Miami Stories

Family acclimates to South Florida lifestyle

I started my life insurance career in Norfolk, Va., then transferred to South Florida in early January 1964 to manage my company’s Miami district office.

I had previously rented a small, new house in Coral Gables for my wife Barbara and two young daughters, Jane, 7, and Margaret, 5. What we didn’t know was that there was a minimum size requirement for houses, and to qualify, the builder put a bomb shelter underground, in the garage, covered over by a steel plate so a car could still park. It was an airless hole in the ground, and fortunately we never had to use it.

At the end of the first year we all posed for a picture against a palm tree at Tahiti Beach, now a private enclave, and placed our photo on our New Year’s card, which we sent to our Virginia friends to wish them a warm new year.

After a few years, Barbara started what became a successful interior design practice while continuing her studies of languages, and was among the first to enroll in the new Alliance Française in downtown Miami.

Early on we joined the original Coral Oaks Tennis Club, then owned by the tennis pro Leo Fullwood. I still play in the mornings with “the Dumbheads,” a name conferred upon them by Leo, a group of men who show up for round-robin tennis each morning.

I was given the opportunity to invest with a man in Key West who was diving for sunken Spanish gold. My money is still at the bottom of the ocean, but a year later, Mel Fisher discovered a vast quantity of Spanish bullion and jewels.

Some friends and I went scuba diving in the Keys, only to find upon surfacing a waiting police officer who suspected us of robbing the crab pots. After we were searched and found empty handed, we were released.

Several years after our arrival, the insurance company I worked for moved their offices into a new high-rise office building built in downtown Miami after World War II, the Ferre Building at 100 Biscayne Blvd. From my office, I had a beautiful view of the seaplane as it arrived each day from Bimini. In those days, you could literally shoot off a cannon on Biscayne Boulevard in the summer and hit no one. Parking was no problem. All that was soon to change.

I still miss the fine dining at the Pub on Coral Way, and my favorite wedge of lettuce and the three choices of dressing. Fortunately, we can still go to Whip ‘n Dip on Sunset Drive for our favorite ice-cream desserts.

Eventually, we bought a home in the Gables, conveniently located near Sunset Elementary, Ponce Junior High, Coral Gables High and the now-defunct Deerborne School.

To this day, I’m like a walking Chamber of Commerce, but from the beginning, my wife Barbara would complain about the heat and humidity. I would reply, “Off to Fargo, North Dakota!” reminiscent of Jackie Gleason’s “To the Moon!” remark to Alice in the then-popular “Honeymooners” TV show. I finally mailed my comments to the Fargo newspaper asking for their sympathy, and they not only printed my letter but also put it on the radio, prompting a flood of letters to my wife, inviting her to come to beautiful Fargo and stay with them.

The years were passing too quickly. We moved to our second home on Hammock Lake and resided there almost 30 years, where my mother-in-law swore she saw an alligator in the lake and we were hesitant to let the children go swimming. I remember going for the newspaper one morning and seeing snow that melted as it hit the ground. It was the only time in my 50 years that that had occurred. Many trees and plants were damaged, but the following spring was the most beautiful I can remember.

I loved to garden in our lakeside yard. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 did minimal damage to our house but destroyed all my plants. We started all over and it was so beautiful the next year that it made The Villager’s Garden Tour.

Eventually, I became the South Florida agency manager for my company and retired Jan. 1, 1990. Then I volunteered for 10 years as a docent at Zoo Miami, taking people on private tours and carrying animals to schools and nursing homes. In 2014, Barbara and I will celebrate our 60th year of marriage, which we can partially attribute to limiting our games of mixed doubles in tennis, as the photo attests. I fell in love with South Florida from day one and look forward to that love affair continuing into the rest of my life.