Dec 19, 2009

Miss Guernsey and the Amazing Explosion...

Oneida School, with gratitude to thee, Our hearts offer you this melody...

I attended Oneida Junior High School (now known as Oneida Middle School) in Schenectady. We were blessed with many wonderful, dedicated teachers -- Ms. Gladys Wise in languages, Mr. Schneck, the shop teacher, Ms. Tuttle my homeroom English teacher, Mr. Gay the math teacher and half-blind sponsor of the audio-visual club (remember the 16mm Bell & Howell projectors?), and so many others whose names I simply can't remember. But one stands out above all others -- Ms. Mildred G. Guernsey, the best algebra teacher ever. She would prefer Miss Guernsey, thank you very much. She would never be one to pussyfoot around with an ambiguous title such as Ms.

I had Miss Guernsey for 8th grade algebra. On the first day of her class, most of the rules were made quite clear. We would be addressed by our proper names -- one full name, one initial, and our surname. I became Robert M. Mead. I still use that formal name today on most of my work, thanks to Miss Guernsey. Andy Silber begged her to let him remain "Andy," since his proper name was Cornelius Anderson Silber. There was no compromise. He became C. Anderson Silber in Miss Guernsey's world.

Her teaching was superb. There were countless stories through which she taught the principles of algebra. One day, while we were about to address the subject of remainders, Miss Guernsey asked me to stand. "Robert M. Mead, if a fellow had guests over and was about to serve them apple pie for dessert (Not that I approve of apple pie), and if this fellow realized that he had cut all the pieces the same size except for one piece that was noticeably bigger, what might he do?" The answer she was looking for was to trim down the last piece to match the others -- thus a "remainder." My answer was a little more self serving: "Miss Guernsey, I would pass the pie plate to all my guests. If they were polite, they'd all take the smaller pieces and I'd be left with the biggest piece!" Her response was immediate.

"Robert M. Mead, you are a rude, selfish pig. And perhaps that explains those extra pounds around your middle. For every extra pound you carry, your heart has to pump blood through an extra 2 miles of blood vessels!" It was classic Miss Guernsey.

There were countless other math-teaching parables. We measured Mr. Peterson's house "from the basement to the ridgepole" using the rule of sines. In the process, we learned that Mr. Peterson grew prize geraniums and had spoken once to Miss Guernsey's garden club.

We would naturally stand when spoken to or addressing the class. We would form our written numerals with great care. If a 0 or 6 or 8 was not "closed" properly, points would be deducted. We were taught to make our 5's in one stroke so there could never be a detached top stroke. Penmanship was important.

So was homework. It was 10 points off for every day late and after 5 days, it didn't matter. All scores went to 0. And homework made up half of our grade.

Miss Guernsey was also a disciplinarian in other ways. If she snuck up on you while you were talking to your neighbor, you could expect to have her clap on your back several times with a chalk-laden eraser (or two). If she caught you chewing gum in class, you might expect to stand outside (rain, shine, sleet, snow) for the remainder of the class. When she rendered judgement, she would poke the offender in the solar plexus repeatedly with her bony, gnarled index finger as she lectured the poor victim. We tended to behave.

Which brings me to the great explosion incident. One of my classmates, Steve Anonymous, had decided to make some pipe bombs and use them to attack teachers. The first victim was a woman who lived near the intersection of Rankin Avenue and Eastern Avenue. The bomb blew her house off its foundation and damaged several neighboring houses. As the police were trying to locate the culprit, he struck again, this time attacking Miss Guernsey's house.

My recollection is that she wasn't at home and that the explosive device was placed in a bay window in her dining room. It removed most of the bay window. When Miss Guernsey arrived home, she noticed an acrid smell in her house and it was cold. She then discovered the damage and police were soon on the scene. Within a couple of days, they captured and arrested Stephen W. Anonymous. Steve's father was a prominent local businessman. Steve was given probation. We all felt that he had gotten away with the bombings because of his father's political connections. But all the influence in the world couldn't protect him from Miss Guernsey's wrath.

The first day he returned to class, Miss Guernsey wasted no time. "Mr. Stephen W. Anonymous, stand and come forward. Steve, trying to be cool, shuffled forward and mumbled, "Yes, Miss Guernsey." She maneuvered him into the corner and the Index Finger went to work. Poking him hard in the chest, she began, "Mr. Anonymous, you are nothing but a coward and a common criminal." She lectured him in front of the class for 5 minutes. "Are you so afraid of a little old woman that you have to try to kill her? Did you think you wouldn't be caught? How could you be so stupid?" He broke down in front of his class mates. Miss Guernsey had made her point.

