Sunday, November 30, 2014

Florida Needs More People Like Leah Schad

Leah Schad, 2002
A few days ago, Linda Schad, a friend of mine from high school days who knows my absolute favorite thing to write about is Florida and Florida history, messaged me with a link about her mother, Leah Schad. The comment that accompanied the message was “Your family built historic places in the county and my Mom worked at saving it.” Well, my family only built one house in Delray Beach (the Historic Hartman House), but the legacy of Leah Schad is one that will, hopefully, impact the entire South Florida area.

Ms. Schad worked on the Board of Directors of the South Florida Water Management District; was Chairman of the Florida Audubon Society and on the National Board for the Audubon Society. Known locally as the “grande dame of environmentalism,” she devoted her life to the preservation and conservation of our unique and fragile South Florida ecosystem.

The link Linda sent me led to a article about an event held on November 22, 2014 in which a plaque in the memory of Ms. Schad was unveiled at the Nature Center at Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach. Why a plaque? Well, because in addition to being involved in the previously mentioned organizations, Ms. Schad was also an original member of the Okeeheelee Park Citizens Advisory Committee, and was a huge part of the development and design of the Nature Center that now sits snuggled near the northern boundary of Okeeheelee Park on Forest Hill Boulevard. It was her hands and heart that helped develop a wonderful Nature Center to truly highlight the beauty of our South Florida environment and to educate future generations about why its all so important.

The loss of Leah Schad in February of 2008 was heart wrenching for her family, but it was also a loss for Palm Beach County and South Florida. As someone who writes about little things in the history of Palm Beach County to try to bring a Florida that no longer exists alive to my readers, I hope you have the opportunity to tour the Nature Center and see what Leah Schad worked so hard to do—keep a part of our “old” Florida alive and educate future generations to respect our fragile environment before it, too, becomes something wistfully written about by people like me.

Okeeheelee Park is located at 7715 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33413 (one mile west of Jog Road).  The Nature Center can be reached at (561) 233-1400. Hours change seasonally, so check their website through Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation (CLICK HERE).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Black Friday or, um, Thursday?

1960s in Delray Beach, Florida
When my children were small, the hottest gift for Christmas was the Razor scooter. Remember those? Shiny chrome, four wheels and a handle bar? At four a.m. on a Black Friday in 1997 or so, my best friend and I were in the crowd at Walmart waiting for the plastic to be pulled off the crate of Razors. Walmart was offering them dirt cheap and only one per customer. Both of us got one and I paid her for hers so that both of my kids could have one under the tree Christmas morning.

There’s been a lot of yelling about Black Friday this year… and it’s not because everyone’s comparing the sales. This year, like last, Christmas displays in several stores went up before one piece of Halloween candy had been devoured. People complained. Most stores didn’t listen.

This year, like last, a lot of stores are proudly advertising that they won’t be closed for Thanksgiving. As far as I can see, that’s not sitting well with the public. A few paid attention to the public outcry last year and have proudly announced that their employees will be spending the day with their families and not stocking shelves.

When I was a child, everything was closed every Sunday except the occasional gas station and we survived. I remember flying back into the United States from Europe after our honeymoon and eating Thanksgiving at the hotel restaurant. I felt bad that the waitress was there and my new husband left a huge tip—to thank her for spending part of her holiday serving us.

Since this is the United States, everyone is free to shop or not. But for me? Won’t be shopping on Thanksgiving, regardless of the lengths retailers go to entice me. Some things are just more important than shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and thank you for being a part of my blog. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Carefree Days

          Although I grew up in North Palm Beach, we often drove south to catch movies. In the mid to late seventies when I was a teenager, there weren’t all that many movie theatres around. Never any of the mega-movie plexes you see now, if there were six separate screens in one building, it was huge!
          One of our favorites was in West Palm Beach along the east side of South Dixie Highway. My best friend and I drove south in her white Comet to catch the latest movies. One time we drove through the rain and flooded streets only to scream as the car decided it didn’t want to stop in the where we wanted to park and nearly hit the surrounding cement wall. Our destination? The Carefree Theatre.
       The Carefree Center, which opened in 1936, was an ice cream shop and a laundry when Elias Chalhub bought the property and expanded in into an entertainment mecca that included a bowling alley and soda fountain. The Carefree Theatre was built as an addition and first opened in 1947, decades before we slid through the parking lot in 1976. The theatre was big and cavernous. Those were the days when going to the movies meant a night of entertainment. No cell phones rang during the presentation and the guy in front of you wasn’t checking his cell for “important” text messages every couple of minutes. (Seriously? Is he a nuclear physicist the President is trying to contact to save the world? A brain surgeon on call?) We sat in the dark munching popcorn and dreaming of one day being movie stars.
          The site later became the Comedy Club where for a two-drink minimum, one could sit and laugh until one’s sides hurt. We always held off bathroom trips as long as we could because if we stood up to head to the restrooms, the comedian would attack and the entire room would turn to watch us, the victims, slink out of the room. Larry the Cable Guy was one of the locals who got his foot in the door to the comedy world through the club at the Carefree.
          In yet another incarnation, the site held live shows and concerts. Big names and movie festivals appeared until the hurricanes of 2004 (Charley, Jeanne and Ivan) when the roof of the building was so damaged, the building had to be closed. The building is still there—78 years after it was built, but no one goes in these days.
          When I find myself in a movie metroplex these days, I often take a minute or two to close my eyes and remember how it felt to sit in a padded chair in a large, dark room... the only light coming in fits and starts from the action on the screen that filled the wall at the front... the slight clacking sound that came out of the little square high on the wall behind us as the movie film ran through the projector. The smell of popcorn takes me back—at least until a cell phone rings.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Baseball and Heroes

