The Villa Studio

A friend who enjoyed reading literature and who would sit and talk of the adventures of her reading for spellbinding hours on end welcomed me into her parents’ and siblings’ warm home. Her dad owned a court reporting agency and some of her sisters were studying court reporting, and I found all of that and the stenograph machine most intriguing. Somewhere along the way, I expressed my interest to her dad, and he encouraged me to try my hand at it. He sent me to a court reporting school that he recommended, and I began really listening to the sounds of words and learning how to transcribe sounds theoretically and phonetically. Three peripheral subjects were treated in some detail as part of the curriculum: legal terminology, medical terminology, and English grammar. I enjoyed all three, but I found, as you may well imagine, the grammar presentations by the then called National Court Reporters Association very encouraging. It was the most comprehensive presentation I had yet found. I subscribed to their magazine, and for a number of years I read each issue from cover to cover for the many language and grammar discussions.

Canyon’s Tail is really about things that I did and things that happened that brought me to the point where I had something to write about: I did not know that a book was coming. It began because I had perhaps an unusual interest in words and grammar as an almost 13-year-old seventh grader, and I found that I could easily learn more words by reading and using a dictionary and by buying and working with vocabulary books. The subject of English grammar, however, was confusing and, at least for me, not easily understood. So I became afraid of grammar as a subject, and because I wanted to write well, I compensated for what I did not know about the mechanics of language by listening to and repeating the rhythms of the writers I knew and admired. Sometimes I would even walk around repeating lines to myself from the writings of various writers or even particularly nice sounding dictionary definitions.

You will see that Nancy Patterson holds a very prominent position on the dedication page of Canyon's Tail. The grammar course that she and her mother developed for the court reporting school was, and remains to this day, the most comprehensive I found. I took the course twice, and I remember that in the first few days of the first time I took the course, Ms. Patterson handed out an outline at the end of one class and went over it preliminarily. I was riding a bus to and from classes then, and I remember walking down to the bus stop and standing there with another student from her class and spontaneously remarking to him that I had been looking for the logic of the information on that outline for more than 20 years. My serious study of English grammar really began then, and I continued a daily investigation of the subject that lasted over the next ten years (and ultimately beyond).

I had quite innocently begun rescuing American Cocker Spaniels along the way, and I have been doing so for more than 40 years now. I wish I could say that at the beginning of that effort, I was the best of care givers for the breed. I did not abuse the animals, but like much else, one learns about the breed as one goes along, and the more one learns, the better the care one provides. It was difficult to find apartments where animals were accepted, too, and the dogs and I struggled with a limited number of places where we could live and with the higher rents that usually went along with renting with a pet. Twice the apartments we lived in were burglarized, and twice the dogs were still there when I returned (in one instance with a door that had been left open). In appreciation for being able to rent with dogs, it was always my policy to leave the rental property in better condition than when we moved in.

I began teaching in the Palm Beach County, Florida, School District, and in 1996 I received a summer scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford, to study English Literature. The scholarship was given by the English Speaking Union of Palm Beach, a private philanthropic educational organization. I carried my manuscript with me, and I shared it with the Don who was teaching Shakespeare. She in turn shared it with a prominent British author, and the two of them took me to lunch to make clear their encouragement. I was able to discuss the difficulties I was having with parts of the book, and I was buoyed by their generous remarks and encouragement. I continued with my studies and wrote what I could of the book. On the way home on a British Airways flight, I wrote important last sections of the book.

This really went on long into my time as an undergraduate at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. One afternoon there, one of the instructors in English took me aside and said with some consternation that he was afraid that if he were to ask some of his students what an adverb was they most likely would not be able to give even a rudimentary definition. I smiled only, wondered why he thought I was somehow different, and silently hoped he would not ask me that question. I also knew that he had either wittingly or unwittingly pointed out a deficiency I knew about and that I knew I had to address.

July 2013 Canyon's Tail was written to ease young people into the understanding that grammar is a part of the everyday, exciting world of fun and responsibility and even danger. A group of young boys and girls and a black American Cocker Spaniel named Canyon unwittingly become involved in an adventure in which they demonstrate their resourcefulness and realize their considerable abilities to learn and understand things with some help from good adults. Grammar becomes a part of their everyday world and eventually not something mysterious or puzzling. Canyon's Tail was published by Wooden Shelf Books as an eBook on Kindle, and those who have Amazon Prime can borrow the book without charge; apps are available so that book can be read on a PC or Mac without a Kindle reader. It is hoped that the children and their dog will find their way into your world of reading and understanding soon. I hope you enjoy the book!

The original autobiographical statement which is meant to provide details of my own adventure as the foundation for the book follows.

Canyon's Tail

I hope you found something to your liking in this introduction, and more importantly, I hope you will find Canyon's Tail, A Journey to the Land of Grammar an enjoyable reading experience.

With respect always,
​G.A. Villa

Ella joined our Cocker Spaniel family recently as a puppy, and she is maturing with great spirit and beauty.

