In my mother’s house, now in my house, there was a collage of pictures of when we were younger. One was a picture of our entire transplanted family picnicking at Tahiti Beach. After reading someone else’s memories, I started thinking of ours.
In the spring of 1954, I had just turned 10 and had been released from the Hospital for Joint Diseases in NYC. Mom and Dad had gotten summer jobs in the Catskills, and my brother and I needed a place to stay while they went to work. Mom had a sister-in-law living in Miami who offered to take us in for the summer. This was exciting, our first plane ride and summer in Florida!
Our Aunt Gizi and Uncle Sam were elderly, never had any children, and lived a couple of blocks off Eighth Street and 20-something Avenue. I can remember hearing lots of birds and smelling the aromas of different fruit trees. I can still recall the smells and sounds of afternoon thunderstorms. All so clean and fresh -within a couple of weeks, I put my crutches aside.
After Labor Day, our parents bought a large Buick and came down to pick us up for the drive back to New York. They were pleasantly surprised to see me get about without crutches.
But we had to go back to NYC. All of our belongings were in storage, and school was about to start. It was very tough, as Dad could not find work and the money they had earned and saved over the summer was running out.
Dad had a friend from the old country who had settled in Miami, opened a small furniture store on Eighth Street and 16th Avenue, and told him to come down and be partners.
So Mom and Dad packed us in the Buick, and we returned to Miami. The first couple of months, shall we say, were crowded, living in a motel room just off Eighth Street, near what was then Sheehan Buick.
We then moved into a two-bedroom duplex on 27th Terrace (it is still there) off of U.S. 1 (then a two-lane road), across from the roller-rink. My brother’s and my bedroom window faced the roller-rink, and we could hear the loud music every night. I still needed medical oversight, so each year Mom would take me for check-ups at Variety Children’s Hospital.
Across 27th Avenue was a Rexall drugstore with a soda fountain. We would go many a times for ice cream shakes and cherry Cokes to and from our walks to Silver Bluff Elementary. Mom had joined Dad in the furniture store, so we were left on our own in the afternoon. I remember playing soldiers with my brother’s friends.
Within the year, we bought a small house in Westchester, a couple blocks across the bridge on Coral Way in front of West Miami Jr. High. On our way home from school, we’d stop at the drugstore just before the bridge, have sodas, listen to Elvis’ Blue Suede Shoes and Tab Hunter’s Young Love.
I started junior high school in West Miami, and though I could not run or do many physical activities, I did earn my “letter” in shot-put. Right after the bridge, there was a bakery where we would stop every morning for breakfast, a bottled Coke and a doughnut!
In the middle of eighth grade, we bought a new house in an area that would become “Kendall,” 93rd Street and 81st Avenue. Everyone called it “in the country,” as we were surrounded by agricultural fields. Kendall Drive was a two-lane road leading to the fields, and Dadeland was not yet on the drawing boards.
A new high school had opened in the fall, Miami Palmetto Senior High. My Aunt Paula and Uncle Marvin had moved down from Cleveland with their two children and bought our South Waterway Drive home, thus I was able to finish the year at West Miami.
It was the beginning of the Soaring Sixties when I started at Palmetto. Summers were real fun. Before moving to Kendall, Mom and Dad would drop us off at the Shenandoah pool for the day. We learned to swim and rock ‘n’ roll to Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock. When the pool closed, we’d take the bus to Eighth Street and walk down to the “shop” on 16th Avenue. We loved going next door to the Royal Castle for the 15-cent hamburgers.
Sometimes, if Mom and Dade were working late, we’d walk the block to the Tower Theater. On Saturdays, there were the serials. The Tower was also the place where I saw my first tear-jerker, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, with William Holden, followed by High Society.
As we got older, summers were also spent in each other’s pools, many a time not even locking doors. Just before Labor Day, Mom would take us by bus to downtown to outfit us for the coming school year. Lerner’s was my favorite spot.
Two other uncles and their young families followed their elder brothers; one moved to the Westchester area, the other near Perrine. They opened butcher shops in West Miami and Perrine.
In those early years we all worked very hard. I can remember Mom and Dad sometimes leaving the house before my brother and I left for school. They always came home late at night, leaving dinner for us to prepare and household chores for us to do on Saturdays.
Sunday was family day, and just about every other Sunday in the summer we would all gather at one of the brother’s homes. At first, we went to Crandon Park; later, it was Tahiti Beach for barbecue. We preferred Tahiti. The toll was only $1 per car, and the road was less congested than Matheson Hammock. (Little did we dream that in less than 15 years, Mom and Dad would be living across the street from the Matheson entrance).
It was a different time, a different place, and there were difficulties to overcome. The Cold War was in full swing, as were the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cuban exodus, and the Civil Rights era. Farther away was the Vietnam war.
Within 20 years, South Beach became a slum, then turned around to become the “chic” capital of the world. Our agricultural industry was giving way to developments, with little thought of infrastructure or impact on the environment. No worry, we were young and we had no doubt we would overcome any and all difficulties.
Today’s young people will, too, look back nostalgically and remember the joys of growing up in Miami-Dade as they face their own challenges in what has become a multinational, multicultural city of the 21st century.