As a footnote, I found a more recent article about Steve on the Internet. He is apparently still trying to learn his lesson. I also found a wonderful page of recollections of Miss Guernsey -- gone but certainly not forgotten.

Dec 17, 2009

A Christmas Memory...

The Wallace Company, shown on an old postcard

Three of my grandparents had died by the time I was 4 years old. I have very faint memories of my grandfathers Mead and McLaughlin and no memory at all of my grandmother Mead. But I remember my grandmother McLaughlin because she lived with us for many years. "Nana," as we called her, lived in my parents' house from 1944 until she passed away in May of 1957. To say that Nana spoiled us kids would be an understatement. She lived her life to love and cater to us three grandchildren -- my sister Ann, my brother Bill, and me.
One of the fondest memories I have, usually around this time of year, is going shopping with my grandmother. In the late 1940's, Schenectady still had a thriving downtown commercial area. State Street boasted three major locally-owned department stores -- The Wallace Company (Est. 1892), The Carl Company (Est. 1906), and the H.S.Barney Company (Est. 1855). These were elegant centers of retail commerce. I recall that each store had certain features we no longer see:
  • elevators that had real human operators who announced each floor and it's departments
  • a well-maintained cafeteria for patrons
  • departments in which salespeople knew most of their patrons by name
  • exquisite merchandise displays, especially at holiday seasons (often animated figures in their main display windows)
  • doormen at the main entrance to each store
  • Carl's featured "Gold Bond Dividend Stamps" through which you could "earn" additional merchandise
  • delivery service
My Grandmother would bundle us kids up and we'd proceed a block away to the bus stop at the corner of Gillespie Street and Union Avenue. We'd each want to put our own token in the box as we boarded the number 9 bus headed for "Downtown - State Street" as displayed on the sign above the windshield. And off we'd be on another excursion with Nana.

The stores were brightly lighted and always crowded. This was, after all, a city prospering in the postwar commercial boom. We had the world headquarters and main plant of the General Electric Company and the headquarters of the American Locomotive Company. (No one could foresee that in ten years, GE would "decentralize" much of the Schenectady operation and that ALCO would be KO'd by General Motors' Electromotive Division.) It was a carefree, joyous, happy time.

As we entered each store, we kids would of course want to head for the toy department. I usually wanted to see the latest display of Lionel electric trains. Barney's and Carl's had the very best toy departments. And the toy department manager at Barney's was Miss Mayer, who happened to be a patient of my father, so we usually got extra special treatment there (it was on the fourth floor, to the right of the elevator). And of course, each store had to try and outdo the others in the lavishness of it's Santa Claus presentation. These were premiere times for a little kid!

Invariably my sister and brother and I wanted way too much for Christmas. My parents tried to maintain some moderation in gift giving to try to keep us focused on the nativity as the reason we were celebrating. But my grandmother didn't always share that sentiment and often went in a direction of extravagance. I've already written about my Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab. I received it for Christmas in 1951. But there were other times that Nana went overboard in my parents' eyes. I can still recall many of the gifts. But the shopping trips are just as precious in my memory as the Christmas mornings.
Barney's is now an apartment complex

Dec 9, 2009

A Ride on a Nuclear Submarine

USS Seawolf (SSN-575)

In 1963, I was serving aboard the USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709). I was in the engineering department, serving as Damage Control Assistant (DCA). We had recently returned from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where we had been sent for the Cuban missile crisis. After returning to Newport, Rhode Island, our home port, for a few weeks, we found ourselves now serving in the operating areas near Key West, Florida.

We were one of the first destroyers in the fleet equipped with the QH-50C, Drone AntiSubmarine Helicopter (DASH). Our assignment while serving in and around Key West was to test the operational effectiveness of the DASH and the newest version of the Mark 44 torpedo. We had a target ship assigned to this mission -- USS Seawolf (SSN-575).

USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709)

The method used to test the weapons system was straightforward. Seawolf would approach us from a distance while submerged. We would locate her using our sonar. We would launch our DASH which would carry one or two Mark 44, Mod 0 torpedoes without explosive warheads. These torpedoes had telemetry instrumentation in lieu of real warheads. Once we dropped the torpedo into the ocean, it would activate and start searching for the target. The telemetry would record every detail of the system's performance -- the acquisition of the target, the homing system's performance, battery performance, and so on.

