He was blessed with a caring mother, and he had the good fortune, through no special thought or planning, to have three talented sons-Tom, an architect; Paul, an orthopedic surgeon; and Chris, a real estate manager. They are all educated and married with wonderful wives, and have provided Charlie with several lovely grandchildren. Good fortune also smiled with three wonderful step-daughters and their families, who he cherishes as his own.
His has been an incredible life. Sometimes it was fun; sometimes it was disappointing-but all in all, it was an amazing ride!
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Island FeverLife Adventures in Search of Island Paradise
By Charles Pflueger
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Charles Pflueger
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Magic City
Weather reporting in the 20's was a little sketchy at best ... no satellites to pinpoint tropical disturbances and communications primitive, particularly from the islands, so little notice was given to the approaching black thunder clouds and sprinkling rain. As the wind increased, my Grandmother, with a mother's concern, took the children across the street to a neighbor's house, itself little more than a wooden shack set on concrete blocks, but offering more security than a canvas tent that had provided temporary shelter to the family since their arrival from Montana. Grandfather had rejected the idea of 'a little wind and rain' causing any problems and refused to join the family at the neighbor's across the street.
As the story unfolded, the infamous 1926 hurricane roared over nearby Biscayne Bay hitting the Miami-Coconut Grove area like a battering ram with extremely high winds and blinding torrents of slashing rain. As the onslaught continued to gain strength, Grandmother crawled back across the street and dragged her husband, in his underwear, to the relative safety of the cottage, where the children were laying on the floor of a wildly shaking building. When the wind and rain finally subsided, the family loaded into the tile truck and drove to nearby Dinner Key on Biscayne Bay, eager to see the resulting storm damage to the bay front area. They were stunned by the massive devastation of buildings and score after score of sail and power boats scattered like toys all over the highway and hundreds of yards inland. Many of these battered hulks coming to rest against multi-million dollar mansions, reposing far back from the highway on higher land, as a testimony to the power of the storm's surge.
While marveling at the destruction of natures fury, few of the sightseers paid any attention to the sudden increase of wind velocity until a hard, piercing rain began pelting the crowd, announcing the arrival of the second half of this catastrophic hurricane..... The storm's eye had passed! With the sudden realization that there was more to come, there was a mad dash back to the truck, stinging rain peppering those that couldn't fit in the cab, and a race back to the house before another onslaught.
With the wind at well over 100 MPH rotating from another quadrant, the rickety cottage blew off its block foundation and crashed to the ground. The frightened occupants narrowly escaped serious injury when the stump of a massive Australian Pine Tree under the house smashed through the flimsy wooden floor, knocking everyone off their feet, but effectively anchoring the building to the ground preventing a major catastrophy.
When the storm finally subsided, the family returned to their tent site to view what little was left of their canvas home. My Mother said they were astonished to see nothing but the main tent cross beam which had fallen and pinned my grandfather's pants to his broken cot along with his intact wallet. Welcome to Miami, Briggle family!
It wasn't long before the family found and purchased a suitably large house, solidly constructed of a local wood (Dade County pine) that resisted rot and termites, well located, and with a huge double garage Grandfather could use for his tile business. It was built in 1912 and is still standing well into the 21st Century.
In 1931 the 'Magic City' of Miami, jewel of the Sunshine State, claimed only 175,000 sun-drenched, year-around citizens, spread out over a vast area of bays, canals, beaches, Indian villages along the Miami River, horse and dog tracks, luxury beach hotels, and wealthy winter visitors. Miami was rapidly becoming a beacon for snowbirds seeking to escape the harsh northern winters in relative warmth and glitz of south Florida.
Near Eight Street (later famous as 'Little Havana's 'Calle Ocho') I was born at Riverside Hospital on a bright, Saturday morning on May 23rd ... only child of Philip Pflueger and Ethel (Doll) Mae Briggle Pflueger.
Philip Pflueger was one of the three sons of the Pfluegers' that emigrated from Hamburg, Germany, landing on Ellis Island in 1895, settling in Elizabeth, New Jersey. An enterprising man, Grandfather Pflueger soon opened a saloon and eatery and settled down to raise their family of three children ... the eldest John, middle son Philip and the youngest Al.
