Saturday, March 24, 2018

North By Northwest


No, we're not going to discuss the movie, this is the third installment of my genealogical Peripherals trilogy. 

However, if you're being strafed or buzzed in a wide open area with no cover, like Cary Grant was, the safest position to take is not to run, but to lie down horizontally to the plane's approach thus offering the smallest target. When I was managing people, I used this trick all the time, that's how I survived. Geez, Cary, think things through, you make me nervous. 

Years before I knew anything about Giovanni Venturella, I had gone on a search for the hospital where I was born. Shouldn't be too hard, right? My brother Dave had been born in Jackson Memorial Hospital, one of the largest and most highly regarded medical institutions in the South, so I was probably also born there. Right?

Wrong.

According to my Birth Certificate, I was born at Northwest Hospital in Miami. Well, that should be easy enough. Wrong again. Even the magical Internet had nothing about it - absolute radio silence. Perhaps it was a ghost hospital. If you search today, the only results for 'Northwest Hospital in Miami' are my plaintive requests for photos and information. So, back to the Polk City Directories of Miami and yes, there it was on 79th Street.

My guess was that it was no longer a hospital, but that wouldn't stop me from getting some photos of the place. When I traveled there on one of my sentimental journeys to Miami, I went to the address as listed. Here's what I found.



There, just beyond the Rotor Rooter van was an empty lot, and I couldn't get a really good feel for the place from that. And it turns out that I hadn't missed my photo of the hospital by just a couple of months (wouldn't that be annoying!). No, as near as I can determine I had missed it by fifty years. Fifty years gone and it's still an open lot? Holy crap, was it a toxic waste dump? What the hell happened here? Was it because of me?

Maybe the hospital had been really, really old and had collapsed from the weight of years? But I checked the 1943 Fire Insurance Map, and no, it looked like farm land. But there in the 1948 Fire Insurance Map, there, Northwest Hospital in the Red box! Yay!



Wait a minute.

Northwest Hospital was about as large as a medium-sized McDonald's. Definitely smaller than Jackson Memorial Hospital by a factor of 1,000. So my brother is born in the fancy upscale hospital and I am born at McDonald's. There are no photos of Northwest Hospital because there weren't any cameras small enough! 

However, you may have noticed two other colored boxes on that Fire Map above. The address of Northwest Hospital was 1060 NW 79th Street, just across the street from 1015 NW 79th Street where Giovanni Venturella was operating the Fannie Grill (Green Box) which was next door to 1005 NW 79th Street where Giovanni's Restaurant (Yellow box) was built that same year. See how this all ties together? Well, do you? I made Giovanni's box yellow in honor of the Yellow Meat Market now located there. See what a nice guy I am!

On the Google aerial today, the outlines of some of the Northwest Hospital buildings are still evident. The hospital and the Fannie Grill are gone. Giovanni's lives on as the Yellow. 



I must speculate on how I came to be born at Northwest Hospital. Did Giovanni Venturella tell my parents about the new, little hospital across the street from him? Or perhaps they saw it as it was being built when they went to one of Giovanni's places. Or was it all just a coincidence? There is no one left to ask. Bummer.


There is another possibility. The doctor who delivered me at Northwest was Dr. Paul Vincent Dunn an Osteopath who was a co-founder of the hospital. His address at the time was 1054 NW 79th Street, next door to the hospital and right across the street from the Fannie Grill and Giovanni's. Perhaps my parents met him in one of those places. Or some other bar. 

For Dr. Dunn was an alcoholic. Later, in 1975 when he was Medical Director of Dade County's Alcohol Detoxification Program, he described his experiences to the Miami News and explained that he did not stop drinking until 1970. That was about the time the hospital went away.

His description matched perfectly with what I had seen working with my friend Mike Mulhall when we traveled all over the US together. Mike drank continuously and prodigiously and other than getting redder in the face, never showed it. Is that the way it was with Dr. Dunn?

This makes me really wish I had been there when I was born. Yeah, I guess I was, but I wasn't actively taking notes, I was too busy squalling. But you know what I mean. In addition to what was described here, Dr. Dunn was also a big-time hunter and fisherman with a houseful of trophies and championships in pistol marksmanship and skeet shooting. The Doctor had some interesting elements in his personality. I wish I could have met him again after that first brief encounter.

