Tampa – Harry Baya
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Last Updated May 12, 2020

Chapter 11:  Tampa

In my life the place I remember most strongly is the house at 2009 Bayshore Blvd in Tampa, Florida. It was the house my parents lived in when I was born. It was the house we returned to most often during the years my father was on active duty in the army. It was the house my parents moved to when my father retired from the army in 1962. My parents lived in that house until mother died in 1981 and my father stayed there till he died in 1987. My sister then lived there until sometime in the early 1990’s.

I have just looked at 2008 Bayshore Blvd using Google Earth and from the front it looks very much the same as it did in my earliest memories. The big tree, with the Spanish moss, is still there and the tall white columns are still on the front porch. Uncle Harry told me about constructing those columns when the house was moved to face Tampa Bay years before I was born. The house had been facing onto Desoto Ave and, I infer, was further back from Bayshore Blvd. They lifted the house and used rollers to move it and turn it. I have seen pictures of that being done.

From the year Bonnie divorced me in 1978 through the year my father died in 1987 I visited Tampa several times every year. During the 20 years since then I have probably visited Tampa at least 15 times.

My mother’s hometown Abingdon also is deep in my memory. However, I only went there a few times between the year my mother died in 1981 and 2004 when I moved to Abingdon, and even before that I probably visited Abingdon less than once a year.

I have a lot of memories from visiting 2009 Bayshore. They start with remembering sitting on the front porch with my grandfather and watching the cars and street cars go by on Bayshore Blvd., He died in December of 1949 and my family was there for the funeral, and for Christmas. We moved to England in the spring of 1950. I have a lot of memories from Tampa before we went to England. There was the bag swing, filled with Spanish moss, in the front yard, there were friends who lived in the apartment building across Desoto street (Maryanne and a boy whose name I forget). There was the tree house built in the big tree just outside the house in the back yard. We kids would play in the empty lot next to the Bayshore Royal hotel just South of us on the Bayshore drive.

Then there are memories from the year and a half between returning from England in the summer of 1951 and moving to Venezuela in the spring of 1953. I think Maryann and the tree house were still there. The bag swing, or one like it, was there well into the years when I began to bring my sons down to Tampa after Bonnie divorced me in 1978.

I don’t know what year Uncle Harry and his family moved into the house immediately behind 2009, but it must have been when I was an infant.  I also don’t know what year Uncle Harry bought the lots on the Church Lake and put a cabin out there but I’m pretty sure we were going out there, and loving it, before we moved to Caracas. I remember Uncle Ed teaching my how to row at the lake and I vaguely recall learning to swim out there. I remember being a kid sleeping on the upper landing in the cabin while the grownups stayed up drinking, talking, laughing and singing. I was 18 when I came back from Caracas and these are memories from when I was much younger.

I have written a separate section about my memories of Church Lake.

During the summer of 1949, Uncle Harry's youngest child, Emery, was born.  I remember being out fishing with family and cousins on Uncle Harry's boat.  The shortwave radio on the boat could connect to a service that would permit calling a phone, but the speaker had to say “over” when they finished speaking to let the other person know when they could speak. I remember someone, probably my father, saying “Turn little Emery, Over”.

When we came back from Caracas we lived in Atlanta for five years. I was at MIT during the school year but I remember we visited Tampa many times during those years. It was during this time, I think, that we may have begun to spend a summer week out at the lake.

I was in graduate school at MIT in the winter of 1961 to 1962 when George Felts and I bought a 1952 Cadillac ambulance and drove passengers from MIT to Florida for the Christmas vacation. In my mind I can still see the big white ambulance in the backyard of 2009 with cousins and relatives crowded around to see it. One summer Jim Kee came down to Tampa and stayed with us a few days. Jim and I drove over to Daytona Beach and spent a few nights there. We stopped to visit some of Jim’s family in Orlando on the way back. Orlando was a sleepy little town with few paved roads. I’m guessing the population was less than 10,000 (it seemed like 2000 to me ) when we were there around 1963.

