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.