stat counter

Saturday, April 27, 2019

OH BURY ME ON THE GREEN PRAIRIE

       Nothing lasts forever including these wheezing, breathing, bodies of ours. In the past, when a conversation turned to, "What do you want done with your remains?",  I'd joke, "I just wanna to be stuffed".
       I suppose it was my way of saying, "Can we talk about something else?", but lately I have a better response. Now I want my final destination to be four-feet down in a green cemetery.  
    These are the rare, natural burial sites that treat the dead with respect, little expense and minimal environmental impact. It is how mankind has disposed of its dead for 99% of it's existence.
      It was only recently that we came up with the cumbersome and expensive "American way of death". I saw it clearly when my brother, Clay, succumbed to cancer twelve years ago. A funeral home was retained to drained his body's blood and replaced it with weird chemicals to preserve what was left. 
    My older bother was dressed in a nice suit and placed in an expensive wooden box. At his burial his casket was placed inside a 500-pound concrete box to keep the worms out and the dangerous, weird chemicals in. When the ceremony ended a bulldozer was waiting to push a pile of dirt back into Clay's open grave. That growling machine was more than I could handle. 
     My sons and I buried him ourselves moving the earth with shovels. The cemetery manager  happened to have them on hand as he noted, the local Mexican farm workers prefer using them to bury their dead. 
     His funeral was okay, certainly what my brother wanted, and I think he appreciated our final flourish at the end.  He's twelve-feet from a Lake Wales cow pasture and bovines occasionally pay visits. After Clay's burial I started thinking of my own demise. I stopped telling people to stuff me. 

     My family always had a great time at our festive backyard barbecues. Maybe that's why mom and dad chose to be cremated. I once met a guy who ran a crematory and he said it smelled like "ribs in the grill too long". This held little appeal to me. It seems like another way of waste gas and, truth be told, I don't want burned dead or alive. 
     I knew our country had strict, stupid  laws regulating the disposition of bodies. These were created more to promote the funeral industry then public health.  A few years ago, people promoting a more natural approach began breaking down these prohibitive laws. I suppose they began by meeting with the funeral industry and saying, "This is what thousands of people want and you can get a piece of the  action!". It was then that laws changed so folks in the dead body business could offer green burial options.
  
    A year ago I discussed these with my wife and we began looking for our  final resting place.  Green burials are only allowed in a few states and Florida is fortunately one of them. Last year there was just one green cemetery in the Sunshine State, Gainesville's Prairie Creek Cemetery.  Now there are three others, the closest in Boca Raton. 
    The one by the creek is well described on its website,

Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC) is a non-profit community cemetery nestled in a protected conservation area near Gainesville, Florida. We are licensed by the state of Florida and certified at the highest level by the Green Burial Council. Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery collaborates with Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), a long-standing conservation organization in Gainesville, to manage, protect, and restore the land for all living things. This includes maintaining a conservation easement with Alachua County which protects the land from development in perpetuity and keeps it open to the public.
Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery is a natural and wild space. Here you will find a blend of flowering meadows and shaded, breezy hammocks where people from across the state and beyond have made the choice for a natural burial (also called green burial). By preventing the use of embalming fluids and vaults, those laid to rest here can return to and become one with the earth.

    What's not to like?  It costs less than a traditional burial and you can really push up daisies (plus oak trees and butterfly bushes). While visiting Gainesville friends we decided to check it out. Its 93 acres are a part of the 512-acre Prairie Creek Preserve. My kind of cemetery

That's next to Paines Prairie, a 21,000 acre state park. Nobody's gonna build a condo on my grave.

     After we passed the entry gate we saw signs leading us to a burial in progress. A body was carefully taken from a plain, white van and placed on an old railway cart.  It was encased in a wicker casket.  Many, we understand, are wrapped in cloth.

     

                  Photo from their website
      
       A party of twelve followed the cart as it was pulled into the woods for burial.              
    All graves are dug by hand. A buddy of mine volunteers on a grave digging crew. Jeff says four-feet down is just right.

    After words are spoken and prayers said, the body is lowered and the grave filled. Most of the ones we saw were covered with wood chips or Spanish moss.  Flowers, a small planted tree, or driftwood marked the graves.


   To keep it "natural" headstones are not allowed.   In time these graves could be hard to find but each has a small brass marker. 
Their GPS coordinates are recorded so no one gets lost. 
    We felt comfortable there. This peaceful prairie seems like a good place to end up, far from traffic and tombstones, a breezy, easy way to go. 
   If you'd like more information, check out,
www.painesprairieconservationcemetery.org or other green cemetery websites.
___________


 





Sunday, April 7, 2019

IF I COULD DANCE WITH MY FATHER AGAIN

      I never cut the rug with my dad. He was too busy flying, fishing, or playing pinochle.  Still, when I hear Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father Again", I feel sad. It describes a longing to re-live the boundless love between a father and child.
    I got to experience that yesterday at a softball game. My team of old guys was scheduled to play an exhibition game against a group of young poets.



