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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Something Lovely Re Literature

Last week I raged on about the forever frat boys who have done dirty tricks for Republicans going back to Richard Nixon -- and how I rejoice now that at least some are convicted felons abandoned by their White House boss.  Readers sent e-mails thanking me for the column, but I promised at its end that this week I would change topics and do "something lovely from literature and/or history."  And so I shall. 


Rex Stout is not generally considered among the lovely literati, but his mystery novels were exactly what I needed while sitting at Hubby's hospital bedside or in the endless physician waiting rooms since his dismissal.  We have had dozens of these books on our shelves for the better part of a half-century, and I chose Stout's paperbacks the as perfect reading for a stressed-out woman who nonetheless does not want purely escape fiction.  He researches his settings thoroughly and his vocabulary is extraordinary.


Apparently younger people have missed this phenomena of the mid-twentieth century:  I was surprised to discover that none of the dozen or so high-school teachers with whom I had dinner in Minneapolis last month recognized his name – nor that of his protagonist, Nero Wolfe.  Let me encourage you to get to know Wolfe.  Originally from Montenegro, he is a middle-aged and brilliant professional detective.  He almost never leaves his three-story brownstone home in Manhattan:  his reputation is such that he can demand that his high-paying clients come there.  Their stories are reported to us by Wolfe's assistant, Archie Goodwin, a young smart aleck who lives on the second floor and provides external spice. 


Wolfe's income also is sufficient to support thousands of orchids that grow on the glass-topped roof, as well as a German man who lives among the orchids and tends them fulltime.  A Swiss man prevails down in the kitchen and prepares exotic meals – during which no one is allowed to talk business.  The menus are sufficiently intriguing that someone made a cookbook out of them back in the 1970s, and of course I bought it for Hubby.  I've done very few of the recipes, though, as unlike Fritz, I am not a fulltime chef.


The books' homey scenes are familiar and comforting enough that I don't even mind the fact Wolfe is a misogynist.  Archie most certainly is not, and lots of women eventually prove to Wolfe that they have brains as well as beauty.  Most cops have neither, and the author's subtle feminism shines through the mask of Wolfe's words.  But most of all, I like Archie's sarcasm and his verbose sentences.  For just one example, here's a paragraph I read aloud to Hubby this afternoon, while we hung out in another VA waiting room.  Archie has accompanied Wolfe on one of his rare voyages outside of Manhattan, to an orchid show, and of course, there has been a murder.  As always, wealthy people are involved, and they don't want publicity.  Archie says:


"A couple of other news retrievers came sniffing along; and while I had been helping Wolfe get the orchids primped up, I had been accosted by a tall skinny guy in a pin-check suit, as young as me or younger, wearing a smile that I would recognize if I saw it in Siam – the smile of an elected person who expects to run again, or a novice in training to join the elected class.  He looked around to make sure no spies were sneaking up on us at the moment, introduced himself as Mr. Whosis, Assistant District Attorney of Crowfield County, and told me at the bottom of his voice, shifting from the smile to Expression 9B, which is used when speaking of the death of a voter, that he would like to have my version of the unfortunate occurrence…"


Isn't that fun reading?




We were privileged to attend a party for Lula Dovi's 97th birthday last week. She served Spanish food at her Carrollwood home, where she also still does e-mail.  Some of you remember Lu's occasional columns for LaGaceta, which she called "Tracks."  Others know Lu from her Democratic activism or her many other activities, including writing poetry, painting, and publishing a book about her historic Tampa family.  Her great-grandparents, John Jackson and Ellen Maher, emigrated separately from Ireland in the 1840s and settled in Tampa soon after marriage.  John Jackson was a surveyor; he plotted Tampa's downtown and named its streets.  


The family also included mayors and a woman who would have been mayor had she been a man:  Kate Jackson was responsible for improvements ranging from sewer installation to playgrounds to preservation of the Everglades.  An astute businesswoman, she also was the primary initial donor for Sacred Heart Church and the Academy of the Holy Names.  Lu frequently visited her Great Aunt Kate's home in Hyde Park, which now -- appropriately – is the Kate Jackson Recreation Center.


