My thanks to those who have written of their beginnings in South Florida. Their memories have kindled long dormant, almost forgotten, ones in me. And that is a good thing.
Although I was born in the 1940s at Jackson Memorial Hospital, my paternal grandmother, Clara Belle Thomas, and her husband came here from Louisville, Kentucky, in 1925. Great fear, following the destruction caused by the 1926 hurricane, caused her and my grandfather to return to Louisville that same year. But, with Miami “sand in their shoes,” they returned in 1927, this time buying three rental houses, one of which was where the Omni now stands.
Because of the stock market crash in 1929, their renters lost their jobs, couldn’t pay their rent, and the bank repossessed all three houses. While the whole nation went into depression, my grandmother fed her family Campbell’s tomato soup for quite a while.
When she could, she worked as a seamstress at the downtown Burdines and my grandfather drove a street car from Flagler Street north on Miami Avenue to NW 36 Street, which then was on the outer fringes of the city. They saved their money and, in time, bought a property on NE 52 Terrace. Their children, one of them my father, went to school at Lemon City High School, now Edison High.
I was told that in the mid-1940s, visible maybe ten miles off Miami Beach, were explosions from allied ships being sunk by German submarines (U-Boats). My father, John G. Thomas, taught law to troops training on Miami Beach and later, for several years, was an assistant city attorney for the City of Miami.
On Saturday mornings in the 1940s and 1950s, we saw cartoons and serial shorts, like Flash Gordon, Hopalong Cassidy, and The Lone Ranger in theaters. For twenty-five cents we sure got our money’s worth. My parents purchased a black-and-white TV set in the early 50s and we couldn’t wait until 9 p.m. on Monday nights to watch “I Love Lucy.” Color TV first came in the form of a multi-colored sheet of acetate which we placed over the black-and-white screen. How neat was that?
Taking a blue and silver bus from the Gables Bus Terminal, then located on the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Miracle Mile, and traveling to downtown Miami was great fun and safe as can be. I can still taste the fifteen-cent burgers at Royal Castle which were made with real meat and real chopped onions.
My school years were spent at Coral Gables Elementary, Ponce de Leon Junior High, and Coral Gables Senior High School. Cotillion, during sixth grade, was held in a room next to the Coral Gables Library, which then was on the north side of the city. It prepared youngsters in dance and etiquette and was taught by Mr. and Mrs. Rodney Novakowski.
The etiquette was really just common manners. Part of the “dress of the day” was the dreaded crinoline, a starched half-slip worn to help our skirt stand out. Marbles, anyone ever hear about playing marbles? They were the rage in the early fifties. These were simpler times.
In the early 1950s in elementary school, in addition to fire drills, we learned how to react to an air raid warning: go under our desks and place one arm behind our neck and the other across our forehead. The Korean War had made everyone more alert.
In junior and senior high school, I learned how to play a clarinet and marched in many Orange Bowl and Junior Orange Bowl parades. The community of other band members became a family away from home.
An unexpected plus came in 1959, when a rather pedestrian clarinetist – me – was given a scholarship to the University of Miami Band on the Hour, with Fred McCall directing. “Hail to the Spirit of Miami U.…”
It was then, in the band, that I met my future husband, John C. Adams, Jr. Tuition was $395 a semester. One day, between classes at the “U” in 1962, I looked south and I saw army troops and big guns in a caravan of vehicles heading south on Dixie Highway.
This was the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States, led by President John F. Kennedy, demanded that Russia remove their missiles from Cuba, only 90 miles from the US mainland. Thankfully, this face-off was successful.
In 1963, armed with a bachelor’s degree and a few Spanish phrases, I got a job with Pan American Airways, Latin American Division, based in New York, and flew to South America and the Caribbean. In the winter, leaving New York, I’d be dressed in a calf-length coat over my uniform. Three and a half hours later, when I’d deplane in Caracas, Venezuela, it was summer.
In 1965, John and I were married, and in time had two children, Nancy Adams, a speech pathologist and Andrew Adams, a civil engineer.
It is said, “adversity brings maturity.” If that is true, then South Florida came of age after Hurricane Andrew. People of all ages volunteered to help in any way they could. When I volunteered to help, I was given an orange vest and a whistle and told to report with another lady to the intersection of Miracle Mile and Douglas Road in Coral Gables. There we would direct traffic for several hours.
We were not alone, though. As people drove by they would say, “Thanks,” and hand us an ice-cold drink. The next day I was sent south on Dixie Highway to a Salvation Army make-shift tent headquarters. There we opened and distributed contents of aid boxes sent by tractor-trailers from all over the country. I opened one box from Ohio which had a hand-written note placed on the top that said, “we are praying for you.” Then I knew we were part of a bigger community than I ever imagined, the United States of America.
For the past 20 years, John and I have been private investigators, licensed by the State of Florida.
All these years have been such a hoot! When I read this it sounds like I’ve been a part of history. Ours is a “fairly young” community and before you know it, you’ll be a part of history, too. I am blessed to live in a great city and a great nation.