Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hemingway's cats

Hemingway's house seen from Key West Lighthouse
I went to Cuba with a group and it was a fantastic trip. During the months leading up to the trip, though, I was a little bummed that I couldn't go to Havana (on the other side of the country from our planned itinerary). I wanted to see Ernest Hemingway's house. So, the day before we met up in Miami, I made a quick side trip to Key West to see his other house.

I'd been to Key West years ago, in the 1990s, including a visit to the house. But a misunderstanding with security during tense international events left me with no pictures. Also, I'd always flown in, and I wanted to drive and see the other islands.

The scenery was beautiful, the weather gorgeous. But it's a really long drive from Miami to Key West, especially when you woke up early to catch the plane to Miami!

I stopped by the Caribbean Club, inspiration for the movie Key Largo. They don't serve lunch, and it was too early for a drink (if I wanted to make it to my destination), so I didn't stay.

I made it to Hemingway's house about a half hour before closing (that's how long the drive is!).

The tour guide was excellent. Ernest Hemingway lived here 1931-1939, writing some of his best known work.

Our guide gave the impression that Hemingway needed a new house with each new wife — his Key West wife stayed here when they divorced, and he moved to Havana, Cuba with his next wife.

The Key West home was actually built in 1851 by Asa Tift. He did something unheard of on islands: he dug a basement. He used the hard coral rock in the construction. As a result, the house has weathered many storms.

During a recent hurricane, museum staff spent the weekend in the house with the more than 50 descendants of Hemingway's six-toed cats.

Some of them like to be petted, but most just want to sleep during the day. Less friendly tom cats have special collars to warn people of their preference for solo strolls.

Hemingway had a catwalk (yes, a second-story walkway) to a smaller building, so he could walk from the beautiful wraparound porch outside his bedroom right over to his upstairs study.

This is where the man wrote, every morning.

Cats everywhere, even in the gift shop!

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Friday, February 01, 2019

Books of 2018

I devoured business books in 2018, plus a few historical memoirs and some entertaining fiction. Here's a fun infographic from Goodreads about my 2018 choices.

Movies and shows I liked led me to read Interstellar, Altered Carbon, and To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Interstellar and TATBILB were enjoyable complements to their movies. The book Altered Carbon gave me some insights into the show's back story. For example, envoys aren't just badasses in combat, they're the elite few who travel between star systems by mental download (i.e. almost instantly) rather than via a century of cryosleep. However, the book is harsh and seems more male-oriented (yes, the show's pretty harsh already). I prefer the Netflix show, which adds all the family ties and a little humor, over the book. The little audiobook Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was based on the movie.

The reverse order was true for Ready Player One — my nephew told me to read the book, first. Then I watched the movie with anticipation, and enjoyed them both. I also read Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (the generic cover in the bottom row) and then watched the 1978 movie.

Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild was one of those unexpected books that came through the bookshop and sucked me in (and it sold quickly, after I read it). A poor Brooklyn kid from a dysfunctional family, Clara became Hollywood's first sex symbol — she was Marilyn Monroe before there was a Marilyn Monroe! (Both women admired each other, but never met in person.) Clara had affairs with the most famous men in Hollywood, including Gary Cooper. But she was too honest and open — meaning she didn't know how to play the publicity game. The new "talkies," betrayal, and her forgotten past turned her success into anxiety attacks and broken contracts. Clara is 400 pages of nonfiction that I couldn't put down.

Walden on Wheels was a fascinating memoir of a young man who decided to go to grad school without incurring debt. To make that happen, he used his outdoor skills from life as an Alaskan guide to live in a van — hiding in plain sight on the prestigious campus of Duke University.

A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly was deep and spiritually warm. I recommend it for Christians wanting to dig deeper in their faith and those who long for simplicity in life.

The Bookman's Tale and The Thirteenth Tale were very entertaining, especially if you love books and old libraries and mystery.

