I can’t say that I was the product of a very ordinary family. The Hay family goes back a long way—nto Scotland and possibly before that into Normandy. There are two versions of the early origins. One is that a Scottish peasant named Hay made himself particularly useful in defeating the Danes at the Battle of Luncarty in 990 AD. As reward he was made a noble and the extent of the lands given him were determined by the flight of a falcon released from the Hawk Stone in St. Madoes. The falcon lighted on a rock now known as the Falcon Stone just east of Rossie Priory, about 8 km west of Dundee on the Firth of Tay. The other, only slightly less romantic, version is that the family name was originally de la Haye and that they came to Britain with William the Conqueror in 1066. In any case, Sir William Hay became Earl of Erroll in 1453. In Sir James George Frazer’s book The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, published in 1834,it is reported that the well-being of the Hay clan is assured if, on Allhallows Eve (Halloween), a young son climbs high in the Oak of Erroll, and using a new dirk cuts off a piece of the mistletoe growing there. A dirk is a Scottish ritual dagger, absolutely essential for this sort of thing. Unfortunately the great oak tree of Erroll died many years ago, and falcons can no longer nest there. Presumably the mistletoe has spread to other trees and lost its magical powers. My brother got very interested in tracing back the family history, made the pilgrimage to the Falcon Stone, and snooped about in Edinburgh. Apparently our original Scottish ancestor, John Hay, listed in the archives in Edinburgh as ‘the one who went to America’ emigrated to Virginia in 1639.
My grandmother, Mary Norton Randle Hay, was born in 1864 in Washington-on-the Brazos, a small town, now gone, located a few miles south of modern College Station, Texas. It was the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. It was the first of five towns that served as the capital of the Republic of Texas in 1836. In 1837 Houston was designated to be the capital, and in 1840 it was moved to Austin. My grandmother’s mother, Kathleen Emma Crawford Randle, had been born there too, during the time Texas was an independent republic. My great grandmother’s parents had moved there before the Texas war of Independence, so that side of the family were real Texans. An interesting footnote to history is that many of the settlers from the United States who accompanied Stephen F. Austin to Mexican Texas in 1822 to establish the settlements along the Brazos River brought their slaves with them. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829, with the Texans being granted a one year extension to comply with the law. Many of the colonists simply converted their slaves into indentured servants. One of the lesser known reasons for the Texas War of Independence was that the colonists wanted to retain the right to hold slaves. My ancestors were no exception. However, there were those opposed to slavery, most notably Sam Houston.
My grandfather, Stephen John Hay, moved to the young town of Dallas from Georgia in 1887. He was Mayor of Dallas from 1907 to 1911. He was a political innovator, introducing the Commissioner form of government to Dallas, and saw to it that the involvement of national political parties in local affairs was minimal. He was also a champion of higher education and believed that Dallas needed a major institution of higher learning. He was intimately involved in the founding of Southern Methodist University in 1911. SMU was a joint venture between the Methodist Church and the city of Dallas. The city contributed land and money toward the first building, which was appropriately named Dallas Hall. It was designed to copy Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia and was finished in 1915. In spite of its name and support from the church, SMU was from the beginning non-sectarian and devoted to free inquiry and research. Today only about 25 % of the students identify themselves with the church.
When I was a student in the 1950s SMU had one requirement related to religion. You had to take a course in History of either the Bible or Philosophy. I really couldn’t imagine anything much more boring than History of the Bible, except possibly Philosophy; so the Bible it was. It was one of the best series of lectures I ever had, going into where the texts came from, how they fitted into the context of the time in which they were written, and how the Council of Nicea in 325 decided what would be included in the Christian Bible, and what excluded. We even read the more interesting parts of the Apocrypha.
