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Signs, words that tug at memories and hearts

Tampa columnisthooper
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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002

Signs of the times, Part I: Last weekend, there were two professionally made banners hanging on a fence surrounding a construction project at Swann and Howard.

One said, "Panera Bread: Opening Soon." A smaller banner next to it said, "Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone. Bring Back The Chatterbox!"

The smaller banner didn't stay up for long, of course, but it's clear a few folks out there are longing for the venerable watering hole that closed on New Year's Day. A picture of the sign was mailed anonymously to the Times with a note saying it was from the SPOC: Society for the Preservation of the Chatterbox.

Former Chatterbox proprietor Dan Lea disavowed any knowledge of the sign, but did offer this: "Like they said in Casablanca, round up the usual suspects."

* * *

The table settings at Friday's Joshua House luncheon included napkins, silverware, stuffed animals, centerpieces and programs. But there was one thing missing: tissues.

For the second consecutive year, I found myself with a little popcorn dust in my eye at the annual event to promote child abuse prevention. Last year, it was the teary-eyed appeal of Joshua House founder Dottie Berger MacKinnon that pulled heartstrings.

This year, a woman named Debby, who asked that her last name not be used, touched a chord by telling the poignant story of how she and her husband, Lance, adopted a special needs girl from Joshua House, which has served as a haven for abused and adopted children for 10 years.

A video with before-and-after interviews showed how this remarkably resilient 10-year-old has blossomed under their care. In the speech that followed, Debby told of her experiences, comparing the adoption process to conception, pregnancy and labor.

The delivery came during the couple's first meeting with their soon-to-be daughter as she ran to them with open arms and hugged them in front of an ice cream parlor.

"There was a vibe about her, there was something there," Debby said of her daughter. "She wanted to be with somebody."

It was a story with a sad beginning -- Debby's daughter was physically and sexually abused before coming to Joshua House, and diagnosed with an array of ailments after her arrival -- and a happy ending. She is healthier than ever.

But Debby didn't sugarcoat the message, conceding there have been challenges and frustrations since the adoption.

Through it all, there has been love. It all made sense when Debby said she believes her daughter was born in her heart.

* * *

Signs of the times, Part II: On the marquee of the Outpost Bar next to the Ice Palace was this question: "Do you trust Bill McBride of Holland & Knight to be your next governor?"

Well, do you?

* * *

Steve LaBrake's 4,200-square-foot South Tampa dream home is still for sale, but the asking price has gone from $640,000 to $575,000.

In case you're wondering, Steve LaBrake's name has been used in the Times 123 times since July 28. Pretty cool, huh?

* * *

The Shops at Channelside appear to be reaping benefits from one of the center's newest additions: Margarita Mama's Mexican Restaurant and the adjoining Banana Joe's Island Party club. A solid but not overwhelming crowd gathered on the Margarita Mama deck Friday for happy hour, and the crowd slowly grew as the sun set on the channel.

While construction of a new entrance closer to the Port of Tampa garage continues, a shuttle has been set up to move people from the garage to the current entrance.

* * *

Riddle me this: If Debby and Lance had to go through a 12-week class before being able to adopt their daughter from Joshua House, how come there aren't courses required for all expectant parents?

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or

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