A lifetime of warmth, beach and flips flops


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Special to the Miami Herald

I grew up on the North Shore of Boston in the ‘50s and ‘60s in a small blue-collar town with its four seasons. It took me years to figure out why every year I would get “blue” in August. I loved summer, beaches, the sun, and walking around in flip flops. In August, I knew the winter, the cold and snow were coming and I did not like that fact.

Once, in my early 20s, I begged my girlfriends to take a trip somewhere in warmer climate where there were beaches, sun, and I could walk around in flip flops. The three of us traveled to Bermuda and, on my second day there, while I was sunning on famous Horse Shoe beach, along came my future husband with two of his friends, all from Italy.

Marcello and I hit it off right away, even though I thought he was German and told him that. (He had blond hair and green eyes.) With his hands flying around, he told me he was Italian and from Tuscany. Six months later, we were married and were trying to decide whether to live in Boston, Bermuda, or somewhere else.

Marcello told me that when he was a little boy he always dreamed of Miami Beach. He also is a beach bum, likes the sun, heat, and walking around in flip flops. So, the bold decision was made that we would move to South Florida.

Marcello flew down in late 1972 and stayed with my second cousin until he found a job and an apartment for what was now a family of three (our daughter Diana was born in Boston in October 1972). He found a job at famous Valenti’s Restaurant on U.S. 1 in Kendall, and worked there for several years.

Marcello’s goal was to own and operate an Italian restaurant within five years of our settling in Miami in early 1973. He made that dream come true in 1977 when he opened Il Pappagallo Italian Cuisine in Perrine on U.S. 1. It was a small restaurant that could seat approximately 55 people, and it was very successful for almost 30 years. Marcello and several of his original staff -- Karin from Germany, Anna from Italy, and Ugo from Argentina -- were with us for many years. People came from all over Miami-Dade, and even from the Keys and Broward County, to dine in our quaint little restaurant.

Our first residence was in King’s Creek apartments across from the huge Dadeland Mall. I would walk there with my newborn daughter and shop at Jordan Marsh and Burdines. A couple of years later, we moved to the Briar Bay/Falls area and have owned our home for 34 years. I now walk to The Falls and shop at Macy’s.

Our second daughter Cristina was born at Baptist Hospital in Kendall on Christmas day, 1974. On Cristina’s 10th birthday we hired a white limo and had the limo driver dress up as Santa and we ate at the beautiful Reflections restaurant in Bayside. For fun, we would take day trips and a picnic lunch to the Keys, Matheson Hammock, Cape Florida and Miami Beach. Life was good.

Our daughters went to Killian and Palmetto schools and received their degrees from Florida International University. They now live in Central Florida but still love Miami and would like to move back.

While Marcello was at his beloved restaurant, I worked for the federal government in Miami for 36 years as an international trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce. In this position, I was very lucky to have met many members of the international community, exporters, and local, state and federal government officials. It has been a joy to see how Miami International Airport and PortMiami have grown into world class operations. In 2009, I received the International Women’s Day Award from the World Trade Center Miami and in 2011, the International Business Woman of the Year Award from the Organization for Women in International Trade.

The Santucci family will always remember how Miami was a small city and how it has changed since we arrived in 1973. Back then, the tallest building in downtown Miami was a bank and, of course, the Dade County Courthouse on Flagler. Miami Beach was full of rental apartments for the elderly and you would see them sitting out on the front porches in rocking chairs, enjoying the salt air and sunshine.

We did survive Hurricane Andrew even though we lost the restaurant business for four months, and our home was half destroyed. We never thought of leaving, but only thought of rebuilding. On the first day of reopening our restaurant we gave all proceeds to Zoo Miami (then Metro Zoo) and to a homeless shelter.

Miami is and will always be our home town. We love that it has evolved into an international city with people from many cultures and countries. On our small cul de sac we have families from China, El Salvador, Brazil, Cuba, and other U.S. states.

Over the years, we took at least 15 cruises, and have made many trips to Italy to visit Marcello’s family and to New England to visit my family. But, we are always pleased to return to our home, Miami.

I was always amazed at one coincidence Marcello and I shared. He and I were both born near the 42nd parallel north -- he in Tuscany, Italy, and I near Boston, Massachusetts. And from our early childhood years, we both knew we wanted to live south in a warmer climate.

Marcello and I are now retired near the 26th parallel north in Briar Bay/The Falls, and are enjoying the sun, beaches, and walking around in our flip flops! Dreams do come true…..

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