      It was a part of this month's O Miami Poetry Festival. When we got to the Coral Gables field a game of 7-year-olds was finishing up. Each boy had a father cheering him on. My mind went back 26 years when I taught my own son, Dylan, to play ball.  Special times.

     An hour later as our game was about to start, my eldest son showed up. I was ecstatic to see him with my wife in the stands. A moment later the other team's captain told me they needed another player. I ran over to Dylan and told him, "They need an outfielder, you can use my glove, let's play ball!"  And we did.

     I watched him gracefully catch flies in left field. When it was his turn to bat he hit a home run. A proud papa got to dance with his son again.
        _________________________________

 
Despite the heroic efforts of Dylan and the rest of his team, the Young Viejos came out ahead in the annual game, 14-9.  Playing twice a week, we had experience on our side. 

              ________________________________________

Thursday, April 4, 2019

THE WAY IT WAS IN COCONUT GROVE

        Remember the way Coconut Grove use to be?  We called it a village because it really was. Trees were taller than the buildings. Things were different then.  

     
          In the old days, everyone got along in Coconut Grove.


    You could ride your bike to the five and ten and leave it unlocked. When you came out it would still be there.  No one stole anything back then. Maybe it would even look a little nicer because a stranger had given it a shine.  

Remember when the Beatles played at the Grove Playhouse? It's been closed for so long now, only cockroaches and beetles play there now.


     We had Winn-Dixie, a real grocery story where the Mayfair Hotel now stands. The bag boys never asked "paper or plastic?". They'd place you purchases in a sturdy canvas bag then deliver them to your house while you took your tennis lesson. By the time you got home your groceries would be perfectly stacked on their shelves. Life was so simple.

My mother (right) with her sisters at the Grove's annual Easter parade, 1939.





NO MONEY, NO PROBLEM
     Food was cheap!  At Scotty's Grocery on Bird Road they sometimes gave it away.  Pangs of guilt would sometimes cause Scotty (the owner) to say, "How can I charge people for food? Like air and water, it should be free!".
    Grove restaurants were absolutely affordable.  When I moved here The Tom Thumb, a small cafe on Grand Avenue, had a $1 breakfast special. They'd serve you eggs, smoked ham, pancakes, and Jamaican coffee with a smile on the side.  Often they would serve the early meals for free just so they could look busy. That's how it was in the old days.
    Monty's Bayshore Restaurant has been around since WWII.  When you'd go there back then, who would take your order?  Monty himself!  It was a one-man show where the Key West native did it all. Once, after I ordered fish, I watched Monty catch one, clean, and cook it in fifteen minutes.  It came with a frosted mug of beer that cost fifteen cents. It was somethin' in the old days. Now its so crowded you can barely see the water. And

OH, THE WATER!

     
Biscayne Bay was so clear back then the water was almost invisible. Herds of sea cows were easy to spot as they grazed on turtle grass. The sailboats moored
 One of the few spots where you can see the water now   nearby seemed to be hovering over the sea bed but we weren't fooled.  We knew the water was there.
      The tourists?  Not so much. When they would try to walk out to pet the sea cows they'd be shocked to find themselves knee-deep in the wet stuff.  
    "The Return of The Creature from the Black Lagoon" was filmed in Coconut Grove's pristine waters.

NO CRIME THEN
    There was no crime in the old days. With life near perfect there was no reason to break the law or even have laws. We didn't need them in the Grove because everyone had everything they needed. 
   
    Yes, it wasn't that way in Hialeah or downtown Miami but in the Grove? My dad would sometimes show off for visiting guests by attaching his watch to the stop sign at Grand and Main. Sometimes he'd forget and I'd still be there a month later.  It wouldn't last a week now.

   Once in a while a few  hooligans would come our way.  When they did they met fierce resistance by our own mini-militia, "The Broom Whackers"  Just the sight of these little women made the bad boys skedaddle.

THE ORIGINAL KING MANGO STRUT  

    Some people think I started the Grove's King Mango parade but that's not true. It was my grandfather, Harry Terry, who got Grove-ites  marching in the streets.  Here's a photo of the first one heading down Main Highway in 1912.  It was quite patriotic and did not make fun of anyone. Why would it? Life was good, politicians were saints and everyone got along back then.


Peacock Park looked like Hawaii in 1972.

