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Named Best Museum 2022 by Miami New Times

Long before Coconut Grove’s first high-rise was built at 2951 S. Bayshore Dr., that address was known as The Compound and described by Miami Herald reporter Stephen Trumbull “…a pastoral setting of cottages…occupied by newspaper and news wire service men and women…” and UM professors. The verdant property would become Sailboat Bay Apartments, later The Mutiny Hotel. The heyday of The Compound was mid-1950’s to June of ‘67. A paradigm shift was occurring in Miami and changes at this address reflect historic change to all the city. This fragment of interconnecting history concerns some of The Compound’s residents in a short span of years.

Historic references to The Compound are few, I located some details from Herald stories and research into the life of one of The Compound’s celebrated residents, my aunt, Evelyn DeTardo Hively. By her 1953 Edison graduation, Evelyn had a scholarship to the University of Miami and was a Herald copy boy. By June she was Herald Staff Writer with an article: Evelyn Faces Life reporting on an illegal, pornographic dime peep show. Later she wrote a special series to expose illicit activities behind seemingly innocent ads placed in the Herald, ads offering young women the opportunity to become fashion models but really fronts for prostitution & illegal massage. Evelyn wrote regular columns: Tip Top Teens about outstanding achievements of Miami’s young people and What’s New at the U, events at UM.

In May of ‘58 the Herald sent her to Haiti to report on Papa Doc Duvalier. Then to Haiti to track down and investigate a witch doctor known for making zombies. She wrote a fullpage zombie story April 12, ‘59. Evelyn was likely the last reporter to interview movie idol Errol Flynn in Miami and Cuba during the revolution filming Cuban Rebel Girls. Evelyn worked at the Herald for 7 years then Time bureau assistant and later professor of English at Miami-Dade College.

Another Compound resident, Denne Petitclerc, had a flair for hooking readers to a story with first lines, “A pair of armed bandits, a bolita bagman, his brunette bookkeeper, a stolen car and an innocent horseplayer flopped up like a school of mullet in a police net Saturday.” Nixon Smiley’s Knights of the Fourth Estate credits Petitclerc for “combining the technique of fiction writing with newspaper writing long before Tom Wolfe & Gay Talese” “he gave readers a glimpse of newspaper writing that would not be seen again until the late ‘60’s.” and “the Herald had become widely known as a newspaper which encouraged individual style and individual writing”. Mr. Petitclerc, like my aunt, was a young, outstanding Herald reporter, among the first to discover the link between Miami, guns and Cuba with investigative reports on the Cuban revolution focused on the underground delivering guns to Castro through Miami. Petitclerc would go on to befriend Hemingway, write novels and write the TV series Then Came Bronson and the screenplay for the feature film Islands in the Stream.

One of my aunt’s best friends at The Compound was Frances Swaebly Herald’s theatre critic. She interviewed stars of the era, Jose Ferrer, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Joe E. Lewis, to name a few, featured in plays and shows in Miami. Reporter Bob Hardin had been living at The Compound after graduating from UM. He, like my aunt, had been writing news for Miami papers since high school. Like my Aunt, he wrote an expose of illicit activities at Miami massage parlors. His series on the Mob’s violent takeover of Miami laundries gained national attention.

For those years The Compound housed creative, talented Herald writers. Other residents of The Compound were United Press International’s Andy Taylor, and Joe Emmert, UM Marine Lab. September 7, ‘62 reporter Stephen Trumbull wrote the Herald story which inspired this History Miami story. Nixon Smiley celebrates Trumbull’s writing style as “salty leads, colorful phraseology likely to take unusual turns.” That’s the case in Intellectual Cats which brings together the residents of The Compound when they decided to round up the stray cats on the property. Surplus cats were products of Crissy being boarded by Bob Hardin & Andy Taylor. She produced innumerable offspring. The Humane Society took many, older cat residents remained.

By June ‘67 Ellen Emmert wrote in the Herald, Grove Progress Means Loss which serves as the Epitaph of The Compound- “the future home of Coconut Grove’s first high rise, Compound residents will be saddened, suffer a small personal loss when bulldozers move in.” From “a pastoral setting of cottages” to Sailboat Bay Apts. to Mutiny Hotel, a big leap. What of those who came before? Late 1920’s to ‘30’s this address, 2951 S. Bayshore, was the place for lavish parties and social events when attorney Leland Hyzer and his wife lived there. These small fragments of Miami history might be lost, forgotten if not pieced together for readers and kept in the archives of HistoryMiami.

On January 1, 2020 I officially became a minimalist. I’m collecting experiences now, not stuff. I also figured, the less I own the more I can travel, only there’s no traveling this year. I still need my dose of traveling though. Travel is ESSENTIAL. 

