It will be sixty years next November since the PanAm flight that would change our lives forever. They served us tiny ham and cheese sandwiches with the iconic blue PanAm logo that tasted of the future. We moved in with my aunt and uncle and their children into a three-bedroom house on the corner of 82 Avenue and 17th street, known as Westchester. The community was predominantly Jewish with a handful of Cuban professionals, actors, and writers. Within walking distance was Everglades Elementary, a lovely school, but not if you didn’t speak the language. I knew a few words in English – the colors, numbers, and so on – but not enough to survive the third grade. I was not “white” enough to eat in the cafeteria along with the other kids, instead I had to eat in the office by myself. I was made to feel alien, which I was. I looked forward to my afternoons in the warmth of our neighbor’s kitchen, Mrs. Meyers, down the street. She also made me feel alien but didn’t hold it against me. She would give me a quarter after school for babysitting and she allowed me to lick the cake batter off her beaters. She was so nice to me that I acted like I enjoyed her batter, but I couldn’t since I was suffering from anorexia nervosa and couldn’t keep anything down. No one really knew how bad things were at Everglades until my mother was informed that, due to the language problem, I was being held back to second grade. Thank God that practice has since been abolished.
I also cherish the memories of the holiday traditions that were established early by my parents in an effort to bring normalcy to our lives. We would all pack into the Ford Falcon and head to Jordan Marsh Department Store downtown (where the OMNI eventually would stand), to see the beautiful, animated Christmas windows and head upstairs to the toy department where we would get our traditional picture with Santa.
The holiday tradition would culminate with the New Year’s Eve parade down Flagler. Sometime around noon we would set up the fold-out chairs in the parking lot across from Walgreens with sandwiches and hot cocoa. We would see the likes of Paul Anka, Bobby Darrin, the stars of local TV shows such as Flipper, and the terrific high school bands. Everything in the “Magic City” was bright and shiny.
Spring would bring The Beatles to Miami Beach, The Mustang, and Coral Park High School to Westchester. “Wow, Mom, that’s where the big kids go” I said. All these things were the future. Spring also brought the celebration of Easter. Services at noon would be in Spanish at St. Brendan’s on 87th avenue, the same avenue as the Zayre department store where we bought my two-piece pink outfit and straw hat. Lunch would follow at the Pizza drive-in on Bird and 87th, followed by a coconut cake from Publix on Coral Way. I didn’t get to go to Coral Park High. I graduated from Southwest High off of 87th and 47th street in 1973, and by the time of my ten-year re-union, both my parents had died of cancer at the age of forty-seven, and I was divorcing, I had nothing to share, screw that!
By then, the OMNI had replaced the magical windows of Jordan Marsh, and even the international attention of Miami Vice and Christo’s Pink Islands couldn’t cover up the Mariel influx or the crime the city was experiencing.
As luck would have it, while getting certified in teaching, my internship landed me back at Everglades Elementary, in the same classroom with the same narrow-minded teacher and, although I didn’t get to go to Coral Park High as a student, I landed my first full time teaching job there in the art department, honored by my peers who elected me 1999 Teacher of the Year.
The “Magic City” may never re-capture the luster of the sixties through the eyes of a seven-year-old, but when shows surface such as ABC’s PanAm and NBC’s Playboy, I don’t feel I’m alone in the nostalgia.
I miss the blimp on Watson Island, the sweet little zoo at Crandon Park on the 4th of July, Bobby Maduro Park celebrating our patron Saint, pony rides at the Westchester Shopping Center, the train rides at McArthur Dairy on for Mother’s Day, flying kites at Robert King High on Father’s Day, the animated Christmas windows at Jordan March, and most of all neighbors like Mrs. Meyers.