Warm city lures family out of cold
01/17/2010 1:00 AM
05/08/2010 3:04 PM
It was August 1957 and my mother and I had driven for three days in her 1956, blue-and-white Mercury. A drive that took us from the cold winters of the Catskills in New York to Miami in search of warm weather and a job prospect for my stepfather.
I can remember my mother exclaiming, ``Oh, how balmy,'' in her Dutch accent when we stopped in Golden Beach for a hot fudge sundae.
In those days, there were no condos or hotels blocking the ocean's breeze -- just the cool night air.
Shortly after our arrival, we rented a house on Northeast 173rd Street and Second Avenue. It was small, but I had my own room where I could play Johnny Mathis records all night long. I would fall asleep to his singing and the hum of a fan.
In 1958, I became a ninth grader in North Miami High. Corky's restaurant on Northeast 163rd Street in North Miami Beach became ``the place.'' You could sit at a table, order fries and a Coke and sit with your friends for the whole evening.
When we finished eating, we moved to the parking lot, where we turned on the car radios. We slow danced to the Drifters, fast danced to the Everly brothers and sang to the Capri's.
Relationships were made and broken in that parking lot -- thanks to the owner of Corky's.
And then there was 48th Street Beach. Right next to the Eden Roc Hotel -- now the Wyndham -- 48th Street Beach was THE hangout for teens from all over Miami. We sat there for hours, walking from blanket to blanket, sharing old stories and making up new ones.
One day I saw a handsome young guy sitting on the stone wall. I noticed a crowd gathering around him so I walked closer. I couldn't believe it -- it was Johnny Mathis!
My stepdad, Eugene Damsker, played piano in the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, which then was only 3 years old.
The hotel housed many famous nightclubs. Names such as The GiGi Room, The Boom Boom Room, The Poodle Lounge and the famous La Ronde Room featured many famous stars of the day -- Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and Tony Martin.
I remember my friends and me standing outside The Boom Boom Room, with our ears pinned to its glass doors, listening to the Latin rhythms of Pupi Campo and his orchestra. If we stood outside long enough, the ``maitre d'' would finally let us in and give us a table close to the band. We would mambo andcha-cha our hearts out.
Years later, my stepdad returned to where his heart was -- classical music and composing. I will never forget the night he was the featured soloist with the Miami Beach Symphony. On Feb. 13, 1966, he performed his original composition, Variations on a Theme From Ernest Gold's Exodus' and got a standing ovation.
From 1965-67, my stepdad was the featured pianist in the Sammy Spear Orchestra at the Miami Beach Theatre for the Performing Arts. Sammy Spear was the conductor for the Jackie Gleason Show. Those were the days when the famous Honeymooners was broadcast live and televised all over the country.
My mother, Mira Damsker was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to a very artistic family. Before Hitler invaded Holland, her parents sent her to London to study art with the Polish painter, Raymond Kanelba. Because of the impending danger in Europe in 1940, her parents sent her to New York to live with an uncle. She never saw her parents or brother again, who were victims of the Holocaust.
For 12 years, she taught oil painting at Miami Dade Community College. In the 1970s, 10 of her paintings were displayed in the Fine Arts Theatre on 21st Street in Miami Beach. The Miami Herald interviewed her and took a picture of her in front of one of her paintings -- a Russian Dancer named Juta, which now adorns our walls.
In September 1977, my mom appeared again in The Herald Neighbors Section. The title of the article was, Vegetarianism: Diet Makes Her Nicer. The article was accompanied by a photo of her sitting at her kitchen table -- her face glowing with pride at her recently concocted vegetarian fare. My mother passed away six years ago. I know that somewhere, she is proud that her name is back in The Herald Neighbors' section, once again -- via her daughter.
I have been living in the Miami area for more than 50 years. I went to school here, married here, raised my children here. Although the landmarks have changed or disappeared, they are imprinted in my memory and will last forever.
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