While international traveling is suspended, people came up with these virtual traveling ideas. The Vatican Museum, The Great Wall of China, The Taj Mahal, are all in virtual tours that can be done from home. Cool, but my idea of traveling involves getting up from the couch, so I embarked on a new kind of journey. I researched the Miami Trails and its history, picked up my water bottle and started out into new explorations of a very familiar place: home. Since I enjoy the writing as much as I enjoy the hikinghere is my little contribution to encourage you to enjoy and learn more about our own community. My passion for traveling has led me home, in this pandemic. 

Coco Plum Circle marks the junction of Commodore Trail and Old Cutler Trail, in Coral Gables. Old Cutler Trail goes south Old Cutler Road through beautiful neighborhoods and historic houses. Old Cutler Road is historic itself, being one of the first roads in Dade County connecting Coconut Grove with Cutler, an old farming community. The trail follows a natural limestone ridge along Biscayne Bay and was referred to by the pioneers settlers as “The Reef”. Then it was widened to become a wagon trail and declared public road in 1895. I can almost see myself on top of those wagons wearing a flower hat. Florida Legislature declared Old Cutler Road a Historic Road in 1974. 

Walking down Old Cutler Road is a delight. It is shaded all the way to Matheson Park/Fairchild Tropical Garden by beautiful old banyan trees and charming Floridian style houses. The trail is also a bike trail so watch out for silent bikes coming from behind. Right across Fairchild Tropical Garden there’s a parking lot that leads to a Forest Protection Area as part of Matheson Park, it’s not part of the Trail but it’s worth the exploration. Birdwatching, photography and nature appreciation are the activities permitted here. It is truly a forest within the neighborhood, in the middle there’s an open space where other paths meet. We took the one going south and eventually found the Old Cutler Trail again. 

A little south of Fairchild Tropical Garden, the trail actually goes through a gated community. To follow the Trail you have to cross the street and go into Snapper Creek Road, it’s ok to stop and enjoy the houses. At the other end of Snapper Creek Road, you leave the community and cross the footbridge into Red Road to continue on Old Cutler Trail. Not far from there, at SW 110 Street, you will find the old entrance to the old Parrot Jungle. It opened in 1936 and quickly became a tourist attraction and a signature building structure. The Village of Pinecrest purchased and restored the building after Parrot Jungle moved to Miami Beach, and is now a park, with a Farmer’s Market, children’s activities, and hosts events year roundIt is now called Pinecrest Gardens. 

Since Old Cutler Road follows the coastline, after Pinecrest Gardens, it curves from 57th Avenue to 67th Avenue and in the Y junction in 135th Street you have to go left to continue in Old Cutler Trail on Deering Bay Drive. One block after the Y junction it’s Chapman Field Park. You don’t have to enter the park to continue on the trail, but we did. There’s a trail within the park with a big loop that starts and ends in the canoe dock. Fishers canoe through the canal into open sea while dog walkers let their dogs run without leash in the trail. 

There’s less shaded areas from Chapman Field to Deering Estate, it is very important to wear a hat, sunglasses and don’t forget the water! Deering Estate on 168th Street in Palmetto Bay, is an ocean front historic site and museum with beautiful grounds to enjoy nature. It is paid admission and part of the Miami Dade Parks, as well as the Chinese Bridge and People’s dock, where you can kayak or canoe in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Just across the bridge, on 173rd Street, you will find Thalatta Estate. I can’t describe how lovely this place is. It was purchased by the Village of Palmetto Bay and it’s also part of the Miami Dade Parks, admission free. Its charming Spanish architecture, turquoise water pool, perfect maintained grounds with Palm trees and all kinds of flora, and the breathtaking view of Biscayne Bay, makes it perfect to host the most romantic wedding. Thalatta Estate is my favorite site along Old Cutler Trail. 

The Palmetto Bay Public Library on 176th Street at Ludovici Park is worth mentioning. With an amphitheater, a two story community center and a bike path loop, must be the highlight of this community. I will certainly be in the lookout of events at this location when this pandemic permits it. Next to the Library there’s a stable, most likely private. Horses are such beautiful animals. 

Cutler Bay starts on 184th Street and it was designated as Tree City USA in 2009 by the Arbor Day Foundation. Although beautiful and shaded with trees, you can notice the change in the neighborhood. It’s newer, not historic and not grand. Old Cutler Trail ends in the Circle that converges 216th Street, 87th Ave, and Old Cutler Road 

From Coco Plum Circle in SW 72nd Street to the South end of the trail in 216th Street there’s 13.5 miles of asphalt trail that waits to be conquered, and it’s at this point where Biscayne Trail starts, which I will cover in a future post. Eat seasonally, love locally… or love your local trails 

As a Cuban-American New Yorker, I have strong family and cultural ties to South Florida. Since childhood I spent summer vacations in the Magic City, soaking up Cuban culture as well as the glorious sunshine. Once I started working as a teacher for the New York public schools, I continued the tradition of enjoying July and August in the heart of El Exilio Histórico.

