My parents were young Norwegian immigrants who had met and married in Chicago.
My father was a skilled carpenter, but there were no jobs available. The Great Depression had caused the banks to fail, and they lost all their savings, so they accepted a job in Miami.
They became the caretakers of the Warren Wright estate, which was located at 5255 Collins Ave. The Wrights only came to Miami when their horses were running at Hialeah Park, so most of the year my parents had the estate to themselves. Looking back on this, coming to an unknown tropical city after growing up in Norway was quite an adventurous thing for them to do.
I was born at St Francis Hospital on Miami Beach and just vaguely remember our home, which was a large apartment over an even larger garage. It looked out over Indian Creek on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
During World War II, soldiers were housed in Miami Beach hotels. They marched and trained up and down Collins Avenue outside our driveway, and filled their canteens from our hose. We often saw oil slicks and wreckage on the beach from ships sunk off shore by German warships and, because of the threat from enemy fire, we had blackout curtains on our windows and my father was an air-raid warden. My parents were both worried about their families back in Norway, which had been occupied by the Nazis.
When I was 7, my father began working on the construction of the Homestead Air Force base and we moved to Jefferson Avenue and Third Street in Miami Beach , where I met my friend Joan Mooney. We ran wild all over the southern end of Miami Beach, starting at what is now called South Pointe, where we swam in the public pool and went to the movies. I think it cost us about a dime or less. We fished in the bay, played at Flamingo Park or went to Lincoln Road to look at beautiful clothes in the windows of expensive stores.
We spent our summer vacations at the beach where we went almost daily after slathering ourselves with pancake makeup. It was before sunscreens and that was supposed to keep us from burning, but we loved it because we thought it made us look grown-up.
When we were 9 or 10, we often took the bus or the jitney to downtown Miami and went to the movies. We fed the pigeons in Bayfront Park, or rode the ponies which were located where the Omni Mall was built later. If we went to town with one of our mothers, we had lunch at the Seven Seas or Burdines Tea Room, where the big deal was a dessert called a Snow Princess, which I think every old-time Miamian remembers. If we were on our own for lunch, it was the Polly Davis Cafeteria, or a drugstore on Flagler Street across from the Olympia Theatre (now Gusman), where we used to see a movie and a live show.
We were big movie fans, and in those days there were a half a dozen movie theaters in and around downtown Miami, so there was always plenty to do.
In the late 40’s, my parents bought an acre of land in Biscayne Gardens, which was pretty open and uninhabited, and in the early 1950s my dad built our house. It was very different from the close-knit neighborhood I had come from on South Beach — barely five or six houses had been built at that time — but because of that openness, I did get to ride a neighbor’s horse. He was a retired police horse, looking forward to some rest, but he put up with me, and we regularly raced the few cars that ventured along Miami Avenue.