Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Goin' Country - the first part

Rule #28 - An author must continue to learn

     Ok, today’s rule is so true about everyone. We all must continue to learn. So much for the concept of a “graduation” ceremony where you don’t have to go back to school anymore. Truth be told, you never stop learning. Life is the biggest school house around! Everyone learns things about themselves and the world around them on a minute-to-minute basis. How else could we make a decision?
     One of my better decisions was to return to Nashville. When Hub and I visited before, we did so in the hottest part of the summer. It’s humid there and that tends to sap energy from me. Hub was not into country music, either.  If it didn’t interest him, I was free to go on my own, as long as it didn’t cost too much.
     This time, I visited in late May, armed with a bunch of things I was going to see whether I enjoyed it beforehand or not.  I, too, am not much of a country music fan… well, sort of. As you may have guessed, I do like parts of all music genres. A musician has to impress me with the individual work of art. There are plenty of country pieces that I love, some that are so timeless, they cross the country music line into eternity. That’s why - on this trip - I planned to take in as much country music as I could. What better way to do this than to visit the two cathedrals of country music, the Grand Ole’ Opry, both the original and the new one?
     Stop one on this pilgrimage was to the original Grand Ole’ Opry site - Ryman Auditorium. This site has more history - and not just musical history - in one brick than any place else in town.

116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville, TN
     Seems that back around 1885, a riverboat captain, name of Thomas Ryman, met a preacher man, name of Samuel Jones.  The captain listened to Reverend Jones speak about salvation and doing good for the Lord. Captain Ryman then proceeded to give up his drinking and gambling ways and turn his life around. He decided he would raise up a place where everyone could meet and hear the Word. That’s how the Union Gospel Tabernacle came to be in all of eighteen hundred and ninety-two. It boasted of a horse-shoe set-up, with pew seats bending all around the speaker.

Even the pews bend

     The Confederate Veterans Association held a reunion in Nashville in 1897. Well, so many sons and their soldier dads came, that the Tabernacle needed more seats. That’s how the “Confederate Gallery” came to be. Now the Tabernacle could seat 6000 easily for meetings and revivals. It was becoming a major auditorium now, and able to host more than just revivals.

The Confederate Gallery - balcony seating
     Here comes 1901, when the stage was constructed. The Metropolitan Opera company from New York brought their productions of “The Barber of Seville” and “Faust” down Nashville way. Now the Tabernacle hosted big city theatricals, not just revival meetings.
     But wait a minute… Captain Ryman passed on to glory ‘round about late October, 1904. Reverend Jones spoke of him at his funeral at the Tabernacle. He spoke up saying that this hallowed ground should not longer be called the Tabernacle, but Ryman Auditorium. Well, everyone stood up and cheered so loud at that idea, that it was a done deal. From that day on, 116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee, would be forever know as Ryman Auditorium.
     Many years passed and the Ryman saw its share of greats to grace the stage. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft spoke from the stage. Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan Macy lectured to the first sold-out house. People like Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, Enrico Caruso, and Will Rogers - all of them visited Nashville and stood center stage. Speakers, singers, dramatic performers all shared their talents with Tennessee folks.

Playbills for all types of performances and articles line the upstairs lobby
      It was still a meeting house, though. Folks would come in from outside the city early on days when there was something going on at the Ryman. They would sit outside - all afternoon sometimes - with their picnics, just waiting for the doors to open.

Portrait of a typical day at the Ryman - circa 1950's
     It was around about 1943 when WSM, a radio station nearby, decided to bring its popular listening program to the Ryman stage. Now folks could not just hear the Grand Ole’ Opry program on the radio, they could see it in person. Bill Monroe brought in his buddies Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs up on stage in 1945. Chet Atkins' great guitar licks came from center stage, too. So many greats joined the Opry and sang from the Ryman stage - Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Sr. There was this one fellow, though. His name was Elvis Presley. He brought his brand of music to the Opry stage one night in 1954. Well, he just a-wiggled and sang himself to not much applause. Elvis shook the dust of the Opry off his blue suede shoes that night. He never appeared on that stage again, since he was told his music wouldn’t amount to much. Ok, so maybe history isn’t all smart stuff after all.
     It was in the early 1960’s that the Ryman started to feel cursed. Y’ know, in that creepy, ghosty sort of way. Many members of the Grand Ole’ Opry stood center stage and performed their hearts out. But not too long after, they met their Maker in an untimely - and sometimes violent - way. Word has it that Patsy Cline even saw a premonition of her death in the plane crash right before it happened. No way to know for sure, but after her death, Opry members were hesitant to stand at that center stage microphone.  It got so bad that by the end of the 1960’s, National Life Insurance started looking to move the Opry show to a new home. The last Opry broadcast from Ryman Auditorium was in 1974, on March the 15th. Guess they thought it was fitting to kill the Opry at the Ryman on the Ides of March. Shakespeare would have loved the irony.

Center stage at the Ryman
     On March 16, 1974, the Grand Ole’ Opry christened it’s new home at Opryland USA, just across the Cumberland River. Now it was right near a hotel, and an amusement park so everyone could visit Opryland and stay a while.
     The Ryman didn’t fade into history, no sir. It became the Mother Church of Country Music. It became a set for scenes in “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. It was where Dolly Parton  filmed an episode of her variety show and Johnny Cash filmed his nationwide television show. It celebrated its first 100 years in 1992. Memorial services were held here for country greats Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette, to name a few.
     What’s more, many of the country performers of today insist on being inducted into the Grand Ole’ Opry from the Ryman stage. Just ask Brad Paisley, Ralph Stanley, and Charlie Daniels - all stood center stage at the Mother Church and were gathered into the country music fold.
     In 2001, the Ryman Auditorium was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 2006, Tennessee honored the Ryman as the Birthplace of Bluegrass.
      The day I visited - well, the Ryman was still busy. Peter Frampton was setting himself up for a concert that evening. I was able to walk around and see the costumes of many country legends. I watched a tribute to Minnie Pearl. Her signature “Howdie!” echoed all over the halls. And I toured those halls, sat in the pews, and remembered…

