Voices from My Past: Heard Through a Blog Post!

It is amazing how small this world has become thanks to technology and the reach of social media and blogs. My posts are viewed more than a thousand times each month including a sizeable percentage of views from outside the United States. Two months ago, a mid-west reader responded to one of my earlier posts with the comment: “I believe we are related!” Inasmuch as I had long ago (1948), at age eight, moved with my family to California from Chicago, Illinois, I was surprised and intrigued.

It so happens that Mary is a “lost” second cousin of mine originally from Chicago whose Grandfather Elmer was my Uncle Elmer – the older brother of my dad. Here is Elmer standing in front of his father’s radio repair shop on Diversey Avenue in Chicago, sometime in the early nineteen fifties. His dad was also named Elmer, and he was my paternal grandfather.

It is my grandfather and his tiny radio repair shop, mentioned in that post of mine, which caught second cousin Mary’s eye. The last portion of the post contains a picture of my grandparents (Mary’s great-grandparents) standing behind the counter of their little shop in Chicago (circa 1947) – the only photo of its kind in the entire family, apparently.

Inasmuch as I grew up only a mile or two from my grandparents and their “mom & pop” store with living quarters in the back, I quite vividly recall that shop and have often wished there were another picture of it and them… somewhere. Mary fortunately was able to provide the first photo, used here, showing the exterior of the shop which no longer exists. I well recall the red/orange neon sign in the window announcing: “Radio Service.” My memory bell “rang” at first glance.

On a 2004 vacation trip to Chicago, my wife and I returned to the scenes of my boyhood. I was amazed to find that most everything was still there, including our old brick apartment building, all looking just as recalled some 56 years later. Sadly, the building which housed the little radio repair shop at 6755 Diversey Ave. had long ago been cleared away for a large banquet hall/restaurant which today covers much of the block. I had really hoped to find that little storefront, the seat of so much of our family’s history…and my boyhood consciousness.

Soon after “finding” second cousin Mary, I met her cousin Linda, via E-mail. We have begun to fill-in a number of blanks in the Kubitz family history by exchanging recollections and pictures. Interestingly, both Mary and Linda were not at all sure about the history/existence of my grandparent’s radio repair shop on Diversey Ave. I, on the other hand had no knowledge at all of their grandfather’s (Elmer, pictured in the first photo) later radio repair shop on Belmont Ave. in Chicago. And so begins an interesting quest to learn more about the family history!

I am glad that second cousin Mary “discovered” me and my blog and took the time to verify the family connection. As so often happens, family history gets lost as time and distance take their inevitable toll. For me, leaving Chicago in 1948 when United Air Lines transferred my father, meant severing close ties with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There were no overt reasons why that should have happened so completely as it did. Coming from a family of five kids, as in my father’s case, family dynamics are always a part of the equation, but, mainly, the effect of time and distance took their toll. The daily scramble for a better life takes time and attention away from extended family solidarity. That was especially true back then when Chicago seemed so far away from San Francisco, California.

Thank goodness I was old enough to have collected indelible images and impressions of my close relatives before leaving them. I have always remained curious about them and sad that I never really got to know them as well as I would have liked.

For more background on this post and my personal/family history, click on these links to other applicable posts of mine:











The Monterey Bay Aquarium: A Wondrous, Humbling Experience!

It was every bit akin to visiting another universe – our experience at the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. The notion of fanciful space-aliens has nothing over the truly bizarre denizens of the world’s oceans! Evolution’s underwater handiwork with its seemingly endless variety is staggering.

 IMG_2524 A Sea-Nettle at the Aquarium

Our granddaughters were visiting from Southern California this past week, and we decided to treat them to their first visit to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It had been some years since Linda and I had visited, so we all eagerly anticipated the outing.

At seventy-four years of age, I have seen and done a lot, but I was unexpectedly surprised by the personal impact of this, my most recent visit to the aquarium. There were two overwhelming reactions: First, the verification that fact is, indeed, stranger than fiction; second, that the scope and grandeur of nature easily swamp the significance of us individual humans and our little personal problems.

