There are memories we carry in our hearts and shape who we become. My memories of Miami began on April 27, 1957, when my “pioneering” parents, Lucy and Alan Meyer, brother Joel and I walked down the stairs of a prop plane at Miami International Airport into a strange new world. The air was different, the trees were different, the light brighter, the streets emptier. … We weren’t in New York anymore.
Our first few years were spent in Coral Gardens, off the Trail and Southwest 34th Avenue, a complex of attached apartments, a haven for families who came south to follow dreams and establish their own businesses. For years, my nightly ritual included looking under the bed and in the closet for snakes. In my 7-year-old mind, they were synonymous with Miami.
My most cherished memory captured the indomitable spirit of my mother. Seated around an umbrella table at Jimmy’s Hurricane with baskets of fried chicken and hush puppies, my mother looked at the sky and said, “Have you ever seen such a beautiful sunset?”
As with so many who “immigrated” to Miami, she left behind a loving, close-knit family, a life she treasured, and moved to a land inhabited by roaches that flew. Yet all she saw was beauty. To this day, that brilliant sunset and her words are etched in memory.
During my first few months of second grade at Auburndale Elementary, I felt as if I didn’t belong. It was an important lesson in understanding, to a small extent, the difficulties faced in starting over. Kept after school weekly for not following directions, I was told to “apply” myself. A difficult order when I didn’t understand what my teacher was saying. Her heavy Southern accent turned English into a foreign language.
So many things seemed foreign about Miami in those early years. The most significant was going into stores and seeing two water fountains. Neither then, nor now, could I understand prejudice. This lesson, too, influenced the work I would ultimately do. But little by little, Miami became home. Three years later, we moved to the Westchester area, into a three-bedroom, two-bath palace purchased for $17,000!
I loved Fridays when my father would return from business trips around the state or just the end of a long week, as he and our mother worked to grow Meyer Sales Service. Housed in its infancy in a small office on Flagler Street across from Dade County Auditorium, Meyer Sales moved to our home garage, and finally to an office warehouse in Hialeah Gardens.
Weekends we were tourists, climbing palm trees at Matheson Hammock, fishing off the side of the road by the MacArthur Causeway, or splashing on rafts in the ocean. Family night was often bowling at Bird Bowl or movies at Tropical Park Drive-In. Special occasions were celebrated at the Saxony Hotel’s “La Nosherie,” a haven for ice-cream lovers.
Many fond memories revolved around our small 19-foot boat. I loved to sit at the front, legs dangling over the helm, wind blowing in my face. We went water skiing, fishing and picnicking at Flagler Monument Island in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Sometimes we docked at Dockside Terrace for lunch. Often we’d boat to concerts at the Marine Stadium — magical moments.
Beyond the fun and the sun, Miami gave me two extraordinary gifts: education and friendships. My fourth-grade teacher at Auburndale nurtured my love of reading and allowed me to give daily book reports; my sixth-grade teacher at Coral Park Elementary gave me a sense of self and the realization that teachers change lives. Teachers at Rockway Junior and Miami Coral Park Senior instilled a love of learning. Together, they cemented a passion to teach.
My “forever friends” helped shape my life. Their friendships have stood the test of time and distance, formed in and out of school, playing tennis on the courts of Westbrook Country Club or forged while filling water pitchers and running errands as a candy striper at South Miami Hospital.
A highlight in my teens was my involvement in T’sion BBG (B’nai B’rith Girls). Committed to community involvement, we held countless car washes and sold thousands of chocolate bars to support local charities. It also afforded the opportunity for great social outings. Our annual “formals” took us to Miami Beach’s most popular hotels, where we saw legends, including Sammy Davis Jr. and Diana Ross.
Looking back, the late ’50s through mid-’60s was a time of innocence. In elementary school, we hid under our desks and covered our heads in anticipation of nuclear attacks, but we were invincible. We rode the bus to downtown Miami in our early teens, unafraid. Front doors were unlocked, endless hours were spent outside roller skating and jumping rope. We went trick-or-treating (for candy and for UNICEF) until 11 p.m., with no worries about who was behind the door. We stayed “kids” longer.
In 1967, I left home to attend the University of Florida, then moved to Atlanta to begin my career as a teacher. But I missed my family and in 1972 returned to Miami. My husband, Jay, a pharmacist, joined my father and brother in the family business. Together, we raised our two children, David and Ken, and watched them grow into extraordinary husbands and fathers who live their lives with a commitment to others.
My career in education has taken me into the classrooms of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, into the Office of Advanced Academics, and through the doors of WPLG (Channel 10) working as associate producer for Kid’s Beat Magazine, for which we won a Florida Emmy. In 2003, I was honored as the Miami-Dade Teacher of the Year. For the past 12 years, I’ve taught at the University of Miami’s School of Education and Human Development, passing the torch to a new generation of educators who will have the privilege of working with children and transforming lives.
I have watched Miami grow from a quiet town into a vibrant city. I love Miami for all its possibilities and for its cultural diversity, which enrich the lives of us all, and for its blue oceans, which still fill me with joy. But what I will remember most are Miami’s bright sunsets flaming across the sky and fanning memories of a lifetime.
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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.