The Joys of Bitter Lemon

I grew up in a family of serious drinkers, which goes back a long way, as my grandfather’s involvement in this should attest.  That meant that we had a stocked bar in the house (it wasn’t a “wet bar” in the sense that it had a sink, but it was stocked all the same.)  At the same time I was an accomplished snacker, and an opportunistic one at that.  Maraschino cherries and stuffed green olives that were ostensibly intended for my mother’s gin martinis (this was before the vodka ones became de rigeur) ended up going “down the hatch” of the youngest inhabitant of the house, save the cat.


A drawing from the archives of Vulcan Iron Works, which combined the engineering activities of the employees on the job with their activities after hours. It’s worth noting that the first office Vulcan had in West Palm Beach was adjacent to a bar.

To wash all of this down, I turned to yet another thing that was stocked in the bar: Schweppes’ Bitter Lemon and, sometimes, Bitter Orange.  Bitter Lemon/Orange was basically tonic water (which includes quinine) with the suitable citrus drink. It was stiff stuff for the “Pepsi Generation” but I drank it anyway and liked it.

In recent times I’ve always wondered what happened to these interesting soft drinks.  Research on the internet showed that Schweppes certainly still makes them but doesn’t distribute them in the US; inhabitants of the UK, Singapore and Australia still were able to enjoy this, but evidently Americans’ obsession with things being sweet killed it in this country.

The advent of COVID-19 and the fracas over hydroxychloroquine–and its relationship to quinine, which the British used to dampen the effects of malaria–got me thinking again about this stuff.  Why not?  So my wife and I got to mixing things and, with some help from my country club, got things rolling there and at home.

There are elaborate recipes out there to make it, some involving things like lavender, others adding sugar or other sweeteners.  For me the latter kills the whole appeal, and in any case most tonic water we get here (we usually get it at Publix, from its Florida roots the drinkers’ choice for grocery stores) is sweetened, as it comes in either regular or diet forms.  With orange I’ve been ordering 3:1 tonic water:orange juice; with lemon concentrate you don’t even need that much.  It’s definitely a face slapper but that’s the appeal, especially for someone who listed his favourite coffee as Sumatra.

It’s also possible to use other fruit drinks.  We actually started with cranberry juice, which isn’t bad, and we’ve also tried lime juice, and that’s in some ways better than lemon.  We have a friend from Guatemala who’s going to try apple juice, and that should be interesting.

And what of COVID?  I think the whole stink over hydroxychloroquine is proof as to how unscientific (and corrupt) our culture has become.  Setting aside the mercenary power of Big Pharma, everything in this debate–masks, face shields, social distancing, you name it–has been presented as “preventing” the spread of COVID-19.  But, as I explain to my Foundations students, finding that kind of deterministic absolute is impossible.  We’ve always “played the odds” with what we do in the material world.  (The other side is different.)  My wife and I have done our part with the masks, social distancing and “hiding out” (the appropriate TN term for sheltering in place,) and it’s paid off.  But things we can do to help things along, some nutritional, some like this–can’t hurt and may make the difference.

In any case I’m having a blast in these troubled times.  Cheers!

Palm Beach Golf Classic


The field, caddies and gallery behind them, wait to proceed. In the upper left hand corner, barely visible above the palm trees, is the spire of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

A major part of the season in Palm Beach is the system of charity balls. A socialite can make–or break–his or her reputation on how well or poorly a charity ball is hosted. On the other side, drawing up the lists of invitees is an exercise in diplomacy. For those who are invited, making “the grand entrance” properly is likewise an important exercise.Along the same lines–although not quite as rigid in protocol–are charity golf tournaments. One such was the Palm Beach Golf Classic; we show a few shots from the 1974 Classic, played in March of that year at the Breakers in Palm Beach. Leading the field were four well known professionals: Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Ben Crenshaw and Dave Marr. We show some shots of them below.

Other Golf Photos


More checked pants: touring pro Tom Shaw gets ready to tee off at the Delray Dunes Pro-Am tournament at the Delray Dunes Golf and Country Club in February 1974. The tournament was and is headed up by fellow pro (now Senior Tour) Bob Murphy.

In the drink: the photo sequence of Paul “P.B.” Dye, son of golf course designer Pete Dye, inserted in the 1973 Tartan, the yearbook of the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida. P.B., of course, is continuing the golf course design work of his father (which includes the Delray Dunes course shown above.) Going into a water hole on a Pete or P.B. Dye course will never be the same after this…


Swing analysis, 1970’s style. This sequence of photos was taken using a special Polaroid® camera which was set up both to take a series of photos in rapid sequence and to record them on one piece of Polaroid® “film.” The analysing professional was then able to, within a few seconds, develop the photos and use them to improve (hopefully) the golfer’s swing.High speed sequential photography has been with us since the end of the nineteenth century, but with digital technology, it’s just too easy…too bad a good golf swing isn’t!

Guatemala, Then and Now

One of the things I’ve learned in the many years I’ve worked on this site is that my family has a habit of following in the wake of its ancestors, even if the followers were reluctant to admit it.  Our trips to the Bahamas were in the wake of Chet’s SPA trips; our moving to Palm Beach followed Chet and Myrtle by seven years, and on and on.  My wife and I managed to repeat this with a trip to an entirely different place–Guatemala–but how we got there is an entirely different story.

In the early 1950’s my mother and father departed on what she described as a “Banana Boat” from New Orleans.  Their first stop was in Havana, before the Ugly Guy with a Cigar and Beard Whose Name Cannot be Spoken in Parts of Miami.