I have always taken some comfort in the implication that we, as individuals, have little significance in nature’s vast scheme. This may not be welcome news for many who believe in a “personal” creator, but it works for me as the conclusive evidence of a higher power! These emotions were especially stirred by the exhibits featuring swarming schools of seemingly identical silver anchovies and Pacific sardines swimming relentlessly in circles around the perimeters of large cylindrical tanks. Their behaviors seem somehow so symbolic of the human condition whereby we swim for all we are worth, all the while oblivious to the greater ocean of truth which surrounds us.

The smaller, gleaming silver anchovies exhibit the following interesting behavior: At any given moment, ten percent of them have their mouths (very) wide open for several seconds as they siphon up tiny micro-organisms in the water – for food. In human parlance, that is called “eating on the run!”


Compared to the startling diversity in the oceans, our land-based animal life seems rather quaint and limited – even when comparing elephants to leopards. The pictures illustrate the point, but they are no substitute for a visit to the aquarium to see for yourself.



Sea Otters: More Fun than Any Other Creature

We witnessed the sea otter feeding/training demonstration. What fun those animals have in the water, and how agile they are. We humans look positively clumsy on land compared to otters in their natural habitat – water. Using the shellfish food which they crave, the “handlers” put their assigned otter through various exercises – like voluntarily entering a land crate when given a hand signal. That behavior comes very much in handy at times when otters must be moved within the facility. Given the chance to return to this world as an animal in the distant future, the life of a sea otter appears most attractive. I cannot think of any animal who seemingly has more continuous fun in their environment that the ever-playful sea otter.

 IMG_4721Otter Lunchtime!

IMG_4737The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world-class facility for oceanographic research and wildlife study. For even the most casual visitor, it becomes quickly obvious just how much high-level expertise it takes to staff and operate a facility like this. Thanks to such places, our knowledge of the oceans and the life they contain grows steadily with each passing year.


IMG_2548 PS

Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”

Occasionally, people ask how I get my ideas for these weekly posts. Patti and Dave, our very good friends from Santa Barbara, California, stopped by for a quick visit this week on their way north. They recently posed the question, and, ironically, they are the very reason for this week’s post.

Dana Plaque - El Paseo_PS4

A few months ago, Linda and I drove down to Santa Barbara to attend a reception for Patti and her artwork at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. Patti is a successful artist and life-long resident of Santa Barbara who is well-known for her work with wood-block prints and mosaics. She has recently been commissioned to provide a large mosaic mural for the museum using ocean themes – thus the museum setting for her recent artist’s reception.

Linda and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the dinner with Patti, Dave, and their other friends who attended. The museum, itself, which is located on Santa Barbara’s breakwater, next to the town’s picturesque harbor and wharf, proved to be fascinating, featuring many well-conceived and executed exhibits.

One exhibit that struck my fancy showcased an 1840 first edition of Richard Henry Dana’s classic account of his seafaring experiences, “Two Years Before the Mast.” I had long known about the book and the story related by the exhibit – Dana’s seafaring voyage stopover at Santa Barbara in 1836. I had often seen the old tile-inlay, pictured here, that commemorates his visit.

I was aware of the book’s reputation not only as a vivid journal-account of his two years at sea, but also as a fine example of literary style and storytelling – this from a Bostonian with no literary background, whatsoever. The book is considered an American literary classic as well as perhaps the best seafaring account ever written; my author’s curiosity had long been piqued. Among all of those accolades, the book’s vivid early descriptions of pacific-coast ports-of-call constitute a scarce and valuable resource on life in California under Mexican rule prior to the Mexican-American War of 1846 and the California gold-rush of 1849.