Minnie Pearl's costume and hat - complete with $1.98 price tag - on display
     Then it was time to leave Mother Church’s arms and visit the new Opry in town. It was gonna soon be time to see the Opry broadcast live. But first - I need some time to set a bit and think…

Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff in bronze

To be continued…


Historical information from www.ryman.com/history (about the Auditorium itself) and  http://thatnashvillesound.blogspot.com (about the Curse of the Ryman)

Photos by Marge McGugan

All photos are the property of Marge McGugan and may not be reused or copied without written permission.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What I did on my summer vacation...

Rule #25 – It’s ok to unleash your inner crazy person.

Wow… where did the time go?

My last post was June 12. That was right around the time that school in this area was letting out for summer. Strains of Alice Cooper’s hit were being sung at the top of  the lungs of every teacher I know. School was letting out forever for some of my friends as they made their lateral move to the recreational sector of life. That was just yesterday, or so it seems.

Now, I spent the summer trying to get back on the writing horse, so to speak. I started many a blog post, child’s story, essay… you name it. They are currently fermenting in a file on this very computer.

Yes, it is time to resurrect the writing mojo. Vacation’s over, Self. Back to work. After all, your teacher buds start back on Monday. Some are already back. Now it’s your turn. Let’s see what you’ve done with the two months off.

This year, summer vacation was a fun and exciting time. I got a chance to see Nashville (the city, not the show) and enjoy some good ole’ Tennessee hospitality. Ghost walks, concerts - that was the name of the game on that trip. Country music even managed to get me hooked on it while I was there. I got to see some shrines held in reverence by some - the Grand Ole’ Opry, Ryman Auditorium, and the Tennessee State Capitol building and grounds.

The trip south was followed by one up north. I got my chance to sit next to “Cliff Claven” at the Cheers bar in Boston, where no body knew my name. I rode the MTA’s T in Boston - and I did return (some of us are really old enough to know the Kingston Trio song reference here). Ned Devine fed me dinner at his pub in Quincy Market.

And there was the Paul McCartney concert at Nationals Park in DC… no words can describe how fantastic that was! Baseball season tickets to see my Orioles … all of this makes for a great vacation year.

So many memories to share… and I will now that vacation is over. I promise. I feel like a vacation junkie, in recovery, one blog post at a time.

So now what? How can I top this vacation season? Have I peaked? Not even!!!!

Time for me to revisit my bucket list. Time for me to see what more there is to do before I go from sniffing flowers to fertilizing them (literally). Time to see if I’m doing things to drive my kids and siblings crazy with worry - and if not, to begin the process.

You remember the movie “The Bucket List”? Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson played older fellows finishing life’s race doing crazy things they never would have done at other moments of their lives. There was an episode of “NCIS”, too, where DiNozzo (a kid by comparison) writes his bucket list. When I look at my list now, I don’t see things like “skydive” or “ride a ferris wheel naked“. I see a lot of items in process. There are goals that will take years to finish. Ok with me, World! I got time!

Let’s take a look at part of my list:
  1. Get back to weekly blog posts - started. Now to continue.
  2. See as many movies in the theater as possible - started. Yeah, I have cable with movie channels, but there is nothing like the in-house movie experience, complete with over-priced popcorn.
  3. See as many concerts as possible - started. Thank you, Sir Paul, for a fantastic evening. Carpool to the first Apollo Chamber Orchestra concert on September 20 is being formed as we speak.
  4. Make the 32 Pilgrimage - started, 3 down, 29 to go. For those who don’t know what this is, you see a baseball game in each of the 32 major league baseball parks. It may be your team; it may not. Last stop for me will be Yankee Stadium, not for any honorific reason, but because I wear Orioles orange and may not survive the experience.
  5. See an All-Star Game live - preferably before the Yankee Stadium visit.
  6. Follow Pop’s Normandy trail - planning stages. Next year is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Hub’s father came ashore at Utah Beach and then moved through the Ardennes with the Battle of the Bulge. I want to start this as close to June 6, 2014, as possible and drive through the country-side, just like he did as an Army medic.
  7. See as many theatrical productions as possible - started. Got my subscription to the Broadway Across America series at the Hippodrome Theater. Plans include dinner theaters too, along with a few school productions.
  8. Drive across country at least once. I can and probably will do this by myself. Ok with me, since I can use my own timetable.
  9. Drive the PCH and the ECH. That’s the Pacific Coast Highway and the East Coast Highway, or scenic waterway. My goal here is to get off the interstate and see things like Dead Man’s Curve. Plan to wear out my little Canon camera!
  10. Go to Rome, Germany, the Holy Land, and back to Japan. I’ve never been to Europe or the Middle East, and I want to see if I can still find my way around Tokyo all these years later. We left just as I was getting good at reading the Japanese Kana script.
  11. Watch a live TV show as an audience member, and/or watch a live film or TV shoot - better than possible. I live near DC and lots of political dramas need the local area as a back drop. “House of Cards” is shot in Baltimore - again, nearby. I’m a quick train trip to New York and Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman. This may be a sooner-rather-than-later item.
  12. Become a regular at Spring Training - planning stages. I’m still waiting for MLB to pull the spring practice schedules together.

Hey, I’ve only listed a dozen things here. There’s more on the list and I will not say if any of them include being naked. But the list is in constant flux - which is good! And it’s not a “bucket list”, really.

We teachers call them Performance Objectives. And these objectives will be met by at least one crazy person - me!