The torpedoes were preprogrammed to not descend below a certain depth. That way, we could avoid impact of the dummy torpedo with the submarine. I believe that was intended to avoid damaging the screws of the target vessel. We learned by experience that the depth-limiting feature didn't always function correctly.

We had a navy pilot, Lieutenant Don DeLude, aboard as our DASH officer. Don would stand in a small wing of the 01 deck adjacent to the DASH launch area and fly the drone helicopter by radio control. He would launch the helicopter and guide it to a point several hundred yards from the ship visually. Then, control of the DASH was transferred to the ship's Combat Information Center (CIC). The strategy was to fly the helicopter to a location above the perceived location of the submarine and drop the torpedo. By dropping the torpedo close to the sub, it reduced the amount of time the submarine had to take evasive action. It was interesting and exciting work.

The Seawolf was a most unusual ship. She was originally built with a superheated steam boiler system and nuclear reactors cooled by liquid sodium. Both of these proved to be very expensive to maintain and in 1958, barely a year after her commissioning, she returned to Groton, Connecticut for a 2-year conversion back to a more conventional water-cooled reactor system. The ship was a one-off design, longer than a football field and displacing over 4000 tons when submerged.

One day at the conclusion of testing, Seawolf surfaced not far from Hugh Purvis. Her skipper appeared on the sail (conning tower) with a bullhorn. He hollered across to our bridge that it might be fun to exchange a couple of officers "to see how the other half lives." I was standing watch along with Lou Grassini, a Lieutenant from Philadelphia, who was the Gunnery Officer. Our Captain, Commander James C. Linville, looked at Lou and me and told us to get our reliefs up on the bridge and pack a duffle bag for a couple of days on Seawolf. I couldn't believe it!

Lou and I got ready in no time and the Seawolf launched a small rubber raft that picked us up and delivered us a few hundred yards away to their ship. I remember how slick the hull was as we stepped out of the raft which was sloshing against the round hull. We greeted the Captain, LCDR Thomas B. Brittain, Jr., and went below. Lou and I were probably like a couple of kids at Disneyland.

One of the first impressions I had was one of great spaciousness. I had made a few short cruises on World War II era diesel boats while I was a Midshipman. They were incredibly cramped. This vessel was huge by comparison. I recall at one location there was actually a small staircase instead of a ladder. Many of the interior surfaces were covered with wood-grain formica which gave the interior a homey feeling compared to most combatants. Our bunks were roomy. We were given a tour of the ship, including parts of the reactor operating area. That fascinated me because I had served as Main Propulsion Assistant on Purvis for two years.

The next morning we started the testing exercises. It was very different as seen from the perspective of the attacker who suddenly comes under attack. We would go to some predetermined depth, silently try to sneak up on the Hugh Purvis using only passive sonar. Suddenly we would hear a splash and then hear the torpedo motor winding up. The conning officer of the Seawolf would take evasive action. We would suddenly be descending at a steep angle and everyone would watch the depth indicator until we leveled off at some depth in excess of 500 ft. Then we would accelerate to a speed in excess of 20 knots, zig-zagging, in an attempt to avoid or outrun the torpedo. Sometimes we succeeded.

After a couple of days, Lou and I had to return to the surface navy, but what an unforgettable experience we had been privileged to share.

Interestingly, within a few days, our evaluation was cut short when one of the dummy torpedoes made a direct hit on the screw of the submarine. It did enough damage to one of the blades that the sub had to limp into port to get the screw replaced.

** After I initially published this item, I heard from a former Hugh Purvis shipmate, Bill Leslie. He was our Operations Officer while I served with him. He reminded me that it was during one of these torpedo testing exercises that we were informed of President Kennedy's assassination. I remember that vividly because I was Junior Officer of the Deck at the time. Bill Leslie had the unenviable job of using our underwater communications system (known as "Gertrude") to inform the submarine of the nation's loss. We returned to Key West to observe the days of mourning.

