Finishing her mama’s journey

10/11/2012 4:36 PM

10/11/2012 4:39 PM

Wanderer Buddy Hayes painted his way from Depression-torn Atlanta eastward to Charleston, S.C.. He settled in North Charleston, where he frequented a popular local restaurant.

In a cold Connecticut convent, Marie and Helen, two nuns from immigrant families, had grown up together, singing popular songs like Begin the Beguine, about tropical nights and swaying palms. They ran away for Miami one bitterly cold morning. Helen had a nice car, Marie had a nice case of wanderlust.

They got along fine all the way to Charleston— a town of warm winter days, beaches, and swaying palm trees. Then, sitting in a popular restaurant north of Charleston, the two friends argued.

“Just go on without me, I’m staying here,” Marie told Helen.

Then without leaving that restaurant, Marie found a job, a roommate, and, on her first day at work, Buddy Hayes walked in and found her.

Fast-forward to 1946: Buddy and Marie have two little children, my brother Jim and me, and she’s pregnant again. “Aunt” Helen is visiting from Florida. They’re laughing about old times and singing Begin the Beguine.

Mama died in childbirth with that third child. Helen’s visit is a rare memory of her. When I played piano years later, my father gave me sheet music for Begin the Beguine, which I played repeatedly hoping she could hear me.

Before the ‘60’s brought us hippies, the decade brought us beatniks and coffeehouse poetry. I wrote my own “drifter” songs and poetry, but I eventually married anyway, moved to a Low Country island, and excused my wanderlust as youthful notion.

When we separated in ‘71, the Midnight Cowboy theme became my Begin the Beguine. I left my last day of work in a sun shower – rare for Charleston – while my car radio played, “I’m going where the sun keeps shining, through the pouring rain...” I had left my job, my husband, his island, our friends. Mama, it’s time for Miami, I thought.

I felt her beside me on the drive and when I landed a job at the great JM, Jordan Marsh’s gorgeous five-story downtown store. I found a nearby apartment at the Bayshore Drive home of feisty matriarch Adelaide Allocca.

Oh Mama, I can walk out my door and see Biscayne Bay! Across 18th Street was the small, homey Miramar Hotel, where I breakfasted on Sundays with only Mama’s spirit and The Miami Herald for company. J C Penney was a block west, on Biscayne. Across Bayshore from Jordan Marsh were the Herald building, the Seaboard building, a cathedral, and the Miami Women’s Club. A vacant lot lay between the cathedral and the Women’s Club with a dock where yachtsmen frequently tied up, came ashore, and crossed Bayshore Drive to shop at Jordan Marsh.

Although they were decades older than me, Adelaide and her friends became my first source of Miami social life and information. She and her sons welcomed me at Thanksgiving. She enlisted me to drive her places, to join her card-playing socials. When I admired the Women’s Club’s gracefully sloping coconut palms, they told me about the lethal yellowing that was expected to wipe out all our palms. One card player, Mary Fascelli, introduced me to her son Dante. “He dropped the ‘i’ from his name when he went into politics,” Adelaide explained later; I had just met Dante Fascell, Florida’s most famous Congressional representative of the time.

Both JM and the Herald had employee cafeterias, and as many Herald people ate at ours as did JM employees at the Herald’s. Three outstanding Herald cafeteria moments:

1.Briefly meeting John Keasler, my favorite Miami News columnist.

2. Complaining to coworkers about a doughnut-shaped roll that seemed stale. The JM ladies laughed, but the next morning at breakfast they showed me how bagels should be toasted, buttered, and savored.

3. An alarming glimpse out the cafeteria window, eye to eye with the huge Goodyear Blimp that appeared to be coming in at us. But it was only positioning for a landing across the channel at Watson Island.

Walking home from Bayfront Park one day, I noticed people gathering, standing on the sidewalk. I asked someone what was happening and was told, “Orange Bowl Parade is coming.”

How could I have forgotten? My father and I watched that parade every year on TV, and I could already hear the music. So I stayed too. The Coppertone float, carrying four attractive young men, drew the loudest cheers. “It’s the Rhodes Brothers,” someone said of Miami’s iconic, nationally known entertainers.

Before I left JM and downtown, Adelaide’s neighbors buzzed with rumors that a large shopping mall would soon take over our neighborhood between Bayshore and Biscayne, between JM and JC Penney’s. Offers were made to Adelaide and her neighbors, but she swore to hold out.

Years later, I returned downtown to the multi-storied Omni Mall, with its huge carousel in the round feature window. Jordan Marsh and J C Penney anchored it, and the Omni monster had devoured all the homes between, except for Adelaide’s. Her place still stood, a little dog ear carved out of Omni’s northeast corner. She had held out like she said she would.

From somewhere far away, I heard an ex-nun laugh.

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