Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Little More Sixty Years

How's that for a title? I wrote earlier that English is such a rich, variable language that people can still write a sentence today that NO ONE may have every written before. Like this title for instance. What it means is that I'm going to show you some more photographs of matching locations separated by sixty years or so.

But first a bit of history. Back just after the Civil War, in the days of Fort Dallas (before there was a 'Miami', Florida) Dade County was pretty quiet except for the Indians. Along the stretch of Biscayne Bay coastline from NE 80th Street to 95th Street was a settlement named Biscayne and for quite a while it was the county seat for Dade County. The post office, court house, etc. were all there. Now it's all gone, any remnants are under the houses of Miami Shores. Military Highway ran right through town on what is now NE 10th Avenue. In later years, that would be East Dixie Highway. The only commemoration left is a small park (a park-let really) with a plaque and some benches. That's a little sad, but time passes, you know?
Here's what the park looks like now. Here's my wife, Deb, sinking into the luxurious grass.

When we were there in 2002, I had no idea that I had been there before, but my Sherlock Holmes-like detective work has proven otherwise.

Here's a set of photographs taken by my mother of my father and brother in this park. Sure, there were changes, but once I figured out where to look, it all became very clear. I must say, it was very satisfying to figure out these locations.

Sherlock Holmes, my foot.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sixty Years

In my last entry, I explained that I took a trip to Miami in an attempt to find the locations in some of the photographs in my Mother's photo albums. Nothing (hardly anything) was labeled (let that be a lesson to you) so I had to use all my detective tricks.
Here are some examples of what I came up with.

Here's the house in Normandy Isle on Miami Beach where my mother used to work.

And here's the same shot sixty five years later.

Here's my father at the front door of the Normandy Isle house.

And here's a current view.

My father with his arm around the garden statue.

Here's the statue sixty five years later.

Here's my mother in the back yard before and after. Time passes, my friends. Take note.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Of Photographs and Fool's Errands

I inherited some photographs after my father died.

These were albums put together by my mother and judging from the albums themselves, she began this project during World War II and stopped
making additions just a few years later. The pages were just cheap, blank black construction paper and any photographs were attached by the placement of large stickers glued to the corners of the photographs to hold them in place.

Consequently, one could place the photographs however one wished. And that's just how she placed them: however.
She clearly had a methodology in the placement of the snapshots. Over the years I have come to refer to that methodology as the ninja spaghetti style of photo placement. My vision is that at some point, all of her photographs, all the way back to her childhood, were stuffed in a envelope or box. Then, when the time came to mount them, she reached into the box with her eyes closed and whatever came out was the next thing mounted. Years, locations and subjects were jumbled willy-nilly until you got a glimmer of what dying people must view as their whole life passes before them in a collage of random images. I know many of you are snickering to yourselves all comfortable in the comfort of your comfy chairs. "He exaggerates!", you say. Oh, no - no, I don't.

Well, they were no good to anyone in those albums, so I took it upon myself to scan them, identify the people and locations and date them to the extent possible. So, I removed the photographs from the albums, removed the glue and stickers and went about the process of sorting. I was as careful as I could be, after all, the stickers had been licked and put in place by my mother, even if a lot of them did intrude pretty dramatically into the photograph images themselves.

Although the photos only had some written identification in perhaps one out of a hundred instances, I was helped by circumstance. Since there was no standardization of photo prints early on, I could group the images by shape, size, edging, contrast, bordering and frequently a code that had been
stamped on the back by the developer. Then, there are the usual photograph dating tools like clothing, age of children, etc. I also used the Kleylein Chronicle (see the previous blog entry) to confirm where someone might have been at the time in question. So, I got them scanned, cleaned them up, identified them to the best of my limited ability and then I entered the Fool's Errand part of the story. Some of these photographs were taken when my brother and I were babies. Actually, many more of them were of my older brother Dave, you know how that goes.

But I became very interested to FIND the locations where these photos were taken and see what was going on there now. When you're motivated,
you find a way, here's an example. In this photograph, notice the sign to the right of my brother. Well, when you blow that up sufficiently and analyze the heck out of it, it says:

Boat for Hire
F. J. Reppenhagen
1030 NE 90th. St.
Phone 73088

This is just around the corner from a little man-made inlet called Lake Ward. Mr. Reppenhagen's (what a cool name) back yard was waterfront property on Lake Ward, right where his boat was parked. Now I knew exactly where these photographs were taken and as you can see on this map, it's only a block from NE 10th. Ave otherwise known as
East Dixie Highway (see previous blogs). There's Lake Ward in the upper right. I have no idea why they called it 'Lake' Ward. It's clearly not a lake and Leave it to Beaver wouldn't be on TV for years.