What is important for this discussion is that dogs and other pets are often good listeners, and I found that I could practice my developing English skills on my dogs. For example, we often hear "You better do what you have been asked to do," and we become accustomed to those sounds. When we learn that the expression "had better" uses the proper auxiliary verb and is more correct, it is difficult to make the switch without practice. I would tell my dog something like "You had better eat all of your food, or there will be no dog biscuit." When I later carried "had better" out into the world in my conversation, I could use the form without self-consciousness or awkwardness. Canyon Breeze Everready heard more of this than any other of my Cocker Spaniels. When my niece was visiting the family home in Florida, Canyon had mischievously carried one of my socks out the front door, through the enclosed patio, and had deposited it on the front lawn. Some time later, I noticed one of my socks was missing, and I went into the living room where my niece, her girl friend, and Canyon were all sitting on the floor. I saw the sock on the lawn through the windows. I simply said to Canyon, "Go out and get my sock and bring it back to me." He did so. My niece exclaimed, "This dog understands English!" He had listened to many recitations of the distinctions between action and condition verbs, verb voice, verb mood, and the imperative, and there is a very good chance that he did understand English at that moment.

The American Cocker Spaniel is indeed at the heart of Canyon's Tail, and I will let the book tell you more of what you need to know about that.

A second woman shares prominence on the dedication page, and she is Patricia Craddock, Distinguished Professor of English Emerita, at the University of Florida. From 1992 to 1994, I studied full time at the University of Florida to complete my Master of Education degree in English Education. Professor Craddock was then the English Department Chair for the University of Florida. I was in one of her classes, and it was indeed an enriching experience. I decided to go to see her and tell her about the book which I was writing and to ask her to take a look at it. She did so and agreed to meet with me on a regular basis to discuss the book and its progress. She challenged the time line in my story and gave me examples from notable authors who had handled that problem in certain ways. She asked for clarification when something was not completely clear. She complimented the good aspects of my writing. Finally, as I was about to graduate and leave the University, she said simply, "I believe in this project of yours." It was a powerful and important piece of encouragement. I continued to work on the book.

I moved to Florida and took my interest in court reporting and English with me where I studied the subjects privately. I decided some time later to go to Los Angeles, and then I surprised myself by looking up the address of a regular columnist in The National Shorthand Reporter magazine. I went to his offices, introduced myself, and told him I had admired his writing for a good number of years. He was delighted, asked if I wanted to be a court reporter, and suggested that I enroll in a school around the corner from his business. To be sure that I would, he offered me a job organizing his library of books on the history of shorthand that he had been collecting for many years. I went around the corner, enrolled, and found there a curriculum of comprehensive coursework in court reporting and English grammar and mechanics.

In 1982 I had adopted an all-black, male American Cocker Spaniel from a breeder whose policy it was to buy back any cocker she sold when the buyer decided that he or she no longer wanted the dog. His pedigree name was Canyon Breeze Everready, and the book and the title was really born at that moment.

Presently, three American Cocker Spaniels grace our home and are in my wife's and mine and their veterinarian's care. Canyon II was adopted when he was eight months old. He was understandably quite upset at the time I brought him from his first home, and he promptly got a hold of and chewed the cover and part of the binding off of my hardbound copy of Jane Austin, The Complete Novels. I treated him to some strong words of disapproval, and resigned myself to the loss of a cherished book. Some months later I attended a large regional book sale, and somewhat unbelievably I found a pristine hardbound copy of a more complete edition of the book. I purchased it, and all was well again between Canyon II and me. Canyon II passed away on April 4, 2013.

Holly was adopted when she was six months old, and she has a remarkable curiosity about and delight in anything that goes on around her. Invariably she draws the admiration of visitors with her affection. Anyone who sits down and shows an interest in her is treated to her nearly relentless attempt to find her way into that person's lap and bestow as many kisses as will be allowed. She senses the limits of a person's tolerance for animal affection, however, and she does not cross any boundaries of acceptance. Holly also chewed and destroyed a book when she first came into the house, but it was easily replaced through purchase. Perhaps because there are so many books around my home, the dogs were anxious to let me know that they, too, like books.

Roadster is the first American Cocker Spaniel puppy I have owned, and he grew into a fine and sensitive fellow. As a puppy, he happily spent time chewing up things around the house. A little over a year ago, he lost his sight, and he is doing very well with the help of his two Cocker Spaniel friends and one cat.

Coming to grips with a subject one feels deficient in without knowing why one is deficient in that subject means that one starts looking but sees not with the full acuity of one’s central vision but with the hope of one’s peripheral vision. I would read about nouns and verbs and the other parts of speech, but I never felt the satisfaction of feeling that what I knew was comprehensive. I was looking to fill a gap in what I knew. "What is it that I don't understand?" was a question that ran through my largely self-directed study of English grammar.

About G.A. Villa