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.


Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Peter is at a meeting in San Francisco this week and we were talking last night about the time a few years ago when I went with him to a Giants versus Padres game at their new stadium, Candlestick Park, right on the Bay. It was a beautiful California summer night and we took a streetcar to the stadium.

The first thing I noticed was that there were older grandmotherly women dressed in red shorts, sneakers and white shirts working the stands, greeting people, helping with children and seating. I found out that they were a volunteer group that helped the fans and kept order. What a great idea. I think many other teams do this also.

When a home run was hit, the ball usually went into the water, and there were boats out there waiting. Someone usually jumped into the water and retrieved the ball, which floated. Who knew? And it was shown on the jumbotron, which provided some entertainment. And with the crackerjacks, the wave, hot dogs, and the Seventh Inning Stretch done to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, it was all a lot of fun. I heard later that the boats were sent away, too dangerous, people jumping into the water, but later still, they came back. I don’t know what the situation is now, but that was then.

Back in the mid-70’s when our son George was about seven, and we were living in the Norfolk, VA area, Peter took him and a few of his friends to a Tidewater Tides baseball game. The tickets were from the ship’s Welfare and Rec Fund and were $2 a piece plus $1 for better upfront seats. What a deal. When he came home, he said the whole afternoon cost him a bloody fortune (his exact words), the baseball cards, the baseball caps, the hot dogs, sodas and popcorn. But you shouldn’t put a price on a memory, and you never know when you’re creating one.

Which reminds me of another time at a Nats game at RFK stadium. Peter said he would really like a beer. I said this man here is walking up and down the stands selling beer. Peter said yeah, but that’s Budweiser and it’s probably warm. I’d really like a Michelob. Well, I needed to stretch my legs anyway so I went up to get Peter a Michelob. I stood in a long line and when I got to the front was told that they were out of Michelob. After a big sigh, I said, “My husband really wants a Michelob.” The man then said, “no problem, I’ll put Budweiser in a Michelob cup and he probably won’t know the difference. I took the Bud in a Michelob cup back to Peter and waited for my big moment. After a while, I said. How’s your beer? He said, Great. I said, “It’s Budweiser, they were out of Michelob.” And my next words were to be, “The man up there said you probably wouldn’t know the difference. ” But I didn’t say them. Peter said, “Well, at least it’s cold.” I let him have the last word.

During my voluminous research for this blog, here are a few things I learned.The 2014 World Series champs were the San Francisco Giants. Hitting flies at home or at home plate is called swatting, a 1980’s Red Sox hurler was called Oil Can Boyd. And a bench-clearing fight is a rhubarb and a great baseball tradition.           (From Saturday’s Baseball acrostic puzzle)

Let me root, root, root for the home team,

If they don’t win, it’s a shame,

For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out

At the old Ball Game.”

Here is a good website to hear all three verses of “Take Me out to the Ball Game” sung at a ball game in 1908:


The Bees And The Poinciana Tree


IMG_0258We have a very old Poinciana Tree in our back yard. This time of year it is beautiful with bright red orchid-like blossoms. There are many of these trees in Key West; you can hardly turn a corner without seeing one. Unfortunately, they are also very messy trees most of the year, and this one hangs over our patio and back door. In the last hurricane, a very large branch broke off near the base, leaving a snare drum size hole going down into the bowels of the tree.


Now, the bees.   Ah, the bees. We first noticed them a few years ago in the All Spice tree just outside the porch. There was a huge swarm there.  By the next day, they had moved into the bowels of the Poinciana Tree. It was all kind of cool. We liked the bees. They fertilized the fruit trees and pretty much took care of themselves.

IMG_0261Then, last year we decided to cut down the Poinciana Tree. We called the tree removal guy, got a permit for six months, and hired a Beekeeper to relocate the bees to a man-made hive we would put in the far reaches of our back yard. He sealed the hive with a white concrete-like stuff and a little tunnel object which let the bees out, but not back in. That was last September. It took some time to get all the other paths into the hive plugged.

Now I am beginning to dislike the bees. In April, I had to e-mail the City Tree Removal Person asking for a six-month extension of the permit, saying that removal of the bees was proving more difficult than imagined.

Since then, the bees have been camping outdoors and it is now June and the whole apparatus for luring the Queen Bee out is collapsing. (I’m beginning to dislike her, particularly). We don’t know where she is, but the bees are still living outside supposedly not being able to get back in. The Queen is supposed to get distressed and come out and go into a little hive with sugar water bringing the bees with her and then the bees are removed and we can cut down the tree. Or, at least that was the plan.