When the United States entered the First World War, John enlisted in the army to join the raging European inferno, suffering a service ending gassing by the Kaiser and after a hospital stay returned to civilian life. In 1919, when Phil turned 18 he joined the Navy and spent a few years serving on a battleship, where he was a boxing champion. Meanwhile, Al left the cold confines of New Jersey for sunny south Florida, finding a job with a local fish taxidermist. Learning the taxidermist trade, Al and bride Louise set up their own business on Miami Avenue near the old Sears Biscayne Boulevard store on U.S. 1 and the McArthur Causeway, the first road leading to the south Miami Beach area.
Figuring that Al had something good going, John moved to Miami and went to work in the Al Pflueger Taxidermist business. As soon as Philip's navy hitch was up, he too beat a fast track to Miami and joined his brothers.
With Miami rapidly becoming the winter playground of North America (lets not forget the vast numbers of Canadians that ritually headed south in the winter) and the proximity of the fish filled Gulf Stream, it's little wonder that Al Pflueger Taxidermist would soon become the largest marine taxidermist in the world, drawing business worldwide. In addition to becoming wealthy, Al became a respected expert, along with Dr. Rivera of the University of Miami, as final authorities on the classification of fish species. Upon his untimely death in 1962 from a stairway fall at his North Miami home, Al was honored by having a new species of Longbill Spearfish (Tetrapturus pfluegeri) he discovered, named after him.
While the above was playing out, my mother, her two brothers and two sisters were living in Great Falls, Montana, where their father owned and ran a tile business and a boat rental on the Missouri River. During the early 1900's Spanish Flu and other dreaded diseases ran roughshod throughout the medically deprived rural west, wiping out entire families. My Mother and her four siblings contracted a deadly diphtheria strain, which proved to be fatal to the oldest child, 16 year old Cecelia. My Mother always maintained that eating vast amounts of fresh, raw onions helped to keep the windpipes open on the remaining children and saved their lives.
Whatever the case, the death of Cecelia proved to be the last straw in a rugged life style of the early twenties in northern Montana. Devastated, the family soon sold their assets and journeyed south to a booming Miami and to support the family, start one of the first ceramic tile installation companies in the area.
Upon arriving in the Promised Land, the first obstacle for the family of six was to find accommodations in a real estate mad south Florida. This difficulty was soon solved with the purchase of a plot of land near Coral Way and southwest 27th Avenue, where they erected two huge wall tents to provide at least temporary shelter. Life for the new arrivals seemed to be settling down with Grandfather finding ample tile jobs in an expanding economy. My Mother, now in her late teens, securied employment with Burdines Department Store in downtown Miami and the three younger children attended school. All seemed to going well when a little thing like the patter of a few drops of rain on the tent roof, was the harbinger of a major hurricane, as reported in the first few pages.
In 1929 romance blossomed and my father and mother, having met at a local dance, were married and I arrived a few years later.
In Miami the motion picture industry was all the rage in the 30's. The Great Depression was in full swing, creating a huge demand for inexpensive entertainment and Hollywood gave it to them, cranking out hundreds of movies a year to fill the seemingly insatiable market. Many, of course, were 'A' pictures featuring well hyped big name studio stars (MGM publicized that their studio 'had more stars than were in the heavens'). Others were of the 'B' variety, cheaper and with lesser known players, such as one of my favorites, Charlie Chan the Chinese detective from Honolulu with his sidekick 'Number One' son (what kid could resist the shiver of dread when the villain delivered a fatal blow gun dart to the neck of his victim form behind heavy drapes). Other 'B' favorites were Boston Blackie and of course, the unending stream of cowboy movies starring Charles Starrett, Lash LaRue, Buck Jones (who unfortunately, died at the height of his career in the Copacabana fire in New York in 1941), Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and let's not forget the 'King of the Cowboys,' Roy Rogers.
