Saturday, October 10, 2015

My friend, James MacArthur

According to Thomas MacEntee's weekly Geneabloggers list of blogging prompts, today is the anniversary of the birth of Helen Hayes, called the First Lady of the American Theater.

I never met her, but I did have the distinct pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with her son, James MacArthur.

I was a "Hawaii Five-0" fan, but liked James MacArthur for years before that, when he was a teenager, starring in such films as The Light in the Forest.  I was in elementary school when that film came out.

I wrote a book on the television series "Hawaii Five-0," the original one that aired between 1968 and 1980, with Jack Lord and James MacArthur.  I attended a "Five-0" convention in 1996 that began in Burbank, California, and ended in Honolulu.  That is where I met Jim.

I talked with Jim a few times, and also had conversations with Kam Fong and his son Dennis Chun, and other cast members such as Herman Wedemeyer (who was just as handsome in 1996 as he had been earlier, during the run of the show) and Doug Mossman.  It was a grand time.

Jim MacArthur was a down-to-earth guy.  He did not have a pretentious bone in his body, though he very well could have, considering the society he grew up in.  He was open, friendly, and funny.  And I think I got on his good side when another fan was gushing to him about how "sensitive" and other such adjectives Danny Williams, his character in "Hawaii Five-0," was.  I was getting a little gagged myself by the other fan's gloppy sentiment, so in the middle of her litany of adjectives, I inserted, ". . . and sarcastic," and caused Jim nearly to lose his footing and stumble.  He laughed out loud.  And it was the truth -- one of Danny Williams's most endearing traits in the show, to me, was his sarcasm.

I think that is how we became friends.

I also ran a fan organization for the show.  The next year, in 1997, when my book on the series was published, I got a communication through my publisher from Jim, who wanted me to autograph some twenty copies of my book, which he was going to give out as a "thank you"gift to people who had made substantial contributions to a charity he favored.  Of course, I was delighted to do so!  The publisher shipped the books to me, I inscribed and signed them as Jim had requested and specified, and then I shipped the books to him.

That was a real thrill!

Every now and then, I would receive an e-mail from him.  On one occasion, he mentioned that he had read a book which affected him deeply, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, which was also the book that inspired Ken Burns to make his seminal documentary, The Civil War.

I had a story to tell him.  I attended Florida State University from 1965 to 1970, receiving a bachelor's degree in government, and a master's in library science.  An American literature course I took as an undergrad was taught by Michael Shaara, long before he wrote The Killer Angels.  He had not found the powerful voice that infuses that novel.  In fact, he had just published his first novel, The Broken Place.  It was not at all as polished -- or as good -- as The Killer Angels, which won a Pulitzer Prize.  The earlier book's style was terribly derivative of Ernest Hemingway, whom Professor Shaara admired greatly.

In fact, he had had the opportunity to meet and drink with Hemingway one evening, when the famous writer happened to be in Tallahassee, where FSU is located.  Tallahassee in the 1960s was still a rather sleepy little town which happened to have, plunked down in its southern small-town midst, Florida's state capital and one of the largest of its state universities.  It was an interesting place in those days -- as long as you weren't poor or black or otherwise marginalized.

So Michael Shaara got to sit and drink and schmooz with Papa Hemingway, and said that when he finally struggled home in the wee hours, three sheets to the wind for having done his best to keep up with Hemingway, he had some explaining to do to his wife.

In the same e-mail in which I told Jim this story about Michael Shaara, I recomended two books written by his son Jeff, which continued the Civil War saga.  These are Gods and Generals (which was made into a movie), and The Last Full Measure.  They are as good as the original story, I told Jim.

What is the point of all this?  I guess the point is that we sometimes have a chance to meet people we never imagine we could meet and talk with.  Before 1996, I never though I'd talk to, never mind exchange friendly e-mails with, James MacArthur or any other movie and TV star.  And Michael Shaara, before that evening in Tallahassee, probably had no clue that he would ever meet, talk to, and drink with Ernest Hemingway.

