All Hallows Eve

’The wind was a special wind this night and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells; gourds being cut, pies being baked.” From ‘The Halloween Tree”, by Ray Bradbury, one of Peter’s favorite sci-fi and short story writers.

In the paper this morning there was a whole page article on spooky sports costumes. One was Tom Brady and Deflate Gate. Tom Brady at a news conference in his ski cap and a toddler dressed like a deflated football. The next was two siblings dressed like National baseball players who engaged in a little strangulation tussle in the dugout during the team’s September slump. They said it helped if the siblings didn’t like each other. How horribly cute.

In Elementary School, I used to stop at Chapels Five and Dime and look at all the costumes, but I knew my father wasn’t going to spring for any of them. So when I went Trick or Treating, I usually ran into the house about dusk and quickly pulled together one of three standard looks: ghost, witch, or hobo (no princesses or superheroes) and got a big brown grocery bag; quality of the loot not as important as quantity. Then we set out to scour the island: no parents in tow. We were in large groups. Kids usually traveled that way. One lady always invited us in for cocoa and popcorn balls. And there were a few haunted houses along the way. At the end of the night, we went home and spread out all our candy on the floor and gloried in our night’s take. And there were always some pennies from houses where they had forgotten to buy candy. No one dares not leave his or her lights on.

In Mexico, they have a lovely and related tradition. November 2nd is El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), a day on which the living remember their departed relatives. In the afternoon, families meet at the cemetery, clean up grave sites, play cards, listen to the village band and tell stories about their departed loved ones. In our church, we have All Saints Day when we similarly honor our elders.

When I was a child, my mother and father always took my brother and me to the family gravesite at Easter and Christmas. Mom always put flowers on the graves. There was a well to get water from at the edge of the plot. Now they have all been sealed up for safety. The oldest graves were my great-grandfather’s and great-grandmother’s graves: Richard Curry and Matilda Jane Lowe born in the 1830’s. The graves were unmarked, but my mother had told me who was buried there. Peter and I put headstones on their graves with the dates that had been recorded at the Monroe County Library. My mother always looked for her father’s grave, but never found it. He was buried in Potter’s Field somewhere. He was a night watchman in his elder years and was knifed by a burglar and died soon after. I remember seeing my mother just staring out the window on the day he died.

At Christmas, I’m going to invite all the family to go whitewash the graves, make the writing on the headstones more visible, and clean the yard. Wish me luck.

The Information Age

I have been called a Luddite. Maybe it’s my age, but I think it’s more likely my nature. Hence, I am being dragged into the Information Age. The Internet and the calculator have replaced encyclopedias and the slide rule. Life has changed. I once told my mentor that I had no interest in learning to operate these new informational tools. She said, “Joanne, life is going to pass you by.“

I mostly think of the computer as a tool, rather than as an entertainment device. I do business stuff, email and my children and grandchildren are driving me into texting, which I am slowly grasping. Email is a bygone thing; they hardly look at it anymore. At my age I am finding that things are out before I know they’re fully in. I first noticed this years ago when the newspaper on New Year’s Day listed all the ins and outs. I barely knew what half of them were, in or out. And the things that were out, I had never even known to be in. And I was just getting into the outs.

I do not do Facebook or Twitter, nor do I Tweet or anything else they’ve invented in the last hour. But I do write a blog, which I suppose is entertainment. My Luddite self is being compromised. So I am here to enlighten us on the verbiage of the Internet. I know my granddaughters could do a better job, but right now I’m all you have. I looked up all this stuff on the informational Internet.

Let’s start with blog. It is a truncation of Weblog, which is a discussion or information site, published on the worldwide web or WWW. From that comes bloggers and blogger sphere and blogging. OK, now that we know what we’re about, let’s delve further.

My crossword Saturday had the word emoticon. It is a keyboard representation of a facial expression. There are lots of them. Here are two useful ones:   🙂 and 🙁   made with colons, dashes and parentheses (although this program won’t display them like that, substituting smiley faces instead). There are lots of emotiwords, also, but the only one I liked was emotibabble, sort of like psychobabble.