     In Florida, it seems one is never far away from a baseball field. I grew up on Jacana Way in North Palm Beach. Within walking distance of my home was Osborne Park. Baseball fields, cement block dugouts, steel and wood bleachers and a little cement block snack bar together made our field of dreams. When we were around eleven or twelve, we were allowed to walk to the park on late summer evenings to watch our friends play Little League. We’d buy a soda and a hot dog and climb the bleachers to sit on wooden planks. After the hotdog was devoured, we cheered and screamed as our friends took their turns at bat.  There was often the smell of freshly mowed grass and despite the heat of the day, the nights always seemed to cool off just a little in time for the game. We could see flying insects as flashes in the beams from the tall field lights. The crack of the bat hitting the ball would resound off of the apartment buildings to the south.
       At the front of Osborne Park was a curved cement block wall painted white. A flag pole behind it was illuminated at night and the entire crowd assembled for the game would stand, hands over hearts, and sing the national anthem before the umpire yelled, “Play ball!”
     When games weren’t being played, the fields behind the perfectly manicured ball field were excellent spots to kick a ball or throw a Frisbee. Dugouts were great spots for long talks over a Coca cola and moon pie.
        As many times as I walked by that curved cement wall, it never occurred to me why the wall was there and what the bronze plaque on it said. I decided it was time I knew and as my readers know, when I find out something about Palm Beach County history, I love nothing more than to pass it on to you.
       I end up driving through North Palm Beach a lot, usually to meet friends who live in the area. One Saturday morning, I took the time to stop at Osborne Park. The formal baseball field closest to Prosperity Farms Road looked like it hadn’t changed much. The dugouts were still the same ones I had walked past as a child. Built out of concrete cinder blocks, they’re now painted dark green.

       On this visit, though, I walked to the curved wall at the front and read. The little park we loved wasn’t named after some random politician or early founder of the area, but the former Prosperity Park was dedicated to the memory of Lt. Ronald Osborne in 1967. Born in 1941, he was only twenty-five when he left his home on Robin Way for war. He never came back. While serving as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, he died on December 4, 1966 of of wounds suffered in battle after serving only one year.  If you travel to Washington, DC, his name is among those on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Lt. Osborne was buried at Arlington Cemetery.

     We often hurry through our lives and don’t often make time to slow down and look at the bits of history around us. I know all the years I’ve been walking and driving by that monument at the front of Osborne Park, I never slowed down to read it. I’m glad I finally did. As I stood under the flag on a beautiful, clear spring morning, I said a little prayer for the brave, young soldier who probably spent time swinging a bat at this park.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Election Days

I remember going with my mother to the North Palm Beach Elementary School cafetorium (yes, that’s what it was called) in the 1960s so that she could cast her vote. I had to stand right outside the curtains of the voting booth while she did whatever mysterious things were involved in voting. I looked forward to the day when I, too, could disappear behind the curtain and, like the Wizard of Oz, flip and pull levers and switches and magically tell the world who I thought would do a better job in an elected office.

I turned 18 right after the presidential election when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. I didn’t get the chance to vote in a presidential election until 1980 when Reagan defeated Carter. I was disappointed that the curtained booths had disappeared somewhere between the 60s and the 80s. Plastic dividers lined three sides of a high table and one leaned in and punched holes in the paper opposite the candidate of our choice. Twenty years later, the hole punching and the infamous butterfly ballot became an issue during the Bush/Gore election when the hanging chads threw vote counts off.

These days, we take a black pen and connect the end of an arrow with the beginning of an arrow. It doesn’t feel mysterious or impressive to me—feels more like a kindergarten coloring class. But the decisions made are far more important than who to sit next to at lunch or play with at recess.

I suppose at some time in the future, voting will involve a touch video screen and candidate’s faces. As for me, I’ll head to the polls this year, same as every year since I was eligible. Regardless of your party affiliation or who you support, I hope you do, too.

Wonder if they’ll let us bring our own curtains?