This spot was a favorite with my parents for some reason. There were wide open grassy areas there in those days, it wasn't completely built up like it is now. We were living in a place only a couple minutes drive from there and I presume they took us kids so we could run around and look at the water. We didn't have television in those days. I took a trip down to Miami and drove to the locations I had determined in my research and took some photographs.

Here, for example, is the spot where I sat in the grass as a baby and where my brother and I ran around. I imagined that everyone was happy in those days. At least, that's what the photographs seem to imply, I'll take them at their face value. So, it all turned out to be not that much of a Fool's Errand after all.

What fun.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Keeping Track

I've built a lot of my 'reputation' on my memory.

Being in the computer/data processing business means thinking in different languages with specialized formats and syntax which are very unforgiving. It's either perfect or completely, unutterably wrong. There are also different symbols and methodologies of work flow that you don't bump into elsewhere and you have to know all the details and the smallest failing will mess. . . you. . . up.

Some people are good at this crap and others have different skills. I got into the business because I could process spacial relationships well and I had a good memory.

I was working at Genuine Parts in Miami driving a delivery truck and I saw an advertisement
for aircraft cleaners for Eastern Airlines at the Miami airport, so I went down to apply. As I was leaving, I happened to overhear an employee say "OK, everyone here for the aptitude test, come on in." So I sauntered over and asked, "What kind of aptitude test." He squinted at me and said, "We're looking for people with data processing aptitude." "Oh, really", I said, having no idea what he was talking about. "Mind if I sit in?" No, there was plenty of room.

Well, I had never seen a test like this one. They gave us an image of a pile of boxes and asked what it would look like upside down and looking from the right. They gave us number sequences and asked what the next number would be. We're all familiar with these kinds of tests now, but this was all new to me. Fifty people took the test and they scored it while we waited. I was the only one that passed and they offered me a job on the spot. Talk about a life changing event.

So, don't tell me timing isn't important. It may not be everything, like some people say, but it sure is a lot. Where would I be right now if I had walked by that man one minute earlier or later? Would I still be in Miami? Would I have children? Would I still have hair? The mind reels.

My spacial relationship handling and memory actually improved as I exercised them in my career.
People were fooled into thinking I was smart because I could remember stuff. Working in genealogy helps, too. You try keeping track of 10,000+ relatives!

But as the memory starts to 'slip' a little, you must learn to use tools to help out. And if there are no tools, you must build them. For example, the first time I went off on a genealogy trip and came home with copies of the same pages from the same book (at 10 cents a page no less!), then I built my Genealogy Bibliography in Excel. I'm sure I re-invented what many others have done, but I listed all the books, parts of books, family history sheets, etc. in my library and I carry it with me when I go on trips.

That's probably pretty common, but I don't know how common my other little trick is. When I set about the task of scanning my photographs, I wanted to keep them chronologically correct. So I named them all starting with the date in the format 'YYYYMMDD Names Places'. That was fine, but I still had to discover what the date was. So I put the scanning on hold until I built the Kleylein Chronicle. I gathered all the pertinent data I could from various sources like calendars, canceled checks, financial records, notebooks, school records, whatever and built an Excel spreadsheet listing events in my family's lives that might provide clues to identifying dates and people in photographs. Important dates might include:

  • Purchase or sale of a house or car
  • Vacations and who went on them
  • Starting or stopping jobs
  • Births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries, etc.
  • Business trips or other work events
  • Major weather events
  • Illnesses or automobile accidents
  • Work events like promotions or new assignments
  • Education events like starting at a school or graduating
  • Sprinkling of major world events like O.J. murdering his wife
It really helped when the people were standing in front of a car that we didn't own until 1985 to help narrow the window. I imagine that as time passes, it may provide a bonus by preventing a lot of arguments.

"Oh, yes, I remember we drove to New Orleans in 1992. . ."

"It was 1993."

"No, it wasn't!"

"Well, let's just look at the Chronicle, shall we?" Heh, heh, heh.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I was asked a provocative question last week.

"How do you find the time to do a blog?"