I looked up Internet expressions on Google. There were about 320 of them. There were 15 of these that started with I. Here are a few of them: IC (I see), IDC (I don’t care), IDGI (I don’t get it?), IDK (I don’t know), IDTS (I don’t think so), IIRC (If I remember correctly), ILY (I love you) and my favorite, IMHO (In my humble opinion). There were three that began with U: U (You), U2 (You, too) and UR (You are). It’s the me generation showing its ugly head.

Cyberspace is full of information, videos and, yes, peril. As Obi-Wan said in “Star Wars” about the Mos Eisley Spaceport. “You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Yes it is untamed and perilous; yet it is as full of opportunity and as free as the Wild, Wild West. As dangerous as it could be, do we really want it censored? It’s a tough call. I think we just have to be very, very careful in its use.

In the seventies, when the possibilities of the Internet first came to light, I tried to think of ways it could be used. My brain could not get around it. It is more far-reaching and changing our lives in ways we could not imagine then. In my first year Biology Class when in college, the professor put up a graph on the board showing the growth in information or knowledge through the centuries. It was a fairly constant line of growth of about 30 Degrees. Then in the 1960’s it spiked to nearly 90 degrees. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Monroe County Beach

County beach is what we called it back when I spent my summer days there. It was our water playground. My first memory of it was my mom taking me to a small carnival there when I was about five. There was a ride with little rowboats in a circle of water. I remember being a little scared because that water was ten feet deep in my mind. It’s interesting which memories stick in our brains and are brought up occasionally.

I remember during summer vacation time in early elementary school years, all we neighborhood children would gather early in the morning and rather than going to County Beach, we would walk to Miss Louisa’s Beach. I assume Miss Louisa lived there, but it is an assumption since we never saw her. There were a lot of rocks along the beach, which had tidal pools. When the tide was out, we would pour over all the interesting little water creatures, which harbored there. We went swimming and I remember schools of fish swimming about our legs. It was right next door to the restaurant, Louie’s Backyard. Of course Louie’s Backyard wasn’t there then.

When in our younger teens, we went to County Beach. There was more entertaining stuff there. It had a beach concession stand, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and sodas. It also had a pinball machine and a rifle game that we fed quarters into when we had them. Now it is Salute, a restaurant right on the beach, where you can have a nice dinner, enjoy the evening sunset and watch young men and women play beach volleyball. Later when in high school we used to go in the evenings to the pavilion on the beach and bring our ukuleles and guitars and play and sing folk songs, a very cool thing to do in the Sixties._DSC0016

Now, Peter and I often go to Monroe County Beach, renamed Clarence Higgs Beach when the county transferred the beach to the city of Key West. The sunsets are breathtakingly beautiful there when reflected in the calm waters. One rainy and overcast day, we were sitting on the beach lamenting the lack of a sunset when the sun broke through the clouds and we walked out on the pier and sat to watch. There was one other man standing behind us taking one photo after another. There was a cloud that partially covered the sun so we wondered why he was taking so many photos. Then Peter started laughing and said, “We’re watching a partial eclipse. See, the shadow is going down with the sun.” And we had no camera with us.

At certain times of the year there are swarms of birds that fly in formation and swoop and turn and are fun to watch. One evening a wet osprey landed on the top of the mast of a sailboat pulled up on the beach. He ruffled and shook his feathers and smoothed them out with his beak. He was fun to watch as he made himself presentable to the world. He had just had his meal and was making himself ready for a night on the town.

Another evening we were walking out on the pier and saw a large blob about six feet long moving in the water under the dock. It left the pier and started swimming out to sea. There was a young man on the pier and he told us that it was a Manatee and that there are lots of them out on Stock Island near the fishing boats. They are usually found in Middle Florida near the Tampa area and until the last number of years not seen in Key West. They are mostly herbivorous, and sometimes known as sea cows.

