Friday, February 8, 2013

Reminiscing at Sharky’s on the Pier

February 7, 2013
North Fort Myers
Seminole Campground

One of our commitments as we travel around the country has been to make an effort to reconnect with  friends and family along the way. Sometimes it seems too easy to just breeze by, not bother with looking up someone’s address or finding a phone number, or rationalize they are too far out of our way. It can even seem a little risky to see people you haven’t seen in years, wonder if there is anything to talk about anymore or if it would be better to remember each other as you used to be. In spite of these limiting notions, we have found that each time we have reached out it has enriched our travels immensely.

I lived in Oregon for almost thirty years which is by far the longest I have lived in any other state, but I spent my childhood and school years in the Midwest—Illinois and Michigan. This history is relevant to our time in Florida because it turns out I have lots of family connections here. Like many Midwesterners seem to eventually do, several of my extended family members have moved to Florida full-time or spend their winters here. My mom and step-father moved to the Tampa area from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 1999—but they have both since passed away. My youngest brother moved from the Chicago area to the Keys full-time about ten years ago. My two older brothers have made Florida their full-time home for a few decades now. My only aunt moved to Florida about ten years ago. I have four nieces, one nephew, five grand-nieces, five grand-nephews, and two first cousins here. And, this past week I had the pleasure of having dinner with a second cousin who lives in Sarasota half the year. Neither of us could recall the last time we saw each other. It could have been as long as fifty years ago!

linda and me at sharkys

I learned from my aunt that my cousin Linda and her husband spend their winters in Florida. We recently contacted each other and came up with a plan to meet for dinner at Sharky’s on the Pier in Venice, a midway point for both of us. What a fun night to meet her husband Mike and share memories of our mothers’ family. Her grandmother was my mother’s oldest sister by 18 years. Her grandmother (my aunt) married the same year my mother (her baby sister) was born. Linda’s mother was born less than a year later. So, our mothers were more like sisters than aunt and niece in their childhood years. They have all passed away now and it’s getting to the point in our own lives where there aren’t many of our generation left who remember the generations that went before us.

Our grandparents were all born in the old country near Budapest, Hungary. They settled in the Chicago area just before the beginning of WWI and the eventual break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Like many immigrants who fled to America during this time, they settled in an area where there were other immigrants from their region, in this case, what came to be known as Little Hungary on the Chicago’s Westside. My ancestors brought with them many European customs to this new land which now are only distant memories for those of us who live on. It was amazing to talk to someone I hardly know about memories of my grandmother (her great-grandmother) and my mother’s five siblings and their families.

1 clara and john kellmann 1921

My time with Linda triggered all kinds of nostalgic memories from my childhood. I was especially touched by the knowledge that we both try to make my grandmother’s bread and apple strudel.  Linda even took a special class to learn how to stretch the dough paper thin with your knuckles. I also learned that she spent time with her grandmother having her explain all the old family recipes while she wrote them down. I thought they were lost to the universe. Food was a big deal in our Hungarian family. No matter who stopped by you always fed them and fed them well. On my grandmother’s last day of life, her children gathered together to see how she was doing and one of her last words to them were: “There’s chicken in the oven.” I am clear I have this legacy embedded in my DNA.

Seeing Linda and reminiscing about my mother’s family gave me pause to think about many of these lost traditions.  Here are some that ran through my brain last night as I was trying to get to sleep!
  • Godparents were very important—so much so that you took the name of your godparent. This custom explains why my mom and her brother were named Adam and Eve!
  • Epiphany was celebrated as the final day of the Christmas season. You could never take down your Christmas decorations honoring Christ’s birth until All King’s Day. On this day my grandmother would boil coins, including silver dollars, and put them in a fried sweet dough much like a bismarck without the jelly.  We used to poke our fingers into these doughnuts looking for the money, but the cardinal rule was you had to eat all of what you took before you could get a second chance. (I used to hide my uneaten ones.) There were only a few silver dollars amongst a few dozen rolls so it was pretty exciting—and lucky—to find a large shiny coin.
  • Music was a central part of family gatherings. Unfortunately, my grandfather died long before I could ever hear the vibrant sounds of his concertina accordion playing his favorite German and Hungarian song. My mother says he took the concertina wherever he went. the even better story is that he learned to play as a stowaway on a ship when he left Hungary to realize the American Dream. His playing and singing made him the life of the party as you can see in the photo below. Check out the women in the back row. My grandmother is third from the left. She would have only been in her 40s in this photo but she appears much older. My mother is the young girl in the coat with the lapels near her beloved father. He died of lung cancer when she was just seventeen.  
4 kellmann family summer 1940

With music came all kinds of dancing. The German/Hungarian weddings I remember always had live music—violins and accordions come to mind-- and all ages would dance around the tables. My mother loved dancing so much she and her brother used to compete at the famous Aragon Ballroom in Chicago in the 1940s. My first wedding in 1977 was heavily influenced by this tradition. My cousin Linda’s mother is swirling around in the great blue dress with ostrich feather in the photo at right below. My mother is to the right of her. My cousin Bob is playing the accordion in the photo at the left. He still dresses in Lederhosen and plays professionally at German restaurants in Chicago. Not many of his kind left either.