Bonnie came to visit me in Tampa and meet my family in the summer of 1963 before I went to Germany in the army. After we were married and lived in Columbus, Indiana, and then in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, we would go down to Tampa every other Christmas. We went to Westfield, NJ, Bonnie’s parent’s home on the other Christmases. I would  have liked to have gone down and gone out to the lake in the summers and we did  that once or twice but Bonnie did not like the hot weather and we did not go often.

Bonnie divorced me in 1978 and from then until my father died in 1987 I visited Tampa every Christmas and every summer, and often visited other times, like Thanksgiving, or Easter. I usually brought one or both of my sons. In the summers, especially during the 3 or 4 summers before mother died, both Matthew and Paul would come down with me and we would stay out at the lake for a week. Those were wonderful times for me, and I think for my sons.  

My mother died in October of 1981. At that time I was working at home, programming in Pascal, for Fred Putney. I arranged with Fred to come down and spend a month or more with my father. I continued my work while in Tampa. It was a wonderful visit and I was closer to my father then than any time in my life. He appreciated having me there a lot. He wanted me to move to Tampa and live with him. He said he would arrange to leave the house to me if I would do that. I told him I could not leave my sons, who were then 8 and 12. He said they could be with me in the summer and might even arrange to go to school in Tampa some years. I was not willing to do this. I wonder what how my life would have gone had I done that.

Later that year my father invited me to come down to Tampa and join him, at his expense, on a 3 or 4 night cruise from Tampa to Cozumel, Mexico, and back.  The Holland American line was starting to offer cruises from Tampa and this was the first one, a kind of test run. We had a great time together and I may write about it at some point.

Another time I when I was visiting Daddy in Tampa we went over to Saint Augustine and visited place he remembered there and in Jacksonville. Daddy had worked for his father for several months in Jacksonville before marrying my mother while my grandfather was a Florida bankruptcy judge. We also drove down to New Smyrna beach and visited the location of the Turnbull plantation where the first Bayas had come to Florida as indentured servants. The first Bayas were part of what is now called the Minorcan community and I may write about that some time. There is a monument in the older part of Saint Augustine with names of families from the original Minorcan community and on it is the Baya name and the names of several of the families the Bayas married into in the first two or three generations in Florida.  We went to the Saint Augustine Historical society and read about the Bayas and we visited a graveyard with Baya tombstones.

I also went down to Tampa for my father’s marriage to his second wife, Pat, and to see them off on a Holland American cruise for their honeymoon.

One Christmas, after my father had married his second wife, Pat, Elaine came down to Tampa with me for Christmas. That was an interesting experience.

Though it was not the same without mother, we continued to come down to Tampa and stay out at the lake for a week most summers through 1986. My father died in February of 1987 and we had a kind of lake reunion either that summer or in the summer of 1988. Elaine, Matt and Paul were all with me for the reunion.  I think we stayed in the cabin for a week. That was the last time I spent the night out at the lake.

I went down to Tampa 3 or four times after my father started having serious health problems during the last year of his life. After he died I went down for the funeral and stayed in Tampa several weeks getting his papers and estate in order.

My sister, Madge, and her partner, Susan Ferrante, moved into 2009 Bayshore Blvd shortly after daddy died. Madge and I had each inherited ½ of the house and she and Susan bought my ½ from me. They stayed there till the early 90’s and I visited them several times in that house.

Since then I have been down to visit Madge every year or so. On one occasion, while I was living in Abingdon and working at Emory & Henry College, Matt, Emily, Owen and Marshall all came down to Tampa and stayed with me and Phyllis at Madge and Susans house. I paid the airfare and I very much regret that I was never able to afford to do that again. I loved introducing Owen and Marshall to Tampa, Florida, their Florida cousins, and the Southern roots.

On four occasions I flew to Tampa and met my cousin Rosalie to drive to Mobile to visit her brother, Emery. The first two times I came alone and we went there for Christmas. The next time I was with Paul and Phyllis and we all enjoyed the trip and the visit. The fourth time was just last fall, 2019, and I met Paul in Tampa and we drove with Rosalie and her partner ( I don’t know if they are married ) Gene to be in Mobile for Emery’s 70th birthday party.