In the beach area there is a playground and tennis courts and a Dog Park and Bocce Ball courts, and an AIDS Memorial; and coming soon a new running and exercise course for all those buffed millennials. Also, there are beach chairs and umbrellas to rent for us more sedentary bookish types. West Martello Towers, a Civil War defensive fort is on the beach and the Key West Garden Club has quarters there; inside the walls there are lovely gardens. Peter, a Yankee, says that it serves as a reminder that Key West remained in Union hands during that war.

One New Years Eve we were at my parent’s house and there was a fireworks display at midnight off the White Street pier. We went down to the beach where we usually go to watch the sunset. It was a warm evening and we were dressed for summer. They don’t do that anymore. Now a popular female impersonator in Key West named Sushi (Gary Marion) descends from a bright red glittered high heel shoe eight feet long with a four-foot heel above the Bourbon Street Pub. This year will be her 17th time celebrating the New Year in a very stylish Key West way._DSC0020

The Rest of the Way Down Duval Street

Leaving Saint Paul’s Episcopal at the corner of Duval and Eaton, we go across Duval to the Oldest House. Originally on Whitehead Street before there was a Duval Street, it was moved to Duval Street sometime in the early 1800’s and was there by 1836. Captain Francis Watlington, his wife Emeline and their nine daughters lived there, the youngest, Lily Watlington, never married and lived there until she died in the 1930’s. Someone later bought it and gave it to The Old Island Restoration Foundation, which had it restored.  Admission is free to the public.  There’s a lovely peace garden out back so you can rest after your hectic stroll down Duval Street.

Down the street on the other side is the Women’s Club. Founded in 1915, it has been a major source of good works in the community. They have a beautiful old building that has been lovingly restored and is open to the public. Their cookbook, published in 1949, has been sold around the world. It contains many of the old Key West Recipes, is quite amusing and a delightful read. I have a copy of the original given to my mother. It has been much used but still intact. My “love to cook” friends love to read it. It has been reprinted many times, a real timepiece, and has turtle steak recipes, now a protected species. Peter says they  served turtle steak at the Bachelor Officers Quarters when he first came to Key West in 1968. We used to have it when I was little. It sort of tastes like veal and was served breaded. All the recipes in the original cookbook were handwritten and very conversation-like with very few measurements given, the way people cooked back then, mostly from recipes handed down from female forbears. The newer editions are typed, easier to read but not as charming.

Behind the Woman’s Club on their property is the Red Barn Theater. My first date with Peter was to hear Yehuda Guttman play classical piano at what later became the Red Barn. It is a very small intimate theater, about 150 seats. We go there a lot. They give me a handicap space in their small lot beside the theater.

Further down the street are two restaurants, Hard Rock Cafe and Fogarty’s, both in old mansions and with indoor and outdoor eating. They are always jam-packed. And The Bull, a bar across the street (I’ve never been) with dozens of motorcycles and bicycles out front makes this block very crowded and noisy. The young people love it.

Across the street on the corner of Duval and Greene is Sloppy Joe’s, a famous Key West saloon with an Earnest Hemingway connection. Hemingway patronized Russell’s bar, which was an illegal speakeasy during Prohibition. Joe Russell was a friend and fishing companion of Hemingway’s for 12 years. When Prohibition ended, Hemingway encouraged Joe Russell to rename the bar Sloppy Joe’s. In July of each year there is a Hemingway look-alike contest. The 36th one will be in July 2016. All the past winners have formed the Hemingway Look-Alikes Society (HLAS), all men with white beards. I’ve never been in there, but when Peter first came to Key West, he remembers that there were three sailors in the place, two playing pool in the back and one hung over the bar. Today when we ride down Duval Street, it is hard not to hit the throngs pouring out onto the sidewalk and street.


On the other side of the street down on the corner of Duval and Front Street is the First National Bank building built in 1926. It is a beautiful red brick building, probably art deco (Photo from State Archives of Florida). I heard from my father that in the bank failures of the twenties, a lot of Key Westers took their money out of the Key West bank and put it in the bank in Miami. The bank in Miami failed, but the First National Bank in Key West didn’t. At, least, that’s the story I heard.