As I indicated at the outset of this little trilogy, it is the Peripherals that add the spice to a cold, analytic document like a birth certificate. And this particular chain of connections turned out to be spicy indeed.
 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

We're Going to Giovanni's

 
There was a television series produced by the BBC named 'Connections'. It demonstrated beautifully that events are rarely linear in nature. "This happened and then that happened as a direct result." Hah! More often than not, it was one accident after another.

In the last episode of this blog-ette, the Lone Ranger had discussed the extensive drinking habits of his parents and concentrated on the legendary Betty B, a prototypical lower-end watering hole frequented by those in the 1940's who had forgotten to charge their smartphones.
 

Here's my Mom, Sophia, on the left with her friend Edna (whose last name is lost) standing before the Betty B. When I was researching these photos, I was able to use tiny clues like this one to uncover the name of the bar. Pretty clever, huh?

But at this point, I didn't know where the Betty B was located, so I flew to Miami (okay, this wasn't the only reason) and examined the old Polk City Directories in the Miami Public Library. No, not the beautiful old library of my youth that smelled of knowledge and a bright, unlimited future. They tore that down and replaced it with a brutalist concrete box.

 
There, in the 1945 Polk, I discovered the address of the place as 700 NE 79th Street and also the name of the owner as Giovanni Venturella. In my tiny but hyperactive brain, this triggered a 'connection' (get it?) with a long buried memory. Just as I could recall the names of bars frequented by my father, Leon, like the Doghouse and Jimmie's Blue Room (I wonder if that's where David Lynch got his ideas), the name 'Giovanni' fired off some long-slumbering neurons. I could recall my parents referring to 'Giovanni's' as in "We're going to Giovanni's".

There in the photos was the proprietor of the Betty B. No, he's not wearing a name tag, only an apron but it's a strong bet that here, direct from Palermo, Italy via Havana, Cuba is gray-eyed, black-haired, 5 ft 4 in, 154 pound Giovanni Venturella who arrived in New York in 1939. 



Are we sure he knew my parents, hmm? Well, this photo is from 1942, so my father was not in the picture yet, but there's my mother's friend Edna on the left and Giovanni Venturella, third from the left. Next to him with his arm around my mother is her friend Charles Gillespie. It is interesting that the soldiers here appear to be wearing no insignia or indication of rank whatsoever. I wonder if this was a wartime thing to keep people from discovering what units are deployed where.




Giovanni lived just a block away on 80th Street. When my parents were married, they lived on 82nd Street, also close by and my father worked at Hayes Gateway Service Station at 8000 Biscayne Boulevard, also two blocks away. Nice tight little grouping, huh? For the visual people among you (I applaud you, by the way) here's the Miami fire map from 1943.



The Red box is Betty B, the Green box is Giovanni's residence, the Orange box is Hayes Gateway Service where my father worked and the Yellow is the apartment where my parent's lived. If there is a lot with no building showing, that means it was an empty lot. There was a great deal of open space in Miami Shores then. That's Little River running along the bottom of the frame.

Nowadays, things are a bit more built up. Many of the original buildings are gone. The boxes and colors are the same. The river is still Little River. My parents' apartment is under a bank.



So, did he change the name of his bar to Giovanni's? No, he moved about a mile west on 79th Street and bought the Fannie Grill at 1015 NW 79th Street and then built a new restaurant building next door at 1005 NW 79th Street: Giovanni's Restaurant! "We're going to Giovanni's". His newspaper ad offered salad and spaghetti for 80 cents. That would be about $9.00 nowadays.
 
The building still stands, even though the neighborhood has... ... changed. The business there is now the Yellow Meat Market. I don't know if there's much call for yellow meat. How hot do you have to get that? I'd love to go inside to get a feel for the building, you know, pick up the vibrations in the walls. But I know that once inside I would be murdered two or three times. It's a tough neighborhood now.



It can't be all bad, there's wheelchair access and the barbed wire looks pretty fresh. And with a security camera on every corner, whew! My guess is there's not too much foot traffic.

Giovanni died in 1962, he was 72. The restaurant had a very long run as top players in the bowling leagues. However, there is no record that Giovanni was ever married and I haven't found any reference to a relative at all. But he knew my parents and that's good enough for me and now the magical Internet won't forget him.

