Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We're Celebrating!

     If you had told me a year ago I'd be planning a book launch for a book about my disabled cat who has quite the attitude, I would have thought you were nuts. But the book is here and I'm ready to celebrate!

     Betty Tales The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat is a little book with a big message and I've enjoyed speaking with children in schools in Martin and Palm Beach Counties (Florida). It's great to hear them shouting "Climb those stairs!" at the end of my talk. What better tribute could any author receive than to hear the enthusiasm of children as they "get" the message of the book?

So, where's the book launch?   
273 Pineapple Grove Way
Delray Beach, Florida
(561) 279-7790

What time?     1:00 p.m.

Door Prize is
A Betty Basket!
      If you're anywhere in the South Florida area and you have a child in your life, or you love animals, or if someone you care about is disabled, you need to be at the bookstore on September 30. I'd be delighted to meet you.

     I'm going to discuss the book, answer your questions, sign some books, eat some cookies, drink some lemonade, give away a door prize, and celebrate the existence of my very first book with my friends and fans. 

     Unfortunately, Betty can't make the celebration. She'll be home relaxing on her comfy cushion in the sun thinking up her next wild adventure.                                                         

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bibletown Camp

Campers with Anita Bryant (I'm the blonde).
Photo appeared first in Boca Raton News July 25, 1972
     In July, 1972, my parents sent me off to yet another summer camp. This one, however, was different. No tent in the woods. No canoeing. Campers stayed in the old Bibletown hotel rooms on the grounds of what was originally part of the Boca Raton US Army Air Field. We had meetings and meals in the former officers' club. Built of Dade County pine, it wasn't a fancy building and the hotel rooms were at least twenty years old.

     The jalousie windows were a clue to the age of the buildings. Popular in Florida in the fifties and sixties, the louvered panes of glass on a hand crank system were not used as much in buildings built in the seventies. The grounds were landscaped sparingly with tropical plants and the pool was nice and cool.
Jalousie Windows
Picture from Wikipedia

     Bibletown itself was the brainchild of Ira Lee Eshleman, a Christian radio commentator from Miami (originally from Detroit) who decided that paradise needed a "Winter Conference Bible Ground." It was a place for Christians to vacation and worship at the same time. Housed in buildings from the old air field, the site grew and expanded to eventually fill 320 acres.

Anita Bryant Early Years
     For one year only, Bibletown was the site of the Anita Bryant Summer Camp for Girls. Yep. Anita Bryant. Remember her? In the early seventies, she was known primarily as a singer and beauty queen. The campers were in awe of her. She was on television constantly as the spokeswoman for Florida Orange Juice. Anyone remember, "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine?"

     Together with her then husband, Bob Green, a former Miami disc jockey, she ran the camp. Bob was always dressed in tennis whites, striding around the camp in a hurry. Days were filled with bible studies, swimming and crafts. Campers were surprised one day to meet astronaut Jim Irwin who brought a moon rock to show and tell. I was certainly impressed to meet him, but I don't remember a thing he said.

     The big event at the end of the camp session was a talent show. Back then, most of my friends thought we just needed to be discovered to be big stars like Anita. I wrote a song called "America," played the guitar and sang. I knew it was my big break. Anita would be totally impressed and I would soon be famous. I nervously sat on a stool in front of a room of parents, campers and Anita and sang:

"America, America, I love you with all my heart." 
(Knock on the guitar twice.)
"America, America, we two will never part."
(Knock on the guitar twice.)

     Four years after the camp, Bibletown suffered a huge fire which destroyed the cafeteria and conference center (former officers' club). Shortly after, houses were built on some of the property and most of the land was sold off. Bibletown, now Boca Raton Community Church, operates on the remaining twenty acres.

     As for Anita Bryant,  she became embroiled in anti-gay rights legislation in Miami beginning in 1977. Her vehement opinions led to the end of her days promoting orange juice. Her divorce from Bob Green led to desertion by those who had supported her anti-gay stance and Anita gradually lost her sparkle. In 2011, she turned 71 and is now involved in youth charity organizations. She also runs Anita Bryant Ministries International. Her former husband died this past February (2012) in Miami Beach.

    While I don't share the beliefs that led to Anita Bryant's downfall, I regret that her beautiful singing voice was lost in the controversy. I don't remember the last time I heard her sing, although it was probably at that summer camp. Her voice was full and rich and I could have listened for hours.

     As for me, I know you'll be shocked to find out I wasn't discovered. I'm not famous. And you can all breathe a sigh of relief that the two lines of "America" recited above are the only two lines I remember. The rest are lost in time. (Thank heavens.)

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Good Sam

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

            In 1964, Good Samaritan Hospital had a really spiffy lobby.  It had Naugahyde benches with silver metal legs that lined the wall where I sat—patient and long-suffering—the only member of my family not able to ride the elevator to the newborn ward to see my new baby brother.

My grandparents took turns going up the elevator to see my brother in the newborn nursery.   Those were the rules. Kids had germs. Newborns had to be protected. It was several more days before I got a glimpse of the red-faced, dark-haired boy who would become my greatest irritant and one of my greatest loves.