The last place on Duval Street right on the water is the luxury Pier House Resort, built in 1968. It has a spa, bar, restaurant and beach. Key West was a navy town in the 60’s. When the Navy started leaving Key West, the downtown area was dying, a lot of stores boarded up. The Old Island Restoration Foundation had restored the Audubon house and the unique history and quirkiness of the island had always had a certain appeal to tourists and snowbirds. David Wolkowsky grew up in Key West and Miami and received his degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He visited Key West in 1962. His family had some properties in Old Town. In 1963 he purchased the old Cuban Ferry Dock, waterfront property near Mallory Square for $106,000. He built the Pier House Resort and Spa, making a large investment in that part of the island. And the rest followed. In 2002 Wolkowsky created a Teacher Merit Reward Fund, which gives $5,000 to each of nine Key West teachers and $25,000 to a single teacher each year. He is also said to be responsible for no high-rise hotels on the island. I don’t know how he accomplished that. I also don’t know how the infrastructure on the island could have supported them.


A Stroll down Duval Street

Duval Street begins for me at South Beach. When I was six and for some years afterward, my father would come home from work, and take my brother and me for a dip in the ocean. We would swim through his legs and jump off his shoulders. He said we didn’t give him a moment’s peace. I remember the day he took me to a rock in the deep water out near the seaweed, and told me to swim back to him. I didn’t think I could, but I did. I never learned to properly swim until I took Swimming for a PE credit in college. Then at the end of the swim, he would drag us up on the beach, and our swimsuits would be full of sand. We would put our towels on the car seats to keep from burning our butts from the hot vinyl seats and ride the eight blocks to our house. No one walked back then if they could possibly avoid it. Dad would turn on the pump and hose us off with cold water. My Mom would put us in our night clothes and we would have supper and then they (my two great aunts, Aunt Nellie and Aunt Emma lived with us) would spend an hour or so on the porch in the big wicker rocking chairs talking and rocking my brother and me to sleep before going to bed. No TV back then. My parents always went to bed at 9:30. And got up at 5:30. They went to the Laundromat on Mondays, and did the grocery shopping on Thursdays. Such regimented lives they lived.

As we start down Duval, the next place of interest is La Te Da, restaurant, cabaret theater, bar and hotel at 1125 Duval. Teodoro Perez, a prominent cigar manufacturer, built the house in1892. The property included a large factory facing Simonton St. and cottages for his workers on nearby Catherine. Perez was known for his political support for Cuba Libre (Free Cuba) in the late nineteenth century and the Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti gave a speech from his large second floor balcony (La Terraza de Marti). A way down on the same block is Flamingo Crossing which sells homemade tropical ice cream. My favorite is coconut, while my father liked Sour Sop (Guanabana).

Next we go past Truman Avenue and head toward Downtown. When I was a child, we always got dressed up and went downtown on Saturday night. Miss Leila and Miss Grace lived in a large two-story house on the corner of Southard and Duval. It is no longer there. It had a large front porch with rocking chairs and some stairs where we kids used to sit. My father would take us to Kress Five and Dime and each week we got to pick out a little toy. We would all sit on the porch talking and watching the parade of people passing by. Next door was the Strand Movie Theater and next to that was a Locker Club, where sailors kept civilian clothes, which they could not keep on ships.

Across the street were the San Carlos Theater and a few doors down from that the Kress store, which later became Fast Buck Freddie’s, which sold high-end clothing, furniture, furnishings and novelties. Visiting the store was an adventure. Internet shopping eventually did them in and the store closed a few years ago, much to the consternation and disappointment of many. A CVS opened up there a year ago, the fourth one on this small island. Not all change is positive.