In 2015, I joined The Cove/Rincón International, a Miami-based non-profit. I never imagined that five years later, from two thousand miles away, the “Cove” would offer me a psychological lifeline, rescuing me from the brink of depression as the world learned about the novel coronavirus.

Sheltering-in-place in my New York City high-rise, I felt mounting anxiety and apprehension. At the age of 56, having retired from teaching in 2019, I had become my mother’s primary caregiver. As medical experts warned that the elderly with underlying conditions were most vulnerable to the “invisible enemy,” my world revolved around protecting her. My paralyzed metropolis, known for its theater, museums and nightlife, became the epicenter of the virus, and scenes of body bags piling up outside area hospitals were horrifying.

Then Miami resident Marily A. Reyes, founder and president of the Cove, seized an unprecedented opportunity to use her platform as “mother” of this cultural family to promote the mental health of her members. She initiated a project she named “Sharing the Arts During Quarantine.”

Knowing that human beings are driven by a need to forge social bonds, to face each day with a sense of purpose, and to support a cause greater than themselves, she called upon painters, writers, singers and creative souls of every stripe to tap into their talent and create, create, create!

Having studied psychology at Miami-Dade College, Marily was well aware of the therapeutic effects of the arts. Through chapters of the organization in the Americas and Europe, the Cove had an impressive range of talent to draw upon. The response to “la convocatoria” (the call) was overwhelming and international.

Art poured into Ms. Reyes’s email inbox at a breath-taking pace. She uploaded every submission to the organization’s official Facebook page, the Cove/Rincón Corp. I marveled as the page developed into a virtual museum and library. From paintings capturing the fluid movement of a flamenco dancer to the charming “Cofre de Recuerdos” (treasure chest of memories), by 12-year-old Natalie – the Cove’s youngest member – the page was a means of connecting human beings and providing entry into worlds of beauty while the world was in lockdown.

Before the project began, I felt detached from time, from seasons, and from others, consumed by daily briefings full of “models” of infections and grim warnings regarding I.C.U. capacity. In my paralyzed metropolis, I discovered worlds of beauty accessible through my computer. I found a reason to get up in the morning.

Each day brought fresh material to the Cove/Rincón Facebook page and I was eager to encourage others in their work, some of whom I had met in Miami at summer Cove events, but many whom I had come to know only through their art. I added “Greetings from the Big Apple” to members in Mexico, Argentina and Austria, and we started exchanging virtual hugs. I wrote my own poem in Spanish about my grandmother. Suddenly I realized that something new and unexpected had developed. The news was still dire, and I continued to heed the medical authorities, but I noticed that my state of mind had changed dramatically. Hope replaced despair, and I felt grounded in the collective power of human beings not only to produce art, but to nurture each other from afar. The sense of solidarity was palpable.

Indeed, Marily A. Reyes had created something more than a virtual museum or library: She created an artistic, nurturing community! I salute her humanitarian service and I celebrate the artists of the Cove/Rincón International.

We moved to Miami by accident in 1953. We drove down from Chicago for a vacation and stayed in Miami Beach at the Tradewinds Hotel. One day my parents told my two older sisters and me they would be gone for a few hours, and we were to stay at the pool and not go to the beach. When they came back we were informed that we would not be going back to Chicago as they had rented an apartment in Coral Gables at 17 Majorca Avenue.

My older sisters cried as they would leave behind many friends. I was too young at 6 to care.

I practically grew up at the Venetian Pool, a great treasure that seems to be kept secret these days.

I went to Coral Gables Elementary for 1st, 2nd, and part of 3rd grade. Then we moved to 2390 Southwest 16th Terrace, and I attended Shenandoah Elementary, Shenandoah Junior High, and Miami High.

All my teachers at Shenandoah Elementary were great. In 3rd grade I had Mrs. Echeverria; 4th, Mrs. Gill; 5th, Mrs. Fowler, who taught me to love poetry and Greek mythology; and 6th, Mrs. Conroy. The principal was Mrs. Hatfield, the original Steel Magnolia. She was a sweet Southern belle that you would never want to cross. She regularly attended the Miami High games, which were always played in the Orange Bowl.

At Shenandoah Jr. High the dean, “Mr. K” (Kouchalakos), terrorized us all, though he was actually a pussycat with a gruff demeanor. We weren’t supposed to sit on the wall of the fish pond, and one day my friend Ellen sat there, and as he walked by shoved her into the pond.

My most important memory was when I was 7 and new to Miami. My mother took me shopping at Food Fair on Coral Way. At the back of the store by the meat section were two water fountains, one marked “white” and the other marked “colored.”

I thought wow, how great is Miami, they had colored water!

So I went up to the “colored” fountain and was very disappointed to see it looked like regular water. A lady nearby very nicely (!) told me that I had to drink only from the “white” fountain. Shortly after that, I had my first introduction to the white lines on the buses marking off the seating that blacks were forced to use.

