Miami Stories

Eating ‘swamp cabbage’ in the Everglades -- and other wonderful memories

 

Tell us your story

HistoryMiami invites you to share your story about how your family found its way to South Florida.

To submit: Email your stories and photos to miamistories@HistoryMiami.org. Please include caption information with your photos.

In print and online: Look for your story at www.MiamiHerald.com/miamihistory and in Sunday’s Neighbors.

About this project: Miami Stories is a collaboration by HistoryMiami, The Miami Herald, Arva Moore Parks, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and National Conference on Citizenship Chairman Michael Weiser.


Special to The Miami Herald

Our family came from Davidson, Tenn., a coal-mining town. My dad had read many advertisements about coming to Miami, so he and my grandfather came down for a few months and loved it. He never liked working in the coal mines and always said, “You can’t help where you were born, but you don’t have to stay there.”

Anyway, he came back home, packed my mother and his six children in the car and away we went. My youngest brother, Malcolm, was 2, I was 4, and they go up from there.

I remember all the flat tires we had, but we made it.

We got here in August 1926, and we were living in a tourist camp when, on Sept. 8, 1926, the hurricane hit. We were lucky to get to someone’s house. I remember sitting on my mother’s lap with water covering everyone’s feet. People didn’t know about the eye of a hurricane, so everyone started going out and when the hurricane returned, people were caught in it. My sister, Irene, started blowing down the street and a man caught her. My mother asked my dad to take us back to Tennessee, but he never did.

My dad was in the roofing business and, after a few years, he was able to build mother a house. It was on Northwest 49th Street. It is still there and so is the barbecue, where for years our family enjoyed family barbecue and Dad’s vegetables from his garden.

We grew up in the area where the Art District is now. My children and grandchildren often take me down there so I can show them some streets where we lived. We played a lot in Wynwood Park and rode the streetcar that ran from 36th Street and Northeast Second Avenue to downtown. Each Saturday we went to the Biltmore Theater to see a western.

Also, in the late 1920s, a nice neighbor who had a small store on Northwest 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue would take some of us kids and walk to the Seventh Avenue Theater, and on the way home we would stop at a little ice cream parlor and he would buy us a cone. We didn’t really know how bad times were.

All of us went to Buena Vista, Robert E. Lee and Miami Edison High, where my brother, Dub Gracey, was the quarterback. We went to school riding in the rumble seat of Dub’s Model-T Ford. He and I are the only two still living from our family. He’s 93 and when he retired from Delta Airlines, he stayed in Tennessee.

When we were at Edison, a lot of the kids would meet on Saturday in front of the Kress dime store or Burdines to plan our day – whether to go to the movies first, and then the beach or whatever. We loved going to the Olympia Theater; it was so beautiful. I remember seeing Paul Whiteman and his orchestra there once.

We went to the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables for a lot of birthdays. There were a lot of parks and we would go to them, from Crandon and Matheson to Greynolds. In November 1951, about 30 of us from Edison had a picnic at Greynolds Park and we called it, “Our First Edison Reunion.’’

I was in Glee Club at Edison and we sang a lot at the bandstand in Bayfront Park. They had lots of events there. My dad was there when President Roosevelt was almost assassinated. Instead, the mayor of Chicago was killed.

In 1939, I had my first date with my husband to be, Bob Freeman, and he took me to Fort Lauderdale to the “Trianon’’ to see Louis Armstrong.

We married in 1942. He joined the Navy and was stationed for awhile at Opa-locka Naval Air Station, and I worked as a switchboard operator at Southern Bell Telephone Company.

We were out of school before the war started. My brothers, Malcolm and Dub, joined the Navy and were lucky enough to get back home safely.

After most of our boys had joined the service to go war, some of my girlfriends and I would go down to about Fifth Street and Biscayne Bay to see the ships that would come in, and we would talk to the sailors. We would stroll along Biscayne Boulevard, and one night we were in front of the Miami News tower (the Freedom Tower now) when we

saw two planes collide. We ran into the Tower and told the switchboard operator about it. One plane had fallen into the arena and was burning. Luckily, there was nothing happening there that night.

My husband, Bob, was stationed at Lee Field, near Jacksonville, and I worked on the switchboard there. When the war ended we came home and Bob went back to work at the post office. He worked there before the war and his job was waiting for him. I went to work for Eastern Air Lines at a two-position switchboard for reservations on

the 12th floor of the Ingraham Building. I was foolish and didn’t go to the airport when they moved out there, but I did get another job with the then-beginning of the answering services, where I was supervisor for a few years.

I retired when my first child, Bob Jr., was born.

My husband loved to hunt and fish in the Everglades. After the war he once took me out with him. I had to sleep in a hammock, we ate “swamp cabbage’’ and drank our water from what I called an artesian well. That’s how clean the water in the Everglades was.

I have lived in Miami and North Miami all of my life and I have been in this house for 62 years. I’m 90 now, and I just wrote my early years in Miami. I’m also writing my memories for my family. I still love Miami and like going downtown!

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