In addition to visiting Tampa I have also visited Key West three times and Miami two or three times. The first time I went to Key West was when Paul was around 14 and we loved it.  We went again after he had a condominium in the Mutiny Hotel in Miami. The third time was with Phyllis. We flew to Tampa, rented a car and spent two nights with in Key West with a retired professor who had moved there from Hofstra where I had known him. Every trip was a good one. Paul’s condominium is in Coconut grove and I have visited him there at least twice in addition to the time we went to Key West from there.

Tampa - with feelings

I have typed several pages of details about my many visits to Florida during my life. This told about when and why I went to Florida but it did not tell much about how it felt to be there, about some of the moments and experiences that were most meaningful. It also did not say much about the many interesting individuals, family and friends, I was with when I was there. I am going to attempt to convey some of those things.

My memories of Tampa go back to my early childhood through my most recent visit in the fall of 2019. I will start off by focusing on several specific eras.

My father retired from the army in 1962 and moved from Atlanta, Georgia to 2009 Bayshore Blvd. His mother, Jessie, was living in the house in a bedroom just off the living room on the first floor. Mother and daddy moved in upstairs and remained in the house until their deaths, my mother in 1981 and my father in 1987. The period from 1962 to 1981, 19 years, contain ,my happiest memories of Tampa. I was in my second year of graduate school and came home for Christmas and other visits. After that I was in Germany for two years and returned to the U.S. with my wife Bonnie. Madge moved in with my parents when she graduated from Georgia Tech around 1963 and lived with them for something like 10 years before moving in with Susan. After mother died Madge came home for lunch with daddy every day.

For a year or so my father’s Uncle Ed lived with my parents at 2009. He was my father’s mother’s brother and I can remember knowing him fairly well. I had a stamp album which he may have given me then. He used to send me packets of stamps that I would sort and put in the book. I liked Uncle Ed a lot and he was always kind to me. I think he was living in the house after grandmother died. Years earlier I remember him teaching me how to row a boat out at Church Lake. Uncle Ed was an engineer and I hope to write about him in a section I am planning to write about the generations before mine ( Insul, daughter, Dunedin, Rip Van Winkle Bending Baya).

I loved going home to Tampa. I think mother loved to cook. I know she was a great cook and made wonderful meals. I did not realize what a good cook she was until I was able to experience the cooking of many other homemakers over the years. Mother was as good as any cook I ever had enough meals from to form an opinion. Mother was one of four daughters in her family and I believe she was the best cook of her generation in the family. The White family, as I remember them, treated cooking as almost sacred art of the women.  I suspect part of what I thought was mother’s love of cooking was her love, and desire to please those she loved. Since I was home only a few weeks, at most, each year, and sometimes only a few days, I believe she did everything she could to prepare meals, and snacks, that I would love.  Breakfast was always as special as any meal. Bacon and eggs, biscuits, rolls, ham, country ham, sausages (she would flavor the sausages her own way), liver stew ( a favorite of mine), chipped beef stew, waffles, pancakes… and whatever was extra good. I was spoiled rotten during my entire visit.

If it was a holiday event like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter there would be a big turkey, filled with home made stuffing, cranberry jelly and sauce, wonderful rolls and fantastic side dishes. It was an incredible meal.  There were almost always guests in addition to our family. June Kosky was often there, and sometimes cousins and friends like Susan Ferrante, Pat Torres.  The many Turkey dinners blend together in my mind and one never ending feast. I loved it all.

Looking back I realize mother would put in many hours to prepare a meal like that, and many hours for all the meals she made when I was home. I think now it was one of her ways to express her love, to all of us, and to me, and it worked. I felt loved. I remember one of the dinners near the end of her life, perhaps the last one.  She was sick, a cold or flu or something, and I argued that she should stay in bed. She would have none of it. She was up early in the morning cooking the Turkey. I spoke to her about my thought that she should not be doing all this in her condition and my recall is that she calmly and kindly told me, while continuing to work, that if she was not too sick to prepare the meal the way she wanted to, she was (damn well) going to do it. There was a strength of character there that she made no effort to display or take pride in, it was just who she was. It seemed to me that she did what she did because she chose to and that her choices had nothing to do with what others would think of her. They usually had to do with what she could do for others because she wanted to.

