In May 1946, at age 7, my mother and father brought me from Toronto, Canada to Miami to save my life. I had a chronic lung condition (from birth). I was so sickly I weighed only 35 pounds.
The wonderful weather in Miami made me healthy in no time. My parents, Mamie and Ben, had given up their family, friends, home and job to make me well. They knew no one in Miami. My father was a hotel bell captain and he got a job at the Roney Plaza Hotel in Miami Beach.
The Roney Plaza was “the hotel of the day” in the USA. There was no Disneyland or Disneyworld or Las Vegas or Atlantic City. The wealthy and celebrities of every kind kept the Roney completely booked from December to May. From June to November, Miami and Miami Beach became a ghost town. There were no tourists and visitors coming here and many of the local citizens went to North Carolina or farther north to get away from the tropical hot weather and hurricanes.
In those days we had one to two hurricanes every summer, but they weren’t officially named until 1953 and only with girls’ names . We were so ignorant of the danger of a hurricane that in 1947 my father drove home on the McArthur Causeway from work on Miami Beach during the “eye” and had to practically swim from downtown Miami to our apartment. Then he had to walk across a large front yard in the dark.
The next morning when we looked out at all the destruction, there were multiple “live wires” laying all over the yard – that was a miracle. Because my father worked in the hotel business, he often had to work weekends until 8 p.m. My mother and I would go downtown on Sunday morning (there were no malls yet) – go to the movies at the Olympia movie theater (now the Gusman Theater) – eat dinner in the Walgreen’s basement across Second Avenue – then walk through Bayfront Park (there was no Bayside) and go to Pier 4 and watch the fishing boats come in. My father would pick us up on Biscayne Blvd at 9 p.m. – perfectly safe.
In 1952 my parents bought a brand new house made from Dade County pine for $9,000 with monthly mortgage payments of $39. In those years no one in Miami even locked their homes or their cars. I went to Shenandoah Elementary, Shenandoah Junior High and Miami High School – go Stingarees !!! I was captain of the Flagettes with the marching band at Miami High.
Every New Year’s Eve Miami put on the Orange Bowl parade along Biscayne Boulevard and up Flagler to the courthouse – this was the only nighttime parade in the entire USA and I marched in it all three years of high school. The college national football championship game was played in the Orange Bowl every year on New Year’s Day and the entire country got to envy our beautiful, bright and usually sunny weather. We performed in the half-time extravaganza each year.
In the spring of my junior year the band’s majorettes and Flagettes were invited by the Cuban government to participate in the Spring Festival in Havana. We spent five days there and enjoyed the Prado, the Malecon, Morro Castle and more. It was there I learned to love Bolero music. I went on to Jackson Memorial Hospital School of Nursing and experienced a fantastic nurse’s training.
I graduated in 1959. My first paycheck was $249.00 take home for two weeks. I met my husband, Rudy, on a blind date in 1957. He had come to Miami in 1942 to recuperate from rheumatic fever and eventually became an excellent athlete. When he was 16, he had rowed from the mainland to Key Biscayne (before the Rickenbacker Causeway was built) just before a hurricane hit. Key Biscayne had been a mango plantation and there was a dilapidated barn still standing that Rudy had to climb up onto the rafters to keep out of the rising flood waters.
One of our favorite ways to end our dates was to go to “watch the submarine races” (who remembers what that meant) at Crandon Park Beach – perfectly safe. Then Rudy would make a mad dash to get me back to my dormitory by my midnight curfew listening to Moon Over Miami played by the DJ, Rick Shaw on the car radio.
We married in 1958. Our four children, Mark, who passed away in 1997, Lisa, Val and Gene are all native Miamians. Because our children’s early years were in the 60’s and 70’s, they learned another language from their neighborhood friends and classmates and today they are fluent in Spanish.
My husband became a psychiatric nurse at the VA Hospital, one of our daughters is a nurse and we have four more members of our extended family who are nurses – that profession has served our family well.
Our family has always enjoyed boating, fishing, scuba diving and also camping in the Everglades. My husband, who passed away in 2010, loved the Everglades so much that anyone who went hiking with him would be the lucky recipient of a walking seminar about the plants, trees, birds, alligators and survival in the Everglades. My brother, Scott just retired as a city of Miami police officer after 28 years served.
We have watched Miami change into a major metropolitan city with a wonderful diversity to be embraced and enjoyed.