 






HEALTHY LIVING

     With everyone walking, riding bikes, and eating home-grown produce, we stayed healthy. 
  Dan the Milkman made his deliveries every morning by bicycle.
     Doctors made house calls but not because we were ill. Our physician, Doc Jones, would stop by to chat about the weather, Hialeah crime, or the Michigander who nearly drowned trying to pet a sea cow.  If you predicted that in sixty years people in his profession would be building Brazilian Butts with injected fat he'd have called you "cuckoo" or worse. 
     In the days of yore if a gal felt her backside was lacking, she'd wander down to the bay and pick up a couple cockle shells.  After she stuffed them into her britches no one would be the wiser.

Croup and measles was unheard of. Kids never got sick back then


TRAFFIC? WHAT'S THAT?

      Grove  traffic now is almost impossible. Drivers are rude and parking spots, rare.
      It wasn't that way when I moved here. You didn't need a car as you could walk or bike to everything you needed. City buses were clean, comfortable, and would leave you off at your door step.
    With few people driving traffic jams were rare.  They would  occur when drivers at an intersection kept insisting,"You go first!", "No, you go first!". There was never any speeding, road rage, or fights over parking spots. A horn honk meant , "Howdy!".

     If we saw a car abandoned by the road we'd stop and fix it. After doing this once  with friends years ago, we hid in bushes waiting for the owner to return. When she did and found her flat tires inflated, she assumed it was some sort of religious miracle. 
What a laugh we had!
    These days it can seem like a miracle when I go out to my car and it's still there.

     Things have changed but not necessarily how I described them above. The Grove has lost much of its small town charm but much of it remains. Call me an April fool but I believe we still can recoup some of our lost Grove glory.

Happier Days in the Grove. My brother Clay and sister, Linda,1946.*

     We can step outside out security gates and get to know our neighbors better. Try being a little nicer -and- having a good explanation when that stranger catches you shining his bike.
                                   _________________________________________________

*  It was great fun letting my imagination get the best of me when describing the "old days". For those of you too young to remember, theft never left and the Beatles never performed in Miami. Those really are my relatives pictured above but we lived 7 miles NW of the Grove in Miami Springs. Part of me wishes I could have spent my boyhood in the Grove. That would have been something growing up next to Biscayne Bay.  The water -while not "invisible"- was very clear and you could swim in it years ago.    
   

Monday, March 25, 2019

HOMESTEAD'S KID PRISON

       There's big money in locking up children. Caliburn Inc. rakes in $1000 a day for every immigrant child it imprisons in South Florida. I got my reminder yesterday.


   
    We noticed this sign on a neighbors' car while camping with friends in the Everglades. Its owners explained they had traveled from Missouri to protest the imprisonment of teenagers at the Homestead Detention Center. 
   You probably know that children continue to be separated from their parents after seeking asylum on our southern border. Some also come with other relatives or, alone.
    The children are kept in facilities in Mexico, others on the U.S. side of the border, and two thousand were bused to South Florida months ago.

   "We are here to bear witness", said Kathy Peterson, who, with her husband Dan, told us what's going on at Homestead's former Air Force base.
    He added, "They've created a prison for 2300 young people, ages 13-17, in your back yard. We're not allowed to meet with them. What we do is organize lobbying efforts and let the kids know we care." 
  Kathy added, "We also stand on ladders so they can see us over the wall. We wave, hold signs, and give them a connection to the outside world".  Most days one of the teens turns 18. They are then handcuffed and taken to an adult facility.

    She got a call from someone with a question, "Can I bring my dog to the
protest?. Kathy answered, "Yes, especially if it is small. Kids love it when we hold a dog on the ladder so the they
can see it above the wall".

     The couple want everyone who opposes our immigration policy to go the prison-like facility to "protest, support the kids and "bear witness' ".  People do this daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The address is 989 Bouganville Blvd., in Homestead.
    Francesca and I hope to see you there.
          ___________________

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

LUCKY TO BE ALIVE

         You probably know about the Darwin Awards,   the ones given posthumously every year to people who die doing stupid things. Charles Darwin might say, "It's nature's way of weeding out the dumbest of us".
      I almost got mine long ago but kept it secret. I finally revealed it when I began a new art project with my students. They were asked to write about a memorable event from their past in ten short sentences. Then, they would draw a picture to illustrate it.
    I wrote my story too, about my attempt to built an underwater breathing apparatus. It went like this,

     When I was fourteen I built a diving helmet out of a five-gallon can. I also made a canvas vest loaded with lead to weigh me down. One summer night I tried it out in a motel swimming pool. My family was on a Florida Keys vacation.
      After tying on the weights and helmet I entered the beckoning dark water. It was night. I didn't want anyone around interfering with my experiment.
      Slowly walking towards the deep end I submerged and marveled that -for a while- I could re-breath the air captured inside the helmet.  
    When I was ten-feet under something terrible happened, my invention filled up with water. With so much weight tied to me I could not swim up at all. 
    
