Miami's small-town feel recalled

11/15/2009 1:00 AM

03/04/2010 5:46 PM

The list could go on forever: The Treniers, Pickin' Chicken, Sleepy Time Gal, Parhams, Club Calvert, Bible Joe, The Rockin' MB, Chary's, Silver Dollar Jake, Fun Fair, The Miami News, Embers, Riverside Military Academy, My Dad.

When we wonder what happened to -- or simply miss -- the people, places and things that played a part in our youth, we are reassured by those four stalwarts still holding up the Casablanca.

Our story, like everyone who relocated to Miami, is filled with contrasts: high hopes then, and, looking back, lots of nostalgia.

When we drive around streets that have always been familiar haunts, we are disoriented by missing landmarks no longer where they could be counted upon, and overwhelmed by the numerous and oversized buildings that replaced them. At the same time, we are filled with pride over the mega-metropolis we have grown into. We miss the small town feel but appreciate the growth, the development and the impressive skyline.

1947 -- Miami Beach development only went up as far as the McFadden Deauville Hotel around 66th Street and Collins Avenue -- a sprawling green low-rise complex with a huge swimming pool and three diving boards. There, a father taught his very young son and younger daughter to put on a water show for the guests by diving into the pool. Thrilling and scary entertainment then; today, maybe child abuse.

1947 -- That was the year my young, handsome father came down to Miami to find work after being fired by the post office in New Jersey after he punched a fellow employee who made a disparaging remark about Jews. Staying with his sister, brother-in-law and their baby daughter in their small apartment in Coral Gables, the promised paradise provided a disappointing first job: selling ice cream from a box attached to the back of a bicycle.

When Jack Winer landed a more substantial opportunity as doorman at the International Hotel on Miami Beach, he sent for his wife Ruth, daughter and son Richard. Our beautiful young mother -- she taught us to say that -- sold our home in Camden, packed our belongings, loaded up the 1939 Oldsmobile, and we were on our way.

At the age of 10 and 6, Richard and I recall only some of the sights we visited along the way: the Washington Monument, cotton fields where we picked bolls to treasure, and the oldest city, St. Augustine. Our first Spanish words were Ponce de Leon, but the Fountain of Youth remained lost and we were too young to care. We do now.

When we arrived here that first day, the color of the water took our breath away. Not the dark blue of Atlantic City's ocean, this was bright aqua and deep turquoise. And best of all, we could take our shoes and socks off and walk barefoot.

Oh yeah, and right across from that crowded apartment we shared with aunt, uncle and cousin, oranges grew on trees -- real oranges you could walk to, pick off, peel and eat.

We arrived on Thanksgiving Day and we gave thanks.

From doorman to pool attendant to pool manager, Jack provided for family and we moved into our very own one-room, one-bath efficiency, then graduated to a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, then bought a tiny cottage, and a cocker spaniel.

Those were the days when small children could walk by themselves six blocks at night to get ice cream cones at a neighborhood drug store. Drug stores had food and fountain service, with a long counter, and stools that twisted around. Movies were 14 cents at the Normandy or Surf Theater on Saturday matinees, plus 6 cents for candy. We each brought home change from our quarter.

We kids attended Coral Gables, North Beach, and Biscayne elementary schools, then Nautilus and Miami Beach High.

Jack managed pools and cabanas at the Martinique, Golden Sands, Atlantic Towers, Bel Aire, Monte Carlo, Dunes, Lombardy, Attache' and Thunderbird Motels. Everyone worked for Jack at one time or another, including his daughter, son, grandsons, and even Murph the Surf, the thief who stole the Star of India.

Greynolds Park, an important landmark, is one of the few things in our lives that remains a constant. Though the horse stables where I rode are gone, the park was, and still is, a place to picnic, jog, hike, bike, boat, roll down the grassy hill from the fort, and observe wildlife that refuses to be eliminated.

It was where I spent my second date with my future husband Ezra, a field trip for our children, Izzy, Ken and Jordana, and a playground and adventure for our seven grandchildren. Ezra and I built our home two blocks from its back entrance.

Ezra's family came here from the Bronx in 1939. They witnessed German POWs held where the Miami Beach Convention Center is now. He completed his college studies at The U, both BA and MBA, and now mentors students in the School of Business after concluding his years as an entrepreneur in partnership with a college buddy, another New York transplant.

We've been a lucky family: In the same house more than 48 years, married more than 52 years, with our two sons and daughter, their mates and children, my brother too, only minutes away. With my mother, defying mortality, working four days a week, we've resisted change. With support and encouragement from Ezra, I published a novel recently and surprised folks with a good read. When I attempted to sell our house and move into a condominium, the idea was quashed. This lucky house is headquarters for our gang.

Our only touch of bad luck came when Jack left us all too soon, with only good memories.

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