3-22-2016 -- Today I corresponded with Peter Papadakos, the son of the gentleman who founded the Gyrodyne Company of Amaerica, builders of the original DASH.  He was kind enough to send me the following photographs, taken when the DASH development team was aboard Hugh Purvis:

Lt(jg) Harry C. Royal III ("Trip" Royal), ASW Officer, and
Lt(jg) Don Delude, DASH Operations Officer
Lt(jg) Don Delude and the DASH flight detachment
aboard USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709), late 1962
Lt(jg) Don Delude and unidentified telephone talker during
DASH flight operations aboard USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709)
DASH hovering near Hugh Purvis (DD-709), 1962

Dec 5, 2009

Chief Wilson...

In June of 1964, I was serving aboard the USS Maloy (DE-791), a destroyer escort home ported in Groton, CT. We sometimes were asked to participate in public relations exercises. Such was the visit to Block Island to support a civic celebration when Block Island was changing jurisdiction from one county to another.

We were directed to go to Quonset Point, Rhode Island to spend a night alongside a pier. At some ungodly hour, a number of civilians would begin showing up to be transported about 30 miles south to Block Island for a parade and all-day celebration. There were war heroes, an Indian Princess, lots of politicians, and other prominent citizens of the fair state of Rhode Island, about thirty people in all, as I recall. There were a couple Coast Guard cutters doing the same thing and we planned to steam to Block Island together in the early morning. We were to anchor off the beach at Block Island and use our motor whale boat to ferry the guests to and from the pier at New Shoreham. Late in the afternoon when the festivities had concluded, we would round up our guests and deliver them back to Quonset Point. It sounded like a simple assignment.

My engineering department included the R (for "repair") division. It included the ship fitters, pipe fitters, and damage controlmen. They were under the leadership of my assistant, Lieutenant (junior grade) Ron Gray and Chief Petty Officer Robert Wilson, a very salty career navy man with roots in Hoboken, New Jersey. He had not lost his New Joisey accent. Chief Wilson was a loyal, hard-working, dedicated leader. His men were fiercely loyal to him. His one shortcoming (some would say his greatest asset) was his propensity for taking things that weren't necessarily his. He would undoubtedly have pointed out that it was never for personal gain -- always for the good of the Navy.

Coincidentally, as we were moored that night at Quonset Point, we were directly across the pier from the USS Wasp (CV-18), a World War II era aircraft carrier home ported there. They were scheduled to conduct a change of command ceremony the next day, so, as we arrived alongside the pier, crews were setting up bleachers for the invited guests. There was a small stage and loudspeakers and lots of banners and bunting for the planned festivities.

Our guests started to arrive around 05:30 AM, we served them breakfast in the Wardroom (the officers' mess), and we embarked for Block Island promptly at 07:00. I was the Officer of the Deck. The Captain, LCDR James E. Fernandes, was in his chair on the bridge. All was routine until we were about 10 miles south. We received a radio message from the USS Wasp. This was most out of the ordinary. We were a very small ship in a very unrelated squadron on a totally innocuous mission. What could the Wasp possibly want with us? As I read the message, it became clear. During the night, someone had stolen several of the boards that made up the seats of the bleachers on the pier. The C.O. of the Wasp suspected that it might have been a crew member of the Maloy who did it. He was very distressed. Our Captain read the message. We looked at each other and said in unison, "Chief Wilson!"

Within a few minutes, Chief Wilson was on the bridge. He denied, in his best Hoboken drawl, any knowledge of this horrible crime. "I don't know nuttin' about no lumbah!" he protested. Neither the skipper nor I had any doubt that he or one of his troops was the culprit.

Of course we responded to the Wasp that we had no knowledge of any theft. But I made it my personal mission to find the "lumbah." For the next several months I searched. There are lots of nooks and crannies on an old destroyer escort. I searched every bilge, every storage space, even the double walls of the stack. I never found a trace.

Several months later, we were in Groton doing general maintenance when Chief Wilson knocked on my stateroom door. "Mistah Mead, as you know, I'm always concoined about the crew's morale," he began. He explained that the benches at the tables on the mess deck were badly tattered and that he wanted to replace them. He needed some funds to buy the upholstery material and padding. He said that he'd already found a source of "lumbah." There was never any doubt in my mind... I simply didn't know where it had been stored.

Nov 29, 2009

Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill...

When I lived on the Mississippi gulf coast from 1972 until 1978, I usually spent holidays with my brother Bill, his wife Joan, and their twin sons, Mark and David. Thus, it was normal behavior when I was found at Willy and Joani's, in Pass Christian, Mississippi, on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. We had finished our mid-afternoon turkey dinner and happened to have the radio on in the kitchen, as usual tuned to WWL in New Orleans ("50,000 watts of clear-channel power").

