet Tooth" had a thing about sugar to the point of driving his father to have his teeth pulled out. While Tom struggled on a stool, his hands held back, a foreign looking character with a giant set of tongs pulled out the teeth one by one.

children and the horrible consequences of their behavior. Part of the book had easily read stories framed in organic illustrations featuring the bad child doing something awful, followed by a succession pictures of his or her gruesome fate, such as what happens to the little girl who played with matches and eventually ended up a small pile of ashes.

There was a fascination these stories held for kids and for me particularly, in the total lack of restraint exhibited by the author/illustrator. Part of the book was translated from the original German and part was supplemented by what looks to be mid-nineteenth century American illustrations and stories which are equally dreadful and much more literal. As an example, there is the story of “The Sweet-Tooth” which tells the tale of a little boy who was addicted to sweets, eating everything in sight that was sugary. Eventually, his fate was to have his rotting teeth yanked out by a man with a giant set of tongs, while another man held his hands back of him. The last picture showed him astraddle a barrel of syrup sucking on a straw. These were the children’s stories of real kids.

A band of Brownies, written and illustrated by Palmer Cox

Another favorite were the Goop books and the Brownies. These were books that my Aunt Betty and Uncle Edward must have
had before WWI when they were little since the illustrations had a distinct Edwardian look to them. Palmer Cox’s Brownies were supposed to be like fairies or elves, little people that came out when the household was asleep. They got into mischief but always ended up doing good deeds. I liked them but the book was falling apart and eventually got thrown out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Exodus from the mining camp

Although the Company probably wouldn’t have put us out of the house, a mining camp didn’t seem a good place for a widow to raise a family of soon to be five once again. Grandpa convinced Mother to relocate to Tucson, 110 miles south where she could start over with the support of her family. After I was born, incidentally, the last to be born in the Miami-Inspiration company hospital prior to its and the mine’s shut down, we stayed on in the company house until June, when she moved the family to Tucson. She, my sister Alice and I moved in with Grandma and Grandpa on Campbell Avenue while a house hunt ensued. The boys were sent to Colorado to spend the summer at our Uncle John’s ranch but by October, we had moved into our new home at 245 E. 4th Street at the corner of 5th Ave.

Grandpa was a professor at the University of Arizona, lecturing in mining administration. It was a kind of retirement job, one to keep his mind occupied and the routine expenses at bay. The University was very lucky to have someone of his professional stature on the faculty. It was while he worked for the Anaconda Copper Co. as general manager of their Butte, Montana reduction works that Mother and Daddy met. Later he moved to Staten Island, N.Y. and had a consulting office on Broadway in New York City for several years. He had closed his consulting office after business began to taper off. Upon returning from a trip to Japan where he was hired to consult on metallurgical methods, he decided that the university had something to offer and moved to Tucson. They had a comfortable home a few blocks east of the U. and within walking distance of the Mines and Engineering building. Grandpa never was much of a driver and I don’t think he even had a car at that time, but he was convinced that Mother needed a better car to get around, since her new home was about as far west of the campus as his home was east and he didn’t want to miss seeing his new grandson. Grandpa bought us a new 1934 Chevrolet- spoke wheels and nice front fenders you could slide down.

Our 1934 Chevy outside Grandpa and Grandma's house at Campbell Ave. and Helen St. taken about 1938

It was about the first clear memory I have-not when we got it, but when the man came to the door to take it away. Mom had decided a few years later that we really didn’t have that much use for the car as the boys did quite well on their bikes and the expense of operating it exceeded its value to her. (Nobody asked me!)

During my young age, that is, prior to entering school, Mother was attending classes at the University, preparing to become a teacher of crippled children. The boys and Alice were in high school and Mother was at the University leaving me in the care of Grandma and Grandpa and I came to think of 1203 Campbell Ave. home away from home. A boy a few months older than I, Arthur Brinkmeyer, lived next door. We became fast friends up until we reached school age.