If you thought that was the end of the story, oh no... there's more!
 
 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Peripherals

 
  In the world of genealogy, many people concentrate on their direct ancestors, those who are the DNA-contributors to their current condition. In this instance, 'direct' would be one's father or grandmother and not an aunt or great-uncle. Often, however, those 'indirects' are where you discover your connections to Presidents and winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, so we don't ignore them. As you can see from this example, there are usually two direct ancestors per generation and over time this gets very large, even overwhelmingly large. 

Over time, there are other connections you come across in your research, the people and things that may not be related to you by blood at all. These are what I refer to here as the 'Peripherals'. Anyone who has done genealogy for a while has run into such marginal characters, bit players who keep cropping up, just tantalizing enough to look into. They're not absolutely necessary, but they seem to add something to the context, like when a cook adds spices to the stew.

Some such factoids are so marginal they practically fade away. Things like our milkman's name which was Wally. Wally the Milkman. Or that the doctor in North Miami who took a mole off my forehead was named Dr. Peppercorn. Bert Peppercorn to be specific.

All right, I've set this up long enough, time to get to it.

One such Peripheral in my life may have played a fairly significant role. You see, I don't know how my parents met. I had decades to uncover this tidbit, all I had to do was ask. But this is one of those woulda/coulda/shouldas that didn't happen because I was too dull or unconscious (see previous posts) to just ask the simple question. Such is the bane of all late-blooming genealogists.

Back in the 1940's, people did not have online dating apps on their smartphones. Any Millennials out there reading this (really?) probably just passed out. But it's true. My parents were not the church-social or hospital-volunteering types, they did their socializing in bars. Hey, that's the way it was, deal with it. At least if you saw a person in a bar, you knew they weren't Photoshopped. What you saw was actually a living human. Not like when they tried to jam Oprah's enormous, misshapen head onto Ann Margaret's body. Ain't happenin'!

Miami, Florida in the 1940's had a lot of bars, I mean a LOT. It has a lot of bars now, too, but proportionately it was almost silly how many they were. My father, Leon, was a connoisseur of bars, places like the Doghouse, the Hide-Away and Jimmie's Blue Room, names that I heard growing up. My mother, Sophia, on the other hand found a place she liked and concentrated her energies there, not exclusively, but to a large degree. Yes, she went to the Park Avenue 'Stuff' and the Bottlecap Inn, but mostly it was the Betty B.

The Betty B.

My mother was working for the von Neida family who lived on Normandy Isle on Miami Beach for the winters and back to St. Paul for the summers. Here's the von Neida winter home in 1938. When she was off, my mother would occasionally travel the couple of miles on the 79th Street Causeway to the Betty B. Actually, 79th Street was called Everglades Boulevard in those days and the Causeway was put there to get people from the beach to the Hialeah Race Track, so the buses ran regularly.

The Betty B was originally the Betty Jane but there was probably some huge corporate takeover (yeah, right!) and the name changed. It was located just on the Miami side of the Causeway at 700 NE 79th Street. I went back to visit it, but it's a boat sales lot now. It's rare for things in Miami to stay the same for very long.

By a freakish coincidence I DO have photos of the real Betty B! Quite a few, actually. More, in fact, then there are of me growing up. Well, there you go. That's my mother, Sophia, second from the left. I don't know any of the other characters, but the well dressed gentleman with his arm around my mother looks strangely like the evil Nazi from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', you know, the one whose face melted.

The Betty B was an open-air bar. In Miami! It had a westerly exposure, so in the afternoons, the sun would have beat in there like a blast furnace. Maybe they closed for a siesta, maybe they all snuck around back. I know it would have been too much for me and I was born in Miami. In this photo taken from NE 7th Avenue, the sun is already turning the ketchup to jelly. I've speculated that the cloth piled up on one of the bar stools there is hopefully some sort of canvas sun block they hung up, but I can't be certain. That's my mother sitting on the left being blinded by the sun.

My Uncle Richard, for whom I was named, also frequented the Betty Jane/Betty B. He also worked for the von Neida family. Here is Uncle Richard with Betty Jane Rickard. Hmm, 'Betty Jane'? Could this be the Betty Jane for whom the bar was originally named? I don't know, but rest assured I'll keep researching. He cuts quite the dashing figure here, huh. I hope his spine was okay.