I remember being deeply offended by segregation even at the age of 7, as it was nothing I had seen in Chicago. To Miami’s credit, that all ended by 1956, well before the Civil Rights turmoil of

the 1960s. South Florida was not the Deep South, and I used to joke that Miami was the southernmost part of The Bronx!

Food was an adventure. There was the Red Diamond Inn on LeJeune Road, Royal Castles everywhere, hamburgers for 15 cents and a frosty mug of birch beer for a nickel. Shorty’s Bar-B-Q on South Dixie Highway was a frequent treat: pork sandwiches for 50 cents and the best corn on the cob for 20 cents. You ate ranch style at long tables, and the log-cabin interior was festooned with saddles, spurs, bridles, horseshoes and other western gear.

The thatched-hut, open-air juice stands selling fresh orange juice, papaya juice and, my favorite, piña colada had all but disappeared by the mid-1950s. The Pilot House on Northwest 36th Street across from the old Miami International Airport terminal had stuffed Florida lobster tail on Fridays, all you could eat for $5.

Then there was Jahn’s ice cream parlor on Miracle Mile. One night a gang of us went in and ordered “The Kitchen Sink.” It was $12 and had perhaps 20 scoops of ice cream, toppings, and bananas, all in a large silver bowl. We got frisky and started a food fight, and were promptly thrown out. But the fun we had was worth it.

On Southwest 8th Street (Tamiami Trail) around 32nd Avenue was a two-story orange ball of a building where you could get fresh-squeezed orange juice. Later, it was painted white and was reborn as The Pizza Palace. Further west on 8th was the Tower Theater, and next door was the Trail Bowl, where they had human pin setters.

My friend Jerry B. (still great friends since 3rd grade) was the son of the owner of Tropicalite, a neon sign company. He was the designer of the famous Coppertone signs with the dog pulling down the little girl’s bathing suit, and for years he made every Burger King sign. The biggest Coppertone sign was on McLamore’s Restaurant on Brickell Avenue. Every evening a man in a white chef’s suit and toque stood outside the restaurant and rang a bell and waved to us kids as we drove by.

Shenandoah Park had a pool with a lower-level snack stand and jukebox. All the teens spent the day dancing (and romancing?). The park had a giant field house with ping-pong and knock hockey. After getting hot playing sports we would go to the air-conditioned library on the southwest corner of the park. I’d grab a cold drink of water and settle down with a book. After an hour or so it was back to the fields for some more baseball or football.

Back then, Miami had only two television stations, CBS on channel 4 and PBS (pretty yucky stuff for a young boy) on channel 2. We watched “The $64,000 Question,” but as we had no NBC affiliate I was unaware of the quiz show scandal of “Twenty-One.” And of course, there were local legends Ralph Rennick, Miami’s Walter Cronkite, and Chuck Zink, who entertained children

for years on “The Skipper Chuck Show.” The radio station of record was WQAM, with Charlie Murdock.

I belonged to Sigma Rho, a social fraternity affiliated with the JCC, and we had our own island. Sigma Rho Island is still there today, about 500 yards to the southwest of the first bridge on Rickenbacker Causeway. In 1959 one of the members died of Hodgkin’s disease, so we started a fund in his memory at the University of Miami. The fund provided up to $500 cash for medical students who had an emergency need. We worked like dogs to raise money for the fund: held picnics, dances, and sold Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Over the years we raised perhaps $10,000 for the fund.

Other wonderful memories include going to Matheson Hammock Park and the zoo at Crandon Park, Holy Joe preaching at the 14th Street Beach, Wolfie’s 21, Pier 5 downtown, learning to play tennis from “Slim” Harbett at Henderson Park (and sometimes hitting with tennis legend Gardnar Mulloy), and watching the Miami High Stingarees maul every team in sight, especially the classic Miami High – Edison game on Thanksgiving Day in 1963.

All in all, growing up in paradise.

Much has been made of 16-year-old Bill Clinton meeting John F. Kennedy when Clinton was Arkansas’s delegate to Boys Nation in 1963. There’s even a famous photo.

Though I was a bit younger and lacked official recognition, I, too, met JFK. It was a combination of luck and living in Miami Beach. Perhaps a bit of chutzpah, as well.

I was 14 and in ninth grade when I met the president. The meeting took place Dec. 7, 1961, when JFK spoke to the Young Democrats at the Deauville Hotel before going up to the old Americana in Bal Harbour to address the AFL-CIO.

A man from the Young Democrats spoke to our TV civics class one morning. He told us that “grass-roots involvement,” as exemplified by Young Democrats, was the heart of our political system. To illustrate the importance of his organization, he noted that Kennedy would be speaking at its convention the next morning at the Deauville.