Across Fleming Street on the same side is the La Concha Hotel. A luxury hotel built in 1926. At six stories, it was then the tallest building in Key West and still is. We used to be able to take the elevator to the roof and have a 360-degree view of the island. But like all good things, that has disappeared. Not the view, but just us being able to get up to see it. The public room at the top is now a private spa. Here is a picture we took of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church from the rooftop of the La Concha number of years ago. The house next door is the Rectory. DSCN0081St. Paul’s is across the street and down the way on the corner of Eaton and Duval Streets.

This is the fourth St. Paul’s on this site, the others destroyed by hurricanes or fire. It is a beautiful church with nineteen magnificent stained glass windows depicting stories of the Bible. Washington National Cathedral and St. John the Devine in New York have windows crafted by Phipps, Ball and Burnham and Charles Connick Associates, the same firms responsible for most of St. Paul’s finest windows. When you enter the church, the beauty of these windows strikes you, particularly the dazzling blue one above the Baptismal font in the back of the church where I was baptized and my son 25 years later. My mother said I screamed the whole time at my baptism. The priest said it was the devil coming out. St. Paul is the patron saint of shipwrecked souls and the church is open to visitors most days.

Next week I’ll continue my stroll from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. When I was growing up, we were not allowed to go past Eaton St. Mostly bars down that way and the shrimp boat fleet. It was a rough side of town. So different now.

Key West International Airport


When you arrive at Key West International Airport, you deplane onto the tarmac and walk a bit to get to the terminal. Over the top of the terminal is a sign that says, “Welcome to the Conch Republic”. Conch was the name given to the original residents of Key West who largely came from Green Turtle Key in the Bahamas in the 1830’s. They were Tories who had no truck with those Revolutionaries and moved lock, stock and barrel to the Bahamas in the late 1700’s and to Key West in the early 1800”s. In later years the name was applied to anyone descended from them and eventually to anyone born and raised in Key West.

In 1982, the US Border patrol set up a blockade on US 1, just south of Florida City. This act isolated Key West citizens from the US mainland since US 1 is our only road in and out. This was done to check for illegals, drug smugglers, and other miscreants, but actually just made it a real pain to get to Key West. Because of the impact to the economy of Key West, the city protested. A delegation led by Mayor Wardlow went to the federal courthouse in Miami to get an injunction to stop the blockade. By some, it was reported that after careful consideration of all the legal issues, the court told them to “buzz off.”

After no redress from the court, the city under Mayor Wardlow presented the Conch Republic Proclamation of Secession. This was done with humor and anger. Mayor Wardlow, now the new nation’s Prime Minister declared war on the United States, which entailed entirely of beating some federal agents with stale Cuban Bread. The Conch Republic immediately surrendered to the United States and requested post-war foreign aid. All done “tongue in cheek,” but the point was made. It is said that, “To this day, Conchs maintain a deep and abiding hope that someday, somehow, the U.S. federal government will actually do something helpful.”

In May 1913, Augustin Paria flew a bi-wing seaplane from Key West to Cuba without a compass to guide him. He landed at sea near Mariel, Cuba where sailors rescued him. In 1918, a two-motored Navy Seaplane flew to Cuba. Aeromarine was the first commercial airline to use Key West, followed by mail delivery by Pan American in 1927. In 1953, the city gave Monroe County clear title to Meacham Field and the name changed to Key West International Airport. To my knowledge, the only international destinations have been Cuba and The Bahamas.

Key West International Airport has only one runway and a short one at that. When large planes, like 737’s land, they have to really slam on the brakes. And I’m always a little nervous when taking off that we don’t run out of runway and land in the salt marsh. The airport underwent a much-needed renovation in 2006, which more than doubled its size. It now has three departure gates.

The last time I was there, the gate attendant for one of the smaller airlines announced that there were 24 people on his flight, but only 3 had checked in. He then said, “ The rest of you are in the bar and you need to pay up and get out here. I think he was kidding, but I’m not sure. There really is a bar next to the gates. In the old days, it was the only 24-hour bar in Key West

Years ago, when I used to fly home to see my folks, my father would always wait for me on a bench just outside the front of the airport. One day a man walked out and said “Ah, paradise. “ My father said, in a low voice. “Yeah, well it used to be.” He had seen so many changes that he didn’t much like to his island, all in the name of progress.