That fence of signs espousing various beers like Old Bohemian is protecting the bar-goers from falling into or driving into Little River which is right behind the sign. Those are Australian Pines showing in the distance in this photo. They were often planted along canals and rivers in Miami.

Now that we're established the geography of this Peripheral, next time we'll discover the human Peripheral who may have played an important role in my family's events. Stay tuned, there are lots more non-essentials where these came from.
 
  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Odd Jobs

 
I've had perfectly normal jobs in my life: computer guy, short-order cook, construction worker, you know, the usual. 

By the way, doing construction work in Miami in the summer is no walk in the park. On this one job, I was doing concrete form work on a high-rise in Sunny Isles very near Haulover Beach. It was white sand and white cement with no hint of vegetation or shade. Golly, it was hot. And the sun was blinding. There are no photos of me in my little shorts and boots and tool belt with a hard hat but this photo is an approximation of what I looked like. Yes, it's just an approximation. If I wasn't already tanned, I would be post haste. Did I mention it was hot? 

But there have been a few jobs that were out of the ordinary. How many of you out there have been the Security Guard at an airplane tire factory? Yeah, I didn't think so. Why was it so important to have a security guard around tires? Because these tires cost maybe $10,000 apiece and the factory was in Miami.

The drug dealers who flew their contraband in from South America and used Miami as their base had to get their tires somewhere and they already had the infrastructure for theft, so... Why spend $50,000 for a set of tires, when you could get them free? Consequently, I guarded them. I must have frightened the heck out of the dealers because I was never attacked.

I've mentioned before that I'm a 'super-taster' with a very heightened sense of taste and sense of smell that goes along with it. When I went into the factory to make my rounds, I had to cut my way through an unusually fetid stench. It was one of those odors that gets onto you and stays with you so as you walk by, people turn to see what died. 

I went back a few years later to take a photo of the Thompson Aircraft Tire factory, but as you can see from the photo, it wasn't just gone, it was gone! Nothing would even grow where the factory was. I imagine the stink had dissolved the place, got into the ground and... that was that. In 10,000 years, it will likely look just the same.

My very next job took me outdoors, you know, to clear my sinuses. I became a Rodman on a surveying team. Yes, that's an actual job title, stop laughing and look it up! The Rodman handles the equipment for the survey team and holds a calibrated pole to nail down distance and elevation. This was actually a cool job, fresh air, exploring to find hidden markers, hacking through jungles with a machete to clear a path for the surveyor. Yes, of course I cut myself with it, everyone did, but at least I didn't have to go to the hospital. 

The thing that made my reputation with Schwebke-Shiskin, however, was as a result of my distaste for working in wet clothes. We were out in the Everglades surveying a canal and I had to swim to the other side with my calibration stick. So I stripped down naked and swam over. I am a native of Miami, so going into a canal was no big deal but the team thought it was the coolest move they'd ever seen. 

After that, I was 'Fearless'. "Send 'Fearless', he'll take care of it!" Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

 Far and away the worst job I had only lasted a week. I answered an ad to assist a chemist in Hialeah. The place had a tiny office up front and much larger warehouse and shop. I go in and the guy hands me a one page recipe and instruction sheet and tells me to go to work. The recipe was for hair relaxer to straighten 'naturally curly' hair. The instructions went all the way from raw materials to filling cases with finished product. One page. No problem! I can do this! I worked in an airplane tire factory!! The fact that I didn't recognize the place can be attributed to the fact that the movie 'Mad Max' wouldn't be released for years. I don't have a photo but this image is close.

The centerpiece of the room was a cauldron that would scare the crap out of Macbeth. Dumping all the 'ingredients' into the horrid pot being very careful to get the proportions correct (sure!), I stirred it all up with a canoe paddle. Gingerly, I filled several million bottles with this noxious concoction being ultra careful not to get any on me (it burns! it burns!) because I hoped one day to have children. Then I slapped the labels on the bottles and filled the cases. There were people out there who bought what I had created. Think about that! It's also highly likely there are still unopened bottles out there on store shelves somewhere. Waiting. Waiting.