Lu was born in Seminole Heights in 1922, and sadly, her mother died soon afterwards.  The family also was kin to Governor Doyle Carlton, and after removing the incumbent sheriff for corruption, he appointed Lu's father.  Given the strong possibility of a gangster attack on their home, he sent Lu to live with his brother's family in South Tampa.  She grew up there with playmates that included our late Congressman Sam Gibbons.  Her book is fascinating, and if you want contact info, just let me know. 




I don't know Ann Turner Cook nearly as well as I know Lu, but Thalia Potter introduced the two of us years ago.  Many of you know Thalia, an aide to former Congressman Jim Davis, as well as to Pat Frank -- who is a lovely lady of 90 and still in elective office.  Thalia also came from a distinguished family:  the Lunsford Law Library downtown is named for her attorney father.


When Thalia introduced me to Ann Turner Cook, it was because she saw the two of us as fellow authors.  Ann has written several novels set in old towns on our coast, including Homosassa, Micanopy, and Cedar Key.  In addition to mystery entertainment, they have an environmental intent – an issue dear to Thalia and her late husband Sydney.  Indeed, the League of Women Voters has named one of its two annual awards for the Potters.


But that was not the focus of a recent article by Frank Pastor in the Tampa Bay Times about Ann Turner Cook.  Instead, it told me something I did not know:  she is the original Gerber baby.  Yes, the smiling face on Gerber baby products for almost a century is that of Ann.  She was born in Connecticut in 1926, and a neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, drew a rough sketch of her for a Gerber contest.  The artist promised to add detail if the image won, but the judges decided that they liked the drawing just the way it was.  While her face could be seen in almost any grocery store, young Ann moved with her family to Orlando; she later earned a master's degree at USF and taught English in Hillsborough high schools for many years.  She soon will be 95.




Well, I can't really say that this woman was a lovely lady because I didn't know her – but I loved a recent obituary about her.  But first, let me say that I make a habit of perusing the Sunday obituaries in the Tampa Bay Times because so many are very interesting.  We are fortunate to live in a place where others want to live, and countless people nearing the end of their lives move here.  I've clipped several recently to inspire my oldest brother, who will turn 90 in January, and before I move to the final lady, I want to share other obits.


In no particular order, let's begin with Susanna Hevesy, who was born in Budapest in 1930; she emigrated at age 26 after Hungarians revolted against the Soviet Union. Henry Sung was born 99 years ago in China's Shandong Province; he wrote a book about his experience futilely fighting against the Japanese occupation of China.  The obituary for Marjorie Baillo didn't say anything about her origins, but she lived to 104, died in Tennessee, and was buried in Brandon.  Donald Clifford died at 96, after 71 years of marriage to his childhood sweetheart.  Penny Charpenter's family failed to give her birthdate, but she was the eldest of twelve children and had seven of her own.  This big family lives from Massachusetts to California.


Bertha Sirois also was from New England and lived to 99.  Ninety-five year old Jean Jurgensen was born in England and married an American soldier there during World War II.  Nobuko Baker lived through that war in Japan, and her ashes will be returned there; an independent businesswoman in Japan, she settled in Tampa in 1979.  A birthplace for Fr. John Joseph Braun wasn't listed, but he was a member of the Missionaries of Africa and asked that memorials be sent to it.  Mary Clark, who died at 100, was the daughter of immigrants Giovanni and Marie Challancin.  Keith Marshall Taylor, a woman with a lovely smile, was the fourth great-granddaughter of famous Chief Justice John Marshall.


Finally, I intend to do more research on the obituary that I first mentioned.  Anabel Peacock Mitchel, who lived to 95, was born in the small town of Williston, just north of us, and her funeral was in Tallahassee.  I want to figure out how she went from Williston to be "a highly accomplished and respected member of Florida's corrections and parole systems for decades."  It has to be a fascinating career path, as "Anabel was the first woman in the country to be named superintendent of a men's prison."


We have so much to learn from each other.  Let's not wait for obituaries!



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