That's Arthur on the right. The alley was one of our main routes to adventure.

Arthur’s mom was a teacher and his father was bedridden with tuberculosis as I recall. I didn’t go into their house across the alley very often because his father wanted the peace and quiet. They had an air conditioner, which at that time was quite rare. It sat on a pad in the back of the house. One thing that I remember about Arthur was envy. I envied the fact that his parents gave him neater toys than anybody gave me. His electric train had to be a Lionel while mine was a Marx. Jeez! Come to think of it, that was about all. We roamed the neighborhood, sneaking into the University’s polo practice pen, where we would climb up on the wooden horse in the middle and play cowboys. There was a little store down the street with candy in big glass jars that led us into temptation. Free candy! Just don’t let them see you!

Arthur won Mom’s undying gratitude when he gave me a pair of white rats when we were around 10. I thought a couple of white rats were a pretty neat deal until one of them started popping out funny little skinless pods with feet and tails inside. Before I knew it I was the proud though uncertain owner of eleven white rats. The cage that came with the adults was not really big enough for the entire family and Mom was pretty sure there was going to be a demonstration of the Malthusian theory in our house if something wasn’t done quickly. Jack happened to be down for a visit that weekend and knew how to contain the population explosion with the use of our toilet. Even though I thought the little ones were cute, the older ones were becoming a little unpredictable and one nipped me in the ear. Blood running down my neck, I told Jack it was all right with me if he rid me of the whole batch. Jack obliged.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The father I never knew

My father enjoying his favorite sport, fly-fishing on a stream in western Colorado. Mother took this picture on their honeymoon trip.

A little background on my father is in order. Edward Vestal Graybeal was born in Jefferson, Ashe County, NC in the spring of 1892 to Cicero and Jennie Belle Graybeal. Cicero was a Methodist preacher and principal of the Graybeal Academy, as it was known. The school was an adjunct to the Methodist church in Lansing, near to Jefferson. Cicero died later the same year of causes I have not been successful in learning and Jennie Belle who by this time had two small kids, Elizabeth and Eddie, was left a young widow.

Lizzy and Eddie

Prospects were not bright in that part of NC for her and she elected to move to Colorado to live with her brother John Wilcoxson, who had a ranch in the western part of the state. Another Ashe county expatriate had settled in Pueblo named Granville Graybeal, a cousin to Cicero. Jennie and Granville married and had a daughter, Helen, but a few years later Jennie died in childbirth. Eddie and Lizzy went on to higher education, he at the Colorado School of Mines and she at Colorado College. Eddie pursued a career as a mining engineer and was well positioned to achieve management level at Miami Copper when he was killed.

Mount Ord north of Miami, AZ

Jack, my older brother wrote a few pages when he was nearing 80 about the event. My father was employed as chief engineer at the Miami Copper Co. and loved hunting and fishing. Jack and my brother Jim.14 and 13 respectively, were out with our dad, his partner from the engineering office, a Mr. A. J. McDermid and some hunters from Phoenix during deer season. Game had been scarce and Daddy had decided to look for some quail with his new Browning automatic shotgun and was high on a ridge. Several shots could be heard, then several more shots, and again. At first it was thought that he had run into a flock of quail, but his friend said that it may have been a signal for help. My brothers and the friend scurried up through the brush and catsclaw, calling out for him. From the brush up ahead they heard him say, “Get help! I’ve shot myself!”

The new automatic had proved to be his undoing. Apparently, while chasing a quail into the brush, the gun got tangled up and went off hitting him in the lower leg. He had pulled off his belt to use as a tourniquet but felt the need for another. Jim pulled off his belt and stayed behind while Jack and the friend went to organize a rescue party and retrieve our first aid kit. The others went to the mine safety shack and retrieved a stretcher. It was late in the day when they finally got him off the hill and into our car. The other hunters took my brothers and followed behind in their car. After driving several miles toward the rendezvous point with an ambulance, the car carrying our dad stopped and the dome light went on. Then it went off and the car continued. Jack assumes that was when Daddy died. Ironically, all during the rescue attempt, Daddy remained conscious, managing his care and coordinating the effort.

