The Free Show

When I was young in the mid fifties, during the summers we would get out our canvas folding camp chairs after supper and a good group of us would head down to the trailer park on United Street a few blocks from our neighborhood. Most nights they would show a movie on their outdoor large movie screen. I guess in retrospect it was for the residents of the trailer park, but no one ever seemed to mind us kids showing up. We called it The Free Show. The movies were mostly old and B-rated. We probably went mostly for something to do and the popcorn and sodas, which they were glad to sell us. We would get home around ten or so. I marvel today that we were allowed by our parents to do that. Back then it was considered safe enough to allow kids to explore and taste their environment.night-blooming-cereus On the way home, we would stop to see if the Night Blooming Cereus Cactus on the corner was blooming, and we were thrilled when it was. Some of these species only bloom once a year for one night. I think this was one of them.

We children of the fifties had intimate connections with the flora and fauna in our play environs. We were hardly ever inside and when outside almost always exploring. spanish-lime-3There were many tropical fruit trees in our neighborhood. Spanish Limes were a favorite. There was a huge Spanish Lime tree down the street. In August we would climb the tree and collect bagfuls. You cracked the skin of the lime with your teeth. It came off easily and you would suck on the seed pulling the flesh off and spit the seed out. They were rather tart especially if we picked them too early, which we were want to do. Mom would ask, “How are the Spanish Limes?” We would say, “Sweet as sugar” as we puckered our mouths. Our mothers hated them as they left large brown stains on all our clothes. The best place to eat them was in the ocean. Those trees were all over the island back then. But sadly not so today, too many have been cut down.

UnknownIn the vacant lot across the street was a large tamarind tree. It had 4 inch pods that cracked open easily revealing a brown fruit that we would suck on. It was rather sour. We didn’t do it too often, only when we could think of nothing else to do.images-2 In our own yard, we had a Guava Tree. My Aunt Nellie would gather the fruit when they came in and make Guava Duff and there was a Sugar Apple tree. Unknown-1The Sugar Apple had a segmented skin, and I remember it had a white flesh surrounding each big black seed. Both those trees are long gone. The Tamarind tree also. The vacant lot it was in has a huge house on it.

01aacerolatrDown the block there were two Barbados Cherry trees. Not too large so the fruit was easy to pick. One was in Mrs. Hood’s yard. We had to knock on the door and ask permission to get those. They were really good and worth the trouble. The other tree we just took from. It was near the street and I guess we thought fair game.

images-3In my friend’s yard there was a large Sapodilla tree. I remember eating one once, and never did that again. It’s a wonder that we didn’t poison ourselves. Someone must have told us they were edible. And they were, just not by me.

img55403069In the yard next door was a Sour Orange tree. My Mother would marinate a pork roast in the juice and use some juice in the gravy. The oranges had lots of seeds. I guess most wild fruit does. It’s gone too, people buying houses, fixing them up, adding new landscaping. I was horrified to find the tree gone which was not too long ago.

key-lime-tree_12Of course Key Lime trees were all over. Our mothers made pies. We kids would pick them off the trees and peel them and eat them. That ended when my mother told us to stop because the acid was wearing the enamel off our teeth.

coconut-treesCoconut trees were also ubiquitous, several if not more in most yards. The brown coconuts that had just fallen off a tree, we would bounce on the asphalt street until they started to come apart and then with brute strength peel the husk off the coconut. Unknown-2You could then punch some holes in the soft eyes of the baseball-sized seed and drink the coconut milk. Then you could break open the nut and eat the white meat, which didn’t come too easily off the nut, or shred the meat for use in baking. One summer we kids opened a whole bunch of coconuts and put them in our little red wagons to sell. I don’t remember making any money off the endeavor. But we probably learned a lesson in supply and demand.