These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities make for great family stories!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Shopping Saturday: "Do Day"

My aunt, Elizabeth Reed, worked full time as the Director of Health Information for the state of Florida when I was a youngster.  It was "Sissy," as we all called her, who taught me how to drive.

That is how I became part of her Saturday, which, since she had to do all her errands on that day, became known as "Do Day."   I got my learner's permit at 14, with my mother's consent, and was then allowed to drive provided that a licensed driver was in the seat next to me.  As soon as I got enough experience under my aunt's instruction to be qualified to be driving on the streets, I became her driver on "Do Day."

She would start her errands with her bank, the American National Bank in the San Marco shopping center on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida, where we lived.  Then she would go to the Silk Shop, a fabric store run by the family of an elementary school classmate of mine.  She had a seamstress who made all her dresses, and who made skirts and dresses for me, too.

Other errands might include any number of stores and public offices.  We would at times visit her seamstress for measurements and fittings.  We would talk and tell silly stories.  We would sing.  It was during our "Do Day" rounds that she told me stories of her time at the Escambia County Health Department in the 1930s, and other adventures she had as Director of Health Information in the late 1940s and 1950s.  She told stories also of how she lived in Brazil, working with nurses there, during World War II.

One of these tales was of her driving down to Lake Helen, Florida, (originally known as Lake Helen Blazes) to the health department there.  It was a small town that she was looking for, and, uncertain of her bearings, she stopped at a gas station to ask directions.  A serious-looking young man came out to her car, and she said, "Excuse me, but I seem to be lost."

The young man looked at her gravely and said in a sepulchral voice, "Aren't we all."

She decided to go elsewhere to ask for directions.

"Do Day" was fun for me.  I got to drive, for one thing, which I actually still enjoy doing.  I'm usually up for a road trip, even at my age.

I learned my way around the city, too.  I also learned how to drive on the many bridges over the St. Johns River.  I learned how to drive in city traffic and on the expressway.  And I got to spend time with my fun aunt!

Sometimes, I'll tell other stories of my Aunt Elizabeth.  She was a remarkable woman.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

International Coffee Day: How I Came to Drink Coffee

In celebration of International Coffee Day, for which I have a pot brewing as I write, I shall tell the tale of how I came to be a coffee drinker.

When I was about 10 years old, around 1957, I spent a couple weeks of the summer at Camp Weed, the campground of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida.  It was located in the area called "The Big Bend," where the panhandle of the state takes a bend to join the peninsula.  The camp was right on the Gulf of Mexico, and it could be magical to get up in the morning for our morning prayer and see the Gulf mirror-smooth, reflecting the sky so that we could not tell where the horizon actually was.

In the mess hall there, some of the kids drank coffee.  It had been a stretch in my family to allow me, at 10, to drink iced tea because of the caffeine content. My mother drank coffee, but only in the morning.  After high noon, she did not drink it because she said it kept her awake at night if she did. 

After breakfast one morning, when everyone else had cleared out, I decided I would try some coffee, just to see what it was like.  I tried it black.  I tried it with sugar.  I tried it with cream and sugar.  It was awful.  I decided I never would bother with it because I did not like it.

Fast-forward to the late 1970s, when I was in the Coast Guard Reserve.  It was 1979, I believe, and we were having a change of command ceremony on the open wharf at the Mayport, Florida, Coast Guard Station, located near the mouth of the St. Johns River.  It was January.  It was raining.  It was cold.  Yes, it does get cold in Florida, certainly in the part where I live, the northeast corner.  It has been down as low as 11 degrees in my now home county of Clay in my lifetime.

I was a Yeoman Second Class at the time, and we enlisted folk were standing in formation at parade rest (feet apart, arms behind the back, hands clasped one over the other).  We were in our dress uniforms, but no additonal protection from the wind and rain.  We were cold.  We were wet.  We were some miserable sailors.  And the officers could not get their you-know-what together, and we waited, and waited, and waited.  It was something like 45 minutes, at parade rest, in the cold and wind and rain. 

