Raleigh Atrus and Maitre Bird Bailey left Dacula, Ga., in 1938 in a one-seated car with a boot in the tire and $150. Twelve-year-old Jack sat in the front with Dad and Mom. Three-year-old Jim and I, then 5 years old, were curled up behind them in the crawl space.
It took a day and a night driving down U.S. 1 to get to Cousin Dorothy’s small frame house near where the old Sears store stands (now part of the Arsht Center). What brought us to Miami was my dad visited his best friend Mark Stanley and he came home and said, “I got sand in my shoes.”
My dad opened Gene’s Grocery on Northwest Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street. He only had enough money to stock his shelves with two cans of each item. Our living quarters consisted of a small room in the back of the grocery. There was no bath tub nor shower so every night we washed our face, hands and feet, and on Saturday we took turns in the old tin washtub full of cold water.
It never dawned on me that we were poor. I played and had fun every day. One of my playmates is still one of my favorite friends, Herb Davis, whom I met 71 years ago.
I went to Buena Vista Elementary School, Robert E. Lee Junior High School and attended both Jackson and Edison high schools. I met my best friend in junior high, the greatest coach and builder of men, Joe Brodsky.
Times were hard, but we all made out OK. Dad died without a job for the last 10 years of his life and my mom worked as a cashier at a grocery store. My brother Jack became a sign painter and started his own outdoor advertising sign business in the Keys.
I became known as the Naked Carpet man due to my billboard. My younger brother Jim was a fireman who saved and spent every penny on real estate and has become a multimillionaire.
I now own the flooring business and the building at 8300 Biscayne Boulevard where I started as a truck driver’s helper and janitor over 56 years ago.
When my father worked, he worked 6 ½ days a week. This made Sunday afternoons a treat. He would take us to all the famous spots in Miami. Favorite memories include the docks at Fifth Street to watch the fresh fish come in, the beach, the famous sausage tree.
It never occurred to me that these outings were free since there was little money to spare. I looked forward to the family get-togethers and relish the memories probably more than kids remember the expensive entertainment parents provide today.
Miami has made me successful financially and romantically. I met all three wives here — Gloria, Johannah, and I saved the best for last, Donna. I have four children: Don Bailey, Jr. a WQAM broadcaster and who runs the flooring business); Robert, who handles the real estate; Jeannie, wonderful mother to Adrian and who handles collections; and Brett, law student and music producer. They bring me unending joy and pride.
I love Miami and cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I was raised in the sleepy town of Dacula, Ga., or nearby Hog Mountain.