As for the business books: Profit First by Mike Michalowicz is life-changing for a struggling entrepreneur. I highly recommend it. It referenced the older bestseller, The E-Myth Revisited. E-Myth gave me some good, basic concepts that I now recognize in other books, but the tone is condescending and dated. Michalowicz's latest book, Clockwork, is a more updated, actionable version of the concepts in E-Myth. Clockwork pushes single-owner entrepreneurs to make themselves obsolete — in a good way — so they can actually have a life.

Traction was another excellent read, and I'll be referring back to it often. It's more focused on a company, not just a single person, but has great ideas for constant improvement, from quarterly goals to more efficient meetings. The ideas can apply to small businesses or big companies.

Friends recommended two books to me as preparation for writing a book about my great-great-grandfather. The Perfect Storm gave me ideas about how to present facts and interviews, but I hated reading it! The author seemed to put every fact he ever found into it, from the history of storms to every macabre detail about how to drown. Bleh! (but a good learning experience for an aspiring writer). Empire Made: My Search for an Outlaw Uncle Who Vanished in British India isn't very well known, but it's well done. The mix of personal memoir and historical biography is exactly what I want to do, and Kief Hillsbery's book flows like a novel.

I ended the year with Tarzan of the Apes, the 1912 classic by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I didn't realize that this was the first book in a series — not just sequels as an afterthought, but that this first book ends on a cliffhanger! I liked it much better than Burroughs' Princess of Mars (John Carter no. 1). Although they were written about the same time, the latter book seemed to me over-flowery with Victorian prose. Tarzan still has helpless females (and males, if you didn't grow up in the jungle) and racist undertones from the contemporary culture. However, Tarzan himself is a deeper character and the excitement of battles and rescues is enhanced by human storylines. I've started the sequel, The Return of Tarzan.

Here's my list from 2017.

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Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy good books in 2019!

Monday, October 08, 2018

Edgar Allan Poe Museum

Last time I was in Richmond, I finally visited the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. The young tour guide breathed life into the antiques and artifacts with stories of Poe's life, even more intriguing than his writing.

Orphaned by his actor parents as a child, he and his two siblings were taken in by different families. John and Frances Allan of Richmond reared Edgar — Frances was fond of him, but John and Edgar did not get along.

On his own as a young adult, Poe struggled at various professions and found his way into writing. At 27, he married his much younger first cousin, Virginia Clemm. The following years were the happiest time in his life, with some writing success and family life with his wife and aunt in Baltimore and later New York.

Edgar Allan Poe's desk
Virginia died young of tuberculosis, after 11 years of marriage. Poe floundered after that, with less success in his writing career and a failed courtship.

Around 1849 he found work in Richmond and renewed a relationship with a childhood sweetheart. He planned a trip to New York to move his aunt/mother-in-law to Richmond to live with him. Mysteriously, he was found in Baltimore, disoriented and delirious.

After a few incoherent days in the hospital, he died on October 7, 1849. The cause of death remains a mystery. (The 2012 movie The Raven gives a fictional account of Poe's death as murder by poison.)

Poe's childhood home no longer exists, but its original staircase and other artifacts belonging to the Edgar Allan Poe Shrine (now Foundation) found a home with Richmond's oldest house, built ca. 1737.

The buildings are also home to two black cats, Edgar and Pluto. I only snapped photos of Edgar, who was patrolling the courtyard (Pluto was lounging at the bottom of a dark staircase), but I got to pet both of them.

The gift shop added to my wish list, including the book The Poe Shrine: Building the World's Finest Edgar Allan Poe Collection, a book about finding artifacts for the museum, including first editions of Poe's poems and books.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Virginia Antiquarian Book Fair

I attended Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) in 2014, thanks to a scholarship from the Independent Online Booksellers Association. It was a stepping-stone dream come true for a bookseller with just three years in the business. I'd just closed my open shop and planned to make it as an online business.  But our instructors, successful booksellers with a wide variety of experience and specialties, touted multiple options including book fairs and catalogs.