By the time Jack and Jim got home, several concerned neighbors were looking after Mother, who was greatly pregnant with me. To make matters worse, “Daddy had been in the middle of converting the kitchen stove from wood-burning to a two-burner oil stove.” and had it in boxes all over the kitchen. The neighbors got together and completed his work during the following days. Although Mother could drive, in her “delicate condition” it didn’t seem like the best thing to do, so Jack elected himself chauffeur of our ’28 Chevrolet, the car Daddy bought to replace the one Mother totaled while attempting to rescue a dish for a potluck dinner she was headed for.

I should explain something about our mother. When my brother Jim was born, she got a blood clot and became partially paralyzed on her left side. After years of repair work and stints in hospitals with specialists, she was able to regain much of the use of her left side, although she still walked with a limp and her left hand didn’t have much going for it. Jim was the third boy. The first born, Ned, lived long enough to enjoy his first bicycle. In January1930, while coasting down the hill in front of our company house, he had a collision with a neighbor’s car, which landed him in the hospital. He died from his injuries the next day. You could say that life had been building Mother’s strength of character, but not to her face. Then, two and a half years later, she lost our dad, only to bring another life, me, onto the planet two months later.

The Graybeal Clan around 1927


2006*--It’s been a year of discontent in the world, five years after the attack on the World Trade Center. The President’s ratings have dropped steadily as the public became more and more aware of the misfortunes of war, disaster mismanagement, gas prices and moral issues.

Aside from all the foregoing, I want to clarify somewhat, how this effort has come together. Initially, it was to be a chronology of my life. As I recalled events and topics, I found myself following a particular thread far from its chronological beginnings. If music was the topic, it seemed easier to pursue that interest from the first memories to my present state of appreciation.

In other places in the narrative, my mind was recalling specific events and where they led. So in a sense, it has turned out to be an exercise in “stream of consciousness” writing. I trust the reader will not take me to task for the results. Sections of the work have been reviewed by friends in an effort to verify events. They have commented that some “warts and all” parts probably should be edited. Not an easy task and it begs the question, am I painting an undeservedly favorable portrait? Of course I am. Those who know me know what I'm omitting and nobody else should be concerned. After all, I'm not running for office. It always bothered me that other family members haven’t told their stories, (only Loren Jackson, to my knowledge) candidly so we and those who follow can get a better understanding of them as people, as parents, and as individuals.

*I started this memoir in 2006.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Required Reading: Random Recollections while I Still Remember Anything

Grandpa E. P. Mathewson and the author at a couple of weeks old. (Little did I know I’d end up with such a full head of hair!)

By Andy Graybeal

As a preface I would like to stress that this isn’t a chronology so much as a collection of anecdotal incidents and recollections. If there is a structure present, it has been built around topics, such as family, buddies, interests and events. In that way I hope to give you a look into the time in which I grew from a kid to the old guy at the keyboard of my Mac with time on his hands. Most people can’t remember much about their birth and I’m no exception. From what I’m told, I was a blessed event and “a darling”, the latter being the postscript on Grandpa’s biweekly family letter, all six carbons of it. It has been 73 years since 6:15 that Sunday morning, January 29th, 1933 and most my sins have been forgotten if not forgiven. So if it seems to bounce around a bit, blame it on the escaping brain cells endemic among people of my age, which happens to be about four years older than the man holding me in the snapshot above.

Mother was a widow when I was born. My father died of a gunshot wound suffered while on a hunting trip. At the time of his death the family lived in company housing at the Miami Copper Co. where he was employed. It was during the great depression and the mine was cutting back operations resulting in layoffs of most the hourly workers, leaving management to hold down things until the price of copper returned to profitability.