Our family moved to Miami Beach from Brooklyn, N.Y., for my grandmother’s health. It was 1943 and Dad was with the Navy in the Pacific, so it was Mom, Aunt Rose, sister Bonnie, Grandma and me.
We settled in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment on Third Street and Jefferson. Our apartment was close to the dog track, so we could hear the announcer call the races. Bonnie and I would wager on each race while in bed, and we could hear the announcer proclaim the winners. My best friend, Sonja Lovseth, and I played with our dolls, danced in our house, and rode our bikes everywhere.
South Beach Elementary School was three blocks away, and provided the best education one could ask for. We had an assembly program every week and my sister, Bonnie, was assembly leader. I was captain of the safety patrol.
We learned Spanish beginning in third grade, and I can remember singing the Cuban national anthem in the classroom. Señora Ransom always carried a lace hankie and smelled of Old Spice cologne. The teachers were all wonderful – Mrs. Bleich in sixth grade sex education told the girls to be proud of our bodies, Mr. Little and his violin produced operettas, and Mr. Sanders was our handsome and very dignified principal. Mr. Vasey, the custodian, lived in a cottage next to the school, and he was always Santa Claus for the holidays.
Our apartment on Third and Jefferson was downstairs from Ben Cohen, an attorney for the notorious Miami Beach gambling syndicate, which attracted outside gangsters such as Meyer Lansky. He and his beautiful wife, Joan, had a baby girl and I went upstairs to see the baby.
In the bedroom were about a dozen telephones. I remember asking my mother why anyone needed so many phones. There is a window in the Jewish museum with Ben Cohen’s name and Meyer Lansky’s.
Grandma, as an observant Jew, needed to be near the synagogue, which was on Washington Avenue, and today is the home of the Jewish Museum. My sister and I attended the Hebrew School there. On Fridays when I got home from school, I had to help Grandma prepare for the Sabbath. I usually chopped vegetables or turned the grinder for the chopped liver.
When we were done in the kitchen, I would help her in the bath, wash her hair, and scrub her back, which was crooked from osteoarthritis. After her bath I combed her white hair, set the waves, and she rested for a while in her bed. Grandma had very bad asthma. There was always an oxygen tank next to her bed.
Sometimes I polished her nails. When the sun set, she would light the candles and bring in the Sabbath. Bonnie and I would not write, cut, or, later, watch TV for 24 hours.
During WWII, soldiers were stationed on Miami Beach. They marched by our house, singing army songs, which we quickly learned. Mom and Aunt Rose went to dances at hotels used as a USO (a United Service Organization with a mission to support troops).
Dad returned from the war, lived with us a short time, and then my parents divorced when I was 9. Bonnie and I continued to see our father, who worked in the window at Wolfie’s, Pumpernik’s and the Rascal House as a salad and sandwich chef. Sometimes he would take us for lunch at Burdines in Miami.
Walking on Lincoln Road in the 1940s and ‘50s was like walking on the Champs-Élysées, with luxury shops like Lillie Rubin, Saks Fifth Avenue, and so many others. Once my father took me into Saks and bought me red butter-leather sandals and an emerald-green, silk-taffeta cocktail dress. He introduced me to the finer things of life.
Bonnie and I had always wanted a dog, so when we moved to Miami, we got our first dog, a precious Jack Russell named Bing. Next, we got a blue tick hound named Penny.
We would take her to Crandon Park, where she ran for hours along the beach chasing shadows in the sand. We also had a pet duck named Christine. She followed Penny like a shadow and would greet me when I returned from a date in the evening. One day the duck disappeared. We found out several years later that Grandma had made a trade with the butcher.
I attended Ida M. Fisher Junior High on Miami Beach from seventh through ninth grades. One of my boyfriends was Norman Cement, who later became mayor of Miami Beach. In the 1950s, my grandmother and mother bought a duplex in what is now Little Havana.
I did not want to leave my friends, so Mom arranged for me to be picked up in Miami by Mr. Dutton, my music teacher, so that I could finish ninth grade with friends I’d had since second grade. Later, I attended Miami High.
On my own, I applied for a scholarship to the University of Miami, and did not tell my mother until I was accepted. I majored in Elementary Education.
At the end of my junior year, I flew to Nashville to attend the wedding of my friend, Marie Lefkowitz. It was at this wedding I met my future husband, Irwin Kaplan.
We moved to New Jersey in 1956, after we married. We have been married 57 years, have three children, 10 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.