Saturday nights at Gram's house, which was happily located four blocks from the Tower Theater, meant all Saturday afternoon at the movies. From the age of seven, Gram and I would pack a lunch and head for the theater. My Mother did not send me empty handed, but with a carefully clutched quarter which Gram and I dutifully slipped into a Piggy Bank to grow until it reached the vast sum of $18.75 for the purchase of a $25 government bond. It was a great revelation to discover 'interest' and if you saved money someone would pay to borrow it.... Wow! The concept of compound interest and dividends would come later.
Gram and I enjoyed these many golden days in the air conditioned theater where she paid for my 15 cent ticket and threw in a big 10 cent box of popcorn to boot.... We always timed our arrival to catch the noon program which usually started with a cartoon, news of the world, a Three Stooge comedy short, a Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon serial and for the kids main attraction, a 'B' or cowboy movie. This line-up carried us through the popcorn and into the packed sandwiches, before the first of the weekend's adult 'A' film screenings came on, which of course, we felt obligated to attend. After some five hours in the theater, with the sun low in the sky, we would, on wobbly legs, stroll back to Grams with a satisfied feeling that we certainly received our money's worth.
Later, when I was a little older and Gram's legs couldn't make the walk, I went by myself, and many an evening I ran like the wind back home only a few steps ahead of Count Dracula ... keeping an ear to the sky for the dreaded flutter of giant bat wings or the rasping breath of a howling Werewolf with flashing and snapping fangs, dripping an innocent's blood! I didn't worry however, about Frankenstein.... I figured I could out run him! Golden days, indeed!
Kids like to swim and we were no exception. The closest water was one of the feeder canals leading to the Miami River near the Seminole Indian tourist exhibition encampment. The canal was reasonably clean and drew a daily crowd of local lads, splashing and horsing around. One frightful day I swallowed a large gulp of water and panicked, while swimming in the middle of the canal. I let out a horrific 'I'm drowning' scream which the kids on the bank found to be extremely funny and gave me a big laugh while I sputtered my last breath away. By some great chance or perhaps a guardian angel, my wildly flaying hand clutched the very end of a fallen Australian Pine Tree and was able to pull my limp, shaking body to the bank. I did not mention this episode to my mother, who almost lost her only child and who would probably not be amused. I promptly gave up swimming in the canal (good call), but later learned to swim well enough to spearfish offshore and avoid drowning.
During this time my dad worked for my Uncle Al at the taxidermist plant. In the height of the depression this proved to be a very good job paying him a reported $50 a week and the use of a pick-up truck. On Sundays, when the regular employees were enjoying a day off, Dad used to collect fish for mounting at the city's charter boat fleet headquarters at Bayfront Park's famous Pier Five. On many of these Sunday excursions, Dad would take me with him and while he talked with the captains, tagged the fish to be mounted, and loaded the truck, I would engage in some of South Florida's finest bottom fishing around the docks heavy pilings.
The captains were monetarily encouraged to talk the lucky (until he got the bill) fisherman into mounting that huge trophy sailfish (or whatever) to commemorate the epic battle. Six months later, the proud fisherman hung the beautifully mounted fish on the living room wall, often to the consternation of a whining spouse who reluctantly had to remove her Aunt Sophie's Butterfly print to make room for the new addition. With married life being what it is, it usually wasn't long before the loving spouse swam his prize off the wall and onto a shelf in the garage to await the next garage sale or trash collection.
None the less, it was a good job for Dad and a lot of Sunday fun for a kid that could throw his line in bay waters churning with a feeding frenzy of Mangrove Snapper, dining on a multitude of bits and pieces of large, freshly cleaned fish ... I caught my first Bonefish at the pier on a hand line one unforgettable afternoon ... proud as any fisherman ... with Dad and a few charter boat captains shouting a jumble of contradictory instructions to a deaf ear.
One evening while fooling around in the back yard, it seemed like a good idea to build a bonfire and boil some water in an old coffee can. This sound thinking carried right along to catching some grasshoppers and throwing them in the boiling water for the fun of watching them jump around. Unfortunately, a mis-step dumped the boiling water on the top of my right foot, providing third degree burns and numerous doctors' visits. Here was a lesson well learned ... that cruelty to living things might soon bite you in the backside!
