In the summer of 1939, our Catskills vacation was cut short when the hotel we were staying in was destroyed by fire, leaving my family with just the clothes on their back.
Returning to the Bronx, Arthur “Art” Bressler, my dad, was determined to try his luck in Florida and turn this misfortune into a positive.
The night before he was to leave for Miami, my dad took our last $800 and put it in the torchlight fixture for safekeeping. Shortly thereafter, we smelled smoke and just in time, retrieved the smoldering cash.
From this inauspicious beginning, my dad embarked to Florida in his Willys automobile while my mother (Celia), brother (Howard) and I waited to join him after he established himself in a business.
Starting with a dry cleaning/tailor shop in the heart of Miami, my dad tried his best for several months to make a go of the faltering business. Unfortunately, he had no choice but to close the doors and with the last remaining money bought the Cafe Royale at Northwest 36th Street and 22nd Avenue.
Shortly thereafter, my mother, brother and I joined my dad, where we rented a small semi-detached house in Allapattah, an area completely at odds with our familiar neighborhood in the Bronx and our Jewish family and friends. For many years, my mother could not acclimate herself to this new environment and had one foot back in New York.
My formative years at Andrew Jackson Junior High in Allappatah and later at Miami Senior High bring fond memories of the “old” Miami. We enjoyed Sunday strolls in the lushly landscaped Bayfront Park, beach parties at Haulover with my friends, roller skating at the rink on Biscayne Boulevard and taking the jitney over to 14th Street beach.
The World War II years were financially productive for the Cafe Royale and my dad quickly learned to cook up a mean chili. Both my mother and dad worked long and hard to provide the necessities for their family. They eventually bought a home in Miami.
Over the ensuing years, my dad tried his hand at many different enterprises with the Imperial Bar and Package store across from the old Dade County Courthouse being his last venture.
He was well-suited for the business with his outgoing, charismatic personality. He knew many of the judges and politicians who frequented the courthouse and his warm personality with a smile and a joke attracted many around him.
Always the entrepreneur, and never having musical training, he nonetheless taught himself to play a Gene Krupa style of drums and nightly filled the lounge.
When my dad passed away in 1977, the chapel was filled to overflowing with family and the many friends he encountered over the years. Although he is gone now, his zest for living and optimistic spirit will long endure.
Eleanor Bressler Udoff resides in Aventura.