I have tried over the years to forget this darkness, but sometimes, in the middle of the night when it is quietest and blackest, it all comes to mind and my hair straightens a little.
    

Monday, March 12, 2018

Growing, Growing, Grown

 
I'm still not absolutely certain what I want to be when I grow up.

Yes, I know I'm running out of time, but decisions like this are hard! They seem so... permanent. I recently updated my job history and have determined that I've worked for eighteen different companies, not counting duplicates and self employment. For those eighteen companies, I've had twenty-five different titles and thirty-nine different 'jobs' or different sets of responsibilities.

I don't know if that's a lot or just average. Furthermore, none of these jobs were what I had started out to do, which was to be a History Teacher. I wonder if I would have liked that. I'll never know because we had no money and I was desperately trying to work full time and go to school full time and I pooped out on the whole deal.

The only 'career' I had exposure to as a child was seeing my teachers at school, so that's the direction I went. There weren't too many doctors, dentists or bankers that traveled in our circles, just mechanics, milkmen and maids. Nothing wrong with any of those but I just wanted something new and exciting. Yeah, right.

There are stories about people who decided what they were going to do when they were perhaps eight years old and then proceeded single-mindedly toward that goal. Well, they're better people than I am. However, I've never heard of a person saying, "Oh, I knew since I was eight years old that I wanted to be a mid-grade actuarial at a life insurance company somewhere in the mid-west." 
 
Over the years, I did conceive of my ideal job. After briefly considering shepherd and lamplighter, I finally realized all of my aspirations were satisfied in a single job function: Towel-boy. What a great job! You sit in a little grass hut and hand out towels to sweaty, often partially drunken tourists. There's no overhead, no long-term debt, no sunken costs, no performance appraisals to do and when you're out of towels, you're done for the day! "You want a towel? Great! You want two? Better! Here, take the whole stack!" It is unclear that I could get hired now. Tourists want young, glistening towel-boys, not old, hunched-over towel-men.

As my children were making their own career decisions, I was always working too much to be conscious of the angst of such developments. But I love to ask my grandchildren what they're going to do. I get great answers, too: Princess, Saloon-Singer, Hand Model. I think that last one is brilliant. You can come to work unshaven in your jammies, just leave the chainsaw in its box. 

It will be very interesting to see what they actually decide on. Perhaps Medicine. Perhaps Science. Perhaps working in a salmon cannery on the west coast. As long as they're happy.

I hope one or both of them consider engineering. Engineers can do anything! And there are a hundred different kinds. The job I used to have as 'Programmer' is now 'Software Engineer'. Engineers know stuff and they can make stuff do stuff that the stuff doesn't want to do. I love that.

Here's an example. TiVo was the first real digital video recorder. We've been using them for 15 years and have grown very dependent. Our current box is quite intuitive and has operated flawlessly, but we just went through a major power failure and Internet loss. When the power came back, our TiVo wouldn't boot. O... M... G!! When I stopped crying, I looked for solutions and tried them all to no avail. 
 
Finally one person (undoubtedly an engineer) suggested taking the cover off and running a hair dryer on the memory chips for a minute. No, I'm not making this up and having been around computers for nearly 50 years, this was a new one on me. You might as well have suggested painting my face, chanting and rattling chicken bones. That would have seemed more reasonable than drying the hair on my memory chips. But it worked and TiVo has been working perfectly ever since.

You GO, Engineers!
 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Not Dead Yet

 
No, I'm not dead yet. But reaching the age of seventy (70) is at the least evocative and viewed by some as pejorative. When we were growing up, my brother Dave and I never considered that we might someday get old. In my family, the culture did not include foresight or even planning. What was happening now would always happen and the way things are now is the way things will always be. It may have been their Depression-era lives or lack of formal education that contributed, but my parents did not discuss college selection criteria, career options, money management or instruments for retirement saving.

So we just got jobs and worked, because that's what you did. I was working pretty much full time (along with going to school) by the time I was sixteen. Being big for my age, or any age for that matter, I just lied and said I was eighteen. Who knows whether they believed me or not? It was a different time. No one checked. ... ... No one cared. Like I said, it was a different time. But there I was, sixteen years old and working alone, on the overnight shift, 9 PM to 7 AM, with the drunks and the delivery people and the tired ladies. 