The Banana Boat they took to Cuba and Guatemala

After that they went to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and from there ascended up to Guatemala City.  My guess is that they stayed in a guest house of the United Fruit Company, which ran the Banana Boat (with provision for passengers) and was very powerful in Guatemala in those days.

My father never talked about this trip; my mother was another story.  They visited many sites in Guatemala, some of which we’ll see below.  The one place she really didn’t like was Chichicastenango; it deeply offended her Baptistic sensibilities.   That’s a good place to begin the transition to our own visit over Christmas 2019.

I joined the North Cleveland Church of God in 1983.  The Church of God has a strong presence in Guatemala, and our members there don’t think any better of places like Chichicastenango than my mother did.  One of the people I met at North Cleveland was Harvey Harkins, who was raised in our church’s first children’s home (which is celebrating its centenary this year) and was/is something of a legend in our church.  Three years after I joined he announced he was going on a mission trip to Guatemala.  The real nature of the mission trip became clear when he came home with a wife.  We all thought Harvey a confirmed bachelor, so this development was a shock to us (as it happens it was to him, too.)  They had a daughter, who married in 2017.  In the meanwhile they’ve become like family to us, so when Christmas 2019 rolled around and it was time for the new son-in-law to meet the family in Guatemala, we were invited to go, which we did.

It’s strange in a way to retrace your parents’ footsteps in this way, so many years after they came.  But we went to some new places as well, and experienced new things.

In Guatemala we found a beautiful country which, although with problems, is a place of charming people.  I was encouraged by what I saw and experienced, especially as a Christian.  When missionaries go out to do their work, their idea is to win those they encounter for Christ.  What they may not consider is the fact that they are adding people to the church who will enrich the church with their presence.  Pentecostal missionaries went to Guatemala with few resources, but the church is better for the harvest, and that’s something good to keep in mind moving forward.

The Event of the Season

The Christmas/Advent season is upon us at last.  But it’s not the only season getting under way: we also have the Palm Beach social season. This season has its roots in the climate: northerners come to South Florida in the winter to escape the climate and return to their origin when the weather gets hot again in the Florida spring. During this time those who want to be seen spend a lot of time going from one ball (and sometimes a golf benefit) to another.  Between all of these flashy events is daily life, and part of that daily life is going to the grocery store (or sending the help there.)

When my family moved to Palm Beach, there were no chain food stores in town. There were only two private markets: Herbert’s Lafayette and Southampton. Both of these offered a fine (if limited) selection and both delivered.  Chet’s widow Myrtle used this service extensively, not only for the convenience but also because she wasn’t the best driver in her last years. Both markets, however, were dreadfully expensive. My mother would use these from the time time but generally preferred to cross the lake and shop in West Palm Beach, where the prices came down from the stratosphere.

It occured to the Publix people that there might be an opportunity here, so they applied for a permit to build a Publix market down the street from St. Edward’s Catholic Church. Needless to say, the Town, in its usual fashion, was appalled at the idea. How can we have such a plebeian establishment like a supermarket in Palm Beach? How tacky will it look? Who who would lower themselves here to go there? And what kind of riff raff would come over to shop here? (After all, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church just successfully booted them off the island by canning the ladies’ rummage sale!)

But Publix didn’t get where it was then or now by taking no for an answer easily, so they persisted. They invented a Spanish style front for the store, and lowered its profile. They promised to both appoint and stock the store to fit the market (they would have been stupid to do otherwise.) Finally the Town permitted this edifice to be built, many secretly expecting it to flop in an elite place like Palm Beach.

It didn’t. Opening in 1971, its first day was, literally, the event of the season. The Shiny Sheet carried pictures of society figures with their butlers and maids crowding the parking lot and coming to fill their limousines with the reasonably priced groceries Publix carried. Even the rich and famous were sick of being ripped off. Ever since Palm Beach has found that “shopping is a pleasure” at Publix. The chain even adopted the Spanish style architecture for the rest of their stores for the next twenty years, and remodeled the store, re-opening in December 2011.

The first lesson from this is that, no matter how much money you have, saving it is important. In a nation which loves to “flash the cash” or worse the credit, this bears repeating. If people in Palm Beach like to save money, you should too.

Second, some of the most important things in life are the most ordinary. Amidst the ritzy charity balls and celebrity events that mark the season in Palm Beach, the opening of a grocery store made an enormous impact.

RELCR080That’s the way it is with Christmas and the Incarnation. Jesus Christ came in very ordinary circumstances, born of a mother whose family had come down a long way from the time when they were kings of Judah and Israel. After escaping Herod’s attempt to eliminate him as a power challenger, he grew up in Nazareth, than and now not a place associated with the elites of this world. “‘Foxes have holes,’ answered Jesus, ‘and wild birds their roosting-places, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,'” (Matthew 8:20) characterised his life, and after being executed between criminals he was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.

But the ordinary became the extraordinary when he ended his rest and rose from the dead, making it possible for us to do the same and to have eternal life. Like the opening of the Publix in Palm Beach, the whole history of Jesus Christ–his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return–is the “event of the season,” but in this case the season is human history. We are a part of that history and can be a part of its greatest event by not being ripped off by the Devil and by accepting the free gift of eternal life which only Jesus Christ can give.

If you’re tired of being ripped off in life, click here

The General Thanksgiving

Of all the prayers we used to pray from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer at Bethesda, probably my favourite was what the Prayer Book called “A General Thanksgiving,” but I normally attached the definite article to it.  It’s especially appropriate now and here it is:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.