Although I haven't yet made it to Book Week in New York City, I attended the Rocky Mountain Book & Paper Fair in Denver. When I came home from CABS, I didn't feel like I had the inventory to support a real antiquarian book fair. And there aren't any in North Carolina.

As my antique books inventory grew over the past couple of years, I started looking around for a venue in nearby states and found the Virginia Antiquarian Book Fair in Richmond. Alas, they were already booked up months in advance. Bummer.

Then, on March 5, I received a message saying a booth had opened up and was I still interested? Wow! I decided to take the opportunity and mailed in a check. Scary and exciting — my first antiquarian book fair, and only a month to get ready!

I bought another portable shelf and worked really hard getting a "new" collection of American Revolution, Civil War and other books ready to go. I even brought a couple to finish up in the hotel room the night before the fair, handwriting the last few descriptions.

The Virginia fair was very organized and easy to set up. Here's my booth after I sold quite a few books — before the doors opened!

Nick Cooke of Black Swan Books was one of the VABA organizers. Very welcoming and friendly, he invited all of us to his shop in the historic district Friday night. What a fun bookshop! I'd describe it as one and a half stories, with little nooks where you can sit and visit or browse.

It was a nice opportunity to relax a little and meet other booksellers, including people with familiar names that I'd never met in person.

I was happy to see Lorne Bair at the fair, the instructor from CABS who told me I should attend a book fair in the first place!

Overall, it was a great, exciting, exhausting experience. I hope to do it again next year!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Reliving the end of the Civil War in North Carolina

Every year in April, a group of re-enactors converges on the small, rural town of Trinity, North Carolina. Trinity is historically known for Trinity College, which started as Union Institute and eventually moved and became Duke University.
(UPDATE: The April 21, 2018 event has been cancelled and Friends of Trinity has taken the event page down.)

I finally got the chance to go last year. Here are scenes from one of the battles.

This particular re-enactment, based around General Hardee's retreating battles with General Sherman, culminates in General Johnston's surrender of Confederate forces in the southeast, April 26, 1865.

In this scenario, the Confederate army waits by the historic Albertson house, which was actually built in 1865.

The great thing about re-enactments is that everybody gets to go home, and soldiers on both sides are buddies after the battles are over. 
Some folks camp out 19th-century style all weekend. The 4th Virginia Regiment, Company F, hosted the Medical Department tent.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Tombstone Tuesday – Blandford Church Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia

I won't have time for research when I visit Richmond for the Virginia Antiquarian Book Fair in a few days. However, I had lovely weather for a visit last fall to Richmond and Petersburg. My goal was to find the general area where my ancestor's brother, Shadrach Maness, was buried.

Shadrach fell early in the siege of Petersburg, killed 23 June 1864. His Civil War record gives no details, but histories of the long battle of Petersburg provide two likely causes of death that correspond to that date. Snipers were picking off soldiers from a distance during that time. There was also a skirmish that day in gullies or trenches outside the Confederate line, a successful attempt to prevent Federal forces from taking the Weldon Railroad.

Oral history says that Shadrach was buried in an unmarked grave near Blandford Church, even though he has a marker in Moore County, N.C. I thought, even if it's unmarked, perhaps there would be a mass grave or some commemorative marker that I could visit.

I had no idea — Blandford Church cemetery is enormous! Stones near the church date back to colonial days and the American Revolution. I caught a caretaker as he was closing for the day and asked him where burials might be for early in the battle. He handed me a rough map, complete with street names, and waved off toward the roads behind the church. "You might try Cemetery Hill," he said. "There's 32,000 of them buried there."

As I walked down the nearest lane, I was surprised by the variety of markers. I've visited large memorial sites, like Gettysburg and Arlington with their small, uniform tombstones. And smaller, old cemeteries with elaborate stones, sometimes with lengthy epitaphs on full-size grave coverings like in Europe. Blandford has both the numbers and uniqueness.