            Good Samaritan Hospital had been there a few decades by the fall of 1964. The Palm Beach Medical Society says West Palm Beach originally had a five bedroom cottage called the “Emergency Hospital”.  Built in 1914, the cottage was on a lot donated by Henry Flagler. The building on Third Street quickly became overcrowded and a bigger building was constructed on the current site on Flagler Drive. It opened in 1920 as Good Samaritan Hospital and has been growing and expanding ever since.  

At first, travel to the hospital wasn’t always easy and, at least with an impending childbirth, challenging to impossible. Consequently, like many additions to the population in those days, my father and two of his siblings were born in a house in Boynton Beach. My youngest uncle was born in what is now the Blue Seas Suite of the Historic Hartman House in Delray Beach.

Good Samaritan Hospital 1950s
Photo Courtesy of
The Historical Society of Palm Beach County
The Historical Society of Palm Beach County has a series of pictures showing the hospital over the years. One of them is from the 1950s and that one comes closest to my earliest memories. I had a friend who worked in the laboratory there when I was in high school in the late 1970s.My memories were updated then since I was able to go behind the scenes to view the lab with all its test tubes and paraphernalia. I even rode the elevator a few times, just for old times’ sake. The hospital had changed.

There’s a great quote from Dr. William Ernest Van Landingham, who served as one of the early Superintendents of Good Samaritan Hospital. On the Palm Beach County Medical Society’s webpage Dr. Van Landingham, said, “Little does the doctor of today realize how fortunate he is to walk into a complete hospital with miracle drugs to aid him... Unless a doctor has been fortunate enough to have had a glimpse of country practice before moving into an urban area, it must be admitted that he really has lost some of the experiences that were commonplace to the doctor of yesteryear and he is also deprived of that nostalgic feeling that we now enjoy for having lived in that age of hardship, sharing with each family the joy of a new baby’s cry, the sadness and tears of the loss of loved ones, and the wishful thinking of what or what we might have accomplished had we not been born thirty years to soon.” That statement appears to have been made in the sixties.

Dr. Van Landingham would have a hard time imaging the Good Samaritan of today. A lobby with soaring ceilings greets visitors who are signed in by volunteers and security guards sign who direct them where to find loved ones in the sprawling complex. I am, however, relieved that the Naugahyde benches are no more.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Walking in Time - St. Augustine

         Along the coast in the northern part of Florida lies one of the most fascinating places I have visited in the United States. It takes about four hours to get from Palm Beach County to the little nugget of history sitting on Matanzas Bay near an inlet. But there sit the remnants, lovingly and commercially restored and preserved, of old St. Augustine, occupied by people since before 1546.

        I have been there several times over my life. The first when I was about five. I remember my dad picking me up to look over a wooden fence at excavation work. My parents and I walked down St. George Street, filled to the brim with shops and restaurants, and enjoyed the tram ride as much for the breeze as the sights. We even rode in the horse-drawn carriages that line up along the Bayfront between the Castillo de San Marcos and the Bridge.

        In college, it was a day trip as my sorority sisters and I, tired of sitting on the beaches of nearby Jacksonville Beach, took the short drive to St. Augustine. We did several of the same things I did as a five year old with the added exception of dancing and drinking like the young adults we were.

        As a pregnant wife, my then husband and I took our unborn son on a tour of the city as our last get away before our son’s arrival. I was huge and people kept offering me seats or looking at me suspiciously as if I’d go into labor any second. One of the best parts of that trip was lying in some shade on the grass by the fort, recovering from the Florida heat and trying to catch an ocean breeze. He was born ahead of schedule two weeks later.

        My best friend and I have been back a couple of times, the last for the Florida Heritage Book Festival and its workshops. We stayed in The Pirate Haus, a little old bed and breakfast a block off of St. George Street. Sublime pancakes for breakfast. When we weren’t eating pancakes or doing writerly things, we were shopping, walking and site-seeing. I also managed to talk her into the Ghost Tour. We didn’t spot anything unusual ourselves, but did find out that John Wilkes Booth supposedly appeared on stage at what was once the theatre on St. George Street. 

        In all those years, old St. Augustine hasn’t changed that much. Oh, individual shops along St. George Street come and go, but the parts of St. Augustine that make it truly unique, haven’t.

        Try touring the Castillo de San Marcos. The Spaniards started building it in 1672 and it was 1695 before it was finished. From that time, four different flags have flown over its sturdy coquina (“little shells”) walls and pockmarks from cannon balls still dot the eastern wall. As you peer through battlements, try to imagine what it must have been like to be a Spaniard on guard duty in the incredible heat. 

        Try touring the Oldest Schoolhouse in America and imagine learning under those conditions. Try touring Flagler College. Housed in the 1887 Hotel Ponce de Leon, it was once one of Henry Flagler’s luxury hotels. Not only is the woodwork in the lobby astounding, but the cafeteria – the CAFETERIA—boasts seventy-nine Louis Tiffany Comfort stained glass windows.

          It’s no wonder I’ve found myself drawn to St. Augustine time and time again. It’s one of those places that have become a touchstone in my life—where things haven’t changed so much that nothing looks familiar. Whether I’ve been 5 years old, 20, 30 or 50 or anywhere in between, I can still stand on top of the Castillo, my hands on the coquina wall and look out toward the Inlet. 

           There’s something comforting about that.