World War II was over, but not for my father, U.S. Navy Commander Charlie Houghton. There was one more job for him.
He was placed in charge of decommissioning and restoring the hotels on Miami Beach that the Navy had used. During that time, my father worked with two of the hotel owners. They liked the job he had done and hired him to work for them. They owned Westview Country Club in North Miami. They thought it was too soon after the war to reopen the Westview. Their idea was to open a trailer park on their golf course. They wanted my father to start it up and manage it.
It was exciting to live in a country club. Our living room was large enough to set up a volleyball net and play a game. The country club itself was built on a hill surrounded by beautiful green grass.
We were there for just a week when a hurricane hit. We Houghtons knew nothing about hurricanes. My father and mother gathered all eight of us kids into the main living room and we stayed there until the storm was over. The surrounding land and roads were flooded. It wasn’t unusual to see someone rowing a boat up Northwest 119th Street. When the water finally subsided, one of our neighbors drove up in his truck to show my dad the rattlesnake he killed in his yard. My six brothers gathered around the truck to see the rattler. My sister and I hung back and saw it from afar. IT WAS BIG.
My dad and older brothers, Tony and Jimmy, worked together to get the trailer park up and running. The boys learned a lot that summer about electrical, water and sewer hook ups. They built it and “the people came.”
My new friend, Bessie Crocker, lived across Northwest 119th Street. Her mom and dad owned and ran a restaurant named The Blue Yonder. The restaurant was only open for dinner. One day, Bessie’s mother made us a lunch of delicious German noodles and let us eat in the dining room. She was a wonderful cook and nice lady.
Behind the restaurant was a huge cow pasture. Bessie and I explored the pasture and jumped over a lot of cow bones. We didn’t want to touch dead stuff. One day a big brown bull chased us. It was scary. Cow pastures can be scary. We actually outran the bull. That’s how scared we were.
My brother Richard and I would walk down our street to a neighbor’s farm. I liked to go there when they dipped the cows. The cows swam in a deep narrow cement pool filled with something to kill fleas, bugs and tics. The cows swam across the killing pool and got out on the other side and walked away as if none of that trauma really happened. Oh, to be a cow!
The era of having a trailer park on the gorgeous rolling lawn of a country club was over. The owners wanted their country club back with golf players and parties and dancing. The Houghton family was on the road again. We were headed for our new house in the southwest section of Miami.
My older brothers were ardent explorers.
They set out on foot to explore our new neighborhood. Like Lewis and Clark they left with confidence. When they got home, I was told about a huge swimming pool called Venetian Pool in a place called Coral Gables. The next day, the boys and I walked to the pool. It had four cement platforms to jump or dive off. My mother gave us nine cents each to get into the pool.
I soon found out that I could earn money at Venetian. Tourist buses stopped at the pool. The tourists enjoyed throwing coins into the water and watching us dive for the money. They threw mostly pennies but sometimes a dime or nickel got tossed in. It was an underwater battle trying to be the one who got to the money first. I did well and almost always picked up enough money to buy a hot dog. Venetian Pool’s hot dogs were the best.
In the summer, we would walk to Venetian and swim all day. The pool had a natural cave with water in it. It also had an underwater hole in the wall that kids could swim through. We kids would wait in line to have a turn at diving underwater and swimming through the hole. I was always afraid that someone would grab my foot and stop me from going through the hole and then I would drown. Glad to say it never happened.
But the best-ever Miami story for me was on January 5, 1985, when I ran 26.2 miles from Baker’s Haulover in North Miami Beach to Miami, and then to Coconut Grove. I’ve never felt so proud of my hometown and the people than when I ran in the Orange Bowl Marathon. All the people along the race route helped and encouraged me to keep on running. There was the enthusiasm of two ladies on Miami Beach who clapped in time to their cheer, “Go runner, go!”
It put a smile on my face and gave me new energy to keep going. I passed an elderly couple who had set up an “aid station” and obviously spent their own money to buy paper cups and water for the runners. There was also a young girl sitting on a sidewalk who was cutting orange slices for her friend to hand out to the runners. These people and many more caused me to be so proud of Miami, my city. When I think of all their kindnesses, I get tears in my eyes.