“TV civics” might be a confusing label. It was new then; by now it’s likely obsolete. The entire Nautilus Junior High ninth grade — some 400 kids — was herded into the school auditorium. Big television sets sat on rolling towers throughout the room. The TV lecture, about 25 minutes’ worth, went to students all over Dade County. After the TV portion, our on-site teacher would reprise the information and try to get a discussion going.

I thought it would be cool to see JFK. I went to the teacher in charge of the school newspaper and told her I’d like to cover the speech. Although I wasn’t on the staff, she said that if I could get myself invited, she’d sign me out of school for a few hours — a worthy goal in itself. I called the Young Democrat who’d spoken at our school and he set it up. I also arranged a pass for an “assistant,” a role I assigned to my younger sister, Donna.

I knew the Deauville well. It was about a mile from where I lived, and I’d checked it out many times. I often walked up the beach, wandering from hotel to hotel, comparing the pools and cabanas and evaluating the concourse shops. The Deauville was a fancy place, but like many of the newer ones, it was built on a strip too narrow for a good beach. (I imagine the city fathers would want me to point out that today the beach is much wider, thanks to a massive infusion of sand dredged up from the bottom of the ocean. The new sand is nowhere near as soft as the old stuff, though.) Instead, it had a big pool and a concrete deck. That seemed tacky to me.

The next morning Donna and I took the bus to the Deauville. Three years later, it would be where the Beatles stayed on their first Miami Beach visit. Today, it was going to host a speech by the president.

There were perhaps 100 people in the Napoleon Room, on rows of folding chairs arranged on either side of a center aisle. They faced a small stage with a lectern and a dais. I couldn’t see much from the back, so my sister and I grabbed seats in the front row. People smiled at us. We were both in junior high, a good deal younger than anyone else, and we looked about 11.

Kennedy arrived through a service entrance at the front of the room and got right to work. “How can the United States maintain its strength, maintain the peace, maintain full employment, improve the life of our people, spread its influence around the world, strengthen the cause of freedom, survive, endure and prevail?” he said. (That’s not a first-hand recollection — I’ve looked up the speech.)

From 15 feet away, I was mesmerized. When the president finished his remarks and people stood to applaud, I was seized by a sudden idea. I led Donna past the adults on our right and into the hallway he’d entered from.

In just a few steps, we’d left soft carpeting and flocked wallpaper for a concrete and cinder-block utility area. I stopped by a freight elevator. Now, down the same corridor Donna and I had just hurried through, walked JFK, trailed by security. Everyone seemed surprised to see us.

“Mr. President,” I began, extending my hand.

The president shook it. “Hello, young man,” he said.

I introduced Donna and myself. I gave my credentials — I was on assignment for the Nautilus Green and Gold.

“Mr. President, in our school we’re doing a play on Americanism. I wonder what you think of the idea.”

“That’s wonderful,” he said. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

I was about to ask if I could ride with him to his next speech, but several large men now had their hands on me. They weren’t hostile, but they weren’t friendly either. Not by a long shot. They didn’t seem to find a kid’s worming his way backstage to meet the president remotely endearing. Kennedy got on the elevator and the doors closed.

Maybe a week later, a friend told me that the Deauville had a photo of me with JFK. I still have it, in its original Deauville hotel folder. There I am with my oversized front teeth and my hair in a swoop as President Kennedy smiles and the Secret Service attempts to remove me from the scene.

“Look, Mom! I’m a princess!” I used to yell from the inside of a tree that stood the height of a two-story house in the heart of Coral Gables, close to my childhood home, the one my parents still live in today.

The tree stood on a triangular patch of grass bordered by Banos Court, Calbira Avenue and Durango Street. The inside branches formed a seat facing west, and from there I could spot the top of the Biltmore Hotel over the line of houses in front of me. I felt like royalty perched in there.

For years, I could not climb up by myself without my fear of heights taking over. My mom would push my bum up to help me climb on. My clothes would get dirty, but it didn’t matter: I ruled this “land” as Queen of Green Gables. This was my sanctuary.

As I grew up, I’d introduce my friends to “The Big Tree.” I remember my childhood best friends playing tag with me along the trip-hazardous roots, hanging out there after my 14th and 15th birthday party shaving-cream fights, passing time with former love conquests on my previously pure “throne,” its branches marked by initials enclosed within a heart, and many photo shoots I had with my high school best friend prior to her permanent move to Spain.

This tree watched me grow up from being a child with dreams of becoming a princess to a young adult who was just about to start college.

In 2013, I spent the summer before my first college semester walking around the block, stopping at the tree on occasion. I remember distinctly crying my eyes out, sitting on the roots of this tree, post-breakup with the boy who’d taken my virginity.

I wasn’t crying because my heart was broken; I was emotionally abused by him. The words: “No one will ever love you the way that I loved you” messed with my mind, triggering what would become the most difficult years of my life.

May 2, 2013, my tree would die. My sanctuary would no longer be mine to retreat to as bulldozers and chain saws tore down, branch by branch, my beautiful tree which grew no more leaves, just as my sanity grew no more hope.

