South Miami Heights — it brings a smile to my face. I wish the kids of today could have had the childhood we had — it was so simple.
Dad was the first of the six Sinclair brothers to move from Massachusetts to South Florida. Mom and Dad moved to Miami in the late ’50s, where they rented an apartment across the street from the Orange Bowl. I was born soon after at Jackson Memorial Hospital; I think the entire bill for the birth was about $115.
We lived in the aptly named Orange Bowl Court Apartments, and when a game was played in the OB, Dad and other OB Court renters made a few dollars parking cars on the premises. Four of my uncles followed, they worked in Doral and later settled with their families in Broward County.
Soon they heard of homes being built 25 miles south, starting at only $11,000. They packed their bags and moved south, to everyone’s dismay — it was just so far away!
Our new home was situated directly across the street from South Miami Heights Elementary. The house was a terrazzo-floored, jalousie-windowed single-family home with three bedrooms, two baths, and a turquoise eat-in kitchen with a nook where the whole family sat for every meal. Best friends Nancy and Linda were my constant companions. We went from kindergarten through high school together.
Some Saturdays, Linda and I walked up to 7-Eleven story for their famous Icee drinks, and we got the jumping beans candy for free. Food Fair, Mike’s drug store, and the pediatrician’s office were all within a mile from our homes. Where everyone shopped, they were known by name. We cannot forget the Cutler Ridge Cinema, and the Saturday morning matinee, for 10 cents.
My dad Ray was a sign painter and worked for Richards and Grant’s department stores. Later, he got a job on with Miami-Dade’s Parks and Recreation Department and retired 25 years later as the county sign painter, back when signs were actually hand-painted. He moonlighted doing his favorite thing, playing the drums. He played the drums with various bands throughout South Florida over the years, both paid and unpaid. Dad was one of the few people I have ever known who truly enjoyed his work. He vowed he would die with drumsticks in his hands, and when he died in 2008, we made sure he took them with him.
My Mom Sarah was a waitress at a few local spots, but most memorable for me was the Bowl-0-Mat, on 87th Avenue and U.S. 1. Sometimes, she would take me along and send me over to the roller skating rink during her shift. I LOVED that.
As a teen, I joined Dad and his guitar-playing friends and their families in a weekly bowling team; it was lots of fun. In between, having four more children, Mom later worked at Palmetto Golf Course where, during the summer, she would load us into her green Chevy station wagon with all our friends and we’d hang out at the pool all day.
The days were long and after breakfast, bed-making and washing the dishes, we were sent outside to play — no TV for us. Give us a ball and a bottle cap and we played for hours, a rock scratched upon the sidewalk and you now have hopscotch.
At 4 p.m., my brother Ray and his friends Lee and David would start humming, “Nah nah nah nah na, BATMAN!” and the three of them would run off into one of their homes to watch.
Our year of seventh grade at Cutler Ridge Junior High was great. Then, for eighthh grade, we were tangled up in politics — integration had begun. We would now be bused into Goulds, the neighborhood east of the highway just south of our neighborhood. National TV reporters were in town, police were everywhere, and accusations, threats, and emotions ran high.
Impromptu schools began popping up; some white parents didn’t want their kids going to Goulds for schooling. Classroom assignments and bus routes were received and I was to be at the corner for bus pick-up early Monday morning. The weekend before school started was hectic. My friends called to tell me they were not going to school, none of them. I, being a very shy, awkward, freckle-faced pre-teen, was scared to death to be alone at a new school with no friends, so I begged my mom to let me stay home. She, the all-knowing mother that she is, said, you will go to school and you will be just fine. Yes, I went. Mom was right; we were fine. We developed some great friendships and learned a lot about different cultures.
To this day, we remain close to our childhood friends, although most have moved away. I am sad when I go through the neighborhoods and see no one — no kids playing, no neighbors in the yard talking, no bicycles ….
My friends, you don’t know what you are missing.