After a family road trip in 1969 from New York City to California to Miami and back to New York City, my husband, Guillermo, and I were very impressed with Miami. We saw a burgeoning metropolis holding much promise for the future of our children.
Guillermo was Cuban, having left Cuba in 1947, and I am an American whom he met in New York City and taught to speak fluent Spanish.
In 1970, we took a vacation to Miami and purchased five acres in the Redland, for a very paltry sum. In 1972, we decided to move to Miami. Everyone told us Guillermo should go ahead and get a job and a place to live first, which was the logical thing to do. However, we had never been apart and decided to come down together and let fate take over.
Luckily, we sold our house quickly so that we could move to Miami by the end of August and the new school year. My husband didn’t trust moving companies, so he rented the largest U-Haul van he could find, packed all of our belongings and then we headed south with a huge sign on the side saying, “Miami or bust.”
Guillermo and our 12-year-old son, Ron, rode in the van towing our car, and I followed with our 10-year-old daughter, Arlene, in our station wagon. We used Walkie-Talkies to communicate with each other. After each stop, we’d find notes on our huge banner from people all over the country wishing us well.
Upon reaching Miami, we immediately found a lovely house to rent and set about looking for jobs. Even though Guillermo had his own business in New York, he took a job as a carpenter building houses. This turned out to be a fortuitous move. After looking at several houses and seeing how they were constructed, my husband determined he wanted to build our house himself. Although the land we had purchased was in a pretty desolate area at the time, after studying the county’s future development plans we decided to build on our property.
After consulting with architects and learning what their fees were, I decided to design our house myself, and we had building plans prepared by a draftsman for one-tenth the cost.
My husband knew something about construction, but certainly had never built a house before and knew nothing of Miami’s building codes. However, he learned fast, made useful contacts on his job, and consequently never failed an inspection in the building of our house. Proof of his capabilities came when Hurricane Andrew didn’t even cause a leak in our roof.
Guillermo eventually became a contractor here, and the buildings and structures he subsequently built at Miami’s Metrozoo were among the few that withstood that storm. Since Guillermo literally built our house himself with a little help from our children, friends and an occasional expert — working nights and weekends — it took two years before we could move in.
My children learned to become expert equestrians, since we bought them each their own horse. It was the only way they could visit their friends.
Their father built them jumps and barrels for the horses, and our front yard became a mini steeplechase.
We knew all of our immediate neighbors, who lived several acres away, and the area had a small-town, country feeling. On Christmas, one of our neighbors came by with a wagon full of hay carrying a group of carolers.
We had frequent visits from bald eagles, and I even saw a pair of bobcats crossing the road one day.
Ron, with his innate interest in animals, invariably found all kinds of snakes and animals, which he brought home both dead and alive. He had a hobby of taxidermy at the time and would preserve birds and small animals. He once brought home an injured owl he hoped to nurse back to health, which he put in his room. When I came home and found his door shut, I opened it only to be scared out of my wits by the screech let out by the owl.
Krome Avenue back then was a narrow two-lane road. Coral Reef Drive was a dirt road going east to 137th Avenue, and only a two-lane road from there on. Kendall Drive was mostly farmland a little after Dadeland until Kendale Lakes, which was billed as “The Town Beyond the Crowd.”
Both of my children have Miami to thank for their careers, also. During his summer vacations from the University of Florida, Ron worked with snake expert Bill Haast at the old Serpentarium on U.S. 1. When they started building the new zoo in South Dade, Mr. Haast recommended Ron for a position there. He started when the zoo was still at Crandon Park, subsequently moving to the new zoo, where he is Zoological Ambassador/Director of Communications.
Ron also credits his job for having met his wife, Rita. She was the physical therapy intern who treated him when he was bitten by a crocodile while filming a TV commercial.
Arlene became a candystriper at South Miami Hospital during her high school years. She found her calling there, went on to become a registered nurse and worked in the trauma unit of Jackson Memorial Hospital. There, she met her future husband, Dr. Pedro Carvajal, when he was an orthopedic surgeon just out of the University of Miami’s Medical School.
Miami was good to us from the moment we moved here. My husband built our dream home, and he was able to plant a grove that would give him all the tropical fruits he missed from Cuba. Sadly, he died suddenly, and much too young, of a pulmonary embolism in 1991. I’m thankful to Miami for all it’s provided for me and my family, and am fascinated by all of the positive changes I’ve seen since we moved here. Miami is truly becoming a world-class city. The best thing we ever did was move to Miami, and I know that its future, as well as that of my children and grandchildren, will be brilliant!