Transplanted mulberry tree a metaphor for longtime Miami-area family

04/11/2010 1:00 AM

05/08/2010 3:04 PM

After a bitter winter in 1949, my parents, Philip and Mary, and my sister Filippa and I headed south to visit my maternal grandparents, Elizabeth and Peter Sapundjieff, who had become Floridians in 1946.

Grandma and Grandpa had become the proud owners of the Cleveland Apartments, which was located in downtown Miami next to the old YWCA. They also owned the Columbia Hotel just down the street.

Their home was an old estate in Coconut Grove named Treasure Trove, between Tigertail and South Bayshore Drive. Years later, in a deteriorated state, Treasure Trove would be featured in the Frank Sinatra movie Tony Roma.

Within six months of our return to New York, my parents would sell our home in Flushing, as well as their silk-screen printing business in the Manhattan garment district, the Marfil Company.

Soon, we were Florida-bound in a Pullman car with our personal possessions and a branch from a mulberry tree that was carefully taken from my Uncle Frank's backyard in Staten Island. During the next six months we lived in a large garage apartment at Treasure Trove, overlooking the plush sunken gardens and the natural stone carvings that still stand today. Immediately, our attention turned to locating a parcel of land to construct my dad's dream of a country home and farm. A 10-acre tract on North Kendall Drive was selected for two reasons:

1. The mosquito test, which consisted of getting out of our car and counting the number of mosquitoes that would land on your arm in one minute. (The Old Cutler area was immediately eliminated since we could not last more then 15 seconds for fear of needing a blood transfusion. Kendall yielded the lowest count.)

2. Kendall Drive was the most major east-west dead-end street, and Dad envisioned its future development. At that time, Kendall Drive consisted of two dairies and several orange groves and farmland.

It was there that we built our house and planted our mulberry branch.

By my 4th birthday in May 1950, construction was completed on our new home. Our closest neighbor down the road was Janet Reno and her parents.

Soon, our new family business, Summerland Tropical Fish Farms, was established and continued to flourish, as did the mulberry tree. That is, until 1969 when the property on Kendall Drive, now on a six-lane highway, was sold for development.

We headed farther south to the edge of the Redland and relocated to Southwest 248th Street, also known as Coconut Palm Drive. A new home and tropical fish farm was constructed, but, before moving, the old mulberry tree was pruned back, removed and replanted in its present location.

Sixty years have passed since we fled the frozen North. The tropical fish farm remains open to the public. With my parents gone, I am now a member of the older generation.

I have seen many changes in Dade County, both good and bad, but one thing remains the same for the Marraccini family -- the beauty of our mulberry tree. Its branches reach toward the sky for the same warmth that we came seeking so many years ago, the same reason generations to come will continue to flock to sunny South Florida.

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