The tile-inlay which is found at El Paseo in de la Guerra Plaza, an historic and small complex of shops and offices in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, commemorates Dana’s visit to that exact location in 1836. In his book, Dana recounts in fine detail the historic wedding of Ana Maria de la Guerra to Alfred Robinson on January 24, 1836; the wedding reception was held at that very spot. The bride was the daughter of Jose Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega, one of the most prominent Californios in all of the region which is now encompassed by the southern portion of California. Prior to the Mexican War of 1846, this territory was governed by Mexico and, through land grants and purchases, de la Guerra owned some one-half million acres. Alfred Robinson was a commercial agent for Bryant, Sturgis and Company, a Boston firm engaged in the hide and tallow trade with the west coast. Alert, the ship on which Dana was traveling and working was a commercial vessel for that firm that happened to anchor at Santa Barbara at a very propitious time – Robinson’s marriage to Ana Maria de la Guerra – undoubtedly the local social event of the year, if not the decade. Because of the ship Alert’s corporate connection to Robinson, Dana and other crew members had a front-row seat at the wedding reception, held at the de la Guerra house which still stands today, less than a stone’s throw from the tile-inlay marker.


The descriptions of the wedding reception in the courtyard of the de la Guerra home and so many other aspects of Dana’s journey are written with such verve and color that I had to purchase a copy of the book for my library. I was able to find a venerable, nicely printed volume from 1930 – one with an association that resonated with me because my wife is from Santa Barbara, we lived there shortly after our marriage, and I attended graduate school there. Linda’s mother still lives there, and we go back often. Accordingly, Linda and I have a very special affection for the place: Anyone who knows Santa Barbara will understand!

On the front free paper of my book is an inscription in ink:

“Santa Barbara, Cal / August 11, 1932.”

Dana Tecolote_1

On the back inside end-paper is pasted a small, old bookseller’s ticket which reads, “Tecolote Bookshop / de la Guerra Studios / Santa Barbara.” My book was clearly purchased there, in the early thirties. The little Tecolote bookshop was a long-time Santa Barbara institution at that location – within sight of the Dana tile-inlay and just around the corner from the original de la Guerra Casa in whose patio courtyard Richard Henry Dana witnessed and recorded the historic wedding reception. I have several other books in my library containing a Tecolote bookseller’s ticket – books I purchased there in the late nineteen sixties when we lived in Santa Barbara.


The de la Guerra house today with its patio courtyard – much as it was then


The above photo by Carleton Watkins shows the Santa Barbara Mission/Church (Queen of the Missions) as it appeared in 1876. It was here that the de la Guerra / Robinson wedding was held on January 24, 1836, and it was here that the patriarch of the family, Jose Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega was buried in the church crypt after his death in 1858.

The following are excerpts from Dana’s description of the wedding and the reception which apparently went on for two or three days:

“Sunday, January 10th [1836]. Arrived at Santa Barbara, and on the following Wednesday, slipped our cable and went to sea, on account of a south-easter. Returned to our anchorage the next day.”

“Great preparations were making on shore for the marriage of our agent [Alfred Robinson], who was to marry Donna Anneta De…”

“On the day appointed for the wedding, we took the captain ashore in the gig, and had orders to come for him at night, with leave to go up to the house and see the fandango. Returning on board, we found preparations making for a salute. Our guns were loaded and run out, men appointed to each, cartridges served out, matches lighted, and all the flags were ready to be run up. I took my place at the starboard after gun, and we all waited for the signal from on shore. At ten o’clock the bride went up with her sister to the confessional, dressed in deep black. Nearly an hour intervened, when the great doors of the mission church opened, the bells rang out a loud, discordant peal, the private signal for us was run up by the captain ashore, the bride, dressed in complete white, came out of the church with the bridegroom, followed by a long procession.”

“Just as she stepped from the church door, a small white cloud issued from the bows of our ship, which was in full sight [from the mission steps], the loud report echoed among the surrounding hills and over the bay, and instantly the ship was dressed in flags and pennants from stem to stern. Twenty-three guns followed in regular succession, with an interval of fifteen seconds between each when the cloud cleared away, and the ship lay dressed in her colors, all day. At sun-down, another salute of the same number of guns was fired, and all the flags run down. This we thought was pretty well – a gun every fifteen seconds – for a merchantman [ship] with only four guns and a dozen or twenty men.”