    Seeing the pool's ladder nearby I staggered to it, reached the bottom rung, and was able to pull myself up.
    I knew I was lucky to be alive and wondered how my parents would have felt had they found me lifeless in the pool. As I made my way back to our rented cottage I vowed not to tell them -or anyone else-  what had happened.
                              _______



                       _________________ 


              (From the Darwin Award Website)

Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.

Monday, March 11, 2019

KING MANGO AND FRIENDS

       Yesterday we had a reunion for the folks that created the Grove's great parade, The King Mango Strut.



    We are the original Mangoheads, the guys who got the ball rolling back in '82. Most of us had played crazy characters on Main Highway dozens of times why others, like Peter O,
  did the extensive background work needed to pull off the annual event.
      For twenty-eight years we were the team that put on the show that entertained thousands. Nine years ago there was an ugly fight, a hostile take-over, and the parade began to change. Half of the original mangoheads dropped out because our usual raucous meeting were not fun anymore. The new organizers wanted to get serious, incorporate, and create their version of the Grove's great parade.

Allan squirrel watching
      But yesterday, we didn't have time to discuss how good things go bad. We were relishing our decades of grin-inducing accomplishments. 
Allan "Jellyfish" Aunapu, 77, came screaming up on his huge motorcycle.  

   Twelve years ago he crawled the entire length of the parade as one of Michael Vick's pit-bulls. Every twenty feet or so, he'd stop, lift his leg, and piss on someone's feet.  Unfortunately, we don't have committed strutters like Jellyfish anymore. Few are willing to crawl six yards much less six hundred.
     For years Keith Root gave his blessings garbed as the Pope. He's one of the few originals that still go to parade meetings but he says his ideas -which always worked for us- are now largely ignored or "die in committee".                   
     Both Gina and Mike McFall are crazy as loons. They can't stop strutting and are still marching as "Barbie & Ken's Parents" ,  "Water Woman and AquaMan" and or the "World's Largest Key Chain Bobs".  (above, Gina with Bobby Ingram)

    Bob Deresz used to pull off such feats as "setting lobsters free" from the Taurus restaurant's salt water tank ( He made his escape on a policeman's horse!).  Once he borrowed a 20' blimp and raced away with his giant balloon.
Bob with his lovely wife, Lynn

    After he changed his wild ways he wasn't quite as entertaining but is still one of funniest guys I know. You may remember Bob as the "Clown in White" with a broom and trash can, the final act in our parade for thirty years.

   Bob on the 2006 poster threatening to "Piratize Social Security".  He is dragging Bobby Ingram, Bob's wife, Gay, and my mother, Audrey Terry, who was a big Strut fan.
 
    
   It was wonderful to be with my King Mango buddies again. Every fall we would meet on Tuesday nights at the Taurus to decide what December's parade would be. 



    
    Now, some are dead (Bill, Wayne, and Bob) and a few others (Kathy, Buzz, Eileen, Peer, and AJ) are still kickin' but were not able to join us yesterday.

    All of the veteran Mangoheads are so loved and appreciated. They made thousands and thousands smile in the streets and yesterday, they were happy enough being together again.
                  ___________________

 





PS:  ITS  ATTIC  CLEANING  TIME- We've got vintage King Mango Posters and T-shirts (about a dozen, mostly smaller sizes) to give away.  Send me an e-mail if you're interested, bettermiami1@yahoo.com.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Once Again, SUNDAY, March 3d, the Grove's Greatest Little Art Show

    For the 21st time, the Gifford Lane Art Stroll will unfold under the majestic oak trees that arch over a little Coconut Grove street named "Gifford".  Its the best thing you can do on Sunday, and, the Grove's best art show every year.

   Maxwell Coyote Azul- pelt and paper-mache



Bring the kids, the dogs, and party with the 70+ artists. Sip intoxicating cucumber punch as you buy affordable art.  Francesca and I will be selling our wares (weird sculptures, fish, Mango Republic t-shirts, and hot banana bread) from noon to five in booth #1.
 
  
 I make them from palm tree seed pods. 
 
       I'm also selling a select few of my paper-mache masks that I have become quite un-famous for (My wife sez there are way too many of them in the attic).
 
     
    It's a super street party and you're invited. Once again,it's this Sunday, from 12 noon until 5:00 p.m. FREE, but punch donations are accepted.  
 
   Park wherever you can, Gifford Lane is a block NE of Coconut Grove Elementary, 2 blocks north of Grand.  We wouldn't want to be anywhere else on March 3d.

                ______________________