Rest Beach

As we got older, we kids moved from Monroe County (now Higgs Beach) over to the other side of the White Street Pier and started exploring Rest Beach, which at that time was abandoned, overgrown with weeds and pretty raw, a daring adventure into the wild. What child of the fifties could resist. pc1719 There is a postcard picture in the Florida Archives. It is undated; I think it must have been pre-war. It was not that way when I was exploring the risky unknown.  After consulting with the Key West Historian at the library, I learned the Rest Beach name was first mentioned in tourist blurbs advertising cabanas in the late thirties; cabanas being places to rest from the hot sun.  The cabanas might have been washed away by the hurricane in 1948.

In the early fifties Navy Housing was on the corner of White Street and Atlantic Boulevard. I remember it being a number of rows of attached units. The children attended Truman Elementary School also, and I remember having school friends who lived there: 75 units for Officers and their families.

Further down the beach, there must have been a garbage dump for the city in the late 19th, early 20th century. dm3213After the hippies had invaded Key West in the 60’s a lot of people started digging up the beach and unearthing and collecting old bottles. One house even made a fence with them (State of Florida Archives/McDonald).

Then, when in my very early twenties and teaching school, one of my friends had a sailboat and on a Sunday afternoon we were sailing along dm6573Rest Beach. Often we would jump ship and swim and snorkel. I remember stepping on or startling a small sand shark about two feet long. He scooted, but he must have scared me enough that I remember it, although they are really pretty innocuous.  Picture (Archives of Florida/McDonald).

Today, along Rest Beach next to the White Street Pier, there is a park. The Navy Housing on the other side of Atlantic Boulevard was torn down years ago. dscn0504There are well used lighted Bocce Ball Courts with bleachers and parking there now and team competition is fierce. The League has a neat web page. It’s at ; the names of the teams alone are fun to read. Click on teams at the bottom.

Now, there are oceanfront 3-4 story condos along a lot of Atlantic Boulevard cutting off the view and breeze from the houses on the other side of the road. Once the city had offered to sell the beach land to the residents along Atlantic for I think about $200,000, a lot of money in the 70’s. The residents tried to get everyone to pony up in splitting the cost evenly among them. So what were the chances of that succeeding? It didn’t. Most of the citizens didn’t think the beach could be built on anyhow. So the condos were built much to the consternation of many.

There is a path in front of the condos along Atlantic, which is much used by bicyclists, runners, and walkers. It is a pathway to Smathers Beach, the scene of the crime, and a whole nother blog.

Sand Castles

We are having a lovely month of July in Key West, nice ocean breezes, and early morning thunderstorms, which cool and clean the air. Temps are in the high 80’s with reasonable humidity. It rarely gets into the 90’s and there is always a breeze even in August. We went to the beach last night after supper just before sunset. IMG_0798The water was a little choppy, but there were many people swimming in the ocean off the pier, which has steps and along the beach there were two boys, couldn’t have been more than three or four, playing in the shallow’s with their boogie boards, having so much fun while their parents watched sitting on blankets on the beach. There is no surf here so the beach is very safe for children. The beach is also not pristine which makes it an adventure with always something to find along the shore and always sand castles to build.

IMG_0794The sun sets over the island this time of year, so if you want to see the sunset you have to go to Mallory Square. But at Higgs Beach, the sand and the sky color shining on the water is dazzling most nights and last night was no exception: the sky was lit up with color, two tall clouds turning into pillars of flame right at sunset.   IMG_0797There were two young men kite surfing almost parallel to the beach. They were fun to watch and were going almost as fast as a Skidoo. One surfer went way out beyond the pier, and came back and hiked himself over the old pier posts and kept going. I think you have to be very fit as they are being dragged by the wind and moving at a fast clip. There don’t seem to be pelicans this time of year, must be on other side of island, bothering the charter boats or somewhere up North.IMG_0366

I have noticed something different lately: more parents are traveling with their children and Key West is an ideal place to vacation with children. There are so many things for families to do here, the Aquarium with it’s big outdoor shark tank, the Butterfly Conservatory, the Eco-Discovery-Center, the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, the East and West Martello Towers (early 19 century shore defense structures). And there is always the beach.

