Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Monday, April 27, 2015

~Barbara Eyster~ Remembering my Father, Irving Reade Eyster

My parents moved to Lower Matecumbe permanently in 1952. We were the eighth family to live on Lower Matecumbe key. They bought property in Key West in 1947 and built duplexes. They still had their home in Indiana until they moved to Lower Matecumbe.
My father, his father and several others built a small motel on the island. Many years later they turned them into apartments. My dad would clean the beach every morning. He would always rake up the seaweed and then haul it wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow load to the other lot and use it for fill in low spots. Years later in 2006 when my mom had her knee replaced I stayed with my dad because I didn’t want him being alone. He was diabetic. Each morning either my dad or I would get up early and go clean the beach. Sometimes he would have it done when I got there to help but usually we worked on it together. One morning he came down and said “you beat me to it”. It was all done. I have to admit, there was not a lot of seaweed that day.
After Hurricane Donna, in 1960, things were such a mess. We had seaweed, sponges, shells, coral, and fish that had washed up covering the entire island. My parents starting cleaning things up immediately. My dad hauled wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow load. It took years to look halfway normal again.
Before Hurricane Donna he was also in the terrazzo business. I remember my younger brother, David and I going to Marathon with him many times and fishing in the newly dug canals as he worked. Those were new subdivisions and just the start of new homes. He only did this for several years as he came down with cement poisoning and was told he had to quit.
In 1967 I worked on Indian Key one summer with Daddy and it was the best summer I ever remember. There were no paths then and we had to take machetes and cut through the trees.
My dad was an archeologist. He taught archeology at FIU and Miami Dade Community College. He worked on many sites from Ocean Reef to Key West, Miami and Dade County. He was one of the founders of the Institute of Maya Studies in Miami. We were always at the museum and never tired of going through the exhibits again.
We took several trips to Guatemala and Mexico visiting as many of the ruins as we could.
Daddy loved those trips and so did the rest of us. He was involved in most organizations throughout the keys and founded many. He was always giving lectures on history or archeology to one group or another. People loved to hear him speak. He would always fill a room.
When I was little, my dad would be working on some project and I always wanted to be there with him. I wanted to help. I know he could have done things a lot faster without my help but he always let me work with him anyway. I was a daddy’s girl and could do no wrong. He would ride me around the in wheelbarrow when he was working in the yard, on the beach or building something new because I always wanted to ride. Later years, my daughter Cinnamon did the same thing.
Daddy always helped my brothers and me when we had a project or wanted to build something.
I had a friend who had very wealthy parents. She always had some new pet. As soon as her mom told her to take care of it or she would let it go, she would say go ahead. I would come home and tell daddy “it’s going to die if they let it go”. He would build a cage and we would have another pet.
In the summer, for our vacation we would always visit my dad’s parents and my mother’s mom who still lived in Indiana. Daddy parents had a winter home in Vero Beach also. It was a long trip and daddy and I always wanted to take the back roads where you hardly ever saw a human. Those trips were wonderful.
We had turtles lay eggs on the beach each year and would keep them for six months before releasing them. They were larger and had a much better survival rate. Daddy would change the water each day in the large containers we had. He had to wait until high tide and get a bucket full of water at a time. It was a lot of work for him. We would always invite people over for the release.
We had many hot dog roasts on the beach on a regular basis and it was always well attended. Everyone always said it was the highlight of their trip when we had out of town guests.
As I walk around the yard today, I see daddy in every tree, walkway, planter, flowerbed, the beach and the buildings. Everything here is my mom and dad. I spend most of my time in his library going through books, filing cabinets, photos, boxes of documents and even more artifacts.
I am glad that we spent the last several years of his life going through them. I wouldn’t know the history or what so much of it was if we hadn’t.
When asked what I learned most from him, it was anything worth doing is worth doing right. He was always a perfectionist and always helped everyone who asked, even strangers. He never asked for anything in return. He was always nice to people, animals or any living thing. He taught me about all the plants, animals and critters and that they all had a purpose. I still have my doubts about the wasp.
Each time Cinnamon asks what kind of a plant something is or something about a caterpillar or some other creature and I give her an answer, she says did you learn that in school. My reply is usually the same, no daddy taught me that. He knew a lot on most any subject. He never read a fiction book. He always said if you are going to read you should learn something from it.
Each time someone would come to talk to him about history I would say “don’t speak until I get the video camera”.
My dad built a golf course on their vacant lot next door to the apartments and bought Cinnamon a golf club. She and daddy would go and play golf when she stayed there and I working. She lived with my parents a great deal of the time. Her childhood was so much like mine.
In 2011 at age 92 my father was promised a museum by those who eventually destroyed the project. Board members and volunteers worked hard cataloging items, photographing, videoing and laying out displays. The thing I remember the most about it, was when one of the volunteers asked what age an artifact was. My dad spoke as if he were 40 years old again. He told all about where it came from, the age, what is was used for and many other details.
I will always be thankful for the volunteers who gave him that kind of pleasure. He was doing what he loved best and that was educating people on our history. He told me when we started the museum project “At least I know my life’s work wasn’t for nothing."
It was criminal the way he was used. It was totally unnecessary and deliberate. He died never seeing the museum he worked a lifetime for.
Everyone seems to forget the reason the building is where it is. It was his vision, his work and his dream. He did all the work giving the layout, the categories, everything that was needed. At 93 it was ended and he died at 95.
The Matecumbe Historical Trust, which he was the president of, will continue to work towards the museum to house his vast collection of artifacts, documents, photos, books and so much more. It would be a Keys wide museum covering the history from the formation of the islands through today. He only saved all the things he did for the future generations to appreciate, learn from and share. He wanted everyone to know about our history.
I miss him most every minute of every day. I miss not being able to talk with him, ask him questions and hear his voice. I miss not being able to tell him how much I love him or how sorry I am I couldn’t get him the museum he deserved.
He was a treasure, not just because he was dad but because of the way he lived and the way he cared about people and treated all living things."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tom Sheahan

