An often overlooked treasure in any community is the collective knowledge, wisdom, and experience of our elders. Having lived through so many great cultural and technological changes gives them additional perspective on things that younger generations lack. Learning about the past can broaden our understanding of the present, allowing us to better appreciate the progress we have made – or to keep us humble over what we might have lost. They keep history alive. What was school like? Transportation? Home life? Presidential campaigns? Having grown up in such a different world makes them the equivalent of immigrants from another country. Why visit Europe or Africa when you haven’t even visited past America?
I like stories of adventure. Not everyone has had an especially adventurous life, but since life itself is an adventure, everyone has a story of some kind. The longer the life, the more stories there are. What stories of bravery, cowardice, genius, and stupidity can our elders tell? I recently interviewed Robert Stoessner on his hundredth birthday in Dunedin to find out what stories he had to tell. It seems he has fought with the weather his whole life. During the Second World War, Stoessner was in the Tenth Mountain Division. He trained in Texas, which was “hotter than a son of a gun,” and in Colorado, which was “colder than hell.” Eventually, he was sent to Italy and the Axis powers surrendered soon after, but not before sixty men developed frostbite.
The Tenth is known for moments great and not-so-great. They were pivotal in ousting the Germans from the Alps after scaling Riva Ridge in the middle of winter – at night – to make a surprise attack from a direction the Germans didn’t even patrol because they deemed it unclimbable. It was a great moment. They were also the ones who lost more men to friendly fire than they did to the Japanese while in the Aleutian Islands. It happens.
After returning to the United States Stoessner lived in Ohio. He was married for seventy years, raised three sons, and worked in Ford’s foundry until finally escaping the “terrible weather” of Cleveland by moving to Florida in 1977. I asked him what the best thing was about Florida. “It’s warm,” he said. Stoessner now lives in Rosewood House managed by Angels Senior Living, which strives to keep the retirement years fun – and at just the right temperature.
Most of us know someone over seventy. What can they tell you?
In downtown Tampa since 2009 sits Samaria Café, named for the Samaria gorge in Crete. They serve breakfast and lunch until four every day. All the food has a bit of a Mediterranean slant. Every time I go, I order the house potato chips with my meal. They make these themselves and season them with little green flecks of I-have-no-idea-what-but-I-want-more. Last time I went, I got a Tuscan chicken sandwich with my chips. It came with Swiss cheese, mushrooms, sweet red bell pepper, and most of all it gave me something to put my chips into. It’s as if they built the place knowing that I would one day visit. They even have Tabasco sauce at each table proving they understand me well.
502 North Tampa Street
Sometimes you just need some sugar, and the rest of the time, you also need sugar. Swah-rey is a dessert bar with real barstools that also serves wine, beer, tea, and delicious Kahwa coffee roasted right here in Tampa Bay. They have a variety of cakes, pies, cheesecakes, macrons, and what they call minis, which are bite-sized cupcakes often set atop a small glass of matching beverage. You can try a lemon mini perched over a shot of ice tea or a coffee mini perched over espresso. The pies also come in glasses, as if pie isn’t already the best thing invented no matter what it comes in. They have peanut butter chocolate cake, espresso cake, orange pie, and key lime cheesecake. They have carrot cake with coconut, pineapple, and pecans in it. What else could you ask for? Steak?
There is even a nook for your pooch and desserts called pup cakes. Pup cakes are made with peanut butter, eggs, bacon, carrots, oats, honey, and other ingredients that pups like.
2105 Central Avenue, Saint Petersburg, Florida
It showcases and sells art from all over Florida, but Florida Craft Art is headquartered right here in Tampa Bay – on Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg to be precise. This is quite possibly the most interesting gallery I have ever been in, which is really saying something considering how good some of the others are. The pieces are so unique, detailed, and brightly-colored. One can easily lose track of the time and spend two hours there, thinking you are in some emperor’s collection from all over the world.
The mission of the organization is to find great artists and introduce them to the community. All art must be three-dimensional (not paintings) and of very high quality. There are the textile abstracts of Leah Gillette, the furniture of David Calvin, the glass-copper pieces of Terry Andrews, and the clay sea life sculptures of William Kidd. It was difficult to find a piece I didn’t love.
I had to know who made it and what they called it, but could not find a label. The lady at the counter told me she and another employee had actually made it and they did not have a title for it, telling me to come up with one. After thinking it over a couple days, I have decided to call it The Ghost Planet 1966. If you think you know why, leave a comment below.
The organization provides studios and classes upstairs from its roomy retail gallery and exhibition gallery. It has existed in its current location since 1995 and in Saint Petersburg since 1986, when it was known as Florida Craftsmen.
501 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL
This is a place that aims to restore to St. Pete the spirit of the green benches, from a time when people could sit along central avenue and rest or talk in between shopping and dining. They even have a few green benches there. The first thing I noticed about the place when I saw it was how open it was. They have huge windows that pull completely out of the way. To the side is an outdoor seating area and a grassy yard in back with some additional seating where they sometimes have movies or music. A couple guys played jumbo Jenga. The air that afternoon was Florida-December cool and just right to sit outdoors with a drink. Both literally and figuratively, the atmosphere was perfect.
The Green Bench Brewing Company produces over twenty beers and several ciders, incorporating flavors from marigold, cherry, vanilla, apples, peach, apricot, and more. They are always experimenting. Most are a bit on the dry side of my tastes, but I could tell they were good. Whole kegs can be borrowed for your event or you can remain on location and taste what they have on tap that season. The brewery does not serve solid food except for pretzels, so you will have to bring your own if you plan on staying a while. Once I have someone to go with me on a day with good weather I plan on going back.
1133 Baum Avenue North, Saint Petersburg, Florida