Our Miami Story begins in 1939 when our dad, Jack Graham, came to Miami from Philly on vacation with his friends. They played golf at the Biltmore Hotel, watched the Pan Am Clippers land at Dinner Key and fell in love with Florida.
At age 12, dad had learned to play golf by caddying in the Poconos in the summers, so being able to play golf year-round was a dream come true. Two years later, he transferred with AT&T and moved my sister Claire and me, along with our grandparents, to Miami.
It was so exciting for a 7- and 8-year old to ride on the “Silver Meteor” train. On the way to the dining car, our grandpop would hold our hand as we jumped across the opening between the cars! Dad had a new 1941 Packard convertible and we rode down Biscayne Boulevard, with the top down, waving from the back seat.
We lived on Miami Beach around 12th Street, by the Dorset and Royal Palm, and swam every day. The life guards taught us to swim by having us follow them as they rowed the dinghies. They said, “Relax, learn to tread water and float. If you ever fall out of the boat, or in a pool or canal, just turn over and float till help comes.”
Since many of the hotels on the beach didn’t have restaurants, the sailors that were stationed there would march along Collins Avenue on their way to eat. We had fun trying to sing along with them.
My sister and I would board with a family during the school term, and went to Shenandoah Elementary and Junior High. Dad took us to places like the Biltmore pool, and we saw Esther Williams and then Johnny Weismuller’s shows. In the late ’40s, we climbed up the stairs at the Cape Florida Lighthouse at the end of Key Biscayne.
In 1946, Dad married Betty Zorn, who was a service representative at Southern Bell. They built a house at 28th Street in North Grove, where our sister and brother (Janet and Richard) were born. Our yard was small, but we enjoyed avocado, mango, key lime and other fruit trees.
We played intramural sports at Shenandoah Park and hung out at Fader’s drug store and the Venetian Skating Rink. At Miami High, we were active in sports and the chorus. We even got to participate in the halftime shows at the Orange Bowl games!!
In 1948, our family joined Bryan Memorial Methodist Church on Main Highway in the Grove, and were active members for over 40 years. We made many lifelong friends, including the Perrys, Crums, Readys, Fowlers, Walkers, MacDonells and the Larkins.
Claire and I joined the youth group on Sunday nights and enjoyed many beach parties, hay rides and went to MYF Youth camps in Leesburg in Central Florida. We even got to swim in the huge pool next door to the church at “El Jardín,” before it became Carrolton School.
Dad was the chief tech/electrician at all church functions, and Betty was active in the Florida Conference, Methodist Women, and helped maintain the church library. He enjoyed golf well into his ’80s with the “Prime Timers” (a 75-and-over group of friends at Coral Gables Country Club).
They moved to St. Augustine to be near Janet and Richard, who had moved there. Dad passed away in 2005 at the age of 96. Betty still lives in their home and is well, at the age of 90!