One night we saw a group of people, fifteen or more, all with bright yellow t-shirts. Peter thought they might be in some organization or other. One of the members stopped to ask Peter how to get somewhere and Peter asked about the t-shirts. The man, a grandfather, said they were all family on vacation traveling together and celebrating his grandson’s graduation from college. They were all ages and the shirts helped them keep track of each other. What a great idea for any family traveling together no matter how big or small.

Flamingo Crossing ice cream parlor is busy selling their tropical fruit ice cream. My favorite flavor is Coconut Cream while Peter goes for the Passion Fruit or Key Lime Sorbet and my brother likes the Sour Sop (Guanabana) or Mamey. Quite a selection. The Dairy Queen is always busy. I like the cone swirled on top and dipped in chocolate. You have to eat it quickly or you have a real mess on your hands. Not for the fastidious.

And the mangoes are late this year. They can come in anytime from late May to early July. My brother’s mango tree next door has the best mangoes but they are not Haden’s, the type you usually see in the grocery store. These are smaller a bit stringy and getting the flesh off of the seed is difficult. The tree was planted many years ago and my brother says it came from Cuba. I’ll have to ask him how he knows that. When they ripen there are lots and lots of them. This is how we eat them: we put them in the refrigerator to get cold; then we lay the mango on its end and slice down the four sides of the seed; after this we pull the meat off of the skin with our teeth while hanging over the sink so that the juice won’t drip on our clothes; and finally we gnaw what is left on the seed. This is all quite messy, hands all gooey, mango detritus all over the counter, having to make sure the skins and not the seeds go down the disposal. But they are like eating mango ice cream and are a real treat.

Most afternoons about 4 o’clock we have a young Ibis that has been harvesting the bugs in our yard for the last three days. I looked him up in our bird book to no avail. Peter thinks he is young because he is dark grey not white (although he may be a she). He’s usually alone and usually they are in flocks, but maybe we don’t know anything about Ibis’s. It’s summertime, a good time to mull things over and not think too long about them.

Key West Late Nineteenth Century Houses

At last I had talked Peter into taking some cell phone photos of the Key West style Victorian houses on Eaton Street. They were built in the latter part of the nineteenth century when Key West was the richest city per capita in the United States. This was due to a large Cuban cigar making industry, when cigars were part of a gentleman’s persona and Cuban cigars were considered the best. There was also a very lucrative ship salvaging business.IMG_0742 The Federal Wrecking Act of March 3, 1825 mandated that all property shipwrecked in these seas had to be brought to a US port of entry. In 1828, the U.S. established a Superior Court in Key West with maritime and admiralty jurisdiction. “…from December, 1824 to December, 1825 $293,353.00 of wrecked property…” was sold in Key West (History of Wrecking by Jerry Wilkinson)

As we headed down South to Whitehead we had to pass the huge ugly buoy at the Southernmost Point. I was amazed. There was a line of many dozens of people waiting in the hot noonday sun to have their photos taken with the thing. I wonder how many actually caught the expanse of ocean behind it. OK I’m ranting about the buoy again. Peter jumped out and took a photo of the queue.

IMG_0744As we go down Whitehead, we’ll stop at 509. This is the house we lived in when I was born. The main house under the pitch is a typical vernacular house, which is a two-story with a front porch on each level. There are many of these type houses in Key West. This one has a two-story addition probably added when it was renovated.

Further down Whitehead we turn onto Eaton Street where we will see some fine examples of typical conch architecture of the late nineteenth century. IMG_0745On the corner of Whitehead and Eaton is the front office for the Banyan Resort. The tree in front is a Royal Poinciana. They are all over Key West and are particularly beautiful this year, but we don’t miss the one that had the bees in it. Hurricane Wilma took its toll and it has taken a few years for the Poincianas to get going again.

IMG_0755Here is a house with a Widow’s Walk, where sea captains of salvaging boats could watch for foundering ships or wives wait for their husbands to return.