At that time, the afternoon DJ was a fellow named Eric Tracy. He, and sometimes his wife, Linda, did a mixed program of news, music, and talk. One of his specialties was bantering with the public on telephone conversations covering every subject under the sun. On this particular Thanksgiving, Eric had a problem. No one was calling in. He pleaded, "Folks, I really need you to call in. I'm dying on the vine. Call in and talk about anything, read a poem, I don't care." Eric needed help. Willy and I sprang into action.
Eric Tracy in the 1970's

I could recite a poem. As a kid, I often hung around with the Goble boys in Schenectady. One of them had written a lampoon on Thanksgiving poetry. I remembered enough that I could fill in the blanks on a poem.

And Bill and I had often played ukulele and kazoo duets after a few beers with our friends. We covered a lot of bluesy, old timey music -- Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Hard Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah, G-A!), Back Home Again in Indiana, 'Honi Kaua Wikiwiki' - On the Beach at Waikiki, and dozens more. In fact, my brother knew a remarkable body of lyrics to obscure vaudeville favorites, probably because he had studied ukulele under Vic Tyminski, an old vaudeville performer.

Bill tuned his uke; I carefully wrapped my comb with the lightest foil available (cellophane never works for long periods of performance). We called Eric Tracy. He was glad to hear from us. I began by reciting the long-dormant poem,
"Under the tunnel, across the bridge, to Grandmother's flat we rush.
The car knows the road, 'cause often we've goed, through the grey and greasy slush.
Down tha alley, across the street, the tenement now we spy.
Hurrah for the cheer, and the ice-cold beer, and Swanson's Chicken Pie!"
(With all due apologies to Lou Goble.)

Eric loved it, but the best was yet to come. We informed him that "Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill, the World's Most Famous Ukulele and Kazoo Duet" was about to perform. We opened with Way Down Yonder... Eric loved it. We followed with a few more of our best numbers. He loved those. As the top of the hour, Eric said, "Can you guys stay on the line? I need to go to some ads, but I want to talk to you." We stayed on the line.

Eric returned after a few moments. He said he loved our music and asked if we could come in to New Orleans some Saturday and record our repertoire in the WWL studios for him to use on his show as theme, lead-in to breaks, etc. He promised to take us to the Fairgrounds Racetrack as his guests. We agreed and a couple of weeks later did a recording session of a couple hours worth of music - ukulele, kazoo, and voice. And Eric kept his word -- we enjoyed an afternoon at the track as guests of WWL radio. For the next few years, I would hear my own music being played on the Eric Tracy Show as I drove home from work each afternoon.

Eventually, Eric left the New Orleans area. After my brother died, I regretted that I never had kept any recordings of "Uncle Bob and Uncle Bill." I eventually contacted Eric Tracy, who is now a radio personality at San Francisco's KFWB. He had been unable to keep the tapes we had recorded; They were property of the station. He and I agreed that they are probably long gone, especially after the ravages of Katrina. Ahhh, but the memories are wonderful.

Nov 22, 2009

Body Beautiful...

This week, Dan Shady successfully removed the steel outer shell from the rear of my 1932 Plymouth roadster. This is in preparation for restoring the wooden framing that supports the body. By 1932, Walter Chrysler was only producing the open cars - roadsters and phaetons - in the Chrysler Body Works. All closed car production had been contracted to the Briggs Body Company, and they had made the transition to all-steel construction. But my roadster is a great example of how cars had evolved from carriages, with a wooden structure underneath the sheet metal.

I feel fortunate to live close to Dan Shady, who has years of experience in the restoration of these wooden structures. We'll be reusing as much of this car's wood as possible, only replacing those pieces that are dryrotted beyond usefulness. We'll re-glue every joint using modern glues. Ain't it interesting how times and technology change?

Nov 16, 2009

The tale of one old ukulele...

My brother Bill was a wonderful ukulele player. He first got interested in the ukulele during the early 1950's when Arthur Godfrey promoted the instrument on his daily radio show. My recollection is that his first Ukulele was a plastic one that was sold by the Arthur Godfrey folks. Willy learned to play using self-instruction books and eventually got an instructor, a gentleman named Vic Tyminski, who had played the ukulele and sang on the vaudeville stage.

