Miami Stories

A hope to rebuild during the Depression

 

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About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Company, WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.


Special to the Miami Herald

It was the depths of the Depression, 1937, when my parents Manny and Grace LaCalle pulled into Miami with their two girls in the back seat of the car.

After many jobs and homes in five other states, my father had an offer from Schenley Distillers. They shipped all their belongings and drove to Miami from New York.

He began as a window trimmer, decorating the windows of liquor stores. His hard work was rewarded by promotion to salesman and eventually he was offered the position of sales manager for the state of Florida. It would mean relocating to Jacksonville.

After thinking about it and talking it over with my mother, he realized that people save all their lives so they can retire to Miami. He was here now, why would he leave? He refused the promotion and was never offered another.

Summers in pre-air-conditioned Miami were so hot – especially if you were used to New York weather – that our mom would take us to NYC on the Silver Meteor as soon as school let out for the summer.

By 1940, the LaCalles had saved enough to buy a home. Sts. Peter and Paul Church was new and proposed to build a school, but my parents had experienced similar proposals in New York where the schools were not started for 20 years, so they built their home across the street from Coral Way Elementary School. The following year, Sts. Peter and Paul School opened and my sister and I had to walk more than a quarter of a mile each way to school.

The following year, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The family heard the news on the car radio on a sunny Florida Sunday as we were driving around the Air Base in Opa-locka.

Since my father fell into a very small demographic, too young for World War I and too old for World War II, he and my mother volunteered in Civil Defense, him as an air-raid warden and her as a switchboard operator, as she had experience from working for Bell Telephone.

1941 was also the year that a song my grandfather, Joseph LaCalle, composed rose to number one on the Hit Parade. This song, “Amapola” (Spanish for poppy), had been used by the New York school system for teaching purposes and was included in “The Three Tenors Concert,” the best-selling classical recording of all time. The Three Tenors liked it so much they recorded it in their second concert. Andrea Bocelli also sang it as the first number on his recording “Amore.”

My sister, Dolores, and I attended Gesu High School in downtown Miami because of a shortage of teachers at Sts. Peter and Paul School during the war years. Gesu High was torn down subsequently to pave a parking lot, Miami style.

I studied at Barry College after graduating from Gesu High School and Dolores attended a nursing school in West Palm Beach.

After completing 30 years with the City of Miami, during which time I was the legal administrator to the city attorney, I entered a 15-year career as a professional actress. Most recently, I was a cast member of the movie, “Bart Got a Room.”

Dolores’ family moved to the north part of the state and now live in the Mount Dora area.

My daughter presently resides in Ft. Lauderdale after raising a family in Rochester, NY. One of my sons is an electrician in Sarasota, FL. My other son is an instructor with Miami-Dade Transit; his wife, who was born in Cuba, is the operations manager of a local company.

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