I lived on campus at Florida International University in the fall of 2013 and even joined a sorority. However, my resident assistant had spotted my behavior change when my boyfriend ended our relationship only a month into college. She suggested the counseling and psychological center on campus, but no matter how much talk therapy I received, my sanity only worsened.

I saw a physician who diagnosed me with depression and prescribed for me the lowest dose of antidepressants, which I’d take daily.

Adjustment to the medication wasn’t quick and my tree wasn’t growing back. The first few weeks on the medication led to thoughts darker than the shadows that once lurked underneath the branches of my old friend.

My sorority prides itself on its many philanthropies, one of them being “Inherit the Earth.” With that, I wanted to become this exact tree in this exact spot with the Bios Urn, creating a tree with my life remains, giving back what my tree had always given me: oxygen to breathe in a natural remedy and breathe out the negative air. I could give oxygen to my beautiful city where I grew up and watch children frolic where I once did. I could be the anchor to children just like my Big Tree had been for me.

In spring 2016 while driving to my parents’ house, I noticed a chain-link fence surrounding empty space where my tree once stood and prayed that a house would not take its place. For a moment, I lacked oxygen.

In summer 2016, the summer leading to my final college semester, I had finally regained the sense of self that I had lost years ago. I was finally happy; the constant storms that had perturbed my brain had dissipated. I was repaired. But I was not the only one.

My eyes filled with tears of joy as the gated fence was taken down, revealing a beautiful grass patch with surrounding stone benches and a row of trees leading to a new Big Tree, placed in the same spot as my dear old friend. I felt that my neighborhood had regained that sense of normalcy that it had lost. It felt complete and so did I.

This tree and I had been living parallel lives, I just wasn’t aware of it. She still stands pretty today and I hope my children will visit her someday in the far distant future to etch their own initials on her trunk.

There was a lot happening in Miami in the middle and late1920s when my father, Tom, and my mother, Ruth, as newlyweds, came across the Tamiami Trail from Fort Myers.

My father, nicknamed “Doc,” had been in the lumber business in Fort Myers as a young man and left for Miami to take a management position at Cheely Lumber Corp., located on 17th Avenue, just north of the Miami River.

Miami was a growing town with great opportunities in the ’20s, especially in a business that provided lumber for a growing South Florida.

Despite the 1926 hurricane and the Great Depression, Florida was experiencing what was then called the “Florida Land Boom.” The lumber business was sound and so was Cheely Lumber when my parents arrived in Miami. Mother said she and my father never felt the effects of the depression years, because there was always a need for lumber. My dad was in the right business at the right time.

My older brother, Tom, and I were born in 1932 and 1934, respectively, at Miami’s Victoria Hospital. A few years later, my father built a small “Cape Cod” style house on Northwest Third Street and 25th Avenue, which became our home. My father and mother planned to live in this little two-bedroom and one-bath house for only a short time. They already had plans for a larger home closer to town. That never happened. Doc and a business associate were in a car wreck one night while traveling to a lumberman’s meeting in Kissimmee, Florida. Both were severely injured, and both were hospitalized in Kissimmee. About a week later my father died from complications of his injuries. His associate survived but walked with a limp the rest of his life.

The year was 1938. My brother was 6, I was 4, and mother was a widow at 30. Our little two-bedroom house was intended to be a starter home for our small family, but instead became the only house mother ever owned. Mother remarried but continued living in that little house until her death in 1976.

We lived within walking distance from both Citrus Grove, on Northwest 22nd Avenue, where Tom and I attended elementary and junior high, and Miami High on Flagler Street where we both attended high school. In my preschool years, the streetcar line came down Flagler Street and stopped in front of Miami High. The streetcar tracks are probably still there, covered up over the years with layers of asphalt.

Across from Citrus Grove was a little mom-and-pop store named “City Line Grocery” run by two brothers, Abe and Art. It was the after-school “stop off” on the way home where kids could get candy bars and soft drinks for a nickel. From time to time, during the school year, a representative from the toy company that made Champion or Duncan Yo-Yos would show up to perform yo-yo tricks and sell yo-yos. If you bought a yo-yo, the rep would carve your name on it for free.

Every street in my neighborhood had vacant lots. Many had gnarly Dade County pine trees and outcroppings of coral rock that were part of the reef system when the sea had covered Florida millions of years ago. The whole neighborhood was, for us, a potential campsite. We built makeshift shelters on vacant lots and on weekends we would sometimes spend the night out there. Somehow, we were never able to build a shelter capable of keeping out the rain. I remember more than once when it rained during our night camping, we had to pack it in and head home to our dry bedroom. We were adventurous but not stupid.