“After the supper, the gig’s crew were called, and we rowed ashore, dressed in our uniform, beached the boat, and went up to the fandango. The bride’s father’s house was the principal one in the place, with a large court in front, upon which a tent was built, capable of containing several hundred people. As we drew near, we heard the accustomed sound of violins and guitars, and saw a great motion of the people within. Going in, we found nearly all the people of the town – men, women, and children – collected and crowded together, barely leaving room for the dancers; for on these occasions no invitations are given, but everyone is expected to come, though there is always a private entertainment within the house for particular friends. The old women sat down in rows, clapping their hands to the music, and applauding the young ones. The music was lively, and among the tunes, we recognized several of our popular airs, which we, without doubt, would have taken from the Spanish.”

What prompted Richard Henry Dana, a young, privileged descendent of early colonial settlers to set sail as an apprentice sailor on a merchant vessel as opposed to a booking a comfortable, luxury cruise?  Undoubtedly, his independent spirit and restless curiosity drove him. His journey began from Boston on August 14, 1834 and ended two years later. His descriptions in the book based on his voyage journal vividly describe the terror and the beauty of the sea. Herman Melville, another author who was no stranger to nautical tales, wrote, “But if you want the best idea of [the treacherous] Cape Horn, get my friend Dana’s unmatchable Two Years Before the Mast.”

Whether standing in the courtyard of the de la Guerra house or gazing at the tile-inlay just around the corner of the complex, the scenes Dana describes seem so believable, almost touchable. That story has rattled around in my head for a long time; it took our recent visit to Santa Barbara for Patti’s reception and the museum exhibits we saw that evening to trigger my desire to finally put it on paper.

These blog posts of mine often result from the confluence of many diverse currents all converging to produce an idea. This post is typical of that process!

A Beautiful Holiday Morning At Our Local Farmer’s Market

This Saturday morning was crisp and sunny, beautiful weather for our weekly pilgrimage to the local downtown Sunnyvale farmer’s market. My wife and I begin most Saturdays on historic Murphy Avenue where growers and vendors set up shop and the morning coffee is excellent at The Bean Scene, located right in the middle of all the action.

Leigh's Books_3B

 Murphy Avenue is named after Martin Murphy Junior, a pioneer settler in this locale which today is known as Sunnyvale, California – centered in the heart of renowned Silicon Valley. Murphy Avenue dates back to the early nineteen-hundreds and, today, serves as the downtown focal-point of the community.


Martin Murphy Junior was part of the first wagon train west ever to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Most people know nothing about the history of the Stephens/Townsend/Murphy party, and that is a shame. Their Sierra crossing in 1844 was eminently successful, unlike the famous Donner Party attempt two years later which turned into a disaster when trapped in the Sierra by the deep snows of an early and unusually heavy winter. A significant number of the Donner Party perished during the ordeal, lending special credence to the success of the Stephens/Townsend/Murphy party.

Being an integral part of tech-savvy Silicon Valley, the community has already compiled a durable history of technical achievement and a reputation for being a thoroughly modern, forward-looking community. Within the last two decades, a new interest in the past has elbowed its way into the community’s consciousness; the recent renovation and resurrection of old Murphy Avenue into a thriving gathering place at lunch-time, evenings, and Saturday mornings along with the recent dedication of  the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum are evidence of Sunnyvale’s new vision.


Coffee Time at the Bean Scene Café on Murphy Avenue

After getting our large coffees and bear-claw pastry at the Bean Scene, Linda and I like to settle on a sidewalk bench a half-block down Murphy near Leigh’s Books, our favorite bookstore in town. The food and produce vendors on the street offer great fare, and the people-watching is superb, especially on a crisp winter’s day when the Avenue (and our sidewalk bench) are bathed in a warm sun.




We had a wonderful morning on Murphy Avenue today, relaxing with our coffee in the warm sun. All good things must come to an end, however, so we shopped a bit before heading off to prepare for the finale to this year of 2013 which is just around the corner.

Have a wonderful, safe holiday!