Janis, Drugs, Woodstock and Vietnam

In 1971, Peter brought home the newly released album “Pearl” an LP of Janis Joplin and her songs. Neither of us was that familiar with Janis Joplin or her music. I do remember watching one of the late talk shows one night. She was on and they discussed her blues singing, which to my taste was a little too frenetic, and her drug use. She said she needed the drugs to work herself up to the fever pitch her audience demanded. In retrospect, she was playing at a level of intensity that she couldn’t sustain.

Anyway, her new album featured her song “Me and Bobby McGee” which Peter and I really liked. Kris Kristofferson, who wrote the song, had recorded it as more of a softer and slower folk song. You can find both versions below. Kristofferson said he liked Janis Joplin’s version better. Maybe so, but I understood the lyrics better when he sang it. Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970 during the recording of “Pearl” and it was released after her death in January 1971: so many of the pop singers of that generation died of drug overdoses. Drugs were definitely one of the scourges of our time.

There’s a lot about Janis Joplin on the Internet. She was at Woodstock in 1969, the year we were married. Watching all the images on the Internet was a bit of a downer, as I don’t remember it as a happy time. It was also the year we landed on the moon. Peter started grad school that year so we felt the full effect of all the campus angst over the Vietnam War. The ROTC office was fire bombed. William Buckley was invited to speak on campus and was shouted down. It was a turbulent and uneasy time.

My son, when in High School said to us at supper one night, “You two can’t tell me that you were in college in the 60’s and didn’t take drugs.”  Peter leaned over and said, ”You have to face the fact that your parents were nerds.”  We were. Also, we were both in school situations with zero tolerance for mind-altering substances. Then, when Peter was in grad school, we were a little older and newly married and on to other things and kind of skirted ahead of all that.

Janis Joplin sings “Me and Bobby McGee,”

 Kris Kristofferson sings “Me and Bobby McGee,”



It’s in all our newspaper, the Key West Citizen: Cuba and what will happen to Key West when it opens. How will it affect this little island that depends so heavily on tourism when the new “Oh Wow” place opens up.

I remember that day in 1956 when Batista was deposed and Fidel Castro took over. All the Cubans in Key West were parading in the streets, beeping horns and celebrating. And then it all went sour.

I remember in the early fifties when there was a car ferry that ran from Key West to Havana. I think it went every weekend, leaving Friday night and returning Monday morning. Mostly, It was to gamble, very popular in Batista’s time. My parent’s always talked about it, but never went.

Well, all that came to a halt, as Fidel turned to Russia and Communism, which all led to the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was a junior in High School in 1962. My family always took a Sunday drive around the boulevard and I remember the Marines dug foxholes in the sand on the beach. And here we were doing our normal Sunday outing and staring at all the fuss. It was surreal. I remember the military jets constantly flying there and back, the television showing missiles coming to Cuba from Russia, by ship.

Then there was the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Kennedy Assassination, and all the political turmoil after that.

So, here it is 2015 and Cuba is opening up and change is inevitable. Some think we’ll get bypassed if we don’t have the ferry here. Others think that having the ferry will clog the Overseas Highway, be a big expense to taxpayers here, and the tourists won’t stay, as Cuba will give them more bang for their buck.

So, how can Key West compete with Cuba? Of course, others think change may not come as quickly as thought. But change will come and we’d better think about how our community can thrive in it and maybe even capitalize on it.

I’m including photos of a couple of Cuban landmarks in Key West:


The San Carlos Institute was originally built at a different location in 1871 by Cuban exiles. It burned down in the fire of 1886 that almost destroyed the whole town. It was built at its present location in 1886, and completely restored and reopened in 1992.


The Cuban Club burned down in the 50’s and was rebuilt to original architecture and reopened on December 29, 1983. It was the place to be on Saturday night.