The officers -- including my husband -- were under cover.  They were sitting down.  They were wearing their nice warm bridge coats (wool overcoats).  Finally, they got themselves together and the ceremony was conducted.  At least the outgoing and incoming commanding officers made very brief remarks.

When the call of "Dis-MISSED!" came, we all broke formation and ran for the mess hall.  We burst into the place and demanded, "Where's the coffee?"

Nothing ever tasted as good as that cup of nice hot coffee on that cold, blustery day.  It was pure heaven.

Now, let me tell you about Coast Guard coffee.  It has a reputation among the sea services.  It is strong stuff.  Even the Navy says that when the Coast Guard runs out of fuel for our ships, we run them on our coffee.  We use it to swab the decks, as a powerful cleaner.  I once heard a Florida Army National Guard lieutenant colonel say he could only take one cup of Coast Guard coffee per year.  (Wuss!)

Because her parents both drink and brew Coast Guard coffee, and that is how she learned to make it, our younger daughter has been banned from making the coffee in three different workplaces!

Maybe the reason I didn't like the coffee at Camp Weed was that it was too weak.  I was destined to drink Coast Guard coffee.

So, excuse me, but my coffee is ready.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Census Sunday: amusing and odd census errors

I have, over the years, found interesting errors in censuses for people within and outside of my family.  Many of these errors can be attributed to careless or misinformed informants, likely to be outside the family (neighbors, neighbor's child, or someone else unrelated), or to language difficulties on the part of the informant or the enumerator.

Spelling errors can be amusing.  My father-in-law's name was Leonard Marshall Rhodes.  Everyone, in and out of the family, knew him as Marshall.  He was born in Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida, 16 October 1919, according to his baptism certificate. In 1920, the family was still living in Tampa, and the young (less than one year old) Marshall was recorded as Lennon M. Rhodes.  In those days of the Red Scares, it is probably a good thing the enumerator did not spell it "Lenin."

In the 1930 census, it was Marshall's sister's turn.  Her name was Della Mae Rhodes, and she was named for her mother, whose name was also Della Mae.  I wonder if it ever got confusing in that household.

Anyway, in 1930, young Della, five years old, was recorded as Kellie A. Rhodes.  How that happened, I can't be sure.  It seems a bit of a stretch.

My grandparents, Perry W. and Mary L. Reed, do not appear at all, as far as I have been able to determine, in the 1920 census.  That may be because they were en route from Indiana to Pensacola, Florida.

My father, Arden Packard, born 29 April 1911 in Los Angeles, California, shows up twice in the 1930 census, either because the enumerator did not follow the rules, or because the informant did not have all the information.  In 1930, according to the instructions to enumerators, if an individual in a household was in the military and not living at home, he or she would be recorded where they were stationed, and not at their home of record.  But in Pasadena, California, in the household of my grandfather Walter H. Packard, my father was enumerated as being there.  He was, however, in the United States Navy at the time, in training in San Diego, and was recorded there -- correctly -- as well.

My great-grandfather Charles Reed was also recorded twice, in the 1860 census.  He was first recorded in the home of his father, Harvey Reed.  A month or so later, it taking time for the census-takers to get around on horseback, Charles Reed was recorded in the home of a Vinson Nidey, who I believe was his boss.  I am fairly certain this is the same Charles Reed, because the other data match up, and because in that same block where the Nidey family lived, there was the family of Francis Marion Wright, whose daughter, Clarissa Haney Wright, was very soon to become Mrs. Charles Reed.

There is one item in the Florida State census for 1935 that is probably less of an error than it is a function of the small spaces in which the enumerators recorded their data.  The space for occupation was less than an inch long, and one fellow, who was probably a certain type of fisherman, was recorded as being by occupation a lobster.

