Ten Things You Don’t Know About Me
Although I tend to tell anyone who will listen everything
- I live in the eastern mountains of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. From my home I can see El Yunque Rainforest to the east, San Juan and the Atlantic Ocean to the north, the central mountain range to the south and, behind some cows, the sunset in the west. I have lived in Puerto Rico for 58 years. I was 80 years old on my last birthday — which, I’d like you to know, I do remember. I came to Puerto Rico from Pennsylvania to study Spanish. I fell in love with the island and with a beautiful Puerto Rican. We have been married for 57 years and have a son and a daughter, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
2. In spite of my last name (Flores), I am not Hispanic. The first known Flores in my line emigrated from what is now Germany to Pennsylvania in 1739. His descendants continued to speak a dialect of German for 10 generations. Although I have always considered myself Pennsylvania “Dutch” (Pennsylvania German), people in Puerto Rico assume I am Latino. I am sometimes accused of denying my Puerto Rican heritage! However, I am so assimilated that I hardly remember being gringo. I attached Gunkle, my mother’s family name, to mine to help clear up the confusion.
3. With a last name like Flores, I had no trouble being accepted as a freshman at the University of Puerto Rico, where four years later I took an undergraduate degree cum laude in humanities, literature and art. I became fluent in Spanish quickly, mostly on the beach, knowing the alternative was flunking out and having to return and freeze in PA. Near graduation I was granted a fellowship for an M.A. and Ph.D. at Penn State in the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese Department, degrees which I eventually earned.
4. The first half of my working life (about 25 years), I was an academic — what else do you do with a Ph. D.? I taught college English and Spanish language and literature, was a department head and academic dean. I became passionately involved in innovative teaching methods, the use of computers and TV in the classroom, individualized instruction, mastery learning and other alternatives to the lecture method. I became a grant writer to fund these efforts, during one of which I taught thousands of students English as a Second Language through the island’s public television network.
5. The second half of my working life (another 25 years or so) I was a writer, photographer, editor and, eventually, vice president at a major Hispanic publishing company. My main achievement was creating a visitors’ magazine for Puerto Rico that later merged with the government’s official visitor’s guide, which I headed for a decade. I retired to a life of leisure, painting, writing, photographing, gardening and watching sunsets with my wife, until September 20, 2017. On that date a catastrophic hurricane (Maria) blew our lives upside down. I have set it back up. With a partner I created a beautiful new magazine, Urbane Traveler: The Best of Puerto Rico. After a successful six-month run, that too was blown away, not by a storm but by a pandemic.
6. My main passion is writing: fiction, non-fiction and poetry, but I have many others. I paint and sometimes use my paintings to illustrate my stories. I have had two exhibitions. I am an avid photographer, published a book “Tropical Color in Black & White” (available free on Issuu), and my photos have been in scores of magazines. Until a few years ago, I enjoyed acting. I appeared in about a dozen plays in Pennsylvania (Children’s Theater and the Pennsylvania Playhouse) and with professional companies in Puerto Rico.
7. Although an atheist, I am an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. I have written about this in my “Geriatric Journal,” but basically the ordination was to be able to perform the marriage ceremony of my granddaughters. In case you suspect that as hypocritical, the church accepts all faiths and non-believers under the concept that we are all one in the universe.
8. My wife and I are gardeners and we raise much of the food we eat. I maintained a blog “Year Round Gardener” for a few years but I have not been updating it — for lack of new information and lack of readers! Not much changes in a garden: I plant, I cultivate, I harvest, I repeat. We keep two laying hens who help with the compost, eat surplus greens and lay eggs most every day.
9. One thing that even people who know me well don’t realize is that I am partially blind. Although I am in perfect health otherwise, I lost some of my vision a few years ago because of glaucoma: my ophthalmologist didn’t notice it until it was too late. It affects me most when going from a light to a dark place (like a parking garage!) and I have no sense of depth (can’t judge distance) so I don’t drive. I also have limited peripheral vision so I tend to bump into things or knock things over. Think Mr. MaGoo. On the bright side, I think it has improved my two-dimensional work such as painting and photography. If you met me, you probably wouldn’t notice, since I have adapted — and my wife watches over me.
10. For the last several decades I wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, most of them forgettable. Today I like to make things up and I want people to read them and react to them. Medium allows me to do this. Nearly every week I have something new online and sometimes readers comment on them. I like that! I like reading the works of other writers and often comment on them. I’d like to be more widely read, but I am too old, too busy, and too lazy to try to get published traditionally.
[Updated November 2020.]