I've written about working at Royal Castle before, cooking hamburgers and eggs, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. The reason I'm bringing it up now is because of the dream I had last night. I was in Royal Castle Number 2 which was actually the very first one. But the company did a little renumbering trick because the store downtown had to be Number 1. But Number 2 was a small store, just a lunch counter with maybe eight or ten stools. It had been there since 1938 so it was old AND tired. I could clean that store all night and you could hardly tell.

Number 2 was in a section of Miami called Little River because a little river named Little River ran through it. I love that word flow: Little River, LittleRiver, littleriver. The store was built along NE 2nd. Avenue when it was still referred to as West Dixie Highway. Once upon a time West Dixie was a very busy highway leading to downtown Miami. But now it was 1963 and other roads had taken much of the traffic. 

Working there, then, I didn't realize that I had been born a mile and half away at Northwest Hospital on 79th. Street or that the place my family was living when I was born was only a half mile away. Later, my remarkable genealogy skills uncovered that my father, grandmother, and aunts and uncles had lived and worked in a number of places within the same half mile. Additionally, the bar where my mother and father met (hey, no judgment here) was within that magic half mile. So, no one told me... it's a thing.

So the dream had me at Royal Castle Number 2 early in the morning out in the street. But that was actually more of a memory then a creative dream. The way the night shift worked was pretty standard. As the bars closed there would be a steady stream of drunks coming in for their %$^#@ eggs to try to sober up enough to drive home. The deliveries of fresh buns and doughnuts would start after 4 AM, but before that was a quiet period where sometimes the store would be empty. 

If I was up to date on my cleaning, I would step outside and stand in the middle of NE 2nd. Avenue and feel the Miami-morning fresh air and enjoy the shocking quiet. It was far enough away from Biscayne Boulevard that you couldn't hear cars at all. What you heard was a few exhausted insects and the low buzz of some fluorescent lights. Up the block I could see the darkened marquee of the Rosetta Theater where the mother of my friend Richard Scanlon had taken us in 1958 to see 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas. There was no life around me, I was absolutely alone. I could see into my store and there was the counter behind which I labored. If I was tired enough (I was still in high school) perhaps I could even see MYSELF behind the counter if I squinted a little. 

The gentle reader is probably thinking, "There he goes again, unstuck in time like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim in 'Slaughterhouse Five'". But I'm not unstuck, I'm stuck. I never expected to live this long... ... ... good thing I planned for it. Whee!

            

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Civil Air Patrol

 
There are major disruptors in life. Disruptors being events like a death in the family, loss of a job or moving your home. 

Our house in Carol City
The first such disruption in my life (that I remember) was in 1960 when we moved from North Miami, Florida to Carol City, Florida. Those towns were only a few miles apart so geographically, it wasn't far but psychologically for me, it was huge. My family moved into a house that we actually owned and didn't rent, so this was really and truly ours. Of course, I also left all my friends behind and no one had yet invented Facebook or email or even the Internet at that point, so I may as well had moved to the moon. The move also meant a new school and all the angst that accompanies such a change.

It didn't help that the move happened well into the school year, so I was introduced into groups that already knew one another. Fortunately, we did know one family in the area, the Wissers who had been family friends for years so gratefully, there was at least one connection to stability.

One of the oil tanks Deb's Dad built
While all this was happening, my wife's father was finishing up his work in Guayaquil, Ecuador where he was building oil storage tanks. When he moved his family back to the United States, see if you can guess where they ended up. Yes, even though they had moved from Ohio to Ecuador, when they came back, there they were in Carol City!

And then, in one of those bizarre coincidences one reads about in the comics, my future wife and I attended the same school, Carol City Junior High, at the same time - for about three and a half months. I have the mental image of the two of us crossing paths in some hallway or of her pushing me out of the way to get a drink of water from the fountain.

Carol City Junior High
But there was no meeting, no premonition, no nothin'. We did not meet then, not for another eight years, actually, even though we lived on the same street 169th Terrace, we were ten blocks apart and you know... ten blocks is a long way. So I was left to my own devices and they were pretty limited.

Somehow (!) - I don't mean to be vague, I just don't remember - somehow, I was introduced to the Civil Air Patrol. Many people don't even know it exists, but the Civil Air Patrol is quite important in the aviation world. It is the official United States Air Force Auxiliary and does things like search and rescue missions, disaster relief and the training of cadets where such training prepares them for an introduction to the US Air Force.

