My family came to this country in 1959, three months after Castro took power. We lived at Northeast Second Avenue and First Street for three months. We used to love it there as it was very close to the Post Office and Central Baptist Church, where we attended.
Afterwards we moved to where all the newly arrived Cubans were living – Southwest 14th Avenue and Second Street. I went to Ada Merritt Jr. High. At that time I didn’t know a word of English but I was eager to learn. In a few months I was getting excellent grades and by the time I graduated in June 1961, I was a member of the National Honor Society and graduated in the Top 20. I also received the American Legion Award. I was the first female and Non-American to receive it.
My father bought his first car a year later – a 1953 Pontiac in three shades of green. Before getting the car we would walk or take the bus downtown. We especially loved going to the basement of Richard’s Department Store on Thursday nights. One of our outings was going to Bayfront Park (now Bayside) on Sundays to watch the boats coming in with the catch of the day. The library, a band shell and the Japanese garden in the park also were great places.
I remember walking to the first McDonald’s in Miami on Northwest Seventh Street and 32nd Avenue, where you could get a whole meal for under $1. And who could forget the Royal Castle deals – two small hamburgers, a birch beer and a doughnut for 99 cents.
Once a week we would go to Shell’s City, where for $20 we would fill up two carts of food. Funland Park on Northwest 27th Avenue and 79th Street and the drive-in on 27th Avenue were very popular at that time. Restaurants like Ferdinand’s on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street (now a hardware store), Mansene’s on 37th Avenue (now a funeral parlor) and Day and Night, which was opened 24 hours (now a CVS store) were some of our favorite places to eat. Chesapeake on 36th Street and Le Jeune Road was famous for seafood.
My father worked at the Top of the Columbus Hotel, where a steak dinner cost you $5 – at that time very expensive! Diamond’s Novelty store was one of the few buildings past 42nd Avenue and Seventh Street.
In 1962 my parents managed to save $350 and put it as a down payment for a house east of the airport (Grapeland Heights). They still live in the same house. I had to take three buses to get to Miami High – I graduated in 1964.
My first job was at Coppertone Corp. on Le Jeune Road and 24th Street. I was making $1 an hour as a secretary, which was considered a good salary as others were making 75 cents an hour. My mother would take my sister and me to dances at Miami Beach hotels where there was always a small Cuban band playing. We went practically every Saturday and to the beach at Eden Roc Hotel on Sundays. We also loved to go to the Miami Beach pier on Sunday nights to dance. The entrance was 25 cents.
In June 1968 I moved to New York City and lived there for almost five years. Although I loved living in New York, I missed the Magic City and came back in 1973. I have lived here ever since, three blocks from my parents’ house, the same neighborhood I moved into when I was 17. Miami has really changed and it has become a metropolitan city but I still prefer my “old” Miami.
In 2002 a school friend contacted me and she and I went on a mission to “find” the people who graduated with us from Ada Merritt Jr. High in 1961. To date we have contacted close to 60 people, including the principal and two teachers and have had several reunions. Mr. Ruben Blumstein died three years ago but Mr. Joseph Marmar, our math/algebra teacher is 92 and I visit him often.
I Love Miami!