All the Grays

via Daily Prompt: Gray

Grey. It’s a simple word, that describes the color of the sky on an overcast day.

But wait! Grey is not the WordPress Daily Prompt I’m responding to here. The prompt is Gray – a fact that is quite telling, because gray is a word which does not have meaning in the English language, outside of the United States of America. Which is where I live. Outside of the United States of America, that is – ie, in that place known as the rest of the world.

Before I go too far, let’s just double check that I’m not making things up here. Maybe there are, universally, differing opinions on whether the word is grey or gray?

According to the site grammarly.com:

By the twentieth century, “grey” had become the accepted spelling everywhere except in the United States.

Here’s what Dictionary.com says about the two spellings:

….gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK. For centuries, the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings.

They don’t. It’s the same word, spelled differently. As Grammarly goes on to say:

Here’s a tip: Gray is more common in the United States, and grey is more common in the rest of the English-speaking world.

Okay then. Or maybe that should be okey, depending on where you live.

So this is an interesting prompt. Given that a one word prompt is supplied with no context, what is someone who is not from the U.S.A to make of this word? That it’s grey, spelled wrongly? What’s the best way to respond to this if it’s not actually your language?

Of course, the strange thing about my reaction to this “misspelling” is that there are lots of English words that are spelled differently between English speaking countries – usually, between the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. Take colour, for example, which is spelled color in the U.S. I accept that these are just variations of the same word. If WordPress had put color up as a prompt, it would not have occurred to me to comment on the spelling at all.

So what is it about grey v gray that got me seeing red?

I think it’s because it’s only four letters long, so the variation in the spelling seems more significant. As noted above, Dictionary.com says the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings. 

I think that’s quite reasonable. After all, one letter can make a big difference: try mixing up pray and prey.

So no, grey and gray don’t have different meanings. I understand that in principle, but I’m attached to grey being the correct spelling of the colour that’s half way between black and white. I don’t like replacing it with gray, because that just feels like bad spelling. But the prompt was gray. So I will write about gray.

Here in Australia, gray can be a name, and I do know of a few Grays.

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Gray was the name of the family Doctor I used to visit when I was sick as a child.

Imagination and memory crash together as one gets older, so I am not sure now if it’s because of his name that I picture this gentleman with a neat grey beard. Perhaps his beard was actually dark brown, or black. In any case, I’m 99% sure that he did, at least, have a beard, whereas I’m also 99% sure that he didn’t wear the black top hat that, for some reason, insists on popping itself on his head in my mental image of him. Apparently in my mental image of this doctor from my childhood, a frock-coat and a hansom cab would not be out of place. It seems that I picture Dr Gray looking as if he had stepped out of a Dickens novel.

Is this all conjured up in my faulty memory because his name was Gray? Who can say?

What I can tell you is that the doctor’s offices were in a little double-fronted Victorian cottage, and that he kept dingoes as pets. When the breeze blew the right way, we could hear them howling in the evenings. The doctor’s surgery was only a block or so from our house, which was convenient for my mother, since she couldn’t drive, and whenever one of her six children was sick, this unfortunate news would most often be uncovered around 8am when they woke up, and Dad, the only person in the family who could drive, would have left for work at 6am.

Therefore, no matter how sick we were, if we were certain that we were too sick for school, we’d have to get up and walk to the doctor’s surgery.

No wonder I never take sick days.

I can also tell you that in Dr Gray’s waiting room was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen in a house up to that point. It was a huge aquarium, at least 3 feet long and about the same in height, that hummed and bubbled, pumping air for fishes of various sizes and colours that flurried around in the water. I was too young to have any interest in the women’s magazines on offer, but my time in the waiting room was amply filled in by simply staring at the fish.

When you have a bunch of brothers, as I do, there are always other stories on the peripheries of your memory, stories you were told second or third hand, sometimes years later, tales of the things that your brothers got up to, that you never saw and so have only ever pictured in your imagination. I feel as if there is a funny story that involved my brothers and Dr. Gray’s car, or his sons, or his dingoes, or his surgery, or a combination of all the above, but I can’t recall any more than that.

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The other Gray I know of is an Australian Artist from the post-war period, Gray Smith. The only reason I recall the existence of Gray Smith is not because of his art, however, but because he was married to Joy Hester, an Australian modernist artist who is reasonably well-known within Australia.*

In an unusual gender reversal, which probably serves as an indication of their relative status as artists, there is not even a Wikipedia page for Gray Smith, while there is a brief entry for Joy Hester.  Hester’s body of work is unusual in that she worked mostly in brush and ink on paper, a medium that was not valued as highly as oils, and may be one reason why her work was not as well known as that of some of her male contemporaries such as Albert Tucker (her previous husband).