In 1916 my grandfather Hay died suddenly of meningitis, leaving behind his widow, Mary N. R. Hay to raise the family, one teenage son (my father) and three daughters, alone. Grandfather Hay had died leaving many debts, and my grandmother could have declared bankruptcy and written them off. But she insisted on paying them off to the last penny, and did so by becoming an insurance agent. The story goes that she would visit the businessmen of Dallas and simply tell them how much insurance they were going to buy. She was a determined and forceful woman; few turned her down. She became Dean of Women at SMU. It is probably to her that I owe my lifelong interests in both geology and classical music. She had a small rock and mineral collection and stories to go with each specimen. Her funeral was a truly memorable experience, held in the Highland Park Methodist Church on the SMU campus with an overflow crowd of former students. It was a concert devoted to the music of her favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. The University named a women’s dormitory in her honor.
One of the daughters, Elise, taught Music (voice) at SMU; another led a life as a housewife, and a third, Elizabeth was something very different. She was an airplane mechanic before the First World War (yes, you read that right). A Russian nobleman had come to the US to buy an airplane, they fell in love, and she moved to Russia, although they also spent time at their second home in Egypt. In Russia, they lived mostly in Moscow, where he had apartments in the Kremlin. Elizabeth witnessed the October revolution from that very special vantage point. Her husband was ultimately killed in the fighting, and she returned to the US. Back here she was employed as an undercover detective by Pinkerton’s. She posed as the caretaker for the dog of a wealthy family, actually investigating losses of jewels and securities, thought to be an inside job. The family enjoyed traveling by rail; they had their own railway car. She told me that on these trips the dog had more luggage than she did. The robberies indeed turned out to be an inside job. My father sometimes referred to her as his ‘crazy’ sister.
My father worked in the East Texas oilfields in his youth, but probably learned the insurance business from his mother. He was in the first graduating class of SMU, and later became a Trustee of the University. Financed by friends, he started his own insurance company in the 1920s. It survived the depression and was finally sold to another company in the1960s. He married my mother when they were students at SMU. He said it was love at first sight on a streetcar. My mother’s parents had a manufacturing business in Dallas, and the six of us all lived together as a large family. I later realized that this made it possible to share expenses and live well. We were not wealthy, but I would say we were ‘upper middle class’.
I was born in October,1934. My brother was four years older than I and suffered from asthma. From the late1930s through the1950s we lived on the north edge of Dallas in the suburb called Preston Hollow that is now home to George W. Bush. In 1938 we had recovered enough from the Great Depression so that my father bought a new car, a green Packard with running boards and somehow seated six. The whole family took a grand tour to Yellowstone and the Colorado Rockies. The next summer we vacationed in Colorado, and my brother’s health improved greatly. Then came the news of Pearl Harbor. Perhaps my oldest vivid memory was of that day when we sat by the radio in our home in Preston Hollow and listened to President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech. Because of my brother’s asthma, my mother, my brother and I lived in Colorado through most of World War II when travel was almost impossible due to gasoline rationing. My father’s business was in Dallas, and because of the travel restrictions we only saw him a few times each year. But it was in Colorado that my Grandmother Hay’s rocks and minerals became related to mountains and landscapes, and I became interested in geology.
Although my father was a businessman and didn’t have much time for concerts or theater after work, he saw to it that I was able to become involved in cultural affairs from an early age.
An art gallery opened in a shopping center a mile from my home, and I would drop in whenever they had new exhibitions. I learned that art is not just something to see in Museums, it is an important part of cultural life. The only thing I could afford to buy was the occasional book on art (they are still in my library), but when I was in high school the gallery owners began to invite me to openings. I met local artists and architects, some of whom have remained lifelong friends. The cultural interests developed then became important components of my life. I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if that little gallery had not opened.
Another of my passions was Opera. How could a kid from Texas get interested in Grand Opera? On Saturday afternoons in the fall and winter, Texaco broadcast the Matinee of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. These were the days before television, and what better way to spend a dreary, cold, rainy afternoon than listening to great music. I guess half the kids I knew were addicted to it, especially because on Friday night everything would be explained by Reuben A. Bradford’s program Opera Once Over Lightly. His program started out in Dallas, and was eventually broadcast over a network of 197 NBC stations. In northern Texas, where it originated, it achieved the highest ratings of any radio show. Bradford would discuss the plot in terms every Texan could relate to and play recordings of some of the arias. Some of his two line summaries are classic:
La Forza del Destino: We’re talking now of destiny’s force, accompanied by singing and stabbing, of course
Cavalleria Rusticana: This is the picture now to be shown, “Love thy neighbor”, but leave his wife alone.
