All of these years and still a paradise

 

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Special to the Miami Herald

I may be the only person who can say they were born on Sesame Street.

I did not live with Big Bird, but instead in a house at 1216 Sesame St., in Opa-locka, where I was born in 1934. I lived there with my parents, my brother Danny and my sister Judi until my marriage to Larry Ricke in 1953.

My family has been in Dade County since the late 1800s. My great-grandfather, Bartholomy DeWinkler, was the first postmaster at Arch Creek. He arrived in Arch Creek, now known as North Miami, in 1904, and my father Wilbur Dale was born there in 1908.

My mother Margaret Anderson Dale moved to Opa-locka from Wisconsin in 1926. Her father Charles Anderson was persuaded to move after her grandmother returned from a visit to Miami and called it “paradise.” My mother’s family of nine traveled to Opa-locka in a flatbed truck on which my grandfather built a small structure, rather like today’s mobile home or camper. When they arrived, they removed the structure and lived in it and tents until they could build a permanent home. My grandfather got a job right away with the city of Opa-locka doing general maintenance and landscaping and stayed until his retirement.

My parents both attended Dade County Agricultural High School, which later became Miami Edison High. They met at a local dance that was held on the tennis court in Opa-locka. (I like to play tennis and my mother said it was because my parents met there). They were married and settled in Opa-locka in 1934. My father held various positions with the city, including city manager, commissioner and mayor. My grandmother, May Anderson, started the Opa-Locka Woman’s Club and the city library.

My brother and I went to school at Opa-locka Elementary, William Jennings Bryan Junior High, and Miami Edison Senior High. The elementary school was within walking distance, but we had to travel by school bus to junior and senior high. Our younger sister is quite a bit younger than we and attended Westview Junior High and Hialeah High, which were closer to home.

Growing up in Opa-locka was a lot of fun. We had so much freedom to walk around town, and play basketball, tennis and softball at the park behind the City Hall. After the U.S. Naval Reserve air base was closed, the city took over some of the facilities and we had access to swimming pools, a movie theater, an outdoor skating rink, and a bowling alley, where my brother worked as a pin setter.

The theater was where I first saw Gone with the Wind, which was so long it required an intermission. We also participated in the Arabian Nights festivals by dressing up in our Arabian costumes and parading on the main street, Sharazad Boulevard.

Even as preteens, my brother and I were able to travel safely by bus without our parents. We loved to go to the movies at the Center Theater in Edison Center. There was always a cartoon, a short subject and a serial episode before the main feature. The serial always ended with a “cliff-hanger” that kept you in suspense until the next week. The main feature could be a western, Tarzan, or Abbott and Costello.

Sometimes we even traveled all the way to downtown Miami by bus to see a movie in one of the movie theaters on Flagler Street. The most interesting theater was the Olympia Theater (The Gusman), with its beautiful architecture and lighted ceiling that was painted to look like the night sky. At the Olympia, there was also a live stage show with a comedian, singer or magician before the movie.

On our walks around downtown, we might stop in the five-and-dime stores like McCrory’s or Woolworth’s to see a live demonstration of the latest toy or kitchen gadget. We might pass by the shop of Jahn the Magic Man to see the magic tricks and games, or pass by the psychic, Dr. Seward. Of course, we never went into Dr. Seward’s establishment, but he was a fascination to say the least. Some kids nicknamed him Dr. Seeweed.

Right next to the bus stop where we waited for the bus to go back to Opa-locka was a fruit stand that sold fresh-squeezed orange juice. I can still remember the aroma of oranges and other fruits. We could spend the whole day in downtown for around a dollar, including the bus fare. My brother and I are now amazed at the freedom we had to travel around safely.

During high school at Miami Edison High, I was a member of the Miami Edison Cadettes Marching Team. We marched in the New Year’s Eve parade and during the half time at Miami Edison football games. My brother was on the first Edison High football team to beat Miami High in 28 years. There was fierce rivalry between Miami High and Edison High and the Thanksgiving Day football game at the Orange Bowl was well attended.

My husband’s family moved to Miami from Chicago when Larry was an infant. We met through mutual friends at Edison High, were married in 1953 and bought a house in Opa-locka. We had nine children and all but one, who was born in Germany when Larry was in the Army, were born in Dade County. Most of our 17 grandchildren were born in Dade County as well. We now have a fifth generation born in Florida, a great-granddaughter born in Jacksonville and a great-grandson born in Orlando.

South Florida has changed greatly in my 78 years. Now I am a great-grandmother and I agree with my great-grandmother that it is still paradise.

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