The male Bayas who were in the house for the events, my father and me in the early years, and adding in my sons, Matt and Paul, later on, did very little to help. We might have helped a little setting the table, or carrying something in from the kitchen on request, but for the most part we just hung out in the living room – watching TV, playing games, talking with guests, doing puzzles or whatever else we wanted to do to entertain ourselves. It was the same after dinner. We did not help much with cleaning up. However, the females, including guests, would all dig in to help clean up after the meals, including washing the dishes and putting them away. That’s just the way things were.  The fact that this behavior was considered normal early in life did not prepare me well for marriage.

After grandmother Baya, my father’s mother, died ( I will put in the year when I find it) my father bought the house shares of his brothers and sisters, though I know some of them, especially Uncle Harry, did not want to be paid. My parents then had changes made to the house so that they could live downstairs. They combined Grandmother’s bedroom with a small parlor in the front of the house to create a good-sized bedroom. They had a large, nicely setup, bathroom connected to the bedroom. That left an upstairs containing four bed rooms and a back porch room (fully enclosed, windows on three sides) in the back of the house. The front bedroom next to Desoto street was Madge’s room. . Lots of room for guests.

2009 Bayshore Blvd was a wonderful place in many ways. After Madge and Susan sold the house the buyers had it remodeled to look like new on the inside. The basic floor plan was pretty much the same. They also added a large two story double garage in the backyard which I dislike intensely. After all these changes the house was sold, at least twice I think, for well over a million dollars.

The location on Bayshore Blvd, with the large front porch and big pillars was a wonderful place all on its own. It overlooked a nice front lawn, a large tree, with Spanish moss, and across the street, Tampa Bay.  Inside there was a front hall area with open stairs going to the second floor, and a good size dining room on the left. The dining room had a door into a large kitchen with a big square kitchen table in the center. The kitchen table was used for many meals and many social interactions. I am, of course, biased, but all I can tell you is how it felt to me. It was a wonderful space – a kind Feng Shui (Google it) balanced room.

For me the best room in the house was the living room. The windows along the back of the room overlooked the backyard, and Uncle Harry’s house about 100 feet of so back. The North side of the room opened to a narrow side yard and there was a door and a small landing and steps there.  Most of mother’s flower garden was in that side yard.  In the corner next to the door to the kitchen my father had a large bar ( the top was about 5 fee by two feet) and kept it well stocked with hard liquor. Anyone visiting was welcome to fix themselves a drink and many did. After mother died June Kosky lived in the house with my father for a year or two and my father joked that she was mainly there because of the open bar.

This room had a TV next to one wall and a sofa, several big soft chairs, and other chairs and tables. There was room to set a card table up in the center of the room and most of those who spent time there were bridge players. A bridge game, sometimes lasting for hours, with players changing over time, was a frequent evening activity. Even with ten or more people in the room it did not feel crowded. More Feng Shui.

Memory time! When my grandfather was still alive the living room was also his office at home. The South wall, next to the kitchen and the pantry leading out the back of the house, was a floor to ceiling bookshelf, filled with books. I loved looking through the books. My grandfather’s books were left there for many years. There was a collection of mathematics books dating back to when he was a math professor.  The books covered lots of subjects, including science, history, Florida, and the military ( I have a book of WWI photos I got from there). My grandfather’s desk was a large one. The top was probably 6 feet by 4 feet, and it was set up so that he faced the desk with his back to the book case. That arrangement, including the desk, was left unchanged for many years after granddaddy died in 1949. He had a small glass paperweight with a picture of the front of 2009 Bayshore Blvd under the glass. I have that paperweight on the desk I am using to type this.