Unfortunately, all this happened during a period of almost no family photography. Twenty or fewer photographs a year leaves a lot of gaps. I compare this circumstance to what my grandchildren enjoy. They have had at least ten photos of them taken every day of their lives. They have tens of thousands of photographs of each of them along with hours and hours of high definition video. There is no gap in their growth or the sequence of events in their lives. Things are different now.

Civil Air Patrol Seal
But I have no photos of me in uniform, or on the flights I took, or of the events I attended. Oh, well. We met in the evenings at Carol City Junior High and learned the discipline of marching in formation, the basics of aerodynamics, flight theory and military structure. It was only the adult members who participated in search and rescue, but we actually got to fly!

We had training missions in light aircraft like Cessnas and Piper Cubs. But my most memorable flight was in a Douglas DC-3, one of the most famous aircraft ever built. This was a twin-engine airplane first introduced in 1935 that was so stable and so well designed that there are still DC-3 aircraft in active service.

Douglas DC-3
Let that sink in for a moment. They stopped production in 1942 and they are still operating regularly seventy years later. Not just for show, but working, seventy years later. I'm very proud to have had the opportunity to fly on that aircraft.

We also served as guides during air shows especially at Opa-locka Airport which was right next door to Carol City. Then, during the Cuban Missile crisis, we spent days preparing food and other packages for servicemen and other possible survivors of the imminent nuclear war. I wonder what ever happened to all that stuff we put together since the war never took place.

While I was with the CAP, I became First Sergeant, where I learned a little about leadership. Being part of that group was a good experience. One high point was an awards ceremony we had at the McCallister Hotel in downtown Miami. They bused us down there and thrust us into an adult environment, I was about 15 at the time. The waiter comes around and asks us what we want to drink, so naturally I order a scotch and soda expecting to get hit upside the head. But he doesn't even blink and brings it with everyone's cokes and 7-Ups. Of course, all the cadets want a sip and of course no one liked it. It was scotch and soda.

I never joined the Air Force, I went into the Navy instead. You can read about that elsewhere in this blog-thing. But a sure reason (other than my commanding presence) for becoming First Platoon Leader in the Navy Boot Camp was what I had learned about leadership from the Civil Air Patrol. How about that!       
   


Bob Deeter (right) Me (left)
 
Update March 12, 2018 - Regarding the coincidence of my wife Deb and I both attending Carol City Junior High long before we knew one another, I checked to see where our home rooms were. It turns out I was in Room 214 and she was in Room 216. So, it's not an absolute certainty but a pretty good bet that we saw each other. I do remember this one girl tripping me...
 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Listening to the Past


It's been a busy year. Aren't they always? This was a year for working around the house to prevent it from falling into shards around our feet. Deck work, garage work, basement work, replacing ovens and microwaves and washers and dryers. You know, annoying stuff like that. Stuff that gets in the way of the important work like... genealogy.

But once in a while, you have to do a little 'maintenance', or water and wind will damage your genealogy materials and no one wants that.

I had been on a pretty good run scanning my photographs, I had made it all the way to 1989. I was feeling pretty good about my progress, but you know what happens when you get cocky. A few years ago, my father-in-law had passed away and my daughter had inherited her grandparents' photo albums. 

She has begun the monumental task of scanning them along with the postcards and recipes and other such ephemera. As she's been doing those as well as her own original photos from her school days she has been passing the completed digitized files along to me. Then I fold those photos into the date-sequenced master digital photo albums I've been keeping. 

Well, that sounds easy, you may think. Not bloody likely! Dating and identifying photographs was not a trait widely shared in our family. Once in a while, certainly, but only enough to be tantalizing.

From another direction, my brother who is MUCH older then I am (although slightly better  looking) began passing me the digitized files of his slides which date back to 1965. And then to add a topping to that cake, my sister-in-law very graciously allowed me access to her photo albums and suddenly I am awash with a target rich environment.

After a brief bout with catatonic immobility, I asked my family which of the thousand things on my list to do next. My daughter's sound advice was to do those things which will deteriorate first and possibly be lost. Pretty good advice, huh?   