On the other side of the street a block down is the Artist House. It is thought to be a fine example of authentic Colonial Queen Anne Architecture.IMG_0756

The Donkey Milk House is at 613 Eaton. IMG_0764It is so named because the donkey’s that pulled the milk wagons around Key West were housed in the alley behind it.. Notice the gingerbread railings, which are seen in a lot of Key West houses of the era.

On the corner of Eaton and William is the Bahama House. John Bartlum, a prominent sea captain at the age of eighteen dismantled his 3000 square foot home on Green Turtle Key and sent all the parts to Key West. dm3960Why? Because a recent storm had caused a lot of damage to houses in Key West and there was a shortage of building lumber. The house is on the same site on which it was reconstructed.  Picture: (State Archives of Florida/McDonald)

At 712 Eaton is a beautiful and unusual house. It has an octagonal veranda.IMG_0767

Here is a typical Eyebrow House. IMG_0772You can see the windows barely peeking out from under the overhang. The next photo taken at an angle shows the windows.  These houses were designed this way to keep the sun away from the windows in order to keep the inside cooler.IMG_0775

The cigar factory workers lived in small houses called shotgun cottages. This was because the front door was to one side and led to a hall that went all the way to the back; so a shotgun blast would go right through. IMG_0782I could not find any of these houses on Eaton, but when we turned right onto White, there was a row of four on the right near Truman Avenue.

In the past few decades, many have lovingly restored these unique homes and live in them or have turned them into Bed and Breakfasts or restaurants.

There are many other homes like these in Key West. It gives an old world look to this lovely small city.

Earliest Memories

Memories are elusive. Do you really remember something, or did a parent telling you a story about you plant the memory there. Did you ever think back to your earliest memories? My very earliest memory was riding my tricycle onto the second story porch of our house on Whitehead Street. My second memory was going with my father to a bar.

Here is the story. When I was a barely walking 2 year old. I was bowlegged. My Aunt Blanche who lived in Jacksonville and was married to a doctor was visiting, was horrified and insisted on putting me in braces, which she paid for. When my father came home from work each day, my Mom would have me bathed and dressed and ready for my date with Dad. We would walk down the alley to a bar on Duval Street. My father told me that because of the braces, I would often fall on my bottom and he would come back and laugh and I would laugh as he set me back on my feet. My father and many others at the time taught their children how to deal with adversity. As we sat on the bar stools the bartender would give my father a beer and put some in a little shot glass for me. That’s the story as I remember it or as it was related to me. I’m really not sure which; a little of each I suspect. My mother who was the one who had to deal with putting on and taking off the braces told me that one day she took the braces and threw them as far as she could into the back yard in a fit of frustration. That’s another good way to deal with some things.

When I was three I watched my father putting up hurricane shutters on the house as a hurricane came through. They had to be nailed up individually and took some time and energy, as there were a lot of windows. I remember him saying that just about the time he got all the shutters up, the storm was over.

When I was five, I attended a kindergarten about two to three blocks away on the other side of United Street. I walked by myself to and from the school. One day when walking home, a plane flew fairly low overhead. SNB-1 air to air I thought I could see a man in the open doorway. Then a few moments later I heard a crash. There were several empty and abandoned derelict houses with overgrown lots on my way home and in my mind the plane had crashed there. When I got home I told my mother and she sort of dismissed the whole idea and nothing more was said of it. All of my life I have wondered about it since I know I saw it.

When writing this I told my husband about the incident. He put Plane crash Key West 1951 into the search engine and the whole story was there. Here is a little of what was in the news following the incident.:

On 25 April, a Navy SNB-1 Kansan taking off from Naval Air Station Key West and a Pan American four-engine DC-4 operated by its affiliated company Compania Cubana de Aviacion on a flight from Miami to Havana collided over Key West about noon.images Both planes crashed into the ocean with 43 persons. There were no known survivors. “The larger plane crashed about 1,000 yards offshore from the southern-most part of the Key West Island, within sight of the Casa Marina Hotel and the U.S. naval submarine base, site of President Truman’s little white house. The Navy fighter crashed on the other side of the island in the main ship channel.” ( A lot of sunbathers on the beach and one small girl walking home from a morning in kindergarten witnessed the incident.

