Let Me Tell You About My Children!

blue butterfly
My little girl dream was to have four beautiful babies
before I was thirty, two girls and two boys. The last girl arrived
when I was twenty-eight. Some dreams do come true.

Kimberli was our first baby and the only one born in Gainesville at the old Alachua General Hospital on the corner of SW 4th Avenue and SW 7th Terrace. It was Alachua County's first community hospital and in its various forms, served the community for almost 82 years. It no longer exists and was honored by a well-deserved historical marker in 2014. 

Back in 1957, there were radios on the headboards of the beds in the maternity war
d. The radio was on the first time a nurse gently placed little Kimberli in my arms and I fell in love instantly. Bobby Helms was singing a new song that had just come out that year, My Special Angel, and nothing could have been more fitting at that sacred moment. It became our song and Kimberli has been my Special Angel ever since.

On the way home from the hospital, we stopped the car in front of Hal's brother's house so Uncle Bruce could be the first relative to meet his brand new niece. Then it was time to take our new baby home to our apartment in the married housing for veterans and their families who were enrolled at the University of Florida. The apartments were called Flavets, a contraction for Florida Veterans. After World War II, there were thousands of veterans going back to college, thanks to the help of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the G.I. Bill. By 1946-1947, more than half of the approximately 9000 students at UF were veterans. Student housing was extremely limited. The University put a Band-Aid on the problem by purchasing surplus military buildings as a temporary solution and three Florida Veterans Villages were created, called simply Flavet 1, 2, and 3. We were part of the influx of veterans after the Korean Conflict. Eventually the apartments were opened to all married students.

Over the years we lived in all three Flavets as our family grew. Our first Flavet apartment was in Flavet 3, a prefabricated wooden building that included a living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Our rent was around $26 a month and the waiting list was very long. We were thrilled when our name reached to top of the list and Kimberli could say she was born on the campus of the University of Florida. Years later she would play the euphonium in the prestigious Gator Marching Band before graduating from UF.

In 1956, Flavet 3 was an oasis in Alachua County. Gainesville had the distinction of being the major city in North Central Florida. Back then, it could not be called liberal by any stretch of the imagination. Like the Florida Panhandle, North Central Florida was thought of as part of the Deep South. It didn't look like or feel like sub-tropical Hollywood where Hal and I were married. In Gainesville there was a dense tree canopy. Magnolia trees flourished and Southern live oak hammocks were bearded with Spanish Moss. It was beautiful to the point where I almost expected to find mint juleps on the menus. But as my mother used to say, Pretty is as pretty does, and I'd soon see another side of Gainesville.

Living on campus made me homesick for New York in a way. In 1957, Flavet was an oasis in Gainesville. I remember my astonishment the first time we went to a movie at the Florida Theater at 233 West University Avenue. The separate water fountains were still clearly marked "White" and "Colored." I was stunned and ashamed. Growing up in New York, I had never seen anything like it and I didn't know if I could raise children in such a prejudiced atmosphere.

Florida Theater,

But in the comfort of Flavet 3, I could relax in a melting pot of people from every corner of the world and it felt more like the New York I grew up in. Most of our husbands had put off their higher education to serve our country in the Korean Conflict (1950 to 1953) and some continued to serve for a few years after the non-declared-war. We called it the Korean War but the U.S. Congress never declared war, which established a precedent.
North Korea launched a full-scale invasion on South Korea after receiving the go-ahead from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and I could easily get off on a political tangent here, but I don't want to. It reminds me too much of what's going on with North Korea today in 2016.

Back to Flavet 3 in 1957. If there was discrimination, I wasn't aware of it. We were color blind and I met neighbors from all over the world, like Subhia from Damascus who gave me a vase she made by hand when her husband graduated and they moved away, and the neighbor from India who cooked food on skewers over the flames of the gas kitchen stove.  Flavet wives became friends because we had a common goal, to do what it took to support our husbands while they got their degrees. We were honored with a "diploma" when our guys graduated, a PHT for Pushing Hubby Through. Some of us worked outside the home and others worked at home. At one point I was taking care of three babies, including my youngest baby Priscilla (Cilla) and they were all eleven months old. It seems exhausting to think of it now but it was so much fun at the time.

We were thrilled to get into Flavet and start the next chapter of our lives as parents. Everyone in Flavet had to be married (to someone of the same sex back then). Most of us had young children. It never occurred to us to wait until after graduation to have a baby. We were eager to start our family and the fact that we had no money never entered into our discussion or decision. I had decided I wanted four children, two girls and two boys, and they all had to be born before I was thirty, and they were. My sister and brother were so much older than me that by the time I was seven I felt like an only child after Jean got married. I didn't want that for my kids.

There was no way to tell back then if we were having a girl or a boy until the baby was born. There was something simple and magical about the surprise element. We were so happy to be the proud parents of our special angel, Kimberli. The picture below was taken on the day Kimberli was christened in January, 1958. We were so young. Hal was barely 24 and I was 22. Life was good and we were happy, and grateful.

                        Christening, Jan. 1958

I have so many memories of Kimberli that still make me smile. I'll share a few for now. The first one took place in Jacksonville, Florida, in the first house we ever bought. I can remember it so clearly. Kimberli was almost two. I was reading her a book for
the umpteenth time called Big Little Kitty by Jan Biggers. The first page read, "Karen Kay is four and a little bit more. How old are you? I taught Kimberli to put up two fingers like a peace sign and say Two, even though she wouldn't turn two for a few months. I wanted to make it easy for her to remember and figured she'd still want me to read her that book when she was two. Soon she surprised me. I couldn't tell if she was reading the book out loud to me or if she had memorized the whole book from hearing it so often and knew when to turn the pages. I could never have imagined then all the
remarkable things Kimberli would do, and is still doing, in her life.

After awhile we got our first dog, a boxer that Kimberli named Karen Kay who was reluctant, but willing, to attend Kimberli's tea parties. That picture below is one of my favorites and takes me back to the first house we bought on Kingstree Drive in Jacksonville, Florida. Hal had just graduated   from UF and got his first real job as a pharmaceutical representative. We got a VA loan for an adorable brand new house that cost $14,000. I must check out that price. It's seems so unbelievable now. 

Karen Kay is 4 and a
                        little bit more      Karen Kay book by Jan

Karen Kay and Kimberli
                      having a tea party in 1959

Kimberli grew up to be a gifted musician, singer, and songwriter, writer, environmentalist, among her many other seemingly unlimited talents. Her musical instrument of choice growing up was the euphonium which she played in the UF Gator Band. I never got into football, possibly because Grover Cleveland, my excellent high school in Ridgewood, Queens, New York, didn't have a football team. The two men I married in my life were avid Gator fans and "bled orange and blue" as they say in the "Swamp" so I saw many Florida Gator games. I remember us taking Kimberli to her first Gator game when she was about three weeks old. Hal set her down at his feet in her baby seat. I wish I could remember who was playing then. I'll have to ask her dad.  Though I never became a football aficionado, I can tell you the favorite season I ever attended. It was 1966 when Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy with over 4,800 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. (I just googled that.) I'll never forget that year because it was also the saddest year when my dear father died.
I could write a whole book about Kimberli alone but I can assure you she will turn up in this book again. I do hope that some day my children will want to write their own memoirs to pass on to their children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

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