After school on most afternoons we could be found playing touch football on the street in front of my house. I usually proclaimed myself as 'captain' by virtue of owning the ball, scruffy as it might be from bouncing off the asphalt a zillion times. The traffic was light but added an extra element of skill to follow the odd Chevrolet over the chalked goal line, through a scattering defense. When five o'clock came, no matter the score, it was time to hang it up for the day and retire to the console radio in the living room and listen to 'I Love a Mystery'. This daily 15 minute serial adventure told the story of Jack, Doc and Reggie, solving mysteries and battling huge vampire bats in Mayan ruins in Central America! Other afternoon favorites were 'Hop Harrigan', some sort of a pilot, and 'Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy'.... all good stuff for kids.
Night time, after dinner, I did my homework, still in front of the radio tuned to my favorite station, WIOD, which stood for 'Wonderful Isle of Dreams,' according to their announcements, whispered over backgroung music of 'Moon Over Miami.' I listened to the likes of Bob (whatever base he was visiting) Hope, Fibber Magee and Molly, Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and sometimes classical music, when Dad was listening, to the Firestone Hour. Radio was (and still is) a mystery to me, not to mention television which would not enter the picture (no pun here) to further boggle my mind until many years later.
I can't remember much of the early 30's ... just hanging around the house learning to walk, talk and use the potty ... all useful things for later in life. Mrs. Mahoney, our landlady, gave me a miniature bible, which I just had to have and remained mostly unread, even when I learned to read. One thing I will always remember was dressing up in my Buck Roger's suit complete with a deadly ray-gun, skulking around corners of my house hoping to get a clear shot at imagined aliens. All I got, however, was when Dad would come home from work and call out in a falsetto, "Yoo Hoo ... Buck Rogers!" accompanied by a limp wristed wave. I laugh now ... but I remember how it used to send me into a rage ... Yoo Hoo ... Buck Rogers your ass!
In the 20's Henry Flagler brought the Florida East Coast Railroad to Miami and on thru to Key West. To increase the availability of hotel rooms to support the railroad, he built the much hyped 'largest wooden hotel in the world' at Bayfront Park and the Miami River. This hotel was quite a famous attraction until one night in 1934 when it caught fire and burned to the ground. In my child's minds-eye, even though little more than a toddler, I can still remember my father taking me downtown to see one of the greatest bonfires in Florida history ... lighting up the sky for miles around.
Excerpted from Island Fever by Charles Pflueger Copyright © 2011 by Charles Pflueger. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Magic City....................1
2. The 1930s....................10
3. The Fabulous Forties....................14
4. Off to War....................29
5. Radio School....................37
6. Across the Pacific....................41
7. Homeward Bound....................58
8. Strategic Air Command....................65
9. Back to School....................80
10. The Graduate - Jamaica Bound....................102
11. Going South....................113
12. Moving On....................125
13. Back to the Future....................135
14. Jamaica Farewell....................152
15. The Egg and I....................159
16. A Little Traveling Music....................166
17. Business Beckons....................172
18. The Store Dick....................184
19. Africa Calling!....................192
20. The Old Island Itch....................200
21. A Union in the Woodpile....................212
22. Tribunal Retribution....................221
23. What the Hell Did He Ever Do?....................224
24. I've got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!....................228
25. It's a Crime!....................231
26. Travel Show Heaven....................234
27. Dance .Gypsy!....................244
28. Lord Love the Bartenders!....................247
29. Across the Yellow Banks to Great Exuma....................253
30. From Club to "Crows Nest"....................261
31. Peace and Plenty Beach Inn....................279
32. It's a Spaghetti World....................288
33. The Land Baron....................296
34. It's an Ill Wind!....................303
35. The Shark Lady....................308
36. Celebrities Visit Exuma....................313
37. The Bonefish Lodge....................326
38. Bush Medicine....................335
39. Calling Doctor Kildare!....................338
40. It's Regatta Time in Exuma Mon!....................341
41. Fancy Meeting You Here!....................345
42. The Twilight Zone....................349
43. Adventures in Central America....................354
44. It's a Tie!....................367
45. Club Peace and Plenty Turns 50....................370
46. I Thought I Saw a Pussycat!....................374
47. Tropical Gardens....................377
48. Retirement Looms....................382