Stock Island

A separate Island, Stock Island, just east of Key West, has always been for me one small bridge away up Route 1, the Overseas Highway to Miami. dm0818Picture:  (State Archives of Florida/ McDonald).  Back in the nineteenth century, it was a remote place. Some think it got it’s name because cows and horses were kept there, but the island was named in the 1850’s and there is a photo of cows there but not until the early twentieth century, so it’s not really known where the name came from. dm2538Could be a man named Mr. Stock lived out there. Reaching back into my younger years in the 50’s and 60’s, there are several venues and places that I remember.  Photo:  (State Archives of Florida/McDonald).

My Family would go to the “Islander” drive-in theater built in 1953. At the time it had the largest screen in the state with room for 600 cars. During intermission, we would go to the concession stand for popcorn and/or go ride the live horses in a ring in the far corner of the theater.dm2101 I don’t remember ever watching the movie and usually fell asleep after intermission, but it was good family entertainment at the time.  Photo:  (State Archives of Florida/McDonald).

A Dog Racing track opened in 1953. I went several times when I was a young adult before I married. We would double date and each put in a dollar a race and take turns picking the greyhound dog. We won a little and, didn’t know what we were doing, didn’t care, had fun; and it was a pretty cheap date. There was also an Auto Race track out there, mainly revved up jalopies racing, stock cars I guess.

Monroe General Hospital opened in 1944 on Stock Island. Next to it was the Old Folks Home where my father would take me on Saturdays to visit my Uncle Seely. I only realize now how much he enjoyed the hugs and the visit. Children are so oblivious. Further on down the road was the Animal Shelter. And even further was the garbage dump. Today it is not used, is mounded over with dirt and grass and called Mount Trashmore. Most times there are carrion birds circling it. I guess they still know. Nearby are luxury town homes with very large boat slips in front of each one.

Further down was a golf course. It was there in the fifties.rc18058 I know because when I was young, my uncle played there frequently and would talk about it. More recently, it was made over into a Rees Jones course, which I hear is pretty challenging to play especially with all the fauna, mainly vegetarian Iguanas and many strange looking birds of a feather.  Photo:  (State Archives of Florida).

Lower Keys Medical Center is further down the road and across the street from the hospital is Florida Keys Community College, which has The Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center.  dm6575Photo:  (State Archives of Florida/McDonald).  Williams spent a lot of time in Key West in the 70’s and 80’ and had a small house there.   My brother said he used to deliver mail to him. Also there is a regular size outdoor heated pool at the college. It is used for lane swimming, water safety classes for children, the High School swim team, and the Navy uses it for underwater diver training. And one time when we were there the students in the Sea Perch program, about 25 of them, were testing their robotic gizmos in the pool. We enjoyed watching them. Go to to see what it’s all about.

In the early fifties there was a car ferry that left from Stock Island each weekend for gambling in Batista’s Cuba. Cuba is again open to ships coming from the United States, but no gambling in Castro’s Cuba. Reports are that the amenities are not great. Cuba is pretty much stuck in the fifties.

My father who worked on the P&O shipping freighters that went from Cuba to Key West and then Tampa in the 20’s told me that it is a beautiful country. Cruise ships are now going to several ports with passengers taking day trips on shore.

dm1259Stock Island seems to be coming into it’s own these days. The Key West Yacht Club is out there, as are several other nice restaurants. There are plans to make a seaport walk along the waterfront where the few remaining working shrimp boats are docked that are the ones that get the large pink shrimp for which Key West is known. Stock Island is maybe becoming the funky little place Key West used to be.  Photo:  (State Archives of Florida/McDonald).