It was provocative because it had been a week since I made an entry. Sorry. I was actually feeling a little antsy because I hadn't written anything. Blogs are habitual. But put last week aside for a moment, I'll get around to how that fits in with this narrative. The answer to her question is that I don't 'find' the time. It's not laying around somewhere, I make the time because of Maslow. Maslow's Hierarchy of Need is a well known and well respected actualization model. It attempts to define why we do things, what our motivations are and how they rank. People gotta eat. Gene Kelly said, 'Gotta dance!' I gotta write this crap. And, yes, writing this blog is a little less critical than excretion, but barely.

When I tried to categorize this 'need', I found it spanned all the top four segments. I wrote a little while ago about details of some jobs I had when I was younger. This information may be critically important to someone. . . somewhere. . . sometime.

For example, my father worked for a company called the White Company in Baltimore when he was young. What did he do there? Was it his first job? How old was he? Was he a truck driver, or was this where he was introduced to auto and truck mechanics which he did all the rest of
his life? I'm pretty certain the White Company wasn't some sort of front for a racist organization because apparently, they started out making sewing machines. That's pretty innocuous.

But I can't find out any of this information (yet) because my father didn't keep a blog. So, I won't make that same mistake. As a result, I take a couple of hours and write stuff and insert some spiffy images so people will have something interesting to look at when they get bored and that's practically a certainty.

But why is it so strangely important to me all of a sudden? Well, a symptom of the answer was what kept me from blogging last week.

I run a data center for a company that does data processing for hospitals. That's like the perfect storm of criticality. Computer work itself is important but when you're doing it for hospitals - Oh. . . My. . . GOD! - it doesn't really get much more critical. But it's actually OK, because we're the best in the business and have been doing it longer than everyone else put together. So we have processes and structure and documentation and we're well motivated. But we still have the occasional sixteen hour day
like last week. And it's nothing like it was years ago when that was more normal for me than I like to remember. And I know there are doctors and nurses out there laughing, 'Only sixteen hours? Ha Ha Haaaa!' Hey, talk to me in thirty years. I also put in my three days straight without sleep more than once and have the burst blood vessels in my eyes to prove it.

But the event reminded me that I'd better be writing this stuff down if that's what I want to do. For a vast collection of things, my brother and I are the only ones who have any actual memory. That worries me a lot because my brother has lost almost all of his memory and most of his mind as well.

I mean, who's going to tell the hilarious story of when we were having a bonfire on 118th. Terrace and someone threw in a closed fingernail polish bottle. Of course it exploded and the shards of glass hit the person standing closest to the fire, that would be me, right in the face. Ha ha, good times. Three of the pieces hit within millimeters of my left eye (my left eye again!) at 2 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock. Three near misses, all around the eye! So I run into the house with my face covered in blood, screaming my head off. Boy, that must have been something for a parent to see, huh? It's a shame they didn't have video cameras in those days, that would be great stuff to show at parties and reunions.

The part I remember clearest is walking to North Miami a few times to see the doctor. Mom never learned to drive and there was only one car anyway. Plus, we were down at the end of a dead-end road and the idea of taking a taxi was in about the same league as taking a rocket ship. So, we walked. I remember it was fun taking the walks.

So, I have made a decision to write things down. My brother and I are the carriers of this baton and we're not carrying it alone. So, there.

That's me grabbing at my brother's trike. In the writing business, that's called foreshadowing.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What the Hell

Marilyn Monroe is famously quoted as saying, "Ever notice that 'what the hell' is always the right decision?"

I'd like to add that you often reach that decision state when you're tired. Frankly, a lot of the major directional decisions I've made in my life were made when I was tired. I'm tired right now, but I've got this thought in me and it has to come out.

When I interviewed with the company that I still work for, SMS, (now Siemens), I came right off an all-nighter at the computer
lab and right into the interview. I knew instantly that this was the company I wanted to work for and canceled all my other interviews as I walked out. Now that I think of it, I guess it's a good thing they hired me. The interview was in January, they hired me and I didn't start until I graduated in August. It did take the pressure off the last couple of semesters. What's more, this is what I looked like when I interviewed and they hired me anyway!

I also made the decision to join the Navy when I was tired. I was going to school full time and working full time so when my friend Bob Deeter suddenly suggested we should just join the Navy, I followed Marilyn Monroe's sage advice (as I always try to do) and said, 'What the hell' and we joined up.

We took the summer off before heading off to camp, I wrote about that in a previous blog entry. I also had the opportunity to drive my mother up to Minnesota to see her family. We went in my mauve Rambler American, the first new car I ever owned. Hey, don't laugh, it was a
good car, I gave it to my father when I went in the Navy and he drove it practically the rest of his life. One of the high points of that trip was loading Mom, Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Edwin in the car and having some clown run a stop sign and hit the car hard enough to spin it all around. Ha ha, what fun. No one was hurt and damage to the car was barely noticeable. Boy, they don't make cars like that anymore.

