My parents came to Miami in November 1944 from Massachusetts. My father, Demosthenes John Mekras, had just graduated from the seminary and married my mother, Exacousti “Toula” Panagiotopoulos.
My father was ordained into the Greek Orthodox priesthood in January 1945 at the Saint Sophia Church in downtown Miami. They worked together to perpetuate Greek Orthodoxy and in 1948, the magnificent Saint Sophia Cathedral that stands today was built on Coral Way and 24th Road.
I was born in 1946 at Jackson Memorial Hospital (my brothers George and John were born there, too). We lived in the parish home next door to the cathedral until 1959 when we moved into our own home on 22nd Road. We three still live in Miami and so do all of our children! We are native Miamians.
We grew up going to Bayfront Park Pier 5, where boats would come in with fresh fish. Fishermen would clean their catch on wooden tables and we would watch the really big fish be weighed on the hook. We grew up going to Crandon Park with friends for picnics. While on Key Biscayne, we would swim late into the day, go to the zoo and have fun on the rides.
Saturday was the day for the Parkway Movie Theatre with a bagged lunch and yo-yo contests during intermission. Afternoons were spent with a hammer and screwdriver trying to crack open coconuts, playing with the water hose, gathering insects in jars, climbing trees and riding our bikes everywhere.
Christmas was Burdines downtown on the breezeway with Santa, cotton candy and the ferris wheel. New Year’s Eve was the parade down Biscayne Boulevard with beautiful girls twirling batons, artistically decorated floats, high school and college marching bands and lots of fun. New Year’s Day was the Orange Bowl football game and parking our car at Ahern-Plummer Funeral Home for free.
Easter was a photo with the bunny and picking out brightly colored chicks at the Five and Dime to take home as Easter pets. The religious aspect of Easter was Holy Friday with Coral Way closed to traffic for a procession symbolizing the funeral of Christ as observed in the Orthodox Church, and midnight services for the Resurrection. I mention these two services not only because my father was the celebrant, but because so many non-Orthodox Miamians would gather on the sidewalks to observe this beautiful tradition. Our church still celebrates these services today.
My mother owned Cynthia’s-Coray on Miracle Mile from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s (before malls) and my Saturdays were spent trimming the display windows and going to Jahn’s and Cookies with friends. Dean’s Waffle Shop across from Sears was a favorite, too.
My brother George raised homing pigeons. He would take the bus on Coral Way to the public library at Bayfront and let the birds go, get on the bus and go home to wait for the pigeons to fly home. They always did! My brother John delivered the Miami News weekday afternoons on his bicycle.
Our schooling was at Coral Way Elementary, Shenandoah Junior High and Miami Senior High. Both of my brothers are University of Miami medical school graduates. Our mother chaired many school carnivals in the beautiful garden area of Coral Way. We learned how to swim at Shenandoah Park swimming pool. My brothers played football for Miami High. Those were the days when the Orange Bowl stadium was filled to capacity with Miami residents attending games with good sportsmanship and great half time shows.
Old Cutler Road was covered with crabs on rainy days. A wonder was to see manatees come up to the sea wall on South Bayshore Drive (now Brickell Bay Drive) and feed them veggies. The snakes at the Serpentarium were huge! It was a treat to go to the Big Wheel and Hot Shoppes drive-ins and have your food brought to your car window. It was fun going to Royal Castle and counting how many little hamburgers (now called sliders) you could eat for 15 cents each.
Gas “wars” were when gas was down to 19 cents a gallon and lines would be around the block at Brooks Gulf on 20th Road. WEDR radio station did foreign language programming and on Sunday mornings my mother hosted “Grecian Melodies,” the first and only Greek language radio program in Miami. There was no I-95 and driving to Sunset Drive from our home in the Roads was an excursion. South Miami seemed so far away! US-1 was a lazy drive.
I love Miami. My parents loved living in Miami and always said how fortunate they were to be assigned here and able to raise their family in this City Beautiful. Old Miami offered me a wonderful childhood. So many great Miami memories! After the death of my father in 2005, the City of Miami designated the street in front of Saint Sophia “Rev. Demosthenes J. Mekras Way” and my family is appreciative of this honor.
Miami was a wonderful place to grow up and I am sad that many of our childhood highlights and traditions are no longer. It is a much different city today from the one we had in my youthful days, but it is still a great city to call home, especially since my seven precious grandchildren, Ariana, Joana, Jonathan, Natasha, Kristian, Evana and Ella, also call Miami home.