My Mother’s Day

Waldine Ellen was my mother’s name, although her friends at the middle school lunchroom where she was the cook called her Wally. This was in Key West in the 60’s and 70’s. Years later after she had passed, I found her birth certificate. On it her name was Ellen Waldine born in Key West in 1921. So what happened to Ellen? So where did Waldine come from? I have no idea.

At my mother’s funeral, a lady who I did not know came to me and said she was a childhood friend of my mother. She told me that my grandfather who was a fisherman would have friends and family to a fish stew lunch every Saturday and she used to attend against her grandmother’s expressed admonitions.

My mother told me that when she was a child and playing she fell down and dislocated her arm and was crying and a neighbor man called her over and popped the arm back into place; no hospital, no doctor’s fees. Also she told me that when she was a child they had an outhouse. I told her that that must have been awful. She said it wasn’t so bad, because you never had to clean the bathroom and someone else came around and mucked it out every once in a while. My mother, always the optimist and never a complainer.

My mother barely finished 7th grade. Her mother had died young leaving my mother, the oldest, with two younger sisters and a brother, the youngest. I don’t know how my mother managed to care for everyone, but she did and never talked to me much about it.

She met my father and married him in 1941. He was 17 years her senior and shortly afterward was drafted into the army at age 36. He spent the next three years in Africa and Italy in the Engineering Corps. While he was gone, my mother made pretty good money working at the Navy Yard but spent most of it on her younger siblings. My father on the other hand gambled a lot and had amassed a nice little nest egg. He was not happy with my mother.

My Aunt Nellie lived with us and my mother took care of her until she died in the early fifties. It was then that my mother went to work in the middle school lunchroom, which was directly across from our house. It was hard work for my mother, but she enjoyed the camaraderie, as she was by nature pretty much a loner and did not make friends easily. She worked there for many years.

In spite of my mother barely finishing 7th grade she was an avid reader, reading almost anything she could get her hands on. So she had a pretty good vocabulary, but didn’t know how to properly pronounce the words even though she used them appropriately. It was a great source of amusement for us, and she never minded us correcting her.

My mother was kind and smart, and though not well educated, she was wise. If someone she knew came to our door, she would invite them in and offer refreshment, even if only a cold drink of water, a container of which was always in the icebox, which is what we called the refrigerator back then. My mother was also a very prideful person. At her funeral, her brother told me that it was her only fault. I had never thought of it as a fault. She once told me that she would rather starve to death than use food stamps, so maybe it could be.

My mother and father had a large age difference and came from two different worlds, but as with most of our parents, they did what they had to do. My parents celebrated their Fiftieth anniversary in 1991. Even though he was much older than my mother, he outlived her by five years; and in the forgetfulness of his last years he always asked for her. She was his center.


News You Can Use

KeyWestCitizenBldgWhen I was a child in the 50’s, the Key West Citizen was an afternoon newspaper.  Picture:  (Pinterest/Poyer).  After school, boys would roll up the 10 page or so newspapers into thin easy to throw 12-inch cylinders, secure them with small rubber bands and stack them in the big baskets on the front of their bikes. This was when news wasn’t so immediate. Most people got their national news from the Newsreel at the picture show on weekends. The paper was lovingly called the mullet wrapper as it was mostly used to wrap bait for fishing or to line the bottom of birdcages.

Today the Citizen is a 7-day a week morning paper. It’s mostly all the local news that’s fit to print and some that isn’t, although there is a half page of national news in the back, but even that’s mostly celebrities in trouble or making zillions. There is a pretty nice even-handed op-ed page with a couple of national pundits or columnists daily, and some editorial comment about local or national issues. So the paper is not just fluff, but the fluff is what’s so great.

Maybe by being only a quarter inch thick on most days, the Key West Citizen seems to be read by almost everyone. Not a large paper, it tells us what’s going on in our hometown in a way that is interesting and informative and brief. At the top under a synopsis of the daily weather is a charming colored drawing of the weather by an elementary school student. It’s usually the first thing I look at. The rest of the page is full of local news, fishing or boating calamities, accidents on the Overseas Highway, roadwork slowdowns, and other bad news. The good stuff is saved for the Sunday Entertainment section.