"My son went on a trip to the Bahamas when he was 16. This is what kids in the Keys do. I had let him go before. Hindsight is 20/20 or I would have been with him.

The group had just arrived in Freeport when they realized they were taking on water. My son, Nick, and another guy put on snorkels and started free diving under the boat to figure out where the leak was. They needed one of them in the boat, so the guy got out to check the leak from inside the sailboat and Nick stayed in the water. I lost my son that day in 2004.

He was an organ donor, and he saved 3 lives. It was a difficult decision to make, but I think we made the right one.

He would have graduated from Coral Shores in 2006.

We lost our son to a shallow-water blackout. This is what I really want to talk about. Shallow water Blackouts are preventable, but people need to know how they happen and what to do. ALWAYS have a buddy when you're in the water, no matter what you're doing. NEVER be in the water alone.

I remember, when we were kids, taking extra deep breaths, holding our breath, and swimming to the other end of the pool. Well, sometimes when you hold your breath too long and are oxygen deprived, you pass out. That is a Shallow-water Blackout. When this happens to someone, there has to be someone else there, the buddy, to see it and give the person a smack, wake them up. CPR is not necessary; they just need a little jar to get them going again. Had Nick not been in the water alone, we would not be having this conversation."

'Shallow-water blackout is the sudden loss of consciousness caused by oxygen starvation. Unconsciousness strikes most commonly within 15 feet (5 meters) of the surface where expanding, oxygen-hungry lungs literally suck oxygen from the diver's blood. The blackout occurs quickly, without warning.' -- taken from

"We didn't want flowers or anything like that, so a couple of Nick's closest friends' moms organized a fund raiser in Nick's name. It grew over time and we now hold a big Dolphin Tournament, 'The Dolphin Rodeo', every year, in Nick's name, and all the proceeds are used for scholarships to graduating seniors at Coral Shores High School. The Dolphin Rodeo is the first weekend in May."