As Bill's playing improved, so did his desire for better instruments. At one time in the mid-fifties he acquired a Vega baritone uke. He bought and sold a few others. But his pride and joy was his Martin tenor ukulele. He special ordered it from Martin in about 1954. He was working at Goldstock's Sporting Goods on lower Broadway at the time and had saved up for months. He played this wonderful instrument until shortly before his death in 1994. Then I became its caretaker.

A few weeks ago I heard that a young man who goes to church with me, John Philip Williams, had played a piece in church on a ukulele (John had played with me and some friends in the Bermudagrass Boys, an impromptu bluegrass band that entertained at a church cookout a couple of years ago). His playing in church got rave reviews. It gave me an idea. I decided that John should be the next caretaker of that treasured 1954 Martin. A couple weeks ago I gave him the instrument. I asked him to play it, enjoy it, and eventually pass it on to someone whom he feels will enjoy and treasure it.

Sunday evening, Mary Ann and I went to a concert of guitar and vocal music put on by John Williams. During the concert, he played the old uke and sang a song dedicated to me and Bill.

I knew I had made the right decision.

Nov 15, 2009

More Weekend Festivities...

Every year for the last 19 years, our home town of Fayetteville has celebrated the second weekend in November as the "Host of Christmas Past." Our downtown merchants go all out to encourage shoppers, but it spreads way beyond that with outdoor food vendors, music, storytelling, a children's playzone at the museum with real snow, Santa Claus, and a wonderful costume competition. I participated as a "Town Crier" walking around the square and welcoming guests as I announced upcoming events. I even bought an old school bell on Ebay to play the role.

Mary Ann helped sponsor the event and took this picture of yours truly as I was preparing to leave...

Nov 11, 2009

Weekend Festivities

This past Saturday we hosted a celebration of Ebabe's Gifts' 1-year anniversary. We had an outdoor concert by Microwave Dave (our good friend Dave Gallaher) and the Nukes (Rick Godfrey on bass and James Irvin on drums) playing in the gazebo. The weather was absolutely perfect! We had a good crowd considering it was a multi-football game weekend. The event was catered by the Gourmet Grillers from Fayetteville.

The parking lot filled up and the crowd spilled over onto the road and our driveway but it never became a problem. Some of our neighbors joined us and a number of Huntsville friends drove up to join the celebration -- Charlie and Brenda Stroud, Monty and Dinah Love, Tex and Theresa Longcor, Richard and Booty Leach, Pat Lewis, Nancy Woodall, and others.

We fed a real crowd, everybody raved about the music, and Mary Ann retained her sanity! The store was busy all day long. If you live nearby, think about us as a source for your favorite Christmas items.

Oct 15, 2009

World-Famous Goat Celebrity!

I work with a lady named Melissia Meeks. Her four-year-old son, Hayden, raises Tennessee fainting goats. This past weekend, he showed one of his fine goats, "Karen," at the 7th Annual Lewisburg Goats Music and More Goat Festival in Lewisburg, Tennessee. Hayden and Karen earned a third-place ribbon against very tough competition. Congratulations to both of today's celebrity heroes, Hayden and Karen!
Go, Hayden! -- Go, Karen!

Oct 11, 2009

Remarkable Transformation...

I have been a member of the Huntsville Chamber Music Guild for at least twenty five years. When Margo and I joined the organization way back when, it wasn't very exciting. We had 5 or 6 concerts per year. They were held in the Roberts Recital Hall on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a venue known mostly for its abominable seating and less-than-ideal acoustics. Average attendance was in the range of a couple hundred. As a result, the budget was quite constrained. As a result of that, the groups and soloists who were brought to Huntsville were less than stellar. Nonetheless, we appreciated the opportunity to enjoy small ensembles and soloists a few times a year.

Enter Dr. Wilson Luquire in the early 1990s. He arrived as the dean of the UAH library. But he doesn't only have his doctorate in library science. He also has a doctorate in organ performance. He also has more energy than any other five people put together. And not long after his arrival in Huntsville, he was asked to serve as President of the HCMG. He accepted, and the results have been phenomenal.
Dr. Wilson Luquire, world-famous cellist Yo Yo Ma, Dr. Mac Phillips (President of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Board), and Mark Reneau (Concertmaster of the HSO) upon the occasion of Yo Yo Ma's appearance here in 2005
- Photo courtesy of Ron Roberts

Wilson has through his remarkable charm, chutzpah, imagination, energy, boundless enthusiasm, and personality managed to create a world-class chamber music organization. Recent guests have included Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Frederica von Stade, Marilyne Horn, the Vienna Boys Choir, and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. For several recent years, the Guild's concerts have been held in the sanctuary of Huntsville's Trinity Methodist Church, a great venue and much larger than Roberts Recital Hall. It is packed for every concert.

