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."

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