For more information on Shallow-water Blackouts, Nick, or the Dolphin Rodeo, please visit:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Richmond Arce - u'Cumbe

"I'm only 30 years old and I've lost 30 friends in the last 8 years to Aids, suicide, cancer and other sad things. I'm way too young to have lost so many people I love. That is why I live with joy.
That's why I try to live without regret...for them. My high school saying, much to the dismay of the staff at Island Christian, was ' I'd rather regret having done something than regret not doing anything at all.'
I love working here with the great people at uCĂșmbe, but if I could do my dream thing it would be to have a show horse farm in Kentucky. I lease a horse with a friend that we keep at the Horse Barn down here. Islamorada is a great place though and I'm thankful for all my family and friends here. We are 5 generations deep here. It will always be home.
It was kind of tough going to Island Christian.I spent a lot of time in the Counselor's office. With my flamboyance and over the top personality, I didn't fit the mold and refused to. I remember one day we were having lessons on how a marriage should be like the man should work and make money and the woman should stay home with the children. I asked them what about if you don't have children, shouldn't you both work? Back to the counselors office.
The happiest time in my life was when I moved to Key West for a while and was a female impersonator no less. But, the freedom of finally being who I was, was just so liberating. I paid a price for it though with fractured relationships especially with my family. The other happiest moment of my life was reuniting with my family and their acceptance and love. Love does win out if you let it."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

~Old Soldier- Duck Key~

"I am in this crowd. I'm still kicking. Barely. I hope to live to vote one more time. It's hard for an old man to see the shape our country is in. Things have sure changed.
I sure hope we don't elect a president again just because of their sex or color.
I don't care about sex or color, but, it's not what you use to elect the most powerful leader in the world. Well, at least, when I fought, our President was the most powerful leader in the world.
I'm worried about the lives of my grandkids and great grands if things don't change in a hurry."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Karen- Key Largo

" I wake up early every morning to get proposals and things done before the phone starts ringing.
Everyday I pick some music for that 0 Dark Thirty time. Today, I picked a Beach Boys Album. Yes, I'm old lol.
And, even though I'm sitting here in the Florida Keys and have been for the past 6 years, all at once I was at Eaton's Beach on Lake Weir in central Florida on a hot summer night in 1968. I picked up my coffee, leaned back in my desk chair, closed my eyes and ....remembered.
We'd water ski all day and then dance all night on a wooden pavilion with a killer juke box.
That was the summer of muscle cars like GTO's, Chevelle SS's, Dodge Chargers, bad boys, and kissing til your lips bled lol. I had to be home in the driveway at 11 pm and by 11:05 my Dad would be flashing the front porch lights.
My boy of summer would walk me to the door and then drive off, just a little way down the road. We'd wait for my Dad to settle in for the night and then I'd sneak out and we'd walk the fields behind my house, talking, dreaming and kissing and lying under the stars.
He couldn't start his car up again because those cars made a lot of noise. He had a red Chevelle SS. The car was bad, he was bad and it was summer. I was in heaven, I just didn't know it then.
I swore I'd never be one of those old people talking about how good the old days were, but, they were so good, so very good. Thank you Beach Boys for taking me back there for a little while."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jeff Rogers, Gumbo Limbo Pottery and Gallery

"I bought the school bus quite a few years ago with the idea that it would be a traveling art gallery, not just for Haitian art, but for my work as well. About 3 years ago the city of Winter Park, Fl and the Crealde School of Art invited me to bring the bus up as part of a huge national Haitian art show and a well known artist, Patrick Noze (a Haitian artist), agreed to paint the bus together with the community there. This involved the school, the city of Winter Park, and the Haitian consulate.
The bus is a community project; the art around the bus reflects the beauty of the Haitian countryside. Every image is a story of the Haitian people and how they survive. It is a way to celebrate the culture.
The arms? They are a total random thing. Kmart was going out of business and I bought them and stick them different places. They are magnetic arms and I just stuck them there!"