Twenty-seventh Avenue, to the west of our house, began a forest of virgin pine trees that continued past where the Dade County Auditorium now stands. There was also the Nash, a big rock pit to the west of 27th Avenue that was dug for fill rock during the Florida boom. Although dangerous, with steep drop offs, it was the local swimming hole. However, there were rumors of drownings at the Nash, so Mother forbade us to go there. It was filled in after World War II, partly because it was dangerous, but mostly because developers had gradually begun to build houses in the area and the property became more valuable.

The Miami River was only a short bicycle ride from our house. There were long stretches of riverbank that were still undeveloped. We often went there to fish for mullet. All we needed for a day of fishing was a cane pole, a small hook and line, and dough balls made from slices of bread. We would catch and release mullet until we were bored, then we would mess around trying to catch land crabs for a while. The crabs were plentiful but would scamper down their holes when we approached, so our success in catching land crabs was not as productive as catching mullet. We would return home muddy, wet, scratched and mosquito bitten after a day of fishing and exploring the mangroves and muddy banks of the Miami River, but the memories of those days are the treasures of my mind.

Several years ago, the news carried the story about a little boy getting in trouble for bringing nail clippers to school. It was reasoned that anything sharp like nail clippers, fingernail files, or other household items that had sharp or pointed edges could be used as a weapon. Life for Miami kids in the 1940s and ’50s wasn’t as strict. A pocket knife or nail clippers carried to school was not forbidden. I remember Boy Scouts coming to school in their scout uniforms and often had scout knives hanging from their belt. No one thought much about it, and there were no rules against it.

At an early age Tom and I had learned to feel comfortable in the woods and swamps of South Florida. Tom had always wanted a 22-caliber rifle, so on his 16th birthday Mother took him downtown to Frank T. Budge Hardware store for a very special birthday present — a Remington, bolt action, single-shot 22-caliber rifle. Tom had wanted one for as long as I could remember, and I was as happy as he was, because I knew he would let me shoot it.

The following weekend, Tom and I took his new rifle target practicing west of Miami along the Tamiami Canal between Flagler Street and Eighth Street. Our trip was by Miami city bus, the same bus that we took going in the opposite direction downtown to see a movie. Two kids, rifle in hand, boarding a city bus to spend a few hours “plinking” along the Tamiami Canal. When we boarded the bus carrying the rifle, neither the bus driver nor the passengers scarcely raised an eyebrow. Of course they didn’t suspect that we might have been carrying nail clippers.

How to Make a Raft

You will need the following items:
canvas, tractor tire inner tubes,
twine, wire, sawed off oil barrels,
wooden planks, nails, cut up branches,
a back door, a compass, the end
of a rope, a final straw, to have
had it up to here. Aspirin, some
honey, a shot of cane aguardiente,
an ocean of hope, a cup of grace,
a hand, two arms, a thread, a chance,
sweat, tears, blood, gall, sugar,
no salt, bread, ingenuity, super-
human courage, your dog. Take
plenty of fresh water, a red cross,
a blue sky, a white flag, a sail,
a symbol, a word, a joke, a song,
a line of poetry—preferably Marti.
You’ll need a sunny day, a starry
night, a good wind, a statue of
la Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre,
an olive branch, though a palm frond
may do. Take your birth certificate,
passport, marriage license, diplomas—
you’ll lose them at sea. A pad with
the telephone numbers of Uncle Tito,
Cousin Juanito, your niece Maria Elena—
you’ll lose those too. Don’t forget
your most cherished photographs.
Before you leave, give away or sell:
your dresser, bed, clothes, shoes,
appliances, paintings, plates, T.V.
Take only what fits inside. When
you build a raft, everything changes
forever. If you return, you’ll find little
of your former life. You’ll get used
to your new life. While in the water,
stay calm, watch the horizon, don’t
bleed, don’t think about what lurks
below, only what lurks behind. If
you make it, you’re free. Muy bien.


Healing Waters

Encased in her great, black girdle of a swimsuit, its panels holding
in the belly that bore ten children, my grandmother would slowly
lift herself from an aluminum folding chair on Miami Beach, amble
down to the shore on her short, surprisingly shapely calves, and enter
the Atlantic to her thighs. Bending into the ocean, she’d scoop up
a palm full of sand and rub the salty cement over her arms, her
shoulders—firm in her belief in the healing power of the sea—
then stand immobile as an anchor, waves breaking on her belly.
Sometimes Mima and I would sit at the water’s edge, our legs
outstretched, flat, flowing waves flooding over our knees, then
retreating, and massage sand into our thighs and the soles of our
feet—to soften skin or smooth away scars we couldn’t see. She
would gaze out across the ocean as if she could see clear to its other
side, another time—with her handsome, blue-eyed husband, still
thirty-eight, the lost children, the familiar landscape of northern
Spain, the Turkey of her youth, the Cuba of her journey to America.
Unrelenting waves pulled at our legs, stripping away sand, salt,
seaweed, broken bits of shells, dead skin, and our grip on the shore.


