My dad, Mike Nola, came to this country from Lebanon in 1911 and peddled merchandise door-to-door along the Florida-Georgia border. He served in the Army during World War I, which earned him U.S. citizenship.
After the war, he returned to Lebanon to marry my mother, Chafica Sawaya. Upon returning to this country, they opened a grocery store in Live Oak, Florida. After their first child died in 1925, they moved to Miami and opened a grocery store on the corner of Northeast Second Avenue and 22nd Street. They lived in an apartment near Biscayne Bay.
During the 1926 hurricane, the bay flooded their apartment. My dad put my sister, Josephine, who was several months old at the time, on his shoulders and walked to higher ground. The store was damaged and merchandise was scattered in the street. The neighbors gathered the salvageable merchandise and returned it to my dad. The wholesalers also restocked him, which helped him recover. He was able to open another store on the corner of Northeast Second Avenue and 25th Street. There is still a market there today.
At the beginning of the Great Depression, my dad went into the hospital for surgery. During his time in the hospital he let two neighbors, who were brothers, run the store for him. In their attempt to impress him, they put all the money they took in into my dad’s bank account, and they charged the groceries. Unfortunately in a tale all too common during the era, the bank failed and all the money was lost. Again, the wholesalers restocked him on credit, and he was able to survive.
I was born in 1930. In 1932, my parents built our home on Northeast 25th Street between Second Avenue and what was then the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks. It was a classic Miami bungalow built of concrete block and stucco, with a screened porch all the way across the front.
The construction cost was $3,000, and the lot was $600. My mother lived in that house until her death 60 years later. My parents never owned a car. The streetcar ran down the middle of Northeast Second Avenue, and it went to wherever we needed to go. One day, my brother Willie and I were taking the streetcar to town to see a movie that cost nine cents; we were counting our money and came up a penny short.
An elderly African-American lady overheard us and gave us the penny. It was an act of kindness I have never forgotten. Sometimes, after seeing a movie, my brother and I would walk to the aquarium at the North end of Bayfront Park. The aquarium had been built into a ship, The Prins Valdemar, which had sunk in Biscayne Bay in January of 1926, and was refloated later and turned into the aquarium.
The admission was twenty-five cents, which we did not have, but the attendant would sometimes let us in for free.
After the aquarium, we would walk back toward Flagler Street to Pier 5, to see the afternoon catch. About 30 charter fishing boats lined both sides of the pier, and the catch was always awesome.
There were no fishing regulations and “Catch and Release” was not yet practiced. The skippers kept everything they caught and displayed it on the dock to advertise for the next day’s charter. Once they brought in a 10-foot manta ray.
Biscayne Bay was my playground, and I spent many happy days catching snook and Jacks fish from the County Causeway (which was later renamed MacArthur Causeway) and catching pompano in a cast net from the Rickenbacker Causeway.