I really like the second page: club or organization news and activities at the top for those who are overinvolved, but just interesting for others. The rest of the page has some good reading. One of the most fun is Citizen’s Voice. Here residents can write in anonymously with gripes about other gripes, traffic, city government, rude neighbors or tourists, bicyclists, really almost anything that irritates. Someone will say,” I hate it here,” and the next day someone will write, “Then go somewhere else.” And occasionally a Thanks or Job Well Done will appear.

One of my favorites is Today in Keys History. Almost always with an historical picture, lately this has begun with an excerpt from a diary kept by the local magistrate in the first half of the 19th century, when Key West was an island only accessible by sailing ship and with a population of 500 whites, 76 free blacks, and 96 slaves. (From a History of Key West by Jerry Wilkinson.) A slower way of life is revealed and commerce very dependent on the sea. The rest of the column has something printed in the newspaper 100 years ago, 50 years ago and 10 years ago. Not a history, but a report of what happened on that day. The local Crime Report is also on the second page, mostly done tongue in cheek I think, but not always sure.

The next page has obituaries and as you age, you read them thinking you might know the person but you hardly ever do. And also there is a photo of the Citizen of the Day, a nice tribute to people who have adopted Key West as their home. Then there is the comic’s page with a nice fairly simple Crossword and Sudoku.

The other daily section is the Sports page. It has a High School senior athlete profile each week honoring players in various sports from all of the schools on the Keys. There are fishing advisories with what’s biting, also powerboat races and a swim around the island every year. On Saturday all religious services are listed for the benefit of errant tourists in need of healing, sustenance or peace.

The Key West Citizen is a really good newspaper, a paper you can peruse unlike the Internet when you’re never quite sure where anything is, as it seems to change daily. I know print media is slowly disappearing, but I hope small town newspapers will continue to prevail and delight. It certainly helps bind Key West together as a community.

The Bees and the Poinciana Tree Denouement

The last you heard from me on this subject, I was totally flummoxed by the way the whole thing had evolved. The bees were ensconced in the tree, the contraption to lure the queen out was not working well, I’d had to renew my 6 months permit to remove the tree saying the bees were proving to be more of a problem than I thought and I was mightily frustrated.

At the beginning we were trying to preserve the hive. It took the better part of a year to get the bees stressed enough to get the queen out. Eventually the bee people assumed the queen was out and came to remove them. They vacuumed them into a large barrel and took them way. We called the tree removal man and he noticed some residual bees in another part of the tree; so we had to get the bee people back. They told us to remove the tree as soon as possible. The tree soon came down.

It actually didn’t look too bad, a little sunnier which was good for the bougainvillea under it that never bloomed from lack of sunshine. I missed the beautiful bright red blossoms and shade of the Poinciana Tree, but not the eternal mess on my back porch. So things were generally better…until

A letter came from the Key West Tree people saying we had to replace the Poinciana tree with new plantings equal to the diameter of the tree we had cut down or pay a hefty fine. Well that was an old tree and the diameter at the base about three feet; and most of it was hollow. We had planted in the last year two Avocado and two Mango trees, a couple of Key lime trees and a few coconut trees lining the driveway. The coconut and lime trees didn’t count. The person responsible for controlling rampant and irresponsible plant growth on the island, who was very helpful in extending our permit, said she was coming to inspect the new plantings. We met her at the door, talked to her while she measured the trees we had planted.

Then we took her into our back yard to show her the Gumbo Limbo tree, which is quite magnificent. It has showy red bark; interesting branches low to the ground and a nice shady canopy. It is indigenous to South Florida. We were trying to show her that we really were a tree-hugger kind of people and only cut down the Poinciana tree because it was diseased and had been badly damaged during Hurricane Wilma. The Gumbo Limbo has to be thinned out occasionally, as the canopy will block out all sun, if left alone. It’s a good thing we like it, as getting rid of it will have to wait for another generation. Then the Key West Tree Person said, “We’re done here.” Not knowing exactly what that meant, we were hopeful. Since we heard no more, that was the end of it.

