Pioneer's dad brought taste of Italy

Josie Smith came to Miami in 1925 from New York City. Today, she enjoys her life as a South Miami resident.

11/01/2009 1:00 AM

03/04/2010 5:46 PM

This is the story of Josephine Louise Carnevale Smith of South Miami, born in 1920 in New York, as told to her niece, Gina Guilford, of High Pines.

My parents were originally from Italy -- mom from Siena, dad near Naples -- but met in New York City, where they married in 1913. My father, Francesco Carnevale, came to Miami in 1923 and opened the first Italian restaurant here, the Boat House. It was located on a boat on the Miami River, next to the old Royal Palm Hotel, the grande dame hotel that Henry Flagler built on the north bank of the river in downtown Miami on Jan. 17, 1897.

When he got situated, he sent for my mother, Carmelinda, and his four daughters -- Tina, Julia, Josie (me) and Emma. We came down from New York City on a boat in 1925 and my older sister Julia, learned the Charleston on board. I was 5; I don't remember the trip but was told it took five days.

My father catered parties for Al Capone on Star Island. My mother would drive him in her Jewett car to Miami Beach, drop him off with the food and then come back later to pick him up. He also managed the dining room at the Royal Palm Hotel and had another restaurant on 23rd Street in Miami Beach called the Original Italian Kitchen.

I remember he always made sure the portions (such as a slice of lasagna) were the same size, so none of the customers would feel like they were getting gypped. This was around the 1930s and a dish of spaghetti with meatballs was 75 cents.

Growing up, our family would go to picnics and other functions with the Italian American Club. The Fascell family was the first Italian family we met in Miami and we grew up with Dante, who later became a U.S. Representative and for whom Dante Fascell Park in South Miami is named. On Sundays, we would spend the day visiting friends. My mother played the mandolin and others played other instruments.

Another activity we enjoyed was swimming at South Beach, around where Joe's Stone Crab is now. We wore wool bathing suits that were heavy and itchy. We would also listen to Caesar La Monica and his band playing at the bandshell in Royal Palm Park on the weekends. I'm still in touch with his daughter, Jean.

We lived in a house my father built at 767 SW Fifth St., right next to Riverside Park. I still have a scar from sliding down a big oak tree there. My sister Julia met her husband, Jack Rice, one day while he was playing baseball there. After they married, they started one of the first nursing homes in Miami, The Floridean, which is still in operation.

I went to Riverside Elementary and walked to school. I went to Ada Merrit Junior High and Miami Senior High. I remember getting 25-cent haircuts. On Saturdays, my mother could get send us to the movies at the Tivoli Theatre, off Flagler Street. For a 10-cent admission, there were cartoons, Pathe Newsreels, weekly cliffhangers and, of course, the main feature.

After I graduated from Miami High, I got a job working at S.H. Crest, a 5 & 10 store. I made $2 a day as a salesgirl.

I got another job through a friend at First National Bank. Mr. Rolf, the bank president, interviewed me and asked me what I knew about bookkeeping. I told him, ``Absolutely nothing.''

He said, ``Great -- you're hired!''

I learned the job and he used to call me Speedy Gonzalez because I walked so fast. I retired in 1944 when I got married to Red Smith, whom I had met through my sister Julia and her husband Jack. I had my son Robert in 1948. I got divorced in 1955, the same year Marilyn Monroe divorced Joe Di Maggio.

I lived in an apartment near The Pathways in South Miami with my son after my divorce. My whole family would come over for dinner every night and I would cook. My oldest sister Tina had gotten married, but her husband died in 1955. My mother had died on the same date two years earlier, and Emma moved in with Tina. She brought along her beloved poodle, Gigi. Tina eventually got engaged and Emma was going to move out, so we decided to build a house in South Miami, because the apartment didn't allow dogs.

While we were in the middle of building the house, Tina asked, ``Can you add another bedroom?'' She called off her engagement and moved into the house with us in 1959.

Tina was a vice president of Greater Miami Federal bank, Emma was a legal secretary for Bunn Gautier and I stayed home and took care of Robert and the house. Fifty years later, I am still living in the same house.

My son, Robert, his wife Linda and my granddaughter Christina live in the same neighborhood. My other grandson, Craig, lives in Pembroke Pines with his wife Jennifer and my grandbaby Madison.

Every Friday I work in the office of my son's business, Engine and Accessories, as I have for 36 years. I enjoy watching my soap operas on T.V., going to lunch with friends, attending Mass at Epiphany Catholic Church.

And I live right next to Dante Fascell Park, named after my childhood friend.

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