I Remember…Life In the Tropics

 My Dad, Don Kuhl, was born in Minnesota, but his family left there when Don was fourteen, hoping to find a place where his father could live in less pain from his arthritis. After traveling to California and finding that Don’s father still had a lot of pain—it was 1937—the family drove back across the country and finally settled in Miami, Florida. Don embraced life in South Florida, especially the easy access to the ocean. He spent many hours fishing, skin diving, and just plain enjoying the wonders of life in a tropical climate. Don died recently, at home in his favorite green chair. He was always my best listener; I will miss him.

The following are excerpts from Don’s memoir, “From Minnesota to Florida: Finding a place in the Sun—Kuhl Family Stories.  http://tinyurl.com/cwk3prv Additionally, I’ve included a story Don’s sister Betty told me after Don’s memoir went to press. It gives me a hint of where our family’s sense of humor came from. MTH

Life in the Tropics: Miami, Florida in the late 1930’sFile0015Don, early twenties

Don: When I was in high school, I enjoyed skin diving in Miami with my friends. We couldn’t go out and buy commercial masks or flippers then; we had to make them ourselves. My friends had made masks, and they helped me make one for myself out of red rubber. You cut it to fit around your face, cut a piece of glass to fit your face, then used metal to hold it together. The fellows I was with right after high school had made the masks and they helped me make my spear gun.

They never let someone new to the group take a loaded gun the first several times they went out. They wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing. For the spear gun, we used a ten foot galvanized rod, cut it in half, made a blunt end, drilled a hole and put a barb in it. That’s what we speared the fish with. We used inner tubes from bike tires for slings to fire the gun. The spear point had to be blunt. When the tip hit a fish scale, it would stop and the barb would slide along the fish scale, get between the scales and pierce the fish.

One time I went out fishing in the evening with my friends Lloyd and Ethel. We went over to the new causeway over Biscayne Bay in Miami and as I often did, all I took was my shrimp nets and a bucket. The tide had just changed to dead low when we got there and it was full of weeds so I wandered along another bank just wading and looking around. I got the biggest kick out of that, just walking in water maybe knee deep and seeing what was going on. I netted a little mullet, a shiner, and one little shrimp and just had the biggest time. Then I gave them to Lloyd and wandered around watching the people on the beach.

There were two elderly ladies there with some dogs. Their kids were with them and Grandma was looking after the animals. One dog was a Boston Bull, very small and the other was a Cocker like our dog, Mandy only it was a year old while Mandy was 7 years old. The cocker’s name was Candy and it was the nicest dog, coal black, friendly and playful and had the softest coat, all curly and its hair on its head stood up on end like Mandy’s did.

There were some other people there as well, obviously Spanish; he was from Cuba and his wife was from Spain. They had just a few crabs, a hermit crab and a squid. The man from Cuba explained all about the squid to me. I’d never seen one before; it was all brown when they first brought it up and later lost all of its color and was transparent. We could see its stomach working right through its side and it had what appeared to be vents along each side. It shut the vents and seemed to blow air out of them. It was a very odd fish—I figure it must have been jet-propelled.

I’ll never forget the day a school of fish went by me as I was swimming underwater under a jetty in South Miami. I had taken a loaded spear gun in my hand when a solid wall of Red Snappers came by. Those Red Snappers kept swimming past me until they finally rounded the corner of the jetty. There were so many fish, you couldn’t see through them. It was the most beautiful, calm and peaceful experience I’ve had in my whole life. I could no more shoot those fish than I could have shot anything.

I have no idea how long it took for those fish to pass by but I was limited in time, since I was perhaps twelve feet under water. Those fish went by me unperturbed. How fast they swam, I don’t know. They were all snappers, but there were great big ones and little ones. The mature fish were bigger than I’d ever seen. They were beautiful, very colorful.

The fish finally quit so I could get to the surface and start breathing again, but while they were going by I just couldn’t leave: I was spellbound. I would love to have a wall that had a picture comparable to what I saw, but that’s impossible—you’d run out of house.

Betty: One day Don and his friends were in our kitchen in Miami getting ready to cook up some fish they’d caught. Tony, Don’s friend, had put some oil in a frying pan. He stood in the kitchen trying to figure out which burner to put the pan on. He didn’t realize that the pan’s handle was loose. “Mrs. Kuhl, where should I put this?” he asked. Just then the handle turned and the oil went all over the floor. Mom looked at him and without missing a beat replied, “Oh, just put it on the floor, Tony.”

Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com



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