Last night, Mary Ann and I attended a fabulous concert involving two Metropolitan Opera sopranos, Susanna Phillips and Angela Brown, both of whom have Huntsville connections. It also honored Ms. Ginger Beazley, a local music professional who taught both of these singers as young ladies. The mayor had declared yesterday to be "Susanna Phillips, Angela Brown and Ginger Beazley Day in Huntsville." He presented each of them with certificates of recognition during the concert.

The concert also involved the Oakwood University Aeolians and the choir from the Episcopal Church of the Nativity. It was spectacular. But even that wasn't enough for Wilson. The concert was followed by a banquet honoring the stars at a private club overlooking the city.

The remainder of the season will give you an idea what we have in store:
October 23 - The Guarneri String Quartet (Final performance)
October 30 - Stradivari String Quartet
January 29, 2010 - Jonathan Beyer, a young baritone and the 1stPlace Winner at the Marian Anderson Prize for Emerging Classical Artists.
February 14- Joshua Bell, "Classical Music Superstar"
March 12 - Paul Jacobs, virtuoso organist
April 23, 24 - The gold, silver, and crystal medalists from the Van Cliburn piano competition.

Thanks, Wilson, for your hard work and dedication. You have earned your incredible success in transforming this entire program!

Oct 10, 2009

Best of Friends...

We have a cat who thinks her mother is our dog, Sheila. We got the kitten at a time when Sheila needed to be kept inactive. It was winter and too cold to put the kitten outside, so we housed them together. They bonded. The cat, Belle, still sleeps in the dog house. I got this picture shortly after I fed them this morning. The cat ignored her food to dine with her adopted mother.

Sep 10, 2009

B-I-I-G Congratulations Are in Order...

Our dear friend,
Dr. Sheila Kahrs, has been named the 2009-2010 MetLife/National Association of Secondary Schools Principals (NASSP) National Middle School Principal of the Year. This is a big deal. Think of the thousands of middle school principals against whom she had to compete. What a great honor! Congratulations, Sheila!

Here's what Sheila's School Superintendent, Dr. Ron Saunders, had to say: "I could not think of anyone more deserving for this national recognition that Dr. Sheila Kahrs. She is the perfect example of an administrator who cares for both students and faculty. Her expectations are always high and she expects the best of everyone. She is a strong professional who is not only competent but also caring. She will be an excellent representative of Haymon-Morris Middle School, Barrow County Schools, Georgia and the nation."

We couldn't agree more.

These pictures appeared in the Barrow County News:

Sep 5, 2009

Annual Visitor...

Every year near the end of summer, a very large and beautiful spider appears on one of my shop windows. I wonder if it's the same spider every year or a replacement. Could it be an offspring? At any rate, it's very big and very beautiful, and I ain't about to touch it!

Sep 2, 2009

I Feel Old...

Today is my nephews' birthday. Mark and David turn 48 this evening between 10 and 11. OMG do I feel ancient. But by tomorrow, I'll forget and I'll feel fine again.

Aug 26, 2009

Another Musical Legend has Passed...

When I was serving in the Navy in the early '60's, I was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island. Newport was also the location of several festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival. It was at one of the Folk Festivals, probably in 1962, that I first saw and heard Mike Seeger. He was a member of a string band called the New Lost City Ramblers.

Mike was a remarkably versatile and talented musician, skilled at playing many different instruments and in a variety of styles. He performed some real magic when playing the Autoharp and was probably one of the main reasons I took up that instrument a few years later. I bought a lot of the recordings of the New Lost City Ramblers and still know their arrangements of many early folk and traditional songs.

Mike's path and mine crossed many times over the years. I had the good fortune to take lessons from him for a week in the 1980's at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia. I got to spend some time with him during and after a concert he did in Tullahoma in the '90's. Then about four years ago, I had a conversation with him while he was performing in Murfreesboro. We talked at that time about the possibility of my working on one of his autoharps -- a beautiful instrument built by Bob Welland in Evanston, Illinois. Indeed, I learned that Mike was a long-time friend and former music colleague of my good friend Tom Morgan, of Morgan Springs, Tennessee. In fact Tom Morgan built Autoharps for both Mike Seeger and me! It's a very small world among Folk music afficianados.