2009 Bayshore Blvd was a kind of social center for a group of friends and family in Tampa. Uncle Harry’s house was directly behind the house and Rosalie, Sarah and Emery would come over to 2009 when they were still living there, and then later when they visited their father. One of Uncle Harry’s best friends was Ling Torres and Ling and his wife, Big Maida (to distinguish her from her daughter, little Maida) were part of an older social group that included my parents and some other Tampa friends. Their daughters were friends of Rosalie and Sarah and also visited 2009. Pat Torres became kind of part of the family and would often visit in the evening.  Though I think people came by a little more often when I was visiting so that they could meet with me, it was clear that the gatherings, the bridge game, and the open bar use, occurred fairly frequently whether I was there or not. I believe my father and mother loved the company, though I do wonder whether it could occasionally be a bit too much. The social gathering in the evenings continued after mother died. I enjoyed these gatherings and new friends I met over the years I participated.

My memories of 2009 go back to when I was home from graduate school and then through many changes. Aunt Rosalie and Aunt Tillie (Uncle Harry’s wife) were still alive and I remember them in the house. One year we had a bongo board and the old people (so much younger than I am now) were amused as us youngster’s balancing on it. Later Uncle Harry was married to Aunt Gregory and her two daughters, Gregory and Lucretia, would visit us when we were all home at Christmas. My father married Pat {name), a widow from England. Pat’s daughter was friend of June Kosky’s and Pat, came over to play bridge for a while before she and my father became a couple. June had been good friends with Rosalie and Sarah and brought a number of friends to visit at 2009. Two of these were Lad and Jim, a gay couple, who were bright and lively and were around for a few years. I think my father had some difficulty with there being gay, but not enough to prevent him from enjoying their company.

I have so many memories of my visits to Tampa, sometimes for funerals, sometimes for vacations, sometimes for weddings. Sometimes just to be with my parents. I can remember specific events, such as opening a “special” Christmas gift to discover it was the stuffed bear, Pooh, I had as an infant.  It’s sitting on top of a bookshelf across the room. I remember specific conversations with my mother, and ones with my father, and ones with Uncle Harry ( Catholic church ), and on and on. However I want to write at least a page or two about experiences at Church lake and about going out on Uncle Harry’s boat.  

The next paragraph contains a memory that has gotten me in a lot of trouble when I recount it. At least no one will get upset while I am sitting here writing it. I repeated it to Phyllis a few days ago and she was just as upset with me and disbelieving as most people who hear it.

One time, probably after I was divorced, around 1978 or so, I was in the kitchen with mother in Tampa. No one else was in the house. It was probably a week day and Madge was at work and Daddy was in the office he rented for a few years doing legal work, including real estate work for the Harry Baya Construction company.  The front door bell rang and I went to answer it. I came back in the kitchen and told mother that there was a lady at the front door who wanted to talk to her. Mother went out to the door and came back a few minutes later. She told me that I had been incorrect. It was not a lady at the door, it was a woman and, besides, she should have gone to the back door. Mother told me this the way you might tell someone they had forgotten to turn the water on to water the lawn. She was not the least bit upset, she was just letting me know, as a stranger learning local customs, what I should have said. The woman was a black woman and she was looking for part time work. Mother had told that her she already had someone helping her a few days a week, but gave her an address of a friend who might be looking for help. When I tell this story listeners often (more frequently now than years ago) comment that obviously mother was somewhat of a racist and looked down on black people.  I reply that mother was not a racist this was simply the way things were in Tampa at that time. These were the words used, a woman not a lady for a black stranger, and the custom was that hourly workers, or people looking for work, came in the back door of the house. It occurs to me now that this is kind of the way things were in the TV series “Downton Abby” and “Upstairs Downstairs” – and that was not a race sensitive context.  The next story sinks me even deeper into the pit of defending racists and possibly being one. Fortunately I have a few comments that pull me out a little bit.