Well, here it is June, and we are dealing with recalcitrant confused bees, and a messy, failing Poinciana tree and I don’t know how or when it’s going to end. In retrospect, we might have done things differently; but retrospect is so often irretrievable.

My Father’s Day

My father, William Knowles, was a third generation Conch. . My father did not talk a lot, so I tended to listen. These are things he taught me.

When I was about eight, I asked my father why he named me Joanne. He said, “You must like it, you’ve been answering to it all these years.” (Joanne, don’t ask silly questions.)

When Key West was threatened with Hurricane Donna in 1960. I asked him why we didn’t evacuate. He said, “If this house goes, we’re going with it.” He didn’t believe in insurance. “Waste of money,” he said. When Hurricane Donna did not show up after all that preparation and excitement, he said, ‘They don’t know were that hurricane is, but I know it’s not here. I’m going to bed.” (Joanne, when it’s over it’s over.)

When the Cuban Missile Crises loomed, my father opened an old septic tank in the backyard to see if we could use it for a bomb shelter. He said that we could either die of radiation poisoning or stink. When my aunt in Tampa called and told him to send the children to her. He said, “Sarah, those missiles are going to go right over Key West and hit Tampa.” (Joanne, stay here with me. It’s safer.)

One time during college I picked up a cigarette and lit it. My father looked at me and said. “I didn’t know you smoked”, and without missing a beat said, “BECAUSE, when I started smoking many years ago, we didn’t know what we know now, and I’m finding it hard to stop. But you, knowing what you know now, if you start smoking, I will consider that one of the more stupid things you have ever done in your life and I used to think you were a pretty smart girl. (Joanne, respect your body and guard your health.)

One time while home I was reading the newspaper. There was a story about the houseboat people on the boulevard, paying no taxes and dumping sewage into the ocean. They had even become a tourist attraction. I mentioned to my father how terrible I thought that was. He said, ”I don’t know. They’re not bothering me.” (Joanne, mind your own business.)

Once, when he was in his 80’s, he was on the roof fixing something. I said, Dad, you shouldn’t be up there. He gently said, “Hush, Joanne.” (I’m the parent.)

My father was with Peter and me at breakfast and we got him talking about his experience during the war. He was in North Africa and Italy doing engineering repairs after the fighting. He said every time they moved camp, he dug a foxhole and the other men would laugh at him. One night, they were strafed and he found himself and several others in his foxhole. Two men who couldn’t be bothered to get up were killed. (Joanne, always think ahead and prepare.)

My father told me that when he was a child, they got all their water from rainwater collected in cisterns. He said there were all sorts of vermin running around inside of them, but no one ever died. I thought about that for a while and realized that it was probably true.

My father was a man of his times. He was born in 1906 and died in 2003 at the age of 97. He reached adulthood in the Roaring Twenties, suffered during the Great Depression, was drafted at age 36 and went to war. Built his house in 1947 with wood salvaged from barracks built during the war and no longer needed, bought his first car, used, in 1952, raised his children during the Fifties, made sure they got a good education, while he nor my Mom barely finished eighth grade, swam in the ocean a couple of times a day, but put his swimsuit away on Labor Day and took it out on Memorial Day. Even when he could no longer swim in the ocean, he got up every morning at 5:30 AM and walked to the beach. He loved the ocean and the sun and his little tropical island of Key West.

Market Street, San Francisco in 1906. Film shot from a trolley car:





The Southernmost Point


Peter took this picture of the Southernmost Point in the early 70’s. The Shell Man sold conch shells to the tourists who were not so many then or as world-weary. Then after the sign getting stolen almost as fast as they could put up a new one, by hoodlums, pranksters, tourists, delinquents, or by your son or daughter.

So, a new more permanent edifice appeared one day, not necessarily a better marker, but definitely a more permanent one.


Not everyone was pleased. The lady who lived across from the large buoy was so upset that she flew the America flag upside down as a symbol of her distress.

President Clinton was invited to be the dedication speaker and told that if he did come, they would rename the street in his honor. He turned them down and it remains South Street and since it points South to Havana it’s probably best. I have a few other blogs in mind, one a Christmas story and the other, how Cuba opening up will affect Key West. Later.

We are just getting the website going and Peter and I are barely speaking. He said he wished I would stop whining. I told him, “It’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to. I hope soon he’ll just lose interest and butt out.

Sorry for venting (better word than whining). I’m inviting some special people to join me on the site, just look at it or make comments. You’ll know you’re special if you get this.