Some of the markers were draped: urns with a draping, or these tall monuments with drapings, but all carved in stone.

These floral headstones had matching footstones.

One grave had its own hobbit-like hill.

There were statues and monuments and mini-parks, including this large arch memorial to "Our Confederate Heroes."

This monument has "Unknown" and the names of states, including North Carolina, carved on its base. Would this be as close as I could get to Shadrach's final resting place?

When I visited last fall, our country was in an uproar about Confederate monuments. This one was built in 1890. I sat in a peaceful gazebo nearby and looked off towards graves that covered the hills in front of me. Why wouldn't people want to pay tribute to thousands and thousands of young men who never got to return home? Shadrach, who volunteered as a substitute for his dear friend Quimby Wallace when the draft was in full force, was only 17 when he died.


I was glad to see a place where various Confederate flags (most with the white background) were still allowed. A cemetery as well as a battlefield, what more appropriate place?

I was equally glad to see the American flag, like these at a marker for World War II and Vietnam veterans. At the end of the War Between the States, "rebels" were given full pardon and the nation was united again. Not always on the same page, as we well know in the 21st century, but our young men and women continue to fight as one under the American flag.

Over near the church, here are some of the early graves with full stones. Some were decorated with Masons marks, some with swords, some with angels.

Different art. Different eras. At Blandford it's as if every individual has freedom to express themselves, yet all end up together in this quiet, peaceful place.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Searching for an old friend – Howard W. Smith

When our mother passed away in 2005, my sister and I found boxes of things in the attic that had belonged to our father, Austin Saunders, who died in 1971. Since we'd moved soon after his death, the boxes were like a time capsule of Daddy's life. I found a cache of letters from a friend of his, Howard, who'd gone into the Air Force and moved across the country to Washington and Alaska in the 1950s. He called Austin "Leftie." The last letter was a card from Florida.

The one-sided conversation, both humorous and personal, made me wonder what happened to the other letters, the ones Daddy wrote. Could they still exist? I only remember snippets of my father, and would love to read his own words, as fiancé and newlywed, starting out his young life. And wouldn't Howard's children or grandchildren enjoy reading his letters from before they were born?

This month I decided to put my genealogical skills to the test and find out more about Daddy's friend, Howard W. Smith. But – SMITH, mind you! I hoped the middle initial might help. I checked Daddy's alma mater, High Point High School in Guilford County, but found no Howard Smiths within a few years. There were a couple of potential boys in Ancestry about the same age: one growing up in Davidson County and one in Forsyth County. I wonder how they met?

Since publicly available censuses stop at 1940 and online death certificates have different availabilities in different states, finding modern people can sometimes be harder than finding ancestors. Without a newspaper search account that includes other states (even accounts vary about how much they include), I struck out looking for an obituary. I did find one lead, however. Ancestry led me to Find A Grave, with a veteran's gravesite in Michigan. A Howard W. Smith, who served in the Air Force during the Korean era, died in 2005. The stone includes his wife's name, with no death date. She must still be alive.

A few years back, I used Spokeo to find a living relative. I signed up for a free trial and tried possible names for Howard's family. Many of them led to the same address – data and landline phones which could be out of date. I jotted down names (children?) and possible phone numbers. I checked Michigan's GIS for that county and found out the house is still owned by Howard and his wife, more than a decade after his death. Details about the house made me think his wife is alive, but perhaps not in good health.

Nervously, on a Sunday afternoon, I dialed the phone numbers. When I asked for potential children's names, the first man said, "Wrong number" and hung up on me. I didn't get the chance to mention the wife's name. Another number turned out wrong, though more polite. For the last two, I left messages on generic machines, hope dwindling that I'd ever get a response.

What next? I should send a snail-mail letter to that old homeplace address, though I don't really expect a reply. What would you do?