Il Trovatore: Loud, long, and very gory, Murder and music; that’s Il Trovatore
In the end of the second act of Puccini’s beautiful opera Tosca, Floria Tosca, a well known opera singer in Rome at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, makes a deal with the Chief of Police, Scarpia, to save her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, who has just been sent to the Castell San Angelo to await his execution in the morning. The deal involves what we would probably call consensual rape, a fake shooting of Mario, and a note allowing Floria and Mario to leave the city. Bradford describes what happens next:
With the deal all wrapped up he makes a grab at the dame but he don’t snatch fast enough. As she skids around a corner, Tosca grabs a paper-knife, spars for an opening then lets the cop have it where it will do the most good. After he hits the floor and stops wiggling she places two candlesticks at his head then quietly leaves the late Roman Police Chief staring at the scenery loft.
Of course Scarpia had already secretly reneged on the deal pre-mortem, so everybody dies in the end.
I had always thought Tosca was fantasy, but recently learned that it is based on real people and events, sanitized and cleaned up for the stage from the much bloodier reality of the Roman police state of 1811.
Opera Once Over Lightly was so popular because it was one of the funniest programs on the air. We were listening one evening when my father asked me
“Would you like to meet Bradford?
” It turned out he was an old family friend and had rented a room in my Grandmother Hay’s house years before. He was simply ‘Bradford’ to everyone. He was as funny in person as he was on the air. Incidentally, Bradford hated Bach. In his book he blames Johann Sebastian Bach for inventing the fugue, which he describes as follows:
A fugue is a little curlique gimmick usually started by the violins. They give birth to the thing, nurse it, fool around with it a bit and toss it over to the bass section. This crowd looks it over, makes a few changes, turns it around, points it the other way then throws it back to the fiddles. The string section never seems pleased with the changes so they call in the horns and maybe a couple of flutes and oboes. They try to put the thing back something like it was at first but the brass boys are not having any of that. They blow harder, call in the drums and all come galloping over to rescue the orphan.
By now the poor little original tune is so chewed-up and bent out of shape that nobody wants it. There’s not a whole note left, not even a half-note, only a bunch of16th and 32nds flying around the hall. You pick up a pile of the pieces, put ‘em in a hat and shake ‘em, and brother , you’ve got a handful of Opus 49, Fuge17, Box214, Teaneck, N. J.
I often wondered what the discussions of music between Bradford and my grandmother must have been like.
What was amazing about the radio broadcasts was the audience. Truck drivers, factory workers, housewives and high-school students wrote to Bradford to say how much they liked it, and that they had learned to treasure Texaco’s Saturday afternoon broadcasts from the Met. The scripts were collected into a book with the same name as the radio show, published in1955. His silly program did a lot to bring music appreciation to the American public in the 1950s
This raises the question as to what grand opera is about anyway. It is certainly one of the strangest forms of entertainment. And if you think European/American opera is strange, you need to see Chinese Opera—that will open whole new vistas of strangeness. In the early days ( 1600s) European opera was a play with music and songs which became known as arias, rather like the modern ‘muscial’. Then by the end of the 1700s there were almost no spoken parts anymore. The music adds to the drama of the play and the music and plot become intertwined. Then came Richard Wagner, and his music carries with it ideas or memories that are not in any of the arias.
Then came the motion picture, using Wagner’s idea of music in the background conveying ideas, memories and emotions. A whole new genre, ‘film music’, was created. Have you ever seen a film without music? Now we often have recorded music as a background while we work. How unnatural can you get?
As my old friend Greg Wray, whose illustrations you see in this book, says: “Humans are really strange critters”.