There was a time when you could plant anything you wanted, and dig up anything you didn’t want. Not true anymore in Key West. THEY want indigenous trees on the island, and you can’t cut them down. In Peter’s office, one of his guys had a sign which said, “They, who they? ” Who they, indeed.

South Street

The Southernmost Point is at the junction of Whitehead and South Street. We’ve gone down Whitehead. Now let’s go down South Street. Thelma Strabel supposedly lived in the house right next to the Southernmost Point. Ms. Strabel wrote,“Reap the Wild Wind” as a serial spread over six issues of the Saturday Evening Post from April To June 1940. In 1942 it was made into a movie. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille this ocean adventure dealt with honest salvage masters fighting dishonest ones. It had a battle with a giant squid as the climax. The movie had many well-know actors and actresses, including Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard, John Wayne, Raymond Massey, Robert Preston, and Susan Hayward, all big stars at the time.


rd0067 One block later on the corner of South and Duval is the Southernmost House, a beautiful large Victorian mansion built in 1896 as a private residence for Vining Harris.Picture:   (State Archives of Florida). It became a Cuban nightclub called Cafe Cayo Hueso in 1936 and converted back to a private residence in1954 and remained that way until 1996 when it underwent a three million dollar renovation that converted it into an 18-room hotel.

pr06079Across the street is South Beach where as a child I went for a swim with my father when he got home from work each day. It was also where I had my first job working at the Luncheonette stand on the beach.  Picture: (State Archives of Florida).   I was 16 and the man who ran the place about in his 50’s. He was a gruff old man and I a know-nothing newbie. For a first job it was pretty cool.


dm6583Down the street a few blocks is a Stone House, built of coral rock in 1909-10 by Richard William Harrison.  Picture:  (State Archives of Florida/McDonald).   When I was a child my family often visited this house. Mr. Homer Herrick then owned it. He was a civil engineer and taught my father surveying and the two of them surveyed the Keys prior to the building of the Overseas Highway in the late 30’s. They remained lifelong friends.

Diagonally across South Street is Reynolds Elementary School. I went there first through third grade. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Wooten, would actually put, mostly boys, in the corner with a dunce cap on their heads. My Mom said her teacher back in the Dark Ages would say. “ Sixty seconds make a minute, big fat head with nothing in it.” Children were not so coddled then as they are today. I always walked home the two blocks for lunch. No school cafeterias even then for me. There was a traffic light at the intersection of South and Reynolds Streets.

dm6582Mr. Kirchembaum in uniform was always there under the traffic lights, a friendly presence keeping us safe from marauders, brigands and speeders.  Picture: (State Archives of Florida/McDonald).  I saw a picture of me the other day, probably third grade, oxford laced–up shoes with socks and a schoolgirl dress, which I exchanged for play clothes each day. We even wore dresses in High School and the hem had to touch the ground when we bent down on our knees. That was when teachers could make you do such things. No more.

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway lived at 1100 South Street in 1928-29 while their house on Whitehead was being renovated for them. He finished “A Farewell to Arms” while there. In his introduction to the 1948 edition of “A Farewell to Arms,” Hemingway wrote:

“This book was written in Paris, France, Key West, Florida, Piggott, Arkansas, Kansas City, Missouri, and the first draft finished near Big Horn, Wyoming. It was begun in the last winter months of 1928 and the first draft finished in September of that year. It was rewritten in the fall and winter of 1928 in Key West and the final writing was finished in Paris in the spring of 1929.

During the time I was writing the first draft my second son Patrick was delivered in Kansas by Caesarean Section and while I was rewriting my father killed himself in Oak Park, Illinois. I was not then quite thirty years old when I finished the book and the day it was published was the day (sic) the stock market crashed.”

That sort of says it all about Mr. Earnest Hemingway, who lived a fast-paced life.