So I reluctantly stepped away from photographs and into the loving embrace of analog recordings. The oldest items were some reel-to-reel tapes previously owned by my father in-law. 

In November 1966, he had purchased an Astro-Science Concertone 804A Tape Recorder. This 47 POUND machine was used by his family for years but it had gone silent the last 10 years or so. When he died, I brought it home with his remaining tapes which were mostly music, but a couple marked 'family'. So I had stored it all away for a few more years thinking I would have to get the tapes digitized professionally as I had my own old tapes. 

When I turned the Concertone on and it didn't work I wasn't surprised. However, further examination revealed the flywheel had been locked with transport screws. Once free, it started right up and operated like brand new. A nearly 50-YEAR-OLD machine without a single computer circuit in it and there were the 40-plus year-old voices sounding fresh and new! But why send the tapes away, if I could convert them myself? So, I downloaded a free audio product called NCH WavePad and digitized them. Fortunately, I had all the right connecting wires so I didn't have to buy a thing. It had all just been waiting there for me.


Next, I turned to a pile of cassette tapes. For a few years, my mother-in-law had gone through a phase of taping her phone conversations with her relatives so others in the family could hear them as well. These tapes were even easier to convert, also using WavePad.  

The last big hurdle was VCR tapes. There were vacations and school functions hiding in there that went back to the eighties as well as some work-related tapes that I had appeared in. The solution I chose here was Diamond One Touch Video Capture which is an inexpensive hardware and software combo. I just dragged one of my old VCRs up next to my computer, sent the video signal through the little hardware converter and was able to see the image on my computer screen and used it to know when to stop and start. Since I had only eight or so tapes to convert, this worked well for me. I'm sure some people have hundreds and it wouldn't work as well for them.

So, now the delicate, fragile, soon-to-be-lost stuff is done! Yay! Now I can return to photographs with a (relatively) clear conscience. Happy 2016!   
 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Now and Then at Disney World

 
I mentioned in a previous post that the last time the family visited Disney World, we took the opportunity to 're-create' some of the photos we had taken in previous visits. In some time travel stories, it is a major plot point that someone going into the past MUST know the geography of where the traveler is going. You wouldn't want to show up inside the wall of a building that used to stand in that park you're traveling from. Nope.

That makes Disney World a pretty good destination because, while changes are made, generally, it is pretty stable. They're not going to take out the whole Magic Kingdom and start over. And if you did go back to 1971, as you can see in this photo, you would find things were a little sparse in places. Florida hadn't had the opportunity to fill every inch with vegetation yet. 

So we went over the forty-two years of Disney World photographs we had last year and chose some to re-create.

Here is Deb from 1972 on the left and 2013 on the right standing on the bridge by the castle gate in the Magic Kingdom. You can see they added some pointy things to the rail to keep people from sitting on it and some filler in the holes to keep children from falling through. Thanks, Walt.


This one is Deb on the bench by Cinderella's statue in the courtyard of the castle. In 1972 on the left, she's holding our daughter Leah while she naps and on the right in 2013, she's holding our granddaughter, Grace. Looks like the same bench!


And in this photo in the little courtyard by the first aid station by the Crystal Palace, Deb is holding Heather while Leah looks on in 1977 on the left and 2013 on the right.


And in that same little courtyard, the same three people pose first in 1990 on the left and 2013 on the right.


Over in Epcot, a random photo of Deb, Leah and Heather on the bridge leading to France was easy enough to reproduce. 1990 on the left, 2013 on the right.


It wasn't so easy in England since they had removed the little chairs and tables, but we made do. 1996 on the left, 2013 on the right. My, how the hedges have grown!


We had to push people aside in Germany, but once I cleared a space, everything worked out. 1987 on the left, 2013 on the right.


We tried everything to find the same flower in Mexico, we had the staff searching in their storage area, but no luck, but Heather had NO trouble locating the hat. 2004 on the left, 2013 on the right.


Not everything worked out, however. We wanted a shot at our favorite table in Columbia Harbor House in the Magic Kingdom, but they had turned it into a serving station. I was going to pull the station out and move a table in, but my family stopped me because they wanted to come back to Disney World at some point. Perhaps next time. 2004 on the left and 2013 on the right.


And, yes, of course there will be a next time! Yay!