I tell people that when I was working for my uncle Harry in the summer of 1960, and in prior years, and for at least a few years after that, the term “nigger” was not a racial slur in Tampa. I had thought the same was true in Abingdon but I have discussed this with people near my age in Abingdon in recent years and apparently that term would have been a slur in Abingdon at that time. It was not in Tampa, at least as I understood it. “Nigger” as the word used in place  of the term “African American” today. Between then and now the terms “Black people” (or black man, black woman), and “Negro” have come in and out of favor. They were appropriate terms to use, with no intended deprecation, for a few years, and then were replaced.  I would guess that “African American” will fall out of favor someday (it may have already). Uncle Harry had a number of hourly laborers working for him, more black than white. Though I cannot remember a specific conversation, my recall of the way the term was used the summer I worked there would allow for these sentences:

To Roy Garcia, Uncle Harry’s foreman: “Roy, see if you can find three or four strong niggers to help out with unloading the trucks tomorrow. You could ask some of the niggers here today if they have friends available for one day of work.”

From Roy to one of the black workers; “Do you know any strong niggers who would be available to work tomorrow to help unload supplies from trucks coming in tomorrow?”

Me on the defensive: You might ask why Roy did not ask for “strong men who would be available…”.  At that time Tampa was pretty much segregated. The workers lived in black neighborhoods. They were much more likely to see black men, ones they knew enough about to consider asking, than they would white men. OK, Roy still could have said “men” rather than “niggers”, but my point it he probably would have said “niggers” and he would not have used that term if he thought it would upset the men he was speaking to. He was asking for a favor and did not need to confirm his status as the boss. I could say more about this but I am aware that for many readers no matter what I say I am just digging myself deeper into a hole.

When I tell this story I am invariably met with strong reactions. Hearers insist that the term “nigger” could not have been used anywhere without an intentional associated insult. They insist that a white man would not use that term in front of a black man without angering the black man. Depending on the relationship, they say, the white man would be socially “superior” to black man where they lived. The black man would, if he did not want to cause a problem, not show that anger and just let it go. These kinds of social structure rankings between whites and blacks still exist in many areas in some Southern states today, BUT I don’t think there are still areas today where a white man can call a black man a nigger without angering the black man.

I know what my memories tell me. I do not feel my Uncle, or Roy Garcia, were racists. I think they promoted workers, and paid workers, based on skills and performance regardless of race. The hourly workers building houses were mostly black and Hispanic, but there were white hourly workers. During my summer there I had no reason to think preference was shown for anything other than how useful a worker was to the company.  Maybe I misunderstood, but that’s the way it looked to me.

I have learned that I cannot tell about my memory of the way the  word “nigger” was used in Tampa at that time without getting into an argument. Often I end being perceived as being somewhat racist for trying to defend the users of the word at that time as not being racist.  These users were my parents and their friends.

Here’s an attempt to make my parents’ generation look a little less racist.  After mother died my father had a black maid who came in several days a week to clean up the house. I think she fixed his lunch on the days she was there. She worked for him for a year or two and I got to know her by name. I enjoy getting to know people and we had occasional conversations, as I might with anyone I spent time around. She normally had a ride to get home, probably a friend with a car who had a similar job not too far away. I don’t recall the details. On one particular day she mentioned that she did not have a ride home. She may have asked if she could leave early because the bus trip would take hours rather than the 25 minutes or so the trip would take when she had a ride. Daddy said he and I were free and would not mind driving her home.  She said that would be fine. She got in the back seat, daddy drove, and I sat in the passenger seat. We got to her house while it was still daylight and daddy parked on the curb. The woman got out of the car and I waited in my seat. My father turned to me once she was out of the car. He did not speak to me so that she could hear.  He said something like this. “What are you doing? Get out of the car and walk her to the door.” I think I did a double-take, but I did not hesitate. I walked her to the door. When I got back in the car my father had more to say. He was not angry, but he was rather direct. He said something like this. “Didn’t I raise you right? When you take a woman to her house, you walk her to the door. Do you understand?”  I said “Yes Sir!”. I don’t recall whether or not he said “It doesn’t matter if she’s black or white”, but that was implied.

I may write more about my experience with racism, black friends, black people on the street in New York, and related issues later on. That’s more than enough for now.

After finishing the above I wrote up my memories of Church Lake.   This is in a separate document. The time span overlaps much of the time span of this document.