Miami Stories

‘Paradise’ drew this family from Ohio

 

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In print and online: 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

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1932. I had a wonderful time growing up in Cincinnati, playing outside, flying model airplanes and kites, playing baseball, and most everything kids did in that day and age.

My father, an Italian immigrant, came to the United States and settled in Cincinnati. He worked as a machinist and became ill, diagnosed with silicosis, known as dust on the lungs, and was advised by his doctors to leave Ohio to find a warmer climate. My father had a cousin in Miami who invited him down for two weeks. After he arrived in Miami, he called my mother to tell her he had “found paradise” and for us to come to Miami to see if we liked it here.

I was 10 years old when we left Ohio in 1942, arriving in Miami after three days by Greyhound bus. When the bus pulled into the terminal, we could not find my father. Much to our surprise, he approached us in a Hawaiian shirt, hat and sunglasses. We saw the sun, the skyline and water and could not believe the beauty that was upon us.

My father took us to a drugstore with a diner and we had dinner. As we ate, Mom and Dad discussed selling the house in Ohio and moving to Miami. Dad rented a two-bedroom apartment in what is now Little Havana, where we lived while Dad sold the house in Ohio.

Dad purchased two lots in Hialeah, at Ninth Avenue and 12th Street, on the west side. This is where he built our new home. The other lot was plowed and my father kept livestock there and grew fruits and vegetables. In Italy, he had been a farmer, so he used his skills to farm the land. We sold vegetables, fruits, milk, and eggs in order to make a living. We also had chickens and goats.

Mom enrolled me in school and we had a great life while I was growing up in Hialeah. We had land all around us and lots of fields to play in and have fun. We had only one station on television and that was Channel 4. The station went off the air every night at 9 p.m. We had no telephone service, no air conditioning, and did not even have garbage pickup. Dad would bury the garbage in the back yard.

Later, my father bought five and a half acres of land in West Hialeah and began farming that land, too. He sold the crops from the back of his truck in Hialeah every day, and I would help. The silicosis had disappeared and Dad worked hard every day to support me and Mom.

The years passed and I began high school. I played football for Edison High, ran track and field and played basketball. There was a little soda shop across the street from Edison and all the guys and girls would gather there after classes for sodas and just hanging around with all our friends, listening to music and talking. Saturday was date night with our girls, and there were dances and parties all the time. I worked in a laundry that I helped build so I could get enough money to buy a car.

I built model airplanes and flew them at the Hialeah Recreation Park at night on the ball diamond. My friends and I would fly our free-flight models on the weekends in the cow pastures on Hialeah Drive.

We fished in the canals and would hunt in the woods around Hialeah and down in Kendall, where it was no man’s land. We hunted rabbits on Okeechobee Road, and in the Everglades for ducks and pigs. We would bring our game home for my mom to cook, and boy, could my mom cook. Mom was also Italian and she would put on a spread for an army.

My teen life came to an end and I joined the United States Air Force and was a sheet-metal mechanic. I was stationed in Texas, California, Japan, Georgia and the Korean war zone. After four years in the service, I returned to Miami.

My family and friends gathered for a party and I met my wife Vilma, a beautiful Italian woman I fell in love with from across the room. We dated for a year and married in 1955 at Blessed Trinity in Miami Springs. I built a house in Hialeah and we had two children. I worked at National Airlines as a sheet-metal mechanic for a few years while studying at the New York Institute of Photography to become a professional photographer, beginning at the Home News newspaper in Hialeah.

I spent many years as a professional photographer in Miami and worked for many major corporations – Grand Union, Winn-Dixie, many developers, and companies of the food-trade industries. I had the pleasure of photographing and meeting the mayor of Hialeah, Henry Milander, Senator Bob Graham, President John F. Kennedy, Moshe Dayan, and many other dignitaries. I flew aerial assignments all over Miami, and photographed the wonderful skylines of Brickell Avenue and downtown Miami.

My years have caught up with me now and I no longer can do what I did. But what memories I have of this beautiful Miami that my father called paradise. I love the paradise he found and what I helped shape in such a little way.

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