On the way back to Miami, we visited my cousin Audrey and her husband-to-be Andrew Houlihan. They were living in New Orleans and I distinctly remember deciding that as long as we were in the neighborhood, we would have to swing by and see them. Yeah, it's hard to reconcile how Minnesota and New Orleans were in the same 'neighborhood'. But I'm so glad we did because I got to meet Andrew and I thought immediately that he was so cool and had this dynamite southern accent. My instincts were right because even now, after all these years, he's still cool.

But the summer ended, I went to the beach a few last times to finish working on my tan preparing for the skin cancer that would come later. When we were visiting my Aunt Del and Uncle Mel (that's Uncle Mel to the right) up north with my mother, I happened to cross my legs and the skin on my leg showed. Well, Uncle Mel's eyes bugged out like you see sometimes in old cartoons. He asked, "Are you that dark all over??" He was stunned. This was a man born and raised in Minnesota in the heart of white-leg country. I think it had a profound impact on his whole belief system.

By now, my brother Dave had already moved to the Buffalo, New York area and was preparing for his marriage to the lovely Miss Donna Krueger.
So as I prepared to leave to go off to boot camp, it never occurred to me that I was leaving my parents with an empty nest. And while it's true that they were never what you might call 'demonstrative' it may have at least been nice if I had awakened long enough to recognize what was going on around me and acknowledge it somehow. 'It never occurred to me' - a phrase I often use even to this day. But I was excited because I was taking my first jet aircraft trip. Bob and I were off to Chicago and on to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center where I would be introduced to 'culture shock' before they had even invented the word.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

William Jennings Bryan

I was recently contacted by one of my friends from elementary school. For some of you, that may not seem like a big deal, but for me, that was a long time ago and far away. The Internet is such an amazing tool, just wait until we actually make real use of it. But this happening fits pretty well with the 'History of Northern Miami' thing I have going on.

Roads were few and far between in northern Miami, the real highway was the Florida East Coast Railroad. Flagler, the builder, was smart enough to build a lot of stations along the way at settlements which developed into towns. The most northern of these was Ojus at what is now Miami Gardens Drive and the West Dixie Highway. Below that was Fulford named for a weather station watchman who took care of stranded people and recorded the weather along the beach near Snake Creek. Fulford, which was roughly at 163rd Street and the West Dixie was renamed Miami Shores and when there was a conflict with the other Miami Shores farther to the south, renamed again to North Miami Beach.

The next town (OK, railroad station) to the south was Arch Creek. This place was very special because it had a natural limestone arch cut out by the northern branch of Arch Creek. This place had been inhabited by Indians for a long time and was one of the first places settled by non-Indians in the Miami area. There were farms and mills and storage warehouses and it grew a lot faster after the railroad arrived. The arch collapsed in 1973, but they've built a nice park there, maybe they'll rebuild the arch.

Incidently, I grew up along the southern branch of Arch Creek right alongside a canal that had been cut to help drain the swamp that fed the southern branch. It didn't quite work, because it was still a black muck swamp that would make sucking sounds when you stepped on it and your footprint would fill up with water. And, yeah, there were the requisite snakes and bugs and land crabs that contribute to the whole 'swamp' experience. My brother and I would tramp around in there in our bare feet. Geez.

Arch Creek developed into enough of a town that they needed a school, so one was built along what is now 125th Street about a block west of the railroad tracks in 1905. It was replaced by a two story, multi-room wooden building in 1914. Then in 1918, a much larger stucco building was constructed next door to the west on the site of the current William Jennings Bryan Elementary School. It was a smaller version of today's school and it burned to the ground just a few years later. The current school was built on that site in 1928 and named for a popular politician who had run for President three times and lived part-time in Miami.

That means when I started there in 1953, the building was only 25 years old. But based on the rest of what I knew of Miami, that was impossibly old. It was open air, with a court yard, no air conditioning and a wonderful library which was my first library exposure.

So thanks to Richard Scandore Weber contacting me, some other names have come to mind. I remembered Richard, he was my friend. And I remember Nancy Lee Sheridan and Tommy Septembre and Suzanne Slate and Russell Jacobs and Carol Craig. Where are these people now, what are they doing? Do any of them remember me? Why don't I remember more of them? Are they alive or dead? Do they have pleasant memories of the courtyard at Bryan? What do you want to bet the Internet is going to answer some of those questions?