Not Knowing

We didn’t know the first thing about
orientations, parent/teacher conferences,
PTA meetings. My mother dropped me
off at the front steps the first day and I
found classrooms, picked up books,
grabbed a cookie off the welcome table.
Other kids came with their parents,
but all that hand-holding and sticky
back patting… so wimpy. What was
orientation if not the jumping with both
feet into unfamiliar worlds, the loss
and separation lesson one never quite
gets used to? I never knew if my Cuban
immigrant mother’s fear of things and
places American was what made me
independent, quintessentially American.
Years later, my teachers said, Not knowing
is good; it leads to discovery. We didn’t
know that. We knew one foot in front
of the other. Jump over the puddle
before they slam the airport closed.
We knew pass the test the first time,
don’t question your gut, wear the right
suits, make money, don’t explain—
your friends don’t need explanations,
your enemies won’t believe you anyway.
We knew follow the good rules, break
the bad ones. All else will come.


To Sweeten the Flesh

Amado waters the plants where I live,
rakes up the leaves, fixes fences and paints
the trim. When they’re in season, he sets
overripe mangoes, the flesh nearly liquid,
on my doorstep. I eat them over the sink,
yellow nectar trickling down my chin,
and savor each bit as if Amado (whose
name means beloved) had picked the fruit
from a tree in Cuba or from the tree
of a nearby vendor who sells creamy
milkshakes made from the fruit of seeds
smuggled out forty years ago. Flesh
freezes well. One day Amado lifts the lid
off a yellow plastic pail. A mass of blue
land crabs in a tangle of claws and wide-
set beady eyes scramble to climb out over
each other. Amado beams. It’s mating
season, rainy, hundreds of crabs scurry
across walkways, over shady paths and
beside the small polluted river behind our
homes as if caught in a Garcia Marquez
story, the streets of the surrounding
industrial park flooded, toxins no doubt
seeping into the soaked earth. When young
boys fish in the river, I warn them off
about eating their catch. Crabs creep
under my back patio fence, lightly tap
on sliding glass doors like polite neighbors
come to call. When I approach, they shrink
and sidle off. Can you eat those? I ask
Amado. “Is it safe?” He doesn’t eat
the captured crabs right away, he says.
He puts them in a large pen for a couple
of weeks to race around, feeds them purified
water and (here’s the secret) fresh coconut.
It sweetens the flesh, something he learned
in Cuba as a boy fishing on the coast
of Cojimar. The crabs grow plump, lose their
purple hues, become a tawny, neutral tone,
clean up well. Want some? he asks, as if saying,
it’s a memory you can taste on your tongue.


The author thanks the following publications in which some of these poems appeared, some in earlier versions: Tigertail: A South Florida Annual: “To Sweeten the Flesh” and Crab Orchard Review: “How to Make a Raft.”

Buenos días, Miami

Everything here is from somewhere else: the coffee, the milk, the woman bending over her lunch; the fresh-cut gold of mango running between her fingers; even the ocean gathering itself and its children from the streets paved with palm fronds and heat. The turtles are not from here; the manatees, the alligators, even the heat is from somewhere else: Puerto Rico, Haiti, Ohio. Dwayne Wade is from somewhere else; Dwayne Johnson, Celia Cruz, Romero Britto. Pitbull was from here, with his 305 anthem, and then he wasn’t. Carl Hiaasen wasn’t. Andy García wasn’t. I wasn’t. And suddenly I was. Now, it seems, I am part of this nation of heat that drives down into the lungs of this magic city every day, storm-sky in the rearview, I ♥ Café Bustelo cortadito sweet with sugarcane steady in the cup-holder of a car I drove down from New York. Here, every morning I shake my head to the man selling limes or guavas or roses beneath the red traffic light. Every afternoon I walk to a little café window for empanadas, one carne, one ham, practicing the rollout of r’s in a language meant for somewhere else. Every night I drive back out of the throat of this city, where even the walls say adios, as if they know I’m not from here, as if they know I am already halfway gone.

—Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
This poem was originally commissioned for 92Y’s “Words We Live In”


I sit in East Hialeah,
a white, leather-top stool at Mr. Bee’s Pizza,
a leftover outdoor ‘50s soda shop
just off Palm Avenue.
These are out days with Father,
and this is his favorite spot.

Mabel and Mitzy shift their weight
to their feet, push into a spin.
Father lets them, so does Mr. Bee,
and we drink 10-ounce bottles
of Coca-Cola with our slices
while Father and Mr. Bee try
to understand each other’s language.

It is our first year in Miami.
Mother works days, Father nights,
and in that small, one-bedroom apartment
Tía Estela rented for us a year before we arrived,
we watch American cartoons—
Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry—
run around the orange trees in the backyard,
think the world is 310 East 10th Street,
walks to and from El Caibarién,
Coca-Cola, a slice
of pizza.

—Sandra M. Castillo, Eating Moors and Christians

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