6 f Bob and eddie playing music 19776 f dancing at pams wedding 1977

Cuisine—This part of my heritage holds the most memories for me. I could go on and on here. One compelling image was watching my grandmother stretch her strudel dough on a card table so thin you could read a love letter through it.  She was also quite famous for her bread which she baked in a large blue and white speckled roasting pan for turkeys. It would be called artisan bread today—a heavy crust with airy holes in the middle. I have tried all kinds of ways to imitate it but it never tastes quite as good as the slice she would cut for me in the kitchen as it came out of the oven. My mother tried for years to make her mother’s bread and came very close. She would even imagine her hands being her mothers as she kneaded the bread. Here is my mom showing off one of her famous loaves. The smaller photo on the right is one of my more recent attempts to recreate my mother's and grandmother's bread.

36 mom and bread kens 60th 1991my bread

Surprisingly we never ate anything called Goulash; the hamburger, mushroom soup, noodle thing is an American aberration. True goulash (gulyas) typically is more like a stew made from beef or veal with onions, lots of Hungarian paprika, thickened with potatoes and often served over homemade noodles or spatzle.   Mainly, it was a way to stretch a small amount of meat to serve more hungry mouths with a hearty broth. The same concept applied to Chicken Paprikash—one chicken could serve 8-10 people, especially when served with dumplings or noodles.  I don’t make these dishes anymore as I don’t usually like such heavy fare, but I do make little rivoli dumplings for my chicken soup just like my grandmother and mother did so many times for their families and friends.
  • Rivoli Recipe: Beat up a small egg, add a pinch of salt and as much flour as you need to make a dough that holds together. (you can add some water if necessary.) Use a teaspoon to take a small crescent of dough on the edge of the spoon and hold this under near boiling broth, letting the rivoli drop into the soup. Continue until dough is gone. The rivoli will rise to the surface as its done.

Weddings— My uncle always made sure the wedding couple broke glasses for good luck. In later years, he wrapped them in towels so the shards would not spread everywhere. Also a money dance was a common custom. Male guests would pay to dance with the bride by putting money in her shoes which were in the middle of the dance floor or the bride would be kidnapped and guests would have to come up with enough ransom to return her to the reception. (Something that happened to me—and at the time I did not enjoy being whisked away to a dive bar a few miles away waiting for the ransom to be raised, but now it’s a funny memory.)

Keirva (sp?)—This was a formal dance where young eligible bachelors would bid on an evergreen branch tied with multi-colored ribbons as a symbol of love and loyalty to be given to an eligible woman. I am not sure about the actual ritual at the dance. Linda told me here own parents marriage was the result of her dad winning the Kierva. The photo below is from a Kierva my mother attended (second from the left). My aunt told me my mom made that satin dress for herself as she was too poor to buy such a fancy dress. She was not the recipient of the ribboned branch. I wish she were still alive to ask her about what went on this ritual.  If anyone knows more, please tell me as I could not find anything on the internet about this German, Austrian, or Hungarian dance.

7 c hungarian wedding 1947

Okay, I have taken enough of a trip down memory lane here, but I haven’t said much about our evening at Sharky’s itself. What a fun place.  We sat outside looking out to the water near the bar. Vic and Mike chatted away learning about each other’s interests and choices that led both of us to Florida. A one man band with a fantastic voice started playing about 6 p.m.—playing mostly a Margaritaville, Hotel California set. We started the evening with an apple and brie pizza appetizer and ordered local fish for our entrees. I was also impressed with the wine list which offered a nice selection of Oregon and Washington vino.  The sides on my grilled grouper included edamame quinoa and fresh green beans. It’s no surprise this place was a ‘hoppin--the food and music were better than most beach restaurants.

We visited for nearly three hours and then called it a night. In between I was able to sneak off and get a few shots of a beautiful sunset. As we were walking out, I told Linda that I could feel our mothers smiling down from heaven on us. This lovely connection with my cousin made me feel as whole and complete as the sun descending into the ocean bringing light to another day on the other side of the planet.


  1. Pam,

    Absolutely beautiful! Brought a tear to my eye. Bless you for taking the time to write about your family history. Your family history is also part of my family history. My dad, Adam, (known more commonly as Ed) was the constant dance partner of your mother Eve. My dad (Eve's eldest brother), loved dancing, playing the accordion, and being the life of the party. I see why both my brother John and I have such an extroverted personality. I remember seeing many photos of Eve and Ed dancing together. Several times Eve told me the 'LOVE OF HER LIFE' was my dad. I miss both Eve and my dad dearly. My dad passed on at a very early age (50 of colon cancer). The memory of both Eve and Ed lives on. And yes, Pam, I also remember searching for those coins in that pastry made by my dear grandmother. I am confident they will meet us at the pearly gates someday. Thanks again for sharing all the memories. Love with Eternal Blessings, Glen Kellmann

    1. Thanks for adding these memories of your dad and my mom and their passion for dancing. I never knew your dad played the accordion, but I do remember him being the life of the party. You definitely take after him in that way as I remember you starting the conga line at my mom's 80th birthday! Stay open, receptive, and responsive to the good.


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