Many of the images she depicted were of women, or were about relationships between men and women, another reason why her work could have been viewed by some, particular given the period, as merely the frivolous doodlings of a lady artist.

Joy Hester, Lovers [II] 1956

Image: National Gallery of Australia

As for Gray Smith, I can’t tell you anything more about him, except that he fathered some children with Hester. Unusually, Smith suffers the fate that so many women throughout history were subjected to – to be remembered by the history books mostly because he was married to someone more famous.

*

So that’s it I guess. All the Grays I know of.

 Gray

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Tijuana Taxi

This post is written in response to a recent Daily Prompt on Word Press: What sort of music was played in your house when you were growing up? What effect, (if any) did it have on your musical tastes? Admittedly, I have not answered the question, but this is what the prompt inspired:

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Imagination

When I was a child, I lived many lives. I was a teacher, my younger siblings were the students. I was a shop keeper, they were my customers. I owned a horse, and rode across the paddocks at night. I lived, with my horse, in some mysterious, only half-formed place, out of sight, in amongst the trees that were always somewhere in my line of vision as my father drove the family car along country roads. I was a dancer. I was a Spanish woman. I lived in the cubby house my father built out in the backyard, where I fed and sheltered the poor. I had an imaginary friend named Monty. In the dark one night, I saw a menacing knight in shining armour standing guard outside my parents’ bedroom door, forbidding me to come any closer.

Imagination opened up worlds unseen by anyone but me.

Memory

For a very long time now though, I’ve been an adult. Along with all the other shortcomings that brings, one of the greatest is the failure of my imagination to so thoroughly take me to another place.

Now that I’m an adult, and even my daydreams are grounded in reality, to experience such complete absorption in imagination, I have to draw on my memory.

But there is a problem with that, because memory fades, and also, at times, deceives.

*

My memories of childhood are fragmented and sparse, but here is something I do recall:

I recall a special skirt. It was a soft cotton, cream-colored, full, covered in a a pattern of small blue flowers, with a frill around the bottom. It was a “dress-up.” Perhaps it arrived in a bag of “hand-me-downs” from my older cousins. I don’t know where it came from, but I loved this skirt, and reserved it for a special ritual. I may have been pre-school aged at this time, or 5 or 6 at most.

I would ask my mother –  inevitably, in this memory, busy in the kitchen – to play one of her favourite records, Going Places!  by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Mum would put the vinyl album on the old record player in the kitchen, and I would put on my skirt. And in the carpeted hallway, just outside the kitchen, in my frilly skirt, I would dance.

Oh boy, did I dance. Memory, (or is it imagination?) conjures up a picture of a little girl with an earnest face, that is red and sweaty with the exertion of twirling, hopping, and doing the can-can, to Going Places! in her special skirt.

Herb Alpert - Going Places!

Don’t worry, she’s strapped in!

Pic: Wikipedia

My adult memory is too swamped from storing all the minutiae of 40-odd years worth of life, for me to have recalled the name of the album of its own accord, but that is what the internet, and Wikipedia, are for. A search quickly located the specific album, which was easily recognised by the memorable album cover, and by certain track titles. (Interestingly, I remembered the aeroplane on the cover but I’d forgotten the reclining waitress!)

In case you feel tempted to pull out your own special skirt and give it a whirl – and who would blame you? –  highly recommended titles for dancing to – according to my memory – were Tijuana Taxi, Spanish Flea, A Walk In The Black Forest, and, last but by no means least,  Zorba the Greek.

Judging by my approximate age when I was so enamoured with this album, it must have been the mid 70s, and the music was about 10 years old by then. The tunes were jazzy and infectious with a Latin/Mariachi band sound and (as in the track below) the brass section added humorous touches, such as honks, just to liven up the already upbeat mood. No wonder I couldn’t keep my excitable childish feet still listening to them!

And in my head, as I danced frantically in that hallway, it seems to my now-hazy memory that I was some other person.  I’m pretty sure that “other” person was not specific. I was too young to consciously aspire to any particular model of adulthood. If I did have a picture of a female dancer in mind, my limited frame of reference at the time means that she was probably a character from a Looney Tunes cartoon. In a very abstract sense, I was not anyone in particular, but I was not my usual self, and as I twirled in my skirt, I felt an intoxicating sensation of freedom.

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When I was young, all it took was a few props, to be transported to some other world that existed only in my imagination. Nowadays, it doesn’t tend to have that same effect, but some music can certainly transport me back, to days that no longer exist, except as images stored in my hazy memory.

Oh, and dancing? I still love that feeling of being someone else that it gives me, but that’s a story for another time.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – Tijuana Taxi – courtesy of Youtube

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