Mike Seeger was a member of a very famous, creative and musical family. His uncle, Alan Seeger, who died in World War I, was fighting for the French Foreign Legion when he wrote the famous poem, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death," that many of us read in high school:

I HAVE a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death 5
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still. 10
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows 'twere better to be deep 15
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death 20
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

I had a call from Tom Morgan today advising me that Mike had passed on. He died on August 7th at his home in Lexington, Virginia. He had battled cancer for many years and had recently been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable and aggressive form of cancer. He chose hospice care rather than prolonging the fight.

Mike, I will miss the sound of your voice and your playing, but you live on in your gift of music. Enjoy the Angel Band!

A few days after I posted this item, I ran across a video of a very young Mike Seeger playing his Tom Morgan autoharp and singing. I was recently informed that this instrument still exists and is undergoing restoration for its current (and very fortunate) owner.

Aug 22, 2009

Swine Flu Precautions...

I encourage everyone to take the necessary steps to slow the spread of the Swine Flu...

Aug 10, 2009

Another New Experience...

I took vacation on Friday and made a mad dash for Louisville (pronounced "Loo-vull") to witness over 11,000 street rods in one location - the National Street Rod Association national convention, or more commonly, the "NSRA Nationals." Fortunately, I found a motel room at the last moment, since I didn't decide to go until last Monday. So Friday morning I drove up Interstate 65, arriving at the Kentucky Fairgrounds and Exposition Center around 1:00 PM.

Parking was available not far from the main gate. I put on plenty of sun screen and headed in with camera in hand. It's more than I can describe. I was on kind of a mission:
  • Get ideas for the car I'm building -- got lots of ideas; took lots of pictures,
  • Look for 1932 Plymouths -- I found a total of only 5, none of them roadsters, and
  • Look for 241 Hemi engines -- I found none!

Conclusion; My 1932 Plymouth with a 241 Hemi will be one of a kind.

When I checked into the motel, I was shocked to see a yellow '32 Plymouth coupe in the parking lot. I did get a chance to meet the owner and have a long conversation about his car, which was powered by a 400 cubic inch Hemi. He has driven it all over the country for many years, but it looked pristine.

Saturday morning, I returned to the fairgrounds for another session. I did get the opportunity to speak with the owner of one of the Model PB Plymouths that I had spotted on Friday. It was a more traditional, full-fendered 2-door sedan, beautifully executed in a deep ruby red metallic. Sweet!

By around 12:00, I was done in, suffering from sensory overload. You had to see it to believe it.

Aug 2, 2009

Really Nice Occasion...

Thursday was our 5th anniversary. We exchanged gifts that morning, but we had a date last night to really celebrate. We went to 801 Franklin in Huntsville, the same place we had our reception five years earlier. They were great hosts. Angelo waited on our table and the service couldn't have been better. We enjoyed their wonderful Cullman County fried green tomatoes with crabmeat salad and sun-dried tomato chutney as an appetizer -- Wow! Mary Ann had the filet mignon and I had the coffee-rubbed New York strip. Both were fabulous. And we splurged with a chocolate volcano fudge cake and ice cream dessert that turned out to be complimentary! How nice.
Bill Harden and Gina Morgan work in the kitchen at 801 Franklin. Harden is chef de cuisine, and Morgan is executive sous chef at the restaurant.

Jul 27, 2009

Winston Goes to a Car Show...

A week ago I decided to take my 1932 Plymouth coupe, Winston, to a car show in Huntsville. My friend Monty Love came up and we drove into Huntsville together. The show was held at the Landers-McClarty Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealership. There were probably 200 cars, mostly modified muscle cars and street rods. We didn't get a trophy. That was no surprise, since the car is a driven car, having participated in 4 Great Race events. Also, the restoration is now about 12 years old, so the car is not a pristine "trailer queen."

Monty and I both forgot two key items -- cameras and sunscreen! Thus, I can not share any pictures of that car show. And, I'm still peeling from a pretty substantial sunburn.

This weekend there was another car show much closer to home. Again, I decided to attend to see what cars might show up. This time, in spite of the fact that I didn't prepare the car, I came home with two awards! I got a nice trophy for 2nd place in the antique car class. More amusing was the award for "Best Rims." The judge said he had a thing for the wood spokes!

A young man came by during the show and asked if he could take a few pictures of my car. I was flattered. You may enjoy them: