Limey Kay was a gun-toting, hard-drinking, motorcycle-racing stonemason. All around La Honda and the Santa Cruz Mountains you come upon samples of his masonry, usually with a whimsical touch. Often he mixed abalone shells among his bricks.
Limey's old house, built on a steep hillside between Laguna and Redwood Drive, is an eclectic mix of brick and stone reflecting different stages of his growth as a craftsman.
It's a small house, but it has six chimneys. According to Debbie Kay, Limey's daughter-in-law, "The reason there are six chimneys and not the same amount of fireplaces is that Limey had built five or six chimneys for Neil Young's place and Neil shouldn't have more chimneys than Limey!" No two of those six chimneys are alike. Consistency and symmetry were of not much interest to Limey Kay. Neither were foundations, so some of his work hasn't held up particularly well.
In his day, Limey's work was in great demand, but you had to know how to approach him. A six-pack of Coors was generally the cost of getting an estimate - or doing any kind of business with him. Joan Baez hired him by showing up at Apple Jack's with a pickup truck full of bricks and beer. When he worked, he started the day (at 6:30 in the morning) mixing mortar and drinking Coors, even in the cold of winter.
Besides Neil Young and Joan Baez, Limey was hired by another local celebrity: Ken Kesey. This particular job ended unfinished after Kesey invited Limey to join in a Fairy Circle, a regular event at Kesey's in which various Pranksters sat in a circle under the redwoods behind Kesey's cabin. In the Fairy Circle people would drop acid, hold hands, be quiet, and tell each other "where they were at." Limey (and a few other locals) couldn't quite adapt to this hippie custom and stomped out, never to return.
Limey had a series of vintage motorcycles. An old Bonneville of his can still be seen around town. With Hells Angels hanging out at Kesey's, and with Limey's history of racing motorcycles (which were not equipped with brakes), along with Limey's fondness for guns and alcohol, trouble was bound to happen. One day Limey held a gun to the head of a Hells Angel. For weeks thereafter Limey was on the lam, hiding out as the Angels sought revenge. Meanwhile Nancy Kay, Limey's wife, asked for mercy from her old friend Sonny Barger, who was head of the Oakland Hells Angels. Eventually Sonny called off the manhunt, and Limey came out of hiding.
For a while Limey carried a pearl-handled .44 Magnum revolver. He had only one bullet, which he kept in his pocket. Local residents still remember Limey laying the gun on the bar at Apple Jack's and demanding a beer, or Limey with a rifle threatening a neighbor's dog, or Nancy waiting until Limey passed out from drink and then tossing his gun in the lake. But here's the thing: Nobody has a story in which Limey ever fired a shot.
Hubert Allan Kay was born in December 1929 in Menlo Park, where he lived until 1961, when he married his first wife. According to James Adams, "The name 'Limey' was supposed to have been because he raced English flat-track motorcycles on no-brake bikes. The real reason for 'Limey' was because his Mom was English and he would go to England with her in his youth." Moving to La Honda, Limey built the two-story brick house on the hillside from the ground up, with his bare hands, in the early 1960s. The current owner of the house is working to preserve the house with all its eccentricities including, of course, the abalone shells.
On his 50th birthday, Limey married Nancy, 29 years old at the time, with whom he had a daughter five years later named Jody Rose. “I had already had three kids and he had four from a previous marriage,” Nancy Kay explained. “Jody was number eight and pulled the whole extended family together. Those were some of the best times of our life together.”
According to James Adams, "Limey had, at one time, 22 feral cats. [Descendants of those cats still hang around the woods near his cabin.] The cats knew they could trust him. He'd take Jody, his infant daughter, out with him to feed them in the mornings. He'd spend more money for huge bags of cat food than he'd spend at the bar, which was a lot."
Limey had a long-standing feud with the town of La Honda. Rather than pay his water bill, he poured concrete over the water meter box. Eventually, with the aid of a backhoe (and police backup), the town got a reading of the water meter, and got paid.
Limey didn't always have the firmest grasp of finances. One day he walked into a local realtor's office and said, "I hate to do it but I'm broke and I'm gonna have to sell my house." The realtor replied, "Limey, I'm sorry to tell you this but I already sold your house for you - three years ago."
Limey seemed to have a soft spot for animals and children. If anybody drove too fast up our little roads, Limey would flag them down. People were scared of Limey because he was gruff. If he spoke, he mumbled. And yet he often showed kindness. If your car was stuck in a ditch, Limey without being asked would pull you out with his monster jeep-like vehicle which he called The General.
Limey died in 2005, but his spirit lives on in La Honda, as well as examples of his craft. He was a folk artist, a pain in the butt, a one-of-a-kind stylist, and a local legend.
(The photo of Limey as a young man is by Susan Friedman in the book A Separate Place by Charles Jones.)
(I lifted a few quotes from an article in the Half Moon Bay Review by Greg Thomas, a fine man and talented reporter. In my defense I should point out that I was Greg's primary source for his article, so I'd say we're even.)