Finally, I come to the most amusing error I have yet found, not in my family, but in the subject of study I do because I'm just intrigued with this guy.  There was a family in Chicago, in the household of a baker named Peter Ness, the youngest child, a son.  He was misrecorded in the 1920 census as Ella, daughter, 16 years old.  Most likely, this individual never knew he, actually the son of Peter Ness, was so misidentified, and the mistake is probably attributable to either language difficulties between the enumerator and the informant (the parents were Norwegian immigrants), or a less-than-accurate informant from outside the family.  Either way, this error would probably have been quite embarrassing to Eliot Ness, the prohibition agent famed in legend and history.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"It ain't over 'til it's over:" Some Thoughts on the Passing of Yogi Berra

There are a number of amusingly grammatically incorrect, yet somehow profound, quotations associated with the name of Yogi Berra, the celebrated catcher for the New York Yankees, who died this week at the age of 90. 

"We made too many wrong mistakes," he is supposed to have said.  What is a right mistake?  One may ask.  Well, I would suppose a right mistake is one that turns out well in the end, after all.

Baseball was his life and his joy.  I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, in a time when baseball was still the game of summer.  I would go over to the next street, cutting through back yards, to my grandmother's house.  She'd be sitting in the living room, in her easy chair with the matching ottoman.  I'd walk in the back door, calling out our universal greeting and identification, "Yoo-hoo!"  I'd grab a Coca-cola out of the fridge and go into the living room.

My grandma's dog, a large black-and-tan dachshund named Peanuts, would be lying beside the ottoman, and the television would be on.  In the mid 1950s, when we moved to Florida from California after my father died, we had only one television station in Jacksonville.  On a summer afternoon, there was most likely a baseball game on.

We would sit, grandma in her chair and I on the floor, to be closer to the television, and to grandma, so we could talk and cheer for our team.  The doors and windows were all open to let in some air, in those days when people of our economic stratum did not have air conditioning.  We'd watch the game, and when a member of the team we were rooting against that day came up to bat, we would raise our right hands, make a circular clockwise motion with our fingers, and say, "Cat fuzz around that bat."  That was our curse.

Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes it didn't.  But it was still fun.

I never was a Yankees fan.  My team were the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Yes, I started as a Dodgers fan before they left the Big Apple, left Ebbets Field, and moved to Los Angeles and Chavez Ravine.  My affection went with them.

However hostile I may have felt towards the Yankees, everyone admired their star players, who just had so much talent.  Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris.  And Yogi Berra.  Who didn't love Yogi, who loved the game so much.  His name conjures up mid-20th century America, warm summer days, and carefree times in front of the television set with my grandma, watching the national game.

Thanks, Yogi.

A Case of Woeful Neglect

From the fall of 2012 until last May, I was in graduate school at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, during which time I was working on a Master of Liberal Arts in Florida Studies.  It was a tough program, but I was awarded that degree last May, and now I'm home.  I also had some medical adventures during the summer, which reminded me once again that I am not getting any younger and I am mortal. As a consequence, my blogs have suffered from terrible neglect.

However, this evening while I was on Facebook, my nephew Gary questioned me about my aunt, his grand-aunt, Elizabeth Reed.  I have some posts here about her, but will, mainly for Gary, put up some more very soon.

I am going to resurrect this poor, moribund blog, and post more genealogical adventures.  Some of those adventures are related to a personal-interest project I am working on in my professional capacity as a genealogist and a historian, and that is proving to be very exciting indeed.

As well, I will be posting some blogs concerning my primary project, investigating the social, economic, personal, and family relationships of the citizens and residents (there was a difference) of the city of St. Augustine, Florida, during the second period of Spanish possession, 1784-1821.

My master's thesis was on marriage in St. Augustine during that period, under the Spanish marriage law known as the Real Pragmática de Casamientos, or the Pragmatic Sanction on marriage.  I have posted here about that in the past. 

My goal in studying St. Augustine during this period is to link the general history of St. Augustine with the family histories of St. Augustine. I want to get a look at the broad picture.  Many have written on particular groups in St. Augustine -- the African-Americans, the Minorcans, and others.  No one yet appears to